Think of the term “Startup Culture” and what comes to mind? Silicon Valley, CA for sure. But Green-Sports? YES. The Green-Sports world is home to a vibrant cadre of startups and Early Stage Growth companies that are changing the way teams and venues operate and starting new categories. What better time than the start of a new year to highlight exciting startups at the intersection of Green + Sports? Today, we start a two-part startup series with a novel take on the Sharing Economy from Joel Cesare, founder of StokeShare, a marketplace for people to buy and sell used Action Sports equipment.
GreenSportsBlog: OK, Joel, I’ve never met you, never spoken to you, but when I heard “Sharing Economy” and “Used Action Sports Equipment”, I thought to myself, “I have to interview this guy.” So, thank you for doing this. First thing: Congratulations on the name, StokeShare. That is a great brand name! Now, how the heck did you come up with the idea for StokeShare?
Joel Cesare: Like a lot of great ideas, it came from a personal need. Warren Neilson, StokeShare co-founder, and I met networking in the San Francisco green building industry. We started surfing together and quickly realized we shared a common bond to expand our inner-searcher into other adventure sports that are difficult to access like kitesurfing and whitewater kayaking. We both come from a sustainability background and were fascinated by the new business models in the sharing economy.
GSB: Tell us about your sustainability experience…
JC: Currently, I serve as Sustainable Building Advisor for the City of Santa Monica–a city internationally recognized for sustainable city policy and far-reaching targets related to energy, water and carbon. I am also Vice-Chair of the LA Surfrider Chapter and a Professor of Energy Efficiency at Santa Monica College. Prior to the City I worked for Skanska USA Building as Sustainability Coordinator for one of the world’s largest construction management firms. And I also completed a Masters Degree at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management; my thesis focused on the gap between actual and predicted performance of green buildings.
Joel Cesare, StokeShare Co-Founder (Photo credit: StokeShare)
GSB: Impressive…Your green bona fides are clear. But, used Action Sports equipment? Enlighten us…
JC: It started with Warren and I wanting to do more cool stuff outdoors. We both had an entrepreneurial bent, wanted to do something in the Action Sports world and knew that equipment was expensive, hard to find and hard to store. Gear for spearfishing, kitesurfing, white water kayaking, standup paddle boarding, surfing, skiing/snowboarding, camping and rock climbing…
GSB:…and the Sharing Economy…
JC: This was 2013 and it was just taking off. AirBnB and Uber were becoming multi-generational, household names. We were in San Francisco, the “Mecca of Technology” where peer-to-peer rental was widely embraced. We solve environmental problems for a living. In places like San Francisco, collaborative consumption and the circular economy are seen as critical tools to meet long-term sustainability goals. Young people prefer access over ownership. It was obvious for us to develop an Action Sports equipment exchange marketplace. StokeShare was born.
GSB: Talk about StokeShare’s infancy…
JC: We spent about a year with one of Silicon Valley’s best software engineering firms building a marketplace website. It was pretty cool how two guys like us, with little software background, could build a sophisticated platform that allows the world to connect with adventure. Once StokeShare 1.0 was ready, we went live in April, 2015.
GSB: That is very cool…How are you guys funded?
JC: We’re proud to say StokeShare is completely bootstrapped to date. It’s been an interesting couple of years, financially, but we’ve successfully launched with a lean, simple business structure and no debt.
GSB: I’d call that a smart, steady infancy. How big is the business so far 9 months after going live?
JC: We’re definitely in startup mode but we have a functioning, international business–we have over 500 users, with 800 pieces of equipment in the StokeShare community. We’re in 11 states and 7 countries.
Happy StokeSharers (Photo credit: StokeShare)
GSB: What kind of equipment?
JC: Equipment that spreads the stoke! We handle gear for kitesurfing, snowboard/ski, camping/backpacking, standup paddle boards, spearfishing/freediving, kayaking, rock climbing and, of course, surfing.
GSB: That is so cool. I never could never imagined anything like this. How does StokeShare make money?
JC: Like other marketplaces , we take a small cut of the transaction price. Our gear listers thrive as micro-entrepreneurs and we continue to build best in class software to simplify getting people outdoors. We aim to build the world’s largest library of outdoor gear.
GSB: How are you going to get there?
JC: A groundswell is building. People want to connect. They want to live, travel and explore. They want to immerse themselves in nature. We just need to keep stoking the fire. Adventure travel is a major opportunity for us. Imagine you’re traveling from California to Costa Rica. You’re getting world-class conditions, you probably think you need to lug your trusted action sports equipment with you…
GSB: Or buy a new piece of equipment…
JC: Exactly! Those are problems of the past. Through a fun social media strategy, events (travel, action sports, green) and referral rewards programs the world will discover the StokeShare movement.
GSB: Good to hear—sounds like an exciting 2016. How does the environment, sustainability figure into StokeShare’s business plan going forward?
JC: Warren and I wouldn’t have launched a company unless we knew it could have a positive impact on the environment.
Reduced consumption, less waste and market transformation to design durable gear are endemic to the sharing economy. But StokeShare’s mission is deeper. We believe people protect what they love, love what they know and know what they experience. By making it easier to get into nature, we’ll foster a society more committed to protect it. What we’re most passionate about is our work with the next generation.
GSB: Tell us more about this aspect.
JC: We partner with at-risk youth non-profits to connect kids to the outdoors through action sports. We rent gear from StokeShare users, provide it to the kids, and give them rad experiences. We call this program One Watershed. Everything we do has an impact downstream.
GSB: Creating the next generation of environmentalists–through rented action sports equipment. Who’da thunk it? All the best–let us know at the end of the year how StokeShare made out.