Alumni Interview #2: How Treepex hacked the system with a fake product announcement

Treepex is our amazing finalist of Seedstars Georgia 2017. As Treepex recently made a lot of noise all over the globe with its “fake announcement” of a new air cleaner device that would solve air pollution, at Seedstars we wanted to go back on this super smart growth hack. Treepex’s amazing co-founder Bacho Khachidze took some time to answer our questions.

Seedstars: Hi Bacho! Could you describe in a few lines Treepex’s service and how it impacts the emerging markets?

Bacho Khachidze: Treepex plants trees. And we do this with an easy-to-use platform and an innovative tracking system.

Every tree we plant for businesses or individual users is tagged with an NFC microchip which records the tree’s geographical location, who owns the tree, and when it was planted. As each tree has its own unique number, we make it possible to name the trees and track their progress.

With an easy to implement API, businesses can have their customers collect points until they reach a certain threshold. Once they have sufficient points, a tree will automatically be planted for their customers without any extra cost.

We enable businesses to design better CSR campaigns while solving deforestation problems in rural areas throughout the world. We’re not only making the world a bit greener by planting trees, but we’re also transforming more people into green advocates!  By merging the physical act of planting trees with innovative technology, our team of seven (all from the country of Georgia!) delivers actual positive impact.

The co-founders Bacho Khachidze and Lasha Kvantaliani in their office.

 S: Could you quickly explain your business model for our readers?

BK: The cost of a tree to be planted depends on a tree species and location starting from $6,50. Treepex takes service fee from each transaction.

S: You made a lot of noise with a “fake announcement” of the Treepex device! Finding ways to “hack the system” is one of our core values at Seedstars. Can you tell us more about it (how you got the idea, how you implemented it, the effective results of this operation, etc.)?

BK: “The Treepex device does not exist. In fact, it is Treepex’ mission to make sure that the device never should exist.”  – Stated in the article written by Joseph Steinberg for Inc. Magazine.

It is reasonably clear that the world faces the most terrible problem, an invisible killer: Air Pollution. And, indeed, it is our mission to fight air pollution and deforestation globally.

We worked with Cannes Lions winning creative agency Windfor’s to design a worldwide campaign and raise awareness about this very sensitive issue. For a few months, we’ve been carefully planning and crafting a last-ditch campaign which basically included 3 main phases:

  1. How to lose friends
  2. Alienate journalists
  3. Save the world

While working on these sensitive issues, we soon realised that people ignore our messages the same way the smokers ignore the warnings on cigarette packs. The standard approaches do not work. So, we decided to go a non-traditional way.

Treepex false air-cleansing product

We created a website and a video of a bizarre product – a mechanical device that filters the polluted air. The video truly went viral and millions of people throughout the world reacted to it. The campaign clearly showed the humans’ attitude that it is okay installing mechanical devices in their mouth/nose rather than taking actions with a real impact in the world. So are some of the journalists – broadcasting all sort of idiocy when it comes to technology explaining that “this is what people need to hear”. While the solutions that Treepex has to offer, planting trees and fighting deforestation throughout the world, has been neglected by media many times.

S: As a relevant stakeholder of Georgia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, what do you think of it? Does it offer everything you need as an entrepreneur?

BK: Georgia is taking its first steps developing the startup ecosystem and observing around so many talented and risk-taker entrepreneurs, I strongly believe Georgia has a huge potential. Though, there are plenty of challenges Georgian entrepreneurs are facing right now, such as access to capital, non-startup-friendly tax system, lack of tech human resources, labs for Research and Development, etc. BUT the positive steps taken by Government of Georgia can’t be neglected.  

The team at work

S: What happened since Seedstars World Competition and do you think it helped Treepex being part of Seedstars Community?

BK: Thanks to Seedstars Community we had a great chance to engage with like-minded people and companies and we are still in touch with several of them. Seedstars World Competition is a great experience for early-stage startups in order to present and validate a product, meet potential partners and investors. As for Treepex, the summit was the last competition we participated in. We are currently focusing on customer growth, actively operating in a global market and execution truly takes all of our source and energy. Unfortunately, there is no time for startup competitions to participate BUT I have to admit I have nostalgy of listening to the sound: “And the winner is …. Treepex! :)))”

Besides SeedStars Competition Treepex is a winner of Eurasia Mobile Challenge (within World Mobile Congress) and SeedForum NYC.

S: How do you see the future of Treepex and what objectives do you have for the next few years?

BK: Whenever a marketing and CSR manager plants a “green campaign”, we want Treepex to be front of mind.

While we think a lot about the future, there are a lot of projects that demand our attention here and now. Today, one of the largest and most biodiverse national forests in Europe needs our urgent help.  In August 2008, man-made wildfires as the result of an ongoing war between Russia and Georgia hit the ecologically significant Borjom forest — the place where I grew up and spent my childhood. Wildfires, lasting several days, spread across hundreds of hectares of forest. Over the year, the forest has repeatedly suffered both man-made and natural destruction, resulting in an ecological disaster. Full rehabilitation will require more than two million seedlings to be planted. Our goal for the next year is to engage up to 500 companies and 50,000 individual users to rebuild the old glory of the national forest. We’ve also partnered up with several state organizations in different continents that require our help in places like Kenya, Tanzania, Argentina and California. Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do to make the world a greener and better place to live in!

S: Any news to announce?

BK: We’ve realised that Georgia is too small for Treepex. That’s why we decided to move our HQ to New York City! In fact, we have several projects coming up pretty soon. So stay tuned!

S: And that’s it for now. We wish Bacho & his team only the best during these exciting times. 

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