My name is Jacob “Charlie” Bessey and I am the founder and CEO of Coalatree, based here in SLC, UT, Coalatree is an outdoor “eco-friendly” gear and apparel company based in Salt Lake City that uses recycled materials in its products. I am also a husband, an avid traveler, and an outdoorsman. I also enjoy exploring new cities, live music, and hanging out with my puppy @adatewithruby.
Our flagship product is our Trailhead Adventure Pants, The Coalatree Trailhead Adventure Pants present a comfortable, flexible, affordable, multi-purpose outdoor pant. They’re great for traveling, climbing, hiking, and lounging. And with nearly a half-million dollars contributed to its launch, the Trailhead Adventure Pant is likely to become a go-to for many outdoor enthusiasts. They won the best pants by Outside Magazine, Range Magazine, and Climbing Magazine over the years.
Brand video highlight:
Trailhead Pants video:
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I entered the action sports and outdoor sports marketing arenas as one of the first employees at Skullcandy. During my tenure at Skullcandy, I helped the company grow from $5 million in sales to over $125 million.
Following the idea that if you work hard enough it will all happen.
Next, I found my true passion as an entrepreneur and founded Coalatree in 2010, and as they say, the rest is history.
As the company’s CEO, I oversee the design of eco-minded gear and apparel. The company’s passion is bringing elements of the outdoors and city life together. It embraces a mountain-to-city lifestyle with adventure, freedom, and ease. We really first validated the idea and product by gaining traction at tradeshows and industry events from 2010-2016. We had an idea to produce recycled and sustainably sourced clothing and products, the shops started buying the products and rolling it into mainstream shops like Urban Outfitters, Backcountry, SEED People, and 8 countries worldwide. We felt this type of quick traction in the competitive retail market proved we had a unique brand and product offers that would allow us to maximize that success going direct to the consumer. We have been able to bootstrap the business since shifting to the DTC model and have grown the business to do over $4 million in sales last year.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Coalatree just hit the 10-year mark and it is my greatest accomplishment. Our brand has stood the test of time, and I am incredibly proud. As the saying goes, 90% of businesses fail within the first 10 years. Achieving this benchmark, and having the company grow at a faster rate than it ever has is incredible.
Being able to provide jobs in our community, and cultivating an environment where people can learn and grow, all while doing something they are excited and passionate about, is my biggest reward.
However, in the beginning, it was dealing with a lot of rejection, for every yes I got we have 20 no’s and that was just when dealing with the buyer and shops. On top of that, you had sales reps, employees, and athletes to keep happy about continuing to be involved with the brand. Having left Skullcandy after 3 years of working with them, I felt I had a great grasp on how to grow a brand, but it is a whole new ball game to dive right into running your own business from the ground up. In the first year of getting the brand's products perfected, we had a lot of late evenings and strategy meetings on how and when we should enter the market.
We eventually landed on the plan to get the sample sets, catalogs, and sales pitch together and to travel the US visiting key shops & buyers in the cities like Boston, Chicago, Portland, Austin, and about 27 more. We reached out to as many contacts as we could to line up meetings before hitting the road. However, on many occasions, we just rolled into the shop or headquarters and tried to get as much facetime as we could. We did this at places like CCS, Barney’s Co-op, REI, etc. In some cases, it worked and we were able to form partnerships with shops like BC Surf and Sport, EVO, and Powder and Sun. In other cases, it made the buyers aware of the brand so that when we did show up with the brand at trade shows they had that personal interaction with us and would stop by the booth and say hi, which then sometimes resulted in them deciding to bring the brand into the shop.
I tell this story because, in the beginning, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get seen and heard in your industry, if people are receptive then you know you have something special. Everyone doesn’t have to love it or say yes, but if you get out in the world and ask enough people, you will then be able to get a good gauge on if you can add something unique to the market and grow that concept, brand, or product with confidence.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The Direct to consumer model the brand is following right now is helping us gain a stronger product line to offer when we brand into retail, while still allowing us to grow at an accomplishable healthy rate. In the past we have typically launched 2 new key products a year into the line, this year we are expecting to launch 5 new products to market. We will do so by using Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and we just launched our first pre-order sales program on our website with the Evolution Jogger Pants: Made from recycled coffee grounds, which pumped an impressive amount of sales into the business.
