Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I am Dustin Feider the founder, lead designer, and CEO of O2 Treehouse Commercial Inc (O2 Treehouse or O2T) and Treewalkers! O2 Treehouse is a company of nature-lovers, builders, designers, and engineers dedicated to creating innovative architectural structures in trees all over the world. Combining modern engineering with old-school craftsmanship, we’ve built over 85 structures in the past 17 years. In that time, we have developed a proprietary building technology called the Tetratruss, which has radically transformed the way treehouses are built, while also creating the O2 Treehouse signature style.
It all started with a geodesic sphere, elevated over 50 ft. high in a Poplar tree in Wisconsin that quickly turned heads and launched me into the treehouse world. From there I went out west and started building a wide variety of backyard pieces of art for families to enjoy. It has been a long road filled with many exciting adventures, on-the-fly problem solving and digging into the details of 3D models that fill the treetops.
In recent years, we have built some of our most prized and unique structures yet. The Pinecone, a rentable treehouse on Airbnb, floating in suspension in the Santa Cruz redwoods, is my most famous O2T design yet and has created quite a splash in the design world. Treewalkers is our new treehouse hospitality franchise, through which we are seeking to reconnect people with nature on a larger scale. With our custom treehouse work, our customers are families and individuals who are looking for a one-of-a-kind treehouse as a home, a complement to their existing home, and/or a cool structure for short-term rental. With Treewalkers, our clients are landowners looking to host travelers from all around the world at their Treewalkers village destinations.
Today, O2 Treehouse is so well known, that we have a two-year backlog of projects waiting to be brought to life and have been featured in over 85 publications!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up immersed in nature, climbing trees soon after learning to walk. I’ve always been inspired by the power of design science and how it could transform the world. I went to MCAD, a design college in Minneapolis, beginning with furniture design. It’s likely because of this background that I approached architecture from a new angle, with the flexibility and innovation more common in furniture.
Competition has its merits, but that collaboration is so much stronger. There is almost always room for everyone to succeed.
For my senior capstone project, I built a geodesic sphere in a treetop, which I loved as an ideal because it represents doing more with less and the power of efficiency. That's what made it possible for me to build it so high in a Poplar tree it could’ve been mistaken for the moon! And that was the snowball that started O2T rolling. It garnered attention from some of the established pros in the treehouse building world, and when I went to my first World Treehouse Conference in Oregon in 2006, I realized that I really was on to something.
Always focused on sustainable solutions for a world in crisis, I founded O2 Sustainability LLC in 2007 and played around with lots of ideas including new designs for freeway overpasses using recycled materials - such as walls made of recycled tires. My ideas have always come from a desire to create something new and inspiring that might change the way we see and interact with the world and each other.
I made a couple of proposals for sculptures in art parks and similar venues, and then I turned to a tree-mounted structural design. I was trying to find the best design solution to encompass the greatest floor area with the least amount of material and realized that the geodesic sphere was the ultimate solution. It allowed me to attach the connection points anywhere on the sphere without impeding upon the usable space. I then created many different iterations across the country, all of which have led me to the refined structural forms of O2 Treehouse today.
Describe the process of launching the business.
With a lot of good wishes and hopeful prospects, I moved to California and lived in my van, project to project, chasing the dream. It was tough and dirty for sure, but I met some lifetime friends, some of whom are still the backbone of O2T today. A lot of my clients came through referrals, friends of friends, etc. I moonlighted with other sculptural building teams like Bamboo DNA, but all the while found the interest and drive to keep O2 Treehouse as my primary work.
Launching Treewalkers and entering a new phase of the company at the end of 2020 has been a whole new adventure. Our most recent financing strategy & project launch began with a crowdfunding equity campaign through StartEngine, to enable anyone to invest in O2 Treehouse as we start a new chapter with Treewalkers. A worldwide treehouse hospitality brand is an idea I have been playing with for several years and in different forms, but when I found out about Reg-CF capital raises (crowdfunding), I thought it was an excellent opportunity to kickstart this new division. Since launching in September, we’ve raised over $225K, which has enabled us to increase our volume for O2 Treehouse and fuel more research & development for the first stages of Treewalkers!
