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Small Business Spotlight: How One Business Becomes One With Nature

Kabbage spoke with Alex Shirley-Smith, the Managing Director at Tentsile, to gain insight into a company that inspires its customers to become one with nature. As a young boy, Alex was devastated when he saw the destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest on TV, and when he saw Return of the Jedi a few weeks later, he realized that trees would survive if humans had a reason to depend on them. Through his career as an architect, this idea stuck with Alex and served as the inspiration behind the creation of Tentsile, which launched in 2012. 

As is apparent from the name, Tentsile makes tents – but these aren’t just your basic tents. They are meant to mimic treehouses by attaching to three trees and hovering between them, above the ground. These triangular treehouses are portable, affordable, exciting, and allow anyone – young or old – to have an authentic experience in nature. They also provoke adventure and add a new element to the basic camping experience, so it’s no surprise that Tentsile has elicited an enormous positive response from the public.

Yet, as Alex described to us, Tentsile’s mission is far more nuanced than simply to sell tents. He likes to describe what he is trying to create as a “tree hugger” movement of sorts.  He wants people to gain appreciation for the trees, to realize that they serve a bigger purpose and to fight to preserve them. “The more people hang out in trees,” Alex says, the more people will learn to respect them. Tents, he says, are effectively tree saving devices because if there are people in the trees, they cannot be cut down.

Moreover, for every tent that is bought, Tentsile plants three trees. This combination of a theoretical idea (if people are in trees then they will stay) with a concrete action (three trees for the sale of each tent) is a brilliant way to ensure that Tentsile’s mission to fight deforestation is always kept at the forefront of their business model.

Tentsile’s appealing brand has quickly caught fire on the internet, and their Instagram page has accumulated close to 200K followers. We asked Alex why he thinks Tentsile has increased so significantly in popularity on social media, and he attributes this success to their photogenic product because it “inspires interaction with the natural environment.”

And he’s right – the Tentsile Instagram page is filled with stunning pictures of tents hanging between trees in a variety of settings, including snowy mountains, isolated lakes and even tropical beaches. Alex tells us that these images inspire elements of mystery, magic and a child-like feeling of excitement. The tents allow the consumer to revert to the sense of curiosity and imagination that they had as a child.

Additionally, the tents are appreciated not only for their beauty, but also for their inclusivity. Tentsile has built their brand so that they cater to a wide range of people. Their photos feature people of all ages; they’re not restricted to the uniquely athletic, young and outdoorsy types. By eliminating this bias, Tentsile has expanded their customer base and, in doing so, allowed themselves to spread their message to a wide demographic.

However, as is often the case with small businesses, Tentsile’s journey to success has not always been a smooth ride. Tentsile struggled early on to gain funding and RD loans to manufacture their tents. Once they had grown enough so that they couldn’t produce the tents themselves anymore, they had difficulty finding a place to manufacture their tents within England. Tentsile spent a great deal of time sending pictures of their product to local design forums until eventually one picked them up. These struggles exemplify what it means to take a leap of faith and start a business from scratch. Yet, as Tentsile has proven, bumps in the road do not define the success of a company.

We asked Alex what advice he would give to someone just starting their business, and he said that if you believe your idea is good, then persevere.  He also said that it is important to get unbiased public opinions on your idea because impartial bystanders are often honest and can give helpful feedback. This balance between going with your gut and listening to outside opinions is something that Alex emphasized early on which ultimately contributed to the growth of the company.

Alex says that in the coming months and years, Tentsile is looking to further develop their brand and to introduce a new tent model, which is something they do annually. Next year’s model will be more storm proof and will have a fully removable top, innovations which will make the tents adaptable to a wider range of climates and settings. Tentsile will keep testing new features, moving forward and, at the same time, working to preserving the trees. Alex hopes the business will continue to grow, to make a name for itself and to encourage the next generation of tree-huggers to come forward.

For more information on Tentsile, make sure to follow their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. 

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Lizabeth Frohwein

Lizabeth Frohwein in an intern in the People Operations department at Kabbage. She recently graduated high school and will be attending Northwestern University in the fall. She is planning on majoring in English Literature.