Years ago in Solana Beach, there was a lot to be developed, and the community was against it. Thomas Murray had an idea to micro-parcel the four acres and sell it to citizens to be donated back to the state for preservation.
As brilliant as this idea was, it ended up not working out. But it stuck in Murray’s head, and while flying over the Central American rainforest with Gus Hurst, it was brought back to light. He saw what looked like a giant golf course in the middle of nowhere, but the reality was that the entire area had been deforested.
Remembering Solana Beach, Murray knew just what to do. When he founded Cuipo (Kwee-po), he was proud to provide a vehicle for people to make a big difference in small increments.
Named for the tallest tree in the Central American rainforest, the startup built a unique, patented model of business just as grand. Cuipo buys large parcels of rainforest in Panama and Brazil, but only land they get a title to, land that is unprotected, land they own the timber and mining rights to, and land that’s primarily intact.
“We want to protect what’s already there,” says Murray. “We don’t want to fix the painting after the fire, but get the painting out of there before there ever is a fire.”
All of the purchased land is donated to the nonprofit they established alongside Cuipo, One Meter at a Time, the foundational charter that says the land can never be monetized or exploited. By manufacturing goods and apparel, Cuipo can sell them to pay for and guarantee the preservation of rainforest; each product comes with a redeemable code to save one square meter.
They want the products to be able to stand on their own though, so they create legitimately cool stuff. Additionally, the licensing agreements they have with companies like Sigg guarantee top quality.
“We want the products to draw the people in and have the cause of saving the rainforest be a bonus,” says Murray.
Getting big companies to license products is not easy, but John Oswald, creator of Paul Frank, signed on to help Hurst and Murray out even though the Cuipo model is readily scalable. His experience with Julius gave Cuipo an opportunity to license companies while providing them one of the hottest commodities of our time: data.
Since redeeming codes requires Facebook connectivity, Cuipo knows exactly who the customers are, what they like, what they bought, and who their friends are. They give this data back to companies to facilitate more precise marketing efforts beyond blanketed demographics.
The data has been one of their most powerful marketing tools, but Chris Lisk has been devising other out-of-the-box tactics to give Cuipo the reputation it deserves. Whether it’s a fundraising program for Mira Costa High School, an initiative with Weezer and Flogging Molly to sell limited edition socks, or a featured appearance on CNBC’s Power Pitch, the bottom-line goal is to save as much rainforest as possible.
“We really give a sh*t about what we’re doing,” says Murray. “We’re not tree huggers, we’re just business people who saw deforestation firsthand and acted.”