We’ve learned that it takes a lot of money to raise money! Paid advertising can really rack up the bills. Choosing your platforms and partners can make a huge difference in your launch success. However, leaping has done us wonders. Putting our message out there and casting a wide net for help and advice has attracted a strong team of advisors and employees who are passionate about our work. We’ve also garnered so many collaborators and leads that it has absolutely been more than worth it, even if the fundraising numbers aren’t as high as we’d hope.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Photographs of the structures themselves are the best advertising. Treehouses are so visually appealing that they do a great job of selling themselves! We have been primarily sharing our work through Instagram and gradually building our following.
For our crowdfunding campaign, we use a combination of paid Facebook and Instagram ads to increase conversions and brand awareness.
To increase our brand awareness and spread the word about Treewalkers, we ran a giveaway contest that incentivized sharing our content and investing with rewards that included a free night stay at a future Treewalkers location.
We also built out an extensive Press Kit to increase mentions in free press releases.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Each treehouse takes a couple of months from conception to completion. We begin with a design phase, which is billed by the hour and generally accounts for 20% of the project cost. Our average project cost is about $80,000 with smaller structures starting at $30k and livable treehouses upwards of $200k.
We aim for 30% gross profit margins, but due to the experimental nature of our work, it's often hard to achieve and we try to run minimal overhead. With the new phase of our business, our return on ad spend for our crowdfunding campaign is about 3x. Our Treewalker tent structure will have very slim profit margins, but we are aiming for a 15% rental revenue royalty in exchange for our business support franchise suite including booking platforms, rental management systems, advertising, etc.
Today we are working harder than ever and facing greater challenges. It is exciting because we are entering new territory through our evolution and expansion of the business, but managing all of the moving parts can be quite nerve-wracking as well. We walk a fine line - we must expand at precisely the right rate in very deliberate ways to continue to meet our demand efficiently. Each new project and new team member has the potential to swing us along our way or set us back.
Fortunately, we have been refining our systems and solutions more rigorously than ever before in preparation for rapid expansion. The future we envision for O2 Treehouse and Treewalkers is worldwide and groundbreaking to a scale on par with large hospitality and construction firms. Gratefully, we see our path forward to success and are diligently laying the groundwork, so that our scale will be sustainable and fruitful.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned that competition has its merits, but that collaboration is so much stronger. Oftentimes the default view of the world is of scarcity, fear, and protection. But freethinkers and a gracious treehouse community have taught me that there is almost always room for everyone to succeed. While it may take a level of fortitude and courage to be cutthroat in your business practices, what the world actually needs is more open-source technology and collaboration.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
At O2T, we love using tools and new software to continually improve our workflow, increase sales opportunities, and increase efficiency. Here is a breakdown of some of our favorite management tools:
- Design software - Rhino 3D and Google Sketchup
- Website - Squarespace
- CRM & Project Management - Monday
- We previously used Trello for project management and Fresh Sales for our customer relationship management, but have switched to this great all-in-one smart tool!
- Email Marketing - Mailchimp
- Online Store - Shopify
- Print-on-Demand Dropshipping Company - Inkthreadable
- Legal Documents Management - HelloSign
- Accounting & Finances - Quickbooks
- Document Management - Google Drive
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram is my absolute favorite. It touches on everything from the viewpoint of ecological philosophy working its way to our methods of perception.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Get your idea out there. Don’t be afraid of someone stealing it. The opportunities and support you’re looking for are right around the corner, so start opening to your potential.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We are currently hiring for a few full-time positions: Lead Carpenter and Project Manager for our warehouse in West Oakland, Rigger and Installation Lead for successive installations of our Treewalkers glamping tent models, and a Metal Fabrication Lead to manage material acquisition, welding, and fabrication for multiple structures simultaneously.
We are also regularly hiring architectural designers, carpenters, and treehouse builders on a project-to-project basis. Please reach out to us if you are interested and qualified!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop them below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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