Philip Toussaint, Co-Founder of Ecopreneur
When I first started, I had these naive notions of changing the world. But then I quickly realized that we needed to connect with people on a deeper and realistic level, and initiate something that made sense for everyone to see our vision. And since we made that pivot, it changed everything for us.
— Philip Toussaint, Co-Founder of Ecopreneur
Founder Visibility is an interview series that highlights founders that inspire us and shares how they found their firsts: co-founder, customer, capital, and confidence.
Philip is the Co-Founder of Ecopreneur Media, an environmental media platform that utilizes the power of video content to cause mobilization. Philip is an entrepreneurial environmentalist and is changing the world by finding common ground between his passions. Read about his fascinating journey below.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I’ve always kind of had a love for the environment and a mind for entrepreneurship since I was a kid. My dad owned a couple of businesses up here in the Boston area, and going forward, I ended up starting to gain his acumen and mindset.
When I was in high school, I got introduced to environmentalism through a research project that I did with my buddy. From there, I fell in love with the environment and I knew I wanted to make a career out of it, as well as pursue my love and passion for entrepreneurship.
So I ended up going to Stonehill College, and I did a double major in Business Management and Environmental Studies. And while I was towards the end of my college years, I ended up really just pursuing the path of entrepreneurship. I was building my own businesses and starting to get really into that. So the first business I started was actually an e-commerce store, and I started doing some drop shipping and learned the fundamentals of how to build a business, how to raise one, and the ins and outs that come with it. At that point, I started building my platform — Ecopreneur — because I couldn’t continue the store anymore since I ran out of money, which was a hurdle for me. But I was in this mindset where I really just wanted to build a platform, a marketplace, that was meaningful and impacted the world in a positive way. So that’s where I started — building my brand, essentially Ecopreneur.
We went through a bunch of pivots at the time. At first, I started off looking at it as a media platform. But then after the pandemic hit, a lot of different factors came into play and I ended up transitioning. Ultimately, we have become an environmental media platform that utilizes the power of video content to cause mobilization, so essentially, our goal is to get people to take action. And over the pandemic, I really used the time to figure out what our platform needed to look like, our business model, how we were going to make money, the economic units behind everything, and all of that good stuff.
So with a lot of time on our hands, my team and I have been able to sit down and figure out where we want to take our platform in the next five, ten years, and so forth.
Did you have the idea for Ecopreneur before finding a co-founder?
Funny story, I was watching Shark Tank on a casual summer day— classic entrepreneurial thing — and someone on the show called Kevin O’Leary an “ecopreneur.” I thought that was super interesting, so I did more research on the term and found that it was pretty much what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to combine the world of entrepreneurship and the world of environmentalism.
So I ended up building out the idea, and I didn’t really know exactly where it was going to be at the time; it was just a concept of combining both worlds and being able to explore ecopreneurs out there that are truly changing the world for the better.
Towards the end of my senior year at Stonehill College, I found my co-founder who I met in my Negotiations class. We were both Business Management majors, and he had a deep background in media. He currently has a media production company and has produced award-winning films, commercials, etc. So I connected with him and shared a little bit about my idea. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it, but I knew that I wanted to build a media-tech platform. So he became my co-founder just by believing in the mission and having a deep passion for the idea. And it worked because my environmental background and his media background came together really well.
What was your motivation to start Ecopreneur?
So when I started looking at the industry of environmentalism, I saw that our generation — Gen Z — is super passionate about addressing and tackling the issues that we are dealing with today. And it goes way beyond just environmental issues. We’re looking at an unprecedented time right now — things are transparent, and nothing is hidden anymore. So it almost came at a perfect time for us to really start building out this platform.
When I first started, I had these naive notions of changing the world. But then I quickly realized that we needed to connect with people on a deeper level and initiate something that made sense for everyone to see our vision. And since we made that pivot, it changed everything for us.
Our first piece of media content was a documentary that we pushed out back in Fall 2019, called The Venus Project. We made massive success over it — hundreds of dollars in donations, recognition across different parts of the world, thousands of views on our film. All of this allowed us to truly figure out how to build our platform in a very realistic, transparent, and honest way. And since going off that philosophy, it’s changed the way we go about as a company, but it has also changed my mindset as a founder.
How did you find your first customer and how did the Venus Project come to life?
Our first customer type is essentially a marketplace that allows for advocates (consumers/users) to come into Ecopreneur. They can browse projects that are nearby and participate in those projects. The way we have built Ecopreneur is that we want to reward people for doing good and participating in such projects. Then we have our other two customer types, which are the brands and the projects. An example is the Venus Project — they came onto our platform, and we figured out the type of content that we would want to produce as a media outlet. But the tech side of putting together the marketplace and assembling all three sides of our platform allowed us to look at the Venus Project as our guinea pig, where we could utilize their audience to become a part of Ecopreneur by signing up, making an account through us and then going from there, which is what we’re working on right now as our MVP.
We were at the annual Boston GreenFest event through a friend of mine, and I remember coming across the Venus Project and thought they were super, super interesting because they advocate for something different called a Resource-Based Economy, which I thought was cool. We were able to connect with them further, and my team and I went to Venus, Florida to plan and film the documentary. It was amazing — truly surreal.
How has Ecopreneur changed in terms of the challenges you have faced since the Venus Project?
We released the documentary probably five or six months before the pandemic. Back then, we had the mindset of being a lifestyle platform. We wanted to produce a magazine, create video content, launch a podcast, and also start to push out articles and other media content. But once the pandemic hit, I started stressing and thought, how am I going to pivot now that money is tight, our team is small, and everything is all over the place?
We realized we were overwhelming ourselves with too many things at once, so I took a step back and began to identify what our direction, strategy, and goals were as a company.
My team and I figured quickly to cut everything out and focus on the media side of our platform, which would be the video content that we produce. And it wouldn’t just be general video content, but more so involving people and getting them to come across our classroom platform to browse and find projects, and eventually getting advocates through that process. Then from there, those advocates can go ahead and participate and earn rewards.
Where do you plan on taking Ecopreneur now?
Our next step is to roll out our MVP. Once that is all sorted, we want to be able to go through an accelerator program that will allow us to further build out our platform and truly develop our business. Given our three-sided marketplace, our focus is mainly on looking at projects and partnering with those projects to get advocates to come onto our platform and become part of Ecopreneur. Then, the goal is to, of course, get funding and build up Ecopreneur’s tech side, essentially allowing us to launch an app. Once we conduct more consumer research and receive substantial feedback, we will further dive into putting together a beta version of our initial idea.
In the long run, we want to roll out a finalized app, through which we can connect projects, brands, and advocates — almost like a three-sided relationship. We have very concrete goals that we want to achieve by the end of 2021, leading up to 2022, and I’m very excited for what’s to come in the next five, ten years!
What is one piece of advice you would give to your past self before starting your company?
You know, I was fortunate enough to not make the mistake of trying to figure everything out on my own. But I wish I came across that a little bit sooner. So for myself and other young founders that are just getting started, figure out what problem you are trying to solve as quickly as possible and build an MVP around that.
I made the mistake of trying to tackle too many problems at once when I first started, and it just stretched me so thin, which led to my team and I being all over the place just trying to figure things out. If I knew to slow down at that moment, I would have saved us a whole year, and I guess I would be a lot farther in the process with more time and energy to build things out.
I’d say my biggest pieces of advice are:
Surround yourself with the right people as you’re building your idea.
This is helpful so you can actually build a justifiable platform with the right feedback, guidance, and mentorship.
Try to figure out your gameplan as quickly as you can.
This includes your MVP, your goals, and your strategy. And make sure your team is on board with your vision.