Meet Joe and Sharif, the founders of Tree Tribe – an outdoor lifestyle brand that plants 10 trees for every sale they make. The business launched in 2015 and they've made it their mission to create products using eco friendly materials and plant millions of trees all over the Earth. They currently sell items like bamboo sunglasses, leaf leather wallets and bags, and stainless steel water bottles. And they've got more eco-friendly products on the way soon. I love meeting nomadic entrepreneurs with unique stories to tell, especially ones that create businesses that give back to the world they freely travel, so I digitally sat down with Joe and Sharif to ask them a few questions about their story and business.

Paul

How did you two meet and what sparked the friendship?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

Haha, pretty fun story – I was bartending in the East Village, New York City and Sharif lived across the street. It was a chill local dive bar hangout so you get to know people on the regular. We had a lot of late night conversations (bar was open until 4am), bonded over beers and music, and wanted to a biz venture together at some point. Sometimes you just connect with people and know that a life long friendship just started.

Some people say you shouldn't have friends as business partners. I disagree. I've had both friends and non-friends… and it's way more fun with your homies! The key is just being honest, working with ambitious people, and being cool to have difficult conversations.

Paul

What were your backgrounds before launching Tree Tribe? Were you previously entrepreneurs or is this your first venture?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

I had been a freelance web developer by day and bartender by night for a few years prior. Started a lot of projects and launched a couple online businesses… fun stuff but nothing that really gained a lot of traction.

Sharif

I’ve sort of been all over the place in terms of career. I came to NY in 2003 and was into modeling and acting back in those days. A few years later I got into sports production and have had a career spanning over a decade in sports from MLB to NBA to television etc.

Paul

Tell us about your journey and process of taking Tree Tribe from an idea to an actual product for sale. What was the biggest obstacle you encountered between having the idea and listing your first product for sale? And how did you overcome it?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

Neither of us had done a physical product business before, so that was (and still is) a challenge and whole new game to learn. I had been wanting to start a business that gives back to the Earth and focuses on eco friendly materials, and somehow got this idea about a month after I left the US – rearranging your entire life can really get you thinking deep!

I had big plans for this new project so I wanted to bring on a cofounder. I created a list of potential people, and Sharif was at the top of that list. I shared the idea I was working on and he was stoked – we launched our first product (bamboo sunglasses) a few weeks after that conversation, and started growing the Tribe.

Sharif

Me, being heavy into fashion my whole life was excited to work with Joe on something super stylish like sunglasses, but I was REALLY sold when he explained his idea of the company being socially responsible and giving back to the earth and especially giving back to less fortunate communities.

Paul

Initially you had no e-commerce website and started selling on Amazon to test your concept. On your first full month on Amazon, you sold 355 pairs of your bamboo sunglasses. What did you do to initially market your sunglasses?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

I'd had a few years ecommerce experience going into this, but was new to selling on Amazon. I was living in Chiang Mai, which has a strong network of location independent entrepreneurs, and through that network I learned a lot of great tactics and ideas for selling on Amazon.

I spent a lot of time scouting the market for a great first product, and discovered bamboo sunglasses – a fast growing niche with trending search volume and little competition (that changed a few months after we launched, it's now saturated).

The keys for that initial success were:
1) an in-demand product with little competition
2) high quality product (I sampled from multiple suppliers and chose the best)
3) marketing and top notch customer service to get reviews.

Paul

Why do you think that your product resonated with buyers over other bamboo sunglasses for sale at the time?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

There was barely any competition on Amazon when we first entered the market, so that was awesome! Haha too easy now looking back.

People were also really stoked about our concept/mission. That helps us get more reviews and raving customers, because we're not just selling products, we're making a tangible positive impact in the world.

Amazon provided a proof of concept for our brand, mission, and product – from there our vision grew and now we have a whole line of eco gear with different stories, and have planted over 115,000 trees in 11 different countries.

Paul

It's been two years now and over 115k trees planted. What have you done differently than other businesses during this time that has contributed to you building a tribe instead of a customer base?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

We created core values (Nature, Adventure, Travel, and Community) and actively connect with people that share any of those values. We're always looking for ambassadors and new collaboration opportunities with people that want to see a healthier and more positive world.

This is what makes the business really fun, connecting with cool people and organizations that share the same love for the Earth and outdoors.

Also just to further elaborate on that, most businesses focus on one or a couple demographics I think, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think our growth can be also attributed to the fact that Joe and I travel all over to different communities around the globe and are constantly meeting people from different countries, and cultures. So I think that helps Tree Tribe to have more of a worldy demographic of all different types of people.

Paul

How has owning this business affected your travel life for better or worse?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

For me “travel is life” 😀 I left the US with 2 backpacks in January 2015. I prefer to stay in one spot for at least a few months, but our goal is to source products from different countries all over the world, so Tree Tribe has probably made me travel more.

Sharif

As Joe said we met in a New York City bar, and always talked about business and potentially working on something in the future, but it was a trip to Thailand that really kinda put things in motion. We were in a new country experiencing a whole new environment and culture and I think that vibe was an initial spark to Tree Tribe’s creation, which happened a few months after I returned to NY.

Paul

What advice would you give other travelers who have an idea and want to launch a business?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

Wake up early, and before you check your phone or email, put in a solid 2 hours of pure creative work towards your #1 priority. Put your priorities/goals on the wall where you work, or your bathroom mirror, so every day you're reminded what's important.

Sharif

Try to meet a lot of cool people in your travels and talk and chill with them and get a sense of different communities and vibes and use that to give your company an added edge. I think gaining experiences from environments that are new to you, gives you added insight and perspectives you might otherwise have missed.

Paul

What type of tree best reflects the growth we should see for Tree Tribe in the future and why?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

Haha great question. Man I just love trees so much… I literally hug trees I can feel their energy.

The tree that comes to mind though are Mango trees I saw in Asuncion, Paraguay. The city streets have Mango trees all over the place, and when the trees fruit, free organic mangos for everyone! I thought this was so cool, and I'm baffled that every city in the world isn't lined with native fruit trees. It's an epic solution for multiple problems.

Those mango trees reflect Tree Tribe's future growth because they're community building, innovate problem solving, and spreading positive energy. We embrace those values.

Sharif

I’ve gotta be cliche’ a bit here ha and go with the good ol’ Oak tree. When people think of Oak, they typically associate it with strength and stability. I see that in Tree Tribe. I really feel that with our team and our world tribe, we’re here to stay, here to last and here to make a positive impact on our earth far into the future.

Paul

How do I (and folks reading this) become part of the Tree Tribe?
Joe - Tree Tribe

Joe

We'd love to have you in our community, join us on Instagram @treetribevibe, we're always tagging and highlighting travelers and outdoor adventurers.

You can also head to treetribe.com and join our email list to hear when we launch new eco gear (and get the fam discount!). And if you're digging anything on our site, use TRAVELISLIFE for 10% off anything on the store.

Sharif

Thanks for sharing our story. We believe travel makes the world more open minded and compassionate, so thank you for celebrating and promoting travel, you're awesome!

Thank you Joe and Sharif for the great interview which I hope will inspire other entrepreneurs who'd like to build a business with a positive social and environmental impact. Follow along with Joe, Sharif, and the rest of the Tree Tribe team (shoutout to Dina who made this interview happen) as they go from 117k trees to 1 million!

Tree Tribe Interview with Joe & SharifTree Tribe Interview with Joe & Sharif