Exclusive: How a Fake Product Announcement Created A Viral Marketing Campaign For Protecting The Environment

Earlier this year, a startup company called Treepex announced that it was taking pre-orders for an ingenious product that cleaned the air that one breathes. The company claimed that its flagship offering – shown for months on the website www.treepex.com, but moved at the moment that this article was published to try.treepex.com – was the “first ever device that transforms polluted air into fresh oxygen.”

Millions of people watched Treepex’s product-introduction video, and thousands publicly raised questions about the offering, discussing on various social platforms whether or not the device was real, and whether it would really improve one’s health if used in heavily polluted cities. The firm’s founders did many media interviews as well.

Today, however, in an exclusive interview with me, Treepex founder, Bacho Khachidze, who is based in the country of Georgia, finally revealed the truth about both the Treepex company and its flagship offering:

The Treepex device does not exist. In fact, it is Treepex’s mission to make sure that the device never needs to exist.

As explained in the video below, Treepex is really in the business of planting trees around the world. Trees, of course, utilize photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide (and water) into oxygen (and sugar) – performing a task vital to keeping the Earth habitable by humans and the many other animals that rely on oxygen for their survival. Pollution and logging, however, have undermined the natural balance – bringing consequences such as accelerated climate change, increased respiratory ailments, and other ecological, biological, and sociological problems.

Treepex’s “product announcement” was designed to raise awareness about the negative impact of pollution on human health, as well as of the positive impact that trees have in cleaning the air for us. It made millions of people ponder whether they would be healthier if they breathed better air. But, at least of today, there is simply no substitute for nature’s method of restoring oxygen to our air via the billions of trees and other plants on our planet; as a society, we must better appreciate their importance in our ecosystem, and the understand that it is our responsibility to maintain and deliver a healthy Earth to generations to come. In that regard, we must also remember that nature does not care about politics, budgets, or unscientific theories.

Treepex’s “product announcement video” appears to have ignited many discussions about trees and their role in our lives, and conversations on related environmental topics are sure to continue for years to come. In the meantime, Treepex offers people the ability to plant trees in several locations around the globe – as such, it truly “transforms polluted air into fresh oxygen” the way nature intended.

Tech

How these Founders Pivoted from a Failing Startup at the Last Minute and Created a Million-Dollar Business

“Make better decisions with feedback from real people.”

This mission lies at the core of User Interviews, a startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts that gives consumers a platform to voice their opinions on new and innovative products–while getting paid for their time.

User Interviews isn’t the first company to recruit participants for market research studies, but believe their differentiation is in their technology-based approach and commitment to a world-class user experience. The website makes it easy for consumers to connect with companies running research studies that they’re interested in.

“We started this company because we saw that the most successful products are built by companies that deeply understand their customers,” said Dennis Meng, one of the co-founders of User Interviews. “We wanted to make that easier to do.”

Meng and his co-founders, Basel Fakhoury and Bob Saris, realized the importance of getting feedback from customers from their experiences working on on their first startup together. They were building a mobile app that would give travelers 24/7 access to upscale hotel concierge service. After spending a year developing the app, they launched it and were horrified to realize that nobody cared to use it. In a desperate effort to salvage the app, they started gathering as much user feedback as they could. At one point, the trio even resorted to buying refundable plane tickets just so they could go through airport security to sit and talk to travelers. After talking to hundreds of travelers, the three founders finally came to terms with the fact that their app would never take off. “If we had talked to them earlier, we would have known much sooner that our app wasn’t going to be successful.”  Luckily, based on the difficulties they encountered, the team realized there might be a huge untapped opportunity to help companies connect with consumers to gather feedback.

From the ashes of the mobile app business rose User Interviews, one of the first automated platforms for recruiting and scheduling participants for market research studies and product tests. Though User Interviews initially targeted other startups as potential clients, discussions with product managers and marketers at larger firms helped the team realize that conducting consumer studies was just as much of a struggle for well-established companies.

“I once heard someone describe running a startup as riding a bike while building it,” said Meng. “That description couldn’t have been more accurate for us. Before we even had a website, we had companies trying to pay us for our services. We had dozens of paying clients before the first version of our technology platform was complete.”

Fast forward to today – the company now counts hundreds of companies as clients, including the likes of Pinterest, DirecTV, Colgate, Yahoo, and Pandora. They’ve also paid out over $ 1 million in incentives to the consumers who have participated in their clients’ studies. However, when asked, Meng says that the most surprising thing he’s learned is that people care as much about improving the products they’re reviewing as they do about the money. “People like the money, but even more than that – they like having a voice.”

From this simple concept has grown a burgeoning industry giant, and the last few months have been exciting ones for User Interviews. They recently raised $ 1 million in a seed round led by Accomplice Ventures, which they’ve already used to hire several new employees. Over the next few years, Meng, Fakhoury, and Saris plan to introduce User Interviews to thousands of companies and millions of consumers across the country.

Tech