Launching this new arsenal of products at a faster pace than we ever have before will really allow us to launch into retail as a strong full-blown apparel brand. We feel our products set us apart from the rest because of quality, functionality, sustainability, and the recycled and sustainable focus on the production side of the brand. We feel like when we enter back into retail we can plan on some strong brand growth both in brand awareness and sales.
The brand just moved into a new headquarters in SLC, Utah and went from 4 full-time employees to 10 in efforts to stay up with customer demand and operations needs. We are excited to launch a travel shirt, denim pants line, backpack, and mid-layer line throughout 2020!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
First off learning that failure is everything, as long as it is followed up by a giant cup of perseverance and dedication to keep learning and growing at what you love to do! Each failure including the business almost going bankrupt in 2015, has helped the business dig deep and pushed it to that next level through the hard times. Read more about the pivot that Coalatree made from retail to direct to consumer and how it saved the business here.
Below are a few things I remind myself of each day that I am in the ring here at Coalatree.
Become a professional problem solver, don’t resist it, embrace it!
Take time to stop and enjoy the small successes.
Live a life by design not default.
All advice is worth listening too, just listen to your gut to decide if that advice works for you or not! Take everything as a grain of salt until you personally experience it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Some of my favorite changes we made was moving from a custom website with Prestashop over to Shopify. Shopify makes everything so streamlined and simplistic, they also have incredible app plugins and customer service. If you are doing e-commerce I would never use any service but Shopify! Some of my favorite Shopify plugins are Crowdfunder: DIY Pre-Order Crowdfunding ( this allows you do run a Kickstarter basically on your own website ), Brex is an incredible resource for funding your e-commerce business needs for digital marketing, they have been an absolute lifesaver. Inventory Planner has also been one of my favorite plugin apps on Shopify, it allows you to easily stay on top of your production chain flow.
Some other tools outside of Shopify I love are Slack, it's very helpful to keep the team communicating through hard projects and sales seasons. Then Asana is also a very helpful tool, we look at Asana here at Coalatree like another co-worker that helps us to all stay on track and organized.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
From Good to Great by Jim Collins – This book really helps to you identify the good to great mentality and how to make the most of opportunities in life both for companies and on a personal level. A must-read for any entrepreneur. Another great book I highly recommend is Endurance by Alfred Lansing, it is the story of Ernest Shackleton a Polar explorer and how he and his crew braved the harshest of conditions to make it back alive from a polar exploration went wrong.
Also, my favorite quote to live by is: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan – Nothing can beat bringing a group of like-minded people together to accomplish the unthinkable! That is why I live by this quote in business and life.
A podcast I really enjoy is The Life Coach with Brooke Castillo, she is a great resource for getting through those scary moments of growing a business. Becoming your Best with Steve Shallenberger is another one I would highly recommend.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The biggest thing I would recommend is to get out and talk to as many people as you can that know more in the field or market you are looking to start a business within. People are always eager to share information and talk about what to do and what not to do’s that are specific to that industry. I also recommend if you can afford it time-wise, get a job at a bigger business within that industry to learn the ins and outs of the industry without spending your own money to learn. You will also develop relationships within the industry that can bring a great amount of value to your business when you launch.
One thing I learned the hard way is following the idea that if you work hard enough it will all happen. This helps to drive that workaholic mentality, I grew up with this mentality and was always seeming to get burnt out after 4-5 years of cranking away at a business. What I learned in my late 20’s is that you need to take that time for your headspace. Einstein said We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – This is so true, and by taking time away from work, you allow your mind to organically make magic happen for you and solve problems you could never solve if you were at the office in a work mindset. It’s all about a balance in your life to make success happen while staying happy and true to yourself.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can learn more about Coalatree at our website or follow us on social media @coalatree.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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