Christian Woolfenden was delighted to pick up the Startups 2005 Community Impact Award, which he won in recognition of all the hard work he has put into his company Growaforest. His ethical not-for-profit company helps businesses offset their carbon emissions through the planting of trees.
Since trading began in June 2005, Growaforest has planted over a thousand trees, mostly paid for by a number of small and medium companies who want to ‘do their bit’ for the environment.
The business have a ten-acre plot of land where they do the majority of their planting. However, company founder Woolfenden knows that the scale of their operation could rise dramatically with the arrival of one big order.
“We want to start getting into the blue chip world,” he says. “We can take the change that falls out of their pockets and really get going and plant an entire forest.”
Surprisingly, Woolfenden says that the logistics of planting a forest are not that hard and could actually be done in just over a day once plans have been finalised.
”It is all about knowing the right people to do the work, but it is easier than you would think,” he says.
Woolfenden’s decision to start his business began while he was on holiday and was made more or less on a whim.
“I was sitting on a sun bed and I thought that if I don’t do this now then I never will.
“So I went to an internet café and bought a web domain, then I went back to the sun bed and started listing all the things that I needed to do to make it work.”
It sounds a remarkably blasé way to found a successful business but Woolfenden has no regrets.
“The list worked pretty well actually,” he says with a laugh. “And I already knew the basic costs and what the worst case scenario was before I began.”
Woolfenden’s ‘worst case’ was limited by the fact that he wasn’t planning on giving up full-time employment and still doesn’t take a salary from Growaforest.
“We wanted the company to be totally different from all the other companies and make sure that as much money as possible was spent on trees.
“I don’t think this will change in the near future as we could literally double in output before we needed to have full-time staff.
”But if we ever do have someone being paid then we will have to be as transparent as possible.”
Woolfenden still works in marketing for Proctor and Gamble, a job he took after leaving university. However, holding down two jobs took its toll on his personal life, at least to begin with.
“I am very lucky that my girlfriend is as excited about this as I am. She helps with the management of the website and does some PR as well.
“There were a few very tough months when we first began, and for a while it seemed as if it was all we were doing.
“However once we got everything going it has not been as tough.”
He has invested about £2,000 of his own money into the business, but his staff are all volunteers.
“There are about five people who I speak to everyday. They are mostly professionals who do thing such as PR, IT and legal stuff.
“Then there are the people who help with the planting who I call when we need them.”
Woolfenden does his marketing entirely through the internet and PR as he wants to minimise his own environmental impact which would be far higher if he engaged in, for instance, mailshots.
He also avoids conventional advertising as he wants to distinguish Growaforest from their main competitor, Future Forest.
“When we talk about what we do most people refer to Future Forest. But we are very different from them.
“They spend far more on advertising and marketing than we do and use celebrity endorsements and things like that.”
Woolfenden spends about about £1 per day on Google, ensuring maximum visibility via the search engine, but thinks he gets about £15 back for on every £1 spent.
He hopes that the exposure from the Startups awards will give his company the boost it needs to help him bag that big blue chip contract.
“It’s a real boost for the team of Growaforest volunteers who sacrifice their spare time for no other reward than seeing new woodland areas created across the UK. We’re really proud”
Other media organisations appear to be catching up with Growaforest too. The Daily Telegraph have short-listed Christian as one of its young entrepreneurs of the year.
“Things are really looking up for us and I am sure that by April 2006 we will have easily exceeded my initial turnover target.”
Read more about the Startup Awards