Alumni Interview: Tristan Bel, President of GreenSmart

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Tristan Bel is a graduate of our Business Fundamentals & Tactics course in New York City and currently making his mark in the sustainable brands market. With a knack for entrepreneurship, he’s recently become the President of GreenSmart, a sustainable brand of day bags and laptop sleeves. We caught up with Tristan and heard some of the exciting things he’s been up to with GreenSmart.

1. What were you doing before you came to GA?

I moved to NYC in 2010 to work with entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs using the knowledge and experience I had developed in product development, brand and operations. By training, I’m a product design engineer and have worked on medical equipment, cool consumer electronics and packaging machines.

2. What brought you to GA?

I moved to NYC because I had a sense that entrepreneurship was going to take off – my other option was the Silicon Valley where I had worked after graduating. GA provides a hub for the community as well as practical education, which I was happy to find. I think a friend said something about it and I took a one-off class to check it out.

3. Can you tell us some more about your experience with entrepreneurs?

For about 3 years I’ve helped entrepreneurs build their brand, their product, and their operations. I was a consultant in the sense that I was a contractor, but I was very hands on: doing the research, shaping the strategy, sometimes hiring teams of freelancers, and managing the projects up to deliverables. The goal was to offer the services of creative agencies or typical business consultancies, but at the fraction of the cost.

4. Tell us about GreenSmart.

GreenSmart is a sustainable brand of day bags and laptop sleeves using fabrics made out of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Green fell out of grace with the 2008 financial crisis – because sustainability is more expensive and requires more design efforts. GreenSmart is in a better place now, getting some growth again.

4. What are your goals and aspirations for GreenSmart?

I would love to grow GreenSmart into a sustainable brand, like Patagonia but with a more urban feel, or like nau, but with more affordable prices – that’s the white space as I see it. Also, participating in the community of sustainable companies is important, and contributing to education both at the consumer level, and at the business community level.

5. How do you currently promote GreenSmart?

We have small budgets, so we try to make the most of it. For the past few months we’ve hired an agency to develop the brand on social media for the consumer side. For the retail side, trade shows and sales meetings with potential buyers have been our way to increase awareness and distribution.

6. Any challenges that you didn’t expect with GreenSmart?

I did not expect the retail industry to be as complex with retailers, sales teams, sales consultants, trade organisations and distributors. The sales and distribution processes have been a steep learning curve for me.

7. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting at GreenSmart?

I was surprised that I actually enjoy selling, once I understood the complete process. Being trained as an engineer, and having most of my experience in creative and management areas, I’ve never really been interested in sales until I actually had to focus on it for GreenSmart.

8. Any advice for people looking to start their own business?

General advice is very hard to give because each story is unique. I would emphasize the use of design thinking, and the importance of maintaining good health physically, mentally, and emotionally. In order to be able to do that, work better rather that work more. Easier said than done, I know.

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