AN IDEA COMPETITION AND AN ‘AMAZING RACE’
Still, Smith had quite a bit to learn and gain from the experience and received his Wharton entrepreneurial baptism by fire.
“I took an innovation tournament class and on the first day had to show up with 10 ideas to put into the Darwinator,” says Smith. “Then we rated ideas and pretty much the people behind the ideas from one to 10. There were about 500 ideas generated and we narrowed it down to four. The idea was to filter the ideas down to the very best.”
Smith was also putting his entrepreneurial skills to work by coming up with an idea to create an Amazing Race spin-off for students going through the Lauder Program. The result was a 60-student race from Tikal, Guatemala to Panama City called the Lauder Culture Quest. It was worth a course credit but was entirely run by students.
The race is less of a competition and more of a cultural immersion experience with a common destination. It’s based on a point system. Teams gain points by doing activities. The activities fall into eight categories. For example, getting a haircut at a local establishment gives your team five cultural points. Kayaking garners five adventure points. Selling an item not available in local market is worth three business points. Planting a tree or construction work gives you five service points and so on.
THE GEAR FOR GOOD
Smith’s current venture, Cotopaxi, is rooted in a combination of many of his experiences. First, with Edgar in Peru. Named after the famed Ecuadoran volcano, Cotopaxi is a direct-to-consumer outdoor gear company with a side of social enterprise.
Each piece of gear is named after a social cause. The purchase of a Cusco pack, for example, helps a Peruvian child get off the street and spend a week with an education-focused nonprofit. Cotopaxi has partnerships with nonprofits across the globe. Also, the guaranteed lifespan of each product is 61 years, or the average lifespan for a person living in an underserved community.
“This venture has been less about making money and more about making the world better,” Smith says.
WHY THE MBA?
There are also visible influences from his previous e-commerce startup experiences and the Lauder Culture Quest. Since founding the company in November of 2013, Smith and his co-founders, Jordan Allred and Stephan Jacob, have raised $9 million in funding. After launching the site in April of 2014. Smith has been able to raise interest and hype for his brand by hosting Questivals, A Questival just happens to be a 24-hour adventure race that Cotopaxi hosts in random cities and has had more than 6,000 participants so far. It’s essentially a condensed Lauder Culture Quest with awards and a concert at the end.
Additionally, Smith and his co-founders have been able to organize a crack team of clothing and gear designers coming from established outdoor gear retailers such as Marmot, Black Diamond and Columbia. Smith credits much of the early success in raising interest and funds to his time at Wharton.
“I went to Wharton as an entrepreneur,” Smith says. “The question is always, why don’t you just take the $200,000 and start something with that money right away instead of going to get an MBA. The truth is, most people don’t have that in the bank when they start an MBA. I definitely didn’t.”
Smith credits the credentials and network as the two biggest benefits of creating a startup with an MBA.
“Most VC partners are MBAs,” Smith says. “I was able to raise money based on relationships I didn’t have before Wharton. I didn’t know these networks. For example, I raised about $4.5 million on a Powerpoint. I was the same person but didn’t have the network.”
Smith is flexing that network and hoping to disrupt the outdoor gear industry by his Gear for Good movement. Cotopaxi is currently partnered with 11 nonprofits based all around the world. The partners do everything from providing fresh water to safe and accessible education. The company is also classified as a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp).
“The most important thing to me is people,” Smith says. “Having people I love and who love me around me. I didn’t do anything to deserve that love or the opportunities I’ve had to be educated. I’ve been given a lot and now I want to give what I can.”