Startups #nofilter had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Olson, CEO & Founder of TreeHut. It’s no secret that wooden products have taken on a tremendous amount of popularity recently, and Julia’s startup-styled TreeHut company has taken the lead by producing incredibly unique wooden watches and glasses.
With no outside funding, TreeHut has succeeded in a huge way as a bootstrapped company with extremely loyal and satisfied customers. Read the entire interview below:
1. How did the idea for Treehut start?
While on a romantic vacation in Bali, Joh and I fell in love with the local woodcraft. Bali has a lot of wood craft artisans who can make anything from statues to furniture, and have learned their skills from other family members – we really felt a connection to the cultural significance of the craft. After Bali, we returned to San Francisco ready to start a family. At the time, I was a tech investment manager for a $5B global fund, and Joh was an operations director at Stanford Hospital working long hours. We decided that we needed to find a way to have a better work-life balance to maximize time with our new family, so we set out to create a business based in our hometown that would offer us just that. Tapping into our love for local woodcrafts, we launched Treehut with no outside investors out of our garage in San Francisco in 2014.
Treehut was founded on the belief that time is best spent creating lasting memories with the people we love. Our mission is to offer physical products that help celebrate the people and the moments that matter most in our lives. We offer handcrafted watches that feature simple, yet modern designs and customizable engravings.
2. Let’s talk about when you launched. Would you say that Treehut was launched as a startup company? Were there any startup principles (such as bootstrapping) you used in order to guide Treehut in its early days?
We founded Treehut in 2014 out of our San Francisco garage, with no outside investors. We really built this company from the ground up and used only our limited personal savings to launch the business – to this day we still have no outside funding, which is something we’re very proud of. In just three years, we’re now on track to reach $20M in sales for 2017.
In the early days of Treehut, we made a conscious decision to constantly test the market with a few samples sold through a pre-sale when considering releasing new products, and actually still do this to this day. This functions as an internal kickstarter for people to make a discounted pre-order and for us to find out what styles work with customers. We build samples of potential collections so we can receive feedback from our loyal customers and improve our product before bringing it to market. If our customers love certain designs, we will go ahead and launch it with a few more variations.
3. Wooden glasses and watches seem to have exploded in popularity in recent years – how do you stay unique and ahead of the fashion curve?
Our customers drive everything we do. We listen to them to learn about the different styles and materials they’re looking for and see how we can craft a product around that feedback. In the early days of Treehut when I was handling customer service a customer was buying watches for his groomsmen. I thought it could be a nice touch to have their names engraved on their watches and offered that service to him. After that conversation, we decided that this should be a feature we regularly offer to all Treehut customers – we then, became the first wooden watch brand to offer custom engravings. Today, 70% of Treehut watches sold are engraved.
Knowing that our customers can be particular and detail-oriented, we also decided to provide an experience where they could design their own watches. We introduced a customizer on our website so our customers could make their own designs online, choosing from 15 different wood types. At the end of the day, our customers’ feedback has been the most valuable tool in guiding our business’ growth.
4. Is there any interesting tech that you currently use or envision being used in any of your products in the future?
Not at the moment.
5. Can you share any details such as revenue, units sold, or customers?
Since our launch, we have become the fastest growing customizable wooden watch brand, selling over 210,000 units worldwide. We’ve seen 740% growth in sales since 2015 and did $20 million in revenue in 2017. Our website has approximately 300,000 unique visitors per month.
6. What is the most exciting thing you have planned for Treehut in the next 12 months?
Since our business has been doing so well, we’re constantly outgrowing our office space. We started from a garage space of our 800 square feet home, and now we’re twenty people strong, shipping orders out of our 3,000 square foot facility! Next year we’ll be moving to a 6,000 square foot space in SoMa, San Francisco.
In 2018 we will continue our core business strategies – listening to our customers and providing more products and services for them. We have some exciting news in 2018 about expanding beyond watches and sunglasses… keep an eye out!
7. Speaking about the future, do you plan to accept bitcoin? Or any other cryptocurrencies?
At the moment we don’t see ourselves to accepting bitcoin but as cryptocurrencies continue to become more popular, who knows! We accept all types of currency and want to make sure we’re providing our customers a seamless sales transaction always.
8. Is there anyone from the world of hi-tech, marketing, or business who inspires you? If so, who and why?
There are many people that inspire me, however, the most inspiring person in my life, and the person who influences my day-to-day actions the most is my grandfather. He was an extremely well-respected neurologist in China and the head of the neurology association there. With six of his classmates he built a large hospital and medical school, yet lived a very humble life. He donated all of his life-savings to a scholarship for the nursing school in honor of my grandmother. My grandfather taught me to be fast and efficient in my actions and humble with my words and to be careful, patient, and always respectful of others.
9. For fun: What website do you go to check when your internet isn’t working?
I check BoredPanda.com… I admit, probably too much!
10. For fun: Any advice for me (and Startup #Nofilter) as I delve into the world of startups and startup founders?
The best piece of advice I can give to you and other startup founders is to remember that “It is not about you anymore” – having a successful startup involves giving your customer what THEY want, not what you think they want. Period. As was true in my case, people often want to start businesses that speak to their personal passions and knowledge base. However, it’s often easy to get distracted by your own ego and what your investors, family and peers think. It’s important to stop and face difficult problems head-on and constantly survey your current and potential customers for their unbiased opinions.