Focus on the hard and important things — It’s really easy to have a to-do list of 25 things to do for the day if those things are easy and non-important tasks. It feels good to cross these small items off our list, but is it truly adding meaningful value? What is far more difficult to do is to work on the hardest and most important things first — that’s why we at EcoCart focus first on the most important things for the day, even if it means leaving items on the list at the end of the day.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dane Baker.
Dane Baker is the Co-founder & CEO of EcoCart, which makes the fight against climate change simple, cost-effective, and accessible for everyone. EcoCart has two products: a Shopify app that any merchant can install into their online stores to give their customers the opportunity to make their orders carbon neutral, and a Chrome extension that calculates and offsets the carbon footprint of your orders at no cost to you. Previously, Dane has set out to make the world a better place through entrepreneurial ventures such as limiting materialistic consumption and waste with a peer-to-peer rental marketplace and providing gig-economy workers the wages and benefits they deserve with a first-of-its-kind gig economy employment platform.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
I grew up in Ventura, CA which is a small beach town between Santa Barbara and LA. I come from an entire family of business-owners who always taught me hard work and the value of a dollar. My parents divorced when I was 3 year old, so I grew up bouncing back and forth between my dad and mom’s houses, but I didn’t mind it — double the Christmas presents!
I lived a normal middle-class life growing up with my parents always pushing me to do really well in school and using my potential and relative good-fortune for good in the world. I had an incredible childhood with a loving and tight-knit family.
When I was 16 years old, my dad was suddenly diagnosed with a rare and aggressive blood cancer. The cancer manifested itself as a tumor on his spine, leaving him paraplegic and bed-ridden for the rest of his life. He soldiered through for one more year before passing away at the young age of 52. This was a truly life-changing event for me and I believe transformed me from a boy into a man. That situation and his strength showed me that I can conquer any tough situation that gets thrown at me in life and that I can do anything I set my mind to. From then on, I was on a mission and I knew nothing could stop me!
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Actions that people take everyday have an unavoidable carbon footprint — eliminating it is impossible and offsetting it is confusing and prohibitively expensive. EcoCart enables online shoppers to offset the environmental effect of their orders at the point of impact and is empowering consumers to take small steps toward lowering their carbon footprint — completely for free and in the most convenient way possible.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I’ve always wholeheartedly believed that entrepreneurship is the best vehicle for making positive change in the world. Before EcoCart, I founded an online peer-to-peer rental marketplace because I thought that renting, in contrast to consumption was a far greater net benefit for the environment — especially with high-plastic items like kayaks, snowboards, etc. Throughout operating the business, we realized that sustainability, both for businesses and consumers, was incredibly complicated and expensive.
So we started EcoCart with the mission to make the fight against climate change easy, affordable, and accessible so that everyone can do their part. We are leveraging the immense power of commerce as a force for good in the world and making the world a more habitable place for our families into the future.
EcoCart is a solution for both businesses and consumers to be more sustainable. For businesses, EcoCart is an eCommerce API partnered with Shopify and BigCommerce to plug into merchants’ online stores to give their customers the ability to make their orders carbon neutral at checkout. For consumers, EcoCart is a Chrome extension (plugin) that calculates and offsets the carbon footprint of your online purchases at over 10,000 brand partners.
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?
While we were running Toyroom, we realized just how tough it was to scale a business while staying rigorous with our sustainability ambitions — everything had an unavoidable carbon footprint and we, like many other businesses, had to prioritize our bottom line as a company over what was best for the environment.
At the same time, we were introduced to the carbon offset market as a means to reduce the environmental effect of the ‘unavoidable carbon footprint’. We did a ton of research and diligence and still were confused with no idea how to even get started. At first, this really frustrated us considering carbon offsets were such a powerful tool, but after a while we grew inspired at the opportunity to simplify the entire process and really democratize the ability for everyone to eliminate their carbon footprint.
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?
Taking risks is always hard. There is a massive mental block for most folks to take that first step and get started. I know that was the case for me. I think one of the most important ways to get over that is to get yourself comfortable is by truly de-risking the action as much as humanly possible. The best way to do that is to do as much objective testing and hypothesis-checking as you can.
When this was just an idea in our heads, I flew to CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and went booth-to-booth to talk with merchants and see if there was a need for what we thought we were solving for them. We approached it like a total research project just asking the question, not selling any product or solution. Turns out, the demand was certainly there and merchants were basically beating down our door to install EcoCart…before we even started developing the app.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I truly see amazing things happening every day — from when we hear updates on how the carbon offsets are making peoples’ lives better to the people that “have finally found the perfect solution to enable their purchases to have a positive impact on the world.”
