Seattle entrepreneur Martin Tobias’s latest venture was inspired by his six-year-old.
He and his daughter were visiting his brother, David Tobias, and his six-year-old in Los Angeles when the lightbulb went off. They were wandering around a densely-wooded upper-class suburb and the girls were delighting in the surrounding trees. The foursome then purchased and planted some trees of their own — and they decided not to let the family fun stop there.
Martin and David, wistful for the days when they worked side-by-side leading the Seattle daily deals startup Tippr, decided to launch a non-profit that uses tech to encourage reforestation around the world. Today, that idea comes to fruition with the launch of ReTree.
“When David and I put our brains together and said, ‘What do the two of us do really well?’ One was create compelling shopping experiences, which we had done when we were at Tippr, and the second is to create compelling technology that moves things forward,” said Martin Tobias in an interview with GeekWire.
Through the ReTree website, individual donors can purchase a tree for $1 and select one of 30 countries where it will be planted. The non-profit says that the “donor-assisted reforestation” program will help battle climate change and air pollution, which it describes as a “formidable public health crisis” that leads to about 6.5 million deaths each year.
ReTree is also licensing its technology to e-commerce companies so they can add optional tree-planting donations to their checkout process.
“What we have is a platform that allows an e-commerce retailer to integrate with the 30 countries and 70 partners that we have on our platform so the integration to add trees into your existing e-commerce platform is easier — plug-and-play — and is also broader because we’ve set up all the relationships for you,” said Tobias.
ReTree is a passion project for Tobias, who has three decades working for Seattle tech giants like Microsoft, building startups, and investing in other ventures. He’s perhaps best-known as the founder of Loudeye Technologies, a dot-com era digital music service that eventually fell on hard times and sold to Nokia. In 2004, Tobias led a biodiesel operation called Imperium Renewables, which raised massive amounts of funding and then sold to Renewable Energy Corp in 2015.
After the acquisition, Tobias made some strategic investments in the cannabis industry but he says he’s currently divesting those interests.
“One of the things I’ve done a couple times is try to be early in what I think are really big markets,” he said. “When I was in digital media and started Loudeye, I was very early in digital media. In biodiesel, I was early in biodiesel and I knew that there was going to be a lot of change coming there. I was early into cannabis, but what was different about biodiesel and digital media is I was, personally, very passionate about those products.”
When it comes to cannabis, Tobias’s heart just isn’t in it. “I prefer bourbon,” he jokes.
Speaking of bourbon, ReTree is auctioning off a rare 1980 Old fashioned Copper Bourbon from Buffalo Trace to get some initial traction for the business. Proceeds will go toward planting trees and bringing on some staff to build out the non-profit operation.
“I’m super excited to be involved in something that’s not just about making money and it’s something that I can be involved with my kids doing, as well,” said Tobias. “So is my brother, David. I’m very excited to be working, again, with my brother.”