Ethical and sustainable shopping for everyone – Monagoo is a social start-up from Bad Homburg (near Frankfurt) in Germany. Monagoo started in August 2014 as an online store for sustainable & ethical products with 5 brands and about 300 items. With that, they wanted test and pilot if consumers and brands are interested in their vision and offering. It worked! Only seven months later, Monagoo grew to 50 brands with more than 5.000 items; ranging from shoes and fashion to adult toys, from accessories and jewelry to sofas and protein powder. In addition to that, they established an online magazine about sustainability. Today, I’ve got an exclusive interview with Holger Heinze, CEO & co-founder of Monagoo, for you.
1. First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself. I’ve seen you have worked in Belize, where you were involved in sustainable tourism developments and a recycling network. You used to work as a consultant, coach, photographer, travel blogger, manager, lecturer and you founded a couple of businesses – your CV is quite impressive!
It’s not that big of a deal and has a lot to do with loving to develop new ideas, a positively short attention span and a lack of hobbies.
I started my first company when I was 17 years old. It was all about “doing websites” back then and we managed to have a lot of fun until 2003 when we quietly closed shop when our last customer went belly up. I then studied computer science and business and started to work for IBM where I was a specialist for corporate finance and risk management. I switched to a smaller consulting company and learned a lot about building a business, developing a brand and working with a market. In 2010, my then girlfriend and I both started to think. She was in San Francisco at the time, so I flew over. We camped in Yosemite and swore not to leave the camp fire until we had figured out what to do with our lives. Our careers we had had up to that point just weren’t doing it for us any more. So we flew back to Germany, got married, sold everything we could, donated the rest and became development consultants. While we contributed what we could in Belize, I blogged and learned how to take pictures.
Once we got back to Germany, I played around in photography, worked at my alma mater as an off-campus lecturer and coached some friends and colleagues who went through the same thing I went through a few years before: You’re a seemingly successful yuppie with a career, a longing and that question “Is that all?” burning in the back of your head. Whoever was interested in exploring that questions, I tried to coach as good as I could.
2. Monagoo was launched in August 2014. Was it something you always wanted to do, or how did the idea develop? Please tell us something about this process.
I have a big notebook full of business ideas. Whenever one comes around, I jot down a mind map. The more interesting ones, I talk about with my wife and friends. If the idea is still there 2 weeks later, I may give it a bit more attention.
In fall of 2013, I needed new clothes. (We had just come back from travelling the warmer parts of the planet and at that point thought Germany still had serious winters). Awesome opportunity – a completely fresh start to only buy the ‘good’ stuff. With a clean conscience. So I went online – and spent 2 months to research, define and understand, what “ethical” means in the world of textiles. Once I had wrapped my head around that, I started to shop. And I was awed by the great products I found and by the horrid online shopping experiences that often came with them. I was ecstatic because this was where I could combine my old love for e-Commerce with my new-found passion for sustainability.
I contacted my old buddie Georg who is a seasoned logistics and retail manager – both things I knew absolutely nothing about. Together we figured out that we could cover about 80% of what we needed to create a relevant shop in the sector and to create something that is useful for consumers and producers. We committed to the project in January 2014 and have been working in it ever since.
3.What differentiates Monagoo from its competitors? Do you see Fairmondo as a competitor?
The main difference to most other players is that we are smaller. Fairmondo (who we love a lot) is a platform or market place. That means they create a place where sellers can publish their information and sell their goods. Monagoo on the other hand is a shop – we create the pictures, videos and texts ourselves, we sell in our name and run our customer service. While we value our partners and love to tell their stories and the stories behind their products, we run our shop. We pick the products that you can find in our store, check them and then sell them as Monagoo. That takes time so the price we pay for that is: We are a lot smaller.
4. At your website it is stated that you only add new products to the store if their sustainability can be proved. How do guarantee sustainable & ethical products?
We have an employee who does exclusively partner audits and interviews. After a producer signed compliance with our sustainability criteria, Linus initiates an interview process that covers employment contracts, solar panels on the roof, IT procurement (refurbished computers, anyone?) and even the kind of toilet paper the company uses at the office. If he has any doubts, he can veto a listing. And regularly does.
5. The platform is currently in German. Are there any plans to include more languages?
Absolutely. But sustainability goes far beyond language. The way a German feels and understands sustainability is very different from the way we would have to work in France, Italy, the UK or the US. But we have plans to grow into those markets in the not too distant future once we’ve had the time to learn about those cultural aspects.
6. You have recently launched a crowdfunding campaign and you were able to reach €10.000 within two days – respect!!! What do you plan to do with the funding goal of €200.000?
We have three steps for the crowdfunding. First we have to reach 50.000€. With that money, we can add 25 new partners to the store. The cost includes our time spent on interviews, marketing, content generation and advise on sustainability such as logistics, packaging. Additionally, we will launch a sustainable business attire store.
If we reach 100.000€, we will add another 25 partners to that. Also we’ll launch a ‘sustainable taste’ store within Monagoo for oils, spices, coffee, tea and chocolate. Additionally, we’ll start a clothing line for big sizes. If you’re bigger than 3XL you would have a really hard time currently to find fair and sustainable clothing. We want to use the money to invest in fair basics to test the market and see if there’s a market for sustainable oversized clothing. We’re pretty sure there is.
If we reach the 200.000€, we’ll use the money to establish a sustainable logistics center. To show the world that logistics and mail order business is possible with respect for people and planet. Because it is. (We’ve been working on this for a while now.)
7. You offer rewards ranging from upcycled canvas & safety belts backpacks, eco-friendly coffee mugs, organic cotton socks to sustainability workshops and visits to your partner organisations like the jeans factory in Italy – How did you come up with these ideas?
We’re lucky enough to be embedded in a very active network made up of pioneers in sustainability. So we just asked our producers and partners. This is the short list – you should’ve seen the first list of possible rewards. 😉
8. One of the rewards for the crowdfunding supporters is a 24 hour hike with the social startup Neustarter. What can they expect from it?
Neustarter is an awesome social start-up from Frankfurt. They have found a way to end long term unemployment by starting running clubs. There are comparable projects in the US that work with homeless and they have very high success rates.
One of their income streams to fund the social start-up is 24 hour hikes for companies. You literally hike from 10 am to 10 am. We will circumvent Frankfurt, hiking about 70 km in Frankfurt’s so called ‘green belt’ – an undeveloped, lush ring of meadows and woodland around Frankfurt. The hike includes rest stops and meals. But it has been described to us as “an easy way to really push the limits of a person and a team without being so strenuous that you exclude people.” I’m really looking forward to it.
9. What would you recommend other crowdfunders to consider when planning a crowdfunding campaign?
Be authentic, be yourself and if you have a vision and a dream, don’t be shy to tell people about it. It’s good to have a plan (or two), but people will follow and help to develop a vision!
10. Lastly, what advice or which tips would you give to aspiring (social) entrepreneurs?
Just do it. Don’t wait. Find mentors who are honest. Be quick to get feedback and to test hypothesis. Don’t avoid mistakes, just make them quickly. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t change things. Because you can.
Anything else you feel like sharing?
I’m not big on quotes and the like but one of the things that I was told when we started Monagoo has stuck with me: Whatever you’re doing: Don’t think about why it could fail – focus on why it could work.
Note: English subtitle available!
If you want to suppport Monagoo there are basically two options: 1. Financially support them on Startnext whilst receiving a reward as a thank you (This is possible until the 9th of April 2015. The funding goal is €200.000; the funding threshold €50,000) 2. Support them with Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr via Thunderclab.