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Why and How Chris Kaiser of Click A Tree Decided To Change Our World

Throwing one quick glance into a newspaper shows us that we’re coming darn close to losing our planet, hence if there still are some young people who have not understood that they may not grow as old as their parents simply due to the fact that there won’t be a place to live on, then I wouldn’t waste my time on explaining why saving our planet is overdue.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Kaiser.

Chris is a passionate world traveler. He has worked and lived on 5 continents to date. His last stint in Thailand, living and working in close contact with elephants, drove him to develop, a company that helps individuals plant trees and companies to create forests to fight climate change, create habitat for endangered animal species and full-time jobs and stable incomes to local communities in less privileged regions of the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Chris! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Hey Penny, thanks a lot for taking the time, it’s a pleasure to be here.

My childhood story is a bit unusual. My parents are doctors, specialized in tropical diseases, hence I grew up in Cameroon and Tanzania. My brother and I were the only white kids in kindergarten — a valuable lesson we learned right from the beginning.

It taught us from the very early days that there are a lot of people who don’t have much, even though it’s absolutely not their fault. And that has shaped my desire to help others.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

With Click A Tree we’re making sustainability simple. We let both companies and individuals plant trees online to develop self-sustaining, sustainable forests.

Trees fight climate change, create habitat for endangered animal species and stable, full-time jobs for local communities. Three good deeds in one — all easily done online.

Planting a real tree is as simple as heading to and clicking your mouse a few times. Thanks to some generous partners there are even multiple options how to plant trees for free on the website.

With business partners, we develop tailor-made solutions to suit their business model and their impact goals. We work with companies as huge as Expedia and Skyscanner, and as small as individual Sushi-Restaurants, IT consultants and startups of all kinds.

Everyone can make a difference, and every tree counts.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Since my childhood days I have always been a traveler. To date, I have worked and lived on 5 continents.

During my last stint in Thailand I worked in close contact with elephants. Their main problem is the loss of habitat due to deforestation. Reasons are infrastructure, agriculture, and climate change.

I’d love to help elephants survive into the next century, hence I decided to start planting trees. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but I found a new angle on combining ecological values with economic benefits for companies, which makes it financially viable for companies of all sizes to plant trees with us.

And since we live in a mostly capitalistic world, combining these capitalistic standards with charitable efforts is key to bringing sustainability to the masses. We lovingly call this approach of merging charitable work and capitalism “Charitalism”.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The final trigger was that I made it easy for myself. I already had a private website back then. I added on one single new page, explaining my idea and introducing our first partner.

I had never planned to build a business out of this. But the page got excellent feedback from friends and family, and then spread across the social networks. That’s when I thought “Okay, maybe we need to think on a bigger scale here”.

That’s my best advice for everyone thinking about starting it: Just do it. Build a website — it costs a few days’ time or a few hundred dollars to outsource. Publish the site, share it with friends, collect real-world feedback and develop from there.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

The most important step is to get started.

My main advice is to build a website, since then you have something to show to other people. You can easily ask them whether they understand your idea, and whether they’d be willing to support it.

With a website you can start collecting email addresses and build your own followership. Having people write down their email address to subscribe to your news is a first validation of your idea.

Especially when starting an impact business, almost everyone will tell you what a fantastic idea that is and that you definitely need to move forward with it. Once you ask them for their email, a few will shy away.

Your next best bet then is to create a pre-launch product that people can buy. Once you have people paying you money for what you do, you know your idea is valid and you can move forward with the project.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When I first started out with Click A Tree, I actively looked for mentorship. I found it via enpact, a German company mentoring European and African entrepreneurs.

Via enpact I got to know Paul Blazek, a successful Austrian business man, who still is my mentor today. Last year, Paul organized an innovation festival called “Mea Kulma” in Ghana. He invited me, I said yes, and spent some unforgettable days in a rural area of the country that few Westerners get to see.

We also met the people who plant trees for Click A Tree in Ghana now, and it was unbelievably heartwarming speaking with them about their past, the present, but also their hopes and dreams.

It is incredibly inspiring to learn how much we have affected these people’s lives, even though we live on a different continent. It makes you want to do more and more and more good for them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

One of the main mistakes I made at the beginning is trying to do everything myself.

One of the things I should have outsourced from the start was design.

Amongst others, I had built a website called “Jallenges”, aimed to help people improve themselves by making baby steps. Take a look at the design and the choice of colors, and you’ll immediately agree with me that I should have found a professional designer… haha.

The key lesson I learned is to focus on what you’re great at. I’m very good at sales and marketing, and my time is best invested in these tasks — everything else is best left to others.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”, says an African proverb. I couldn’t agree more.