The most amazing is the fact that consumers who see the EcoCart option at checkout opt-in to make their orders carbon neutral about 1 in 3 times. We were so inspired by this statistic that we felt we had to develop a consumer product to make sure EcoCart was available for users anytime and anywhere they were shopping online. That’s when we introduced EcoCart for Chrome to the world, which is now being used by thousands of people around the world to make their purchases have real world impact.
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?
When we were first starting EcoCart, we wanted to spend the least amount of money as we could to get a minimum viable product up to test our assumptions around whether this was a solution people wanted. So, we worked with a friend to initially build the first version of the Shopify app thinking we were getting a good deal because we weren’t paying nearly as much as other teams were quoting us. The development was supposed to take two months.
During this two month period, I flew to CES in Las Vegas to drum up demand for our solution. I went booth-to-booth explaining to people the benefits of our app and that it would be ready for beta testing in just a few short weeks. Everyone was ecstatic to be able to start using EcoCart and we natively thought that it would be done just in time to satisfy our eagerly-waiting customers.
Well, four months later we were finally putting the finishing touches on our app, then we learned that there was a whole other month-long approval process we’d have to go through. Those two weeks turned into five months and when we went back to those merchants who had all verbally committed had completely forgotten who I was and I had to start from scratch.
The lessons? 1) Don’t cheap out on development (both time and money)
2) Never sell something that isn’t already finished and that you don’t have full control over
3) Be realistic with timelines!
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?
Absolutely! We have had countless mentors and friends help along the way. More recently we have found some incredible mentors in the 500 Startups program. We’ve spent hours upon hours meticulously crafting and practicing our pitch each and every week in preparation for Demo Day. Our investment lead and our growth coach have been absolutely instrumental in getting us to where we are today — from honing our growth strategies to refining our story and building a community of champions around the world who are evangelizing EcoCart every day.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We work with one project that I’m particularly excited and fulfilled by. The project aims to build water purifiers for local Cambodians who don’t otherwise have easy access to clean water. Their alternative is to cut down forests and boil river water over a wood-burning fire. Our project is building water purifiers for local Cambodians, thereby eliminating the need for those upstream actions entirely.
This project is saving the environment and giving clean water to individuals that would otherwise not have it, which is freeing them up to lead better lives for them and their families.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The world needs to understand that there is a carbon footprint associated with people’s every action and purchase. I think that businesses and governments really fail us consumers in that arena. The root of the issue starts with consumer education, which will drive government regulations and ultimately business decisions. There is some really interesting work being done in this arena, and we are trying to tackle an element of this in our own way, but I really think that there needs to be a fundamental rethinking of how consumers consider their everyday activities and purchases.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Take risks early and often — Being young there is so much less to lose and you have so much time ahead of you to recover from any failures. I highly advise being as risky as you can early in your career, and that may seem counterintuitive given the traditional narrative and rhetoric, but from a strictly logical perspective, it actually makes the most sense.
- Look at failure as a necessary step in the journey to success — Failure is inevitable and actually a prerequisite for success. Once you start to fundamentally rethink failure, you will start to be happy and strive to fail, and fail fast. Because only then can you actually succeed.
- Be unrelentlessly passionate about what you’re working on — Startups are hard. Things go wrong far more than they go right. And it takes some serious determination to not give up with it seems like nothing is going right. That’s why it’s crucially important to be working on something that you are unrelentlessly passionate about.
- Know your limits and take breaks — You are not a hero for working 16 hours a day. In fact, you are probably less productive than someone working much less because we simply need breaks to work productively, especially at a high cognitive level.
- Focus on the hard and important things — It’s really easy to have a to-do list of 25 things to do for the day if those things are easy and non-important tasks. It feels good to cross these small items off our list, but is it truly adding meaningful value? What is far more difficult to do is to work on the hardest and most important things first — that’s why we at EcoCart focus first on the most important things for the day, even if it means leaving items on the list at the end of the day.
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?
There is no better vehicle for change than entrepreneurship. It is the quickest and most effective way to make a big impact on the world.
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. 🙂
Chris Sacca because he is one of the only Silicon Valley legends who is using his wizard powers for investing in technology that is fundamentally changing the world for the better and ensuring we have a habitable place to call home for generations. (Chris — see my Twitter handle below and let’s chat!!)
How can our readers follow you online?
@dane_baker_ on Twitter, @ecocart.io on Instagram
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!