Getting in Gear for Nonprofits
- by Matthew Brodsky
It must be nice to have a co-founder who is on the “same wavelength as you.” It helps when both of you have proven entrepreneurial instincts as well as a strong do-gooder impulse. And even better, if both of you have a great sense of fun and a Wharton connection.
Such appears to be the case with Stephan Jacob, G’11, WG’11, and Davis Smith, G’11, WG’11. Jacob is coming off a good run with online and pop-up retailer Kembrel (which not coincidentally was named after Deputy Dean of Student Life Kembrel Jones). And Smith has stepped down from his day-to-day role with Brazilian online retailer Baby.com.br, his second successful startup after pooltables.com.
The time was right, then, for them to team up—along with four other founders—on Cotopaxi, a vertically integrated, direct-to-consumer outdoor gear brand (and a volcano in Ecuador).
“The outdoor industry is ripe for that kind of disruption,” Jacob told Wharton MBA students during a March 27 talk on campus, co-sponsored by the Wharton Social Venture Fund, the Entrepreneurship Club and the Wharton Social Impact Club. The goal of disruption here is breaking the connection between highly recognizable outdoor brands and their retail (middle man) partners, and delivering directly (literally and figuratively) to consumers—through better products sold at lower prices.
And yes, the goal of this disruption is also social impact. The other shared passion of Jacob and Davis is their drive to give back, do good, make a difference.
Editor’s note: See the video below to get a sense for why Smith is driven to do social impact:
Cotopaxi’s model is not the one-for-one model made famous by Tom’s Shoes—whereby the brand gives away one of something every time a consumer buys that item. Cotopaxi has incorporated as a “public benefit corporation.” The company’s goal is to become as profitable as possible—as a means to become sustainable, like any company–but the public benefit corporation model then protects the company from shareholder action when it begins to give away at least 10 percent of profits to nonprofits around the world. In Cotopaxi’s case, they are planning to do so by pairing their products with nonprofits. So if you buy a Cusco pack from Cotopaxi, they will donate enough money to a charity to educate a child in Peru for one week. Buy a Cotopaxi+India water bottle, and your money will go to providing clean water to a person in India for six months. With a partner benefit corporation, the goal is not solely to maximize shareholder value.
At the moment, the goal is to get Cotopaxi off the ground. And that is close. At the time of Jacob’s visit on campus, he expressed how “super excited” he was because the first batch of the company’s product had arrived.
Official product launch is April 11.
And there is another way to celebrate: Cotopaxi Questival—a two-day party in the startup’s home state of Utah that will double as a 24-hour adventure team quest. Teams will compete for points in outdoors, community and social media events from April 11 to 12, and winners will score one of three dream trips: to Kilimanjaro, Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu. Jacob and company have specifically invited Wharton teams to compete, and so far two teams from Lauder have taken them up on it. To encourage more compatriots, the Wharton founders are offering a Wharton sleepover April 13 to 14 at the Cotopaxi Cabin.
Time may be too short to join them. But there is another one-time special—exclusively for Wharton community members, Cotopaxi’s product launch was yesterday, April 7. There’s still plenty of time to visit cotopaxi.com/wharton.