My main mentor is Paul, who I already mentioned above. We talk about once a week about the big picture, and he supports me wherever he can with valuable advice, networks and new perspectives. It’s invaluable to have an experienced mentor by your side.

I also often speak with Frank Steiner, a man who has worked for various multi-million-dollar companies. He’s excellent in defeating my fear of big numbers. He makes me realize I often think way too small.

Our actions follow our thoughts. Thinking big puts you in the right mindset for proper growth.

Lastly I’d like to mention Herrmann Gams and Harald Katzenschläger from Dreamacademia. These two are self-appointed “dream developers”. They help you work on your vision, your dreams. And big dreams are part of the above-mentioned mindset you need to grow big, both personally and with your business.

Regards the cheerleaders: When running a social business, you’ll always have a ton of cheerleaders. After all, very few people will publicly state “Ah, creating jobs for those poor people, that’s not important.”, or “Really? You fight climate change? Why don’t you rather ship some cheap plastic products from China over here and sell them at an astronomical margin?”.

Most people rather pat you on the shoulder and tell you what a fantastic human you are.

And yes, it’s great to have cheerleaders. They are the ones motivating you when times get tough.

However, even more important are people who critically assess your business model, so you can improve that. Unfortunately, we can’t save the world with good intentions alone, so also as social entrepreneurs we need to have a sound business model and a solid sales and marketing strategy to actually make an impact.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The beauty as an impact-driven entrepreneur is that I could tell you dozens of stories of individuals that benefitted from the existence of Click A Tree.

But to choose one particular person, I’d choose Boto. Boto is the husband of Mary and father of Japo and his siblings. The family lives in Mahabana, a small village on the West Coast of Madagascar.

For many years, Boto struggled to make ends meet and to feed his family. He went to great lengths to create an income, from fishing to working in the salt mines to becoming an illegal logger. Life surely wasn’t easy.

These days, both Boto and Mary are part of the tree-planting team in Madagascar. They earn a stable, full-time income. Japo goes to university and studies environmental science.

They run a small coffee shop in their village, which has become a favorite meeting point for the locals.

Their income is stable, they know they’ll have food the next day, and, most importantly, they can laugh again. Heartfelt, loud laughter.

It’s so touching to know that we can help people like Boto and Mary, even though we may never meet them in person.

It’s as simple as going online and planting a few trees. A few clicks for us — a tremendous upgrade in lifestyle for so many other people across the globe.

If of interest, we have written down the entire story of Boto and Mary. It is truly heartwarming, I’d suggest you take a look.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There surely are many things each of us can do to address climate change and inequality across the globe.

Simply by evaluating your own personal lifestyle choices, whether you eat meat or try vegetarian food, whether you take the car or ride the bike, whether you buy plastic bags or carry your own tote bag with you — all these small steps make a very big difference in a global context.

The one most important thing people can do to support Click A Tree is to talk about it.

The setup is there: We have diligent, reliable partners who plant and nurse the trees. With we have a platform that can be accessed from anywhere on the planet. And we already do have an interesting selection of partners that even allow these trees to be planted at no cost to the client.

What we need now is for people to spread the word. Talk to your friends, families, and co-workers.

If you genuinely like to make a difference, talk to your boss as well, and encourage her to sign the entire company up for planting trees. We can create a fantastic corporate forest together, which benefits the people who plant the trees, but also your company, since we create first-class marketing material for you in the process.

Since sustainability is an ever-more important purchasing decision factor, green engagement helps to drive sales and increase revenues.

Speak with the companies you do business with, whether on a business-level or as individual client. Let them know that securing the health of our planet matters to you, and that you would appreciate it a lot if it mattered to them as well.

Encourage them to send us an email or give us a call. We’re experts in developing tailor-made solutions that suit each individual business type, no matter the size or the industry.

And we’re also very good in making sustainable engagement financially viable for all our partners. Despite the current crisis, not a single partner has terminated their cooperation with us. On the contrary — we even signed new partners.

Sustainable engagement is the way forward, and now is the best time to get started.

What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I’m in the lucky position where I had great mentors advising me from the beginning, so there aren’t that many things that I wish I would have known.

It’s rather that I did know them but either didn’t take them too seriously or simply procrastinated for too long, as some tasks are uncomfortable or require a lot of effort.

Here are three learnings that have helped me grow to the current status quo:

“Move fast and break things.” This Silicon Valley credo holds true. There’s no point in perfecting your product or business plan over years in your garage, since no business plan survives the first contact with your clients.

Instead, get going. Build an MVP (which can be as simple as a website), share it with people, and collect real world feedback. It’s the only way to evaluate whether your idea works or not.

Set a monetary value to your time.

  1. Most startups are like university students: They have a lot of time, yet little cash. Hence it is quite common that many founders try to do everything themselves.
  2. One tip that has helped me a lot: Set a monetary value to your time. Outsource everything that can be done by someone else at a cheaper rate.
  3. If you e.g. value your time at 50 USD an hour, outsource everything that freelancers or employees can do for less money.
  4. Quite often you’ll find they can even do it more efficiently, since e.g. an SEO specialist has all the tools and software she needs to find you your best keywords in a matter of minutes.
  5. As I work from home, I even have a cleaning lady now, so I don’t get distracted with “Oh, I think I should mop the floor again soon” kind of thoughts.
  6. It may sound a bit arrogant to have a cleaning lady as a startup founder, but look at it this way: When building a social startup, you want to do good.
  7. By employing a cleaning lady, I a) created a job for this person and b) can focus better on planting more trees — which again creates more jobs and makes our planet a better place. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  8. Learn to be efficient. Then rest.
  9. Unfortunately, it is still all too common in the startup scene to confuse “being busy” with a badge of honor.
  10. “Being busy” is the worst thing that can happen to you, and you should eliminate it from your vocabulary. It doesn’t mean anything except for that you’re doing something. That could be wasting time on emails, social networks, watching cat movies… whatever it is, there’s a fair chance “being busy” doesn’t push your business forward.
  11. Learn how to be efficient. Focus on what really matters. And if you’ve done a good job, and made a move that actually moves the needle, give yourself some rest.
  12. When starting out, I regularly pulled all-nighters, simply because I was so enthusiastic about my own business. It’s understandable — but not sustainable.
  13. Instead, give yourself some rest. Take a walk, read a good book, meet with friends or simply sit in the sun and enjoy the great weather. It will help you re-energize, and it will help your brain sort through all your thoughts to then distinguish the valuable ones from the less important ones.
  14. Resting is key to be efficient. And efficiency is key to make your startup a success.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

In all honesty, if I truly had to tell someone why it matters to save our planet, I’m not sure I would invest my time into doing so.

Throwing one quick glance into a newspaper shows us that we’re coming darn close to losing our planet, hence if there still are some young people who have not understood that they may not grow as old as their parents simply due to the fact that there won’t be a place to live on, then I wouldn’t waste my time on explaining why saving our planet is overdue.

Luckily, most young people have already understood that it’s time to act. That’s why we have the global Fridays for Future movement. It’s mostly the elder generation that either hasn’t understood it yet or isn’t willing to act due to personal motivations.

Even less fortunate is the fact that these often are the people in power. They would have the opportunity to truly make a difference, but due to financial benefits they’re receiving or the short-term thinking of “I’m only in this position until the next election” or similar there’s a surprising lack of action.

This is one of the positive lessons we learned from Corona: If it is urgent, international governments can work together.

The challenge with climate change is that it is so gradual, and hence not seen as an urgent emergency such as Corona. Hence many politicians still lean back and focus on other topics that yield better returns in the short term for themselves.

The problem is: Once climate change hits the 1.5°C mark, there’s no turning back. We can’t develop a vaccine and then go back to normal. We’ll have to live in a world that will get hotter every day, where water levels rise and where millions of animal and plant species will disappear since they won’t be able to adapt to the new circumstances.

It’ll be sensationally sad to witness all that. But most of the big guys haven’t understood that yet.

And that is why it needs us startups to make a difference.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oh dear, there are thousands of people I’d love to have a chat with.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk could teach me a ton about scaling businesses — and that’s what Click A Tree needs, a scaling that makes “planting a tree” an everyday habit for every person with internet access.

Speaking with Sir David Attenborough or Dame Jane Goodall about nature and their global experiences would also be life-changing conversations.

However, if I had to choose one single person to have a private breakfast with, I’d choose Leonardo DiCaprio. I have admired this man for his versatility for decades and was delighted to see that he turned environmental protection into a personal matter of interest.

In fact, I even reached out to him multiple times via all the social media channels I could find, but unfortunately never got further than the respective managers there.

Mr DiCaprio, should you ever read this, you can reach me on my private cell phone number anytime. Mr Musk, if you insist, you may call through as well.

How can our readers follow you online?

For everyone not being Leonardo DiCaprio, please rather contact me via our Facebook page or Instagram account. Every message addressed to me will be read by me.

Alternatively, you can always connect via LinkedIn. However, please state a good reason for connecting, as I don’t accept connection requests from people I don’t know who don’t state a reason why we should be in touch. I’d rather plant a few more trees instead. I hope you understand.

Oh, and, talking about trees: We currently plant 1 tree for every person subscribing to our newsletter. It’s completely free of charge and takes about 10 seconds. It by far is the easiest way to plant a free tree.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!