John Allen, co-founder of Ivory Ella, is a serial entrepreneur. He started his first company during his junior year of college on a $25,000 loan that he paid back in three months. A year earlier, he had become obsessed with social media after a friend sold a Twitter handle for $30,000. Together, him and his friend, Jacob Castaldi, sat down and looked at how they could make a profitable business via social media. With an already established platform and a network of followers, Allen and Castaldi launched a company called Tingo that generated revenue from Nike and Coca-Cola ads. Soon after, they decided to promote their own products. They founded Boho Outfitters, a jewelry company that leveraged its seven million social media followers, mostly comprised of young women. The company, which resold products from Etsy and Alibaba made $60k per month for the pair of young entrepreneurs while they were still in college.
Motivated by their success, Allen and Castaldi began looking for a new void to fill–something the audience was looking for but couldn’t find. That’s when they noticed the unbelievable buzz around elephants. They had been selling close to 100 elephant rings per day, and the outcry against elephant poaching was at its highest rate ever.
While sitting in class, Allen and his business partner Googled “how to save the elephants” and found a non-profit dedicated to the cause. A phone call to the charity, “Save the Elephants,” yielded very little; the non-profit stated that they didn’t take sponsors, but said they would accept a check. This became the catalyst for the creation of Ivory Ella.
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Fast forward to the brand’s launch day: 17 minutes after going live, their inventory was oversold. The goal was to sell out in a month, not mere minutes. By the following Saturday, they had sold 7,000 t-shirts. Shortly after, Allen got on a call with his business partners at 12:30 AM while at a college house party. His four other partners had significant social media bases but were not prepared to ship that much inventory. Allen drove to his friend’s house and spent the next two weeks folding and shipping orders.
In that time, they raised $50,000 for “Save the Elephants.” The non-profit was in disbelief when Allen called to tell them the good news. Only thirty minutes before that call, the non-profit was in a board meeting and voted to no longer accept sponsorships. However, thirty minutes after the call, they scheduled another meeting to reverse their decision. That week, “Save the Elephants” flew them out to San Francisco to attend a wildlife conservation expo and meet the people they were helping.
During the first two months of Ivory Ella’s launch, Allen slept in the warehouse and worked 20 hours a day. Even with that level of dedication, 1,000 orders were over 100 days old. But, calls to customers revealed that they didn’t want a refund; they just wanted a shirt, and they were willing to wait. That’s when Allen knew he had something truly special.
Not long after that, Allen fell asleep at the wheel and caused an automobile accident. He walked away without injuries, but with a changed mindset. Today, Ivory Ella operates out of a 60,000 square foot warehouse with over 75 full-time employees. Their sales have generated over a million dollars in contributions for “Save the Elephants” and many other non-profits.
People often ask Allen if they should give back. He says, for some brands, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. One of the biggest reasons he took the “do more” approach is because of Ivory Ella’s audience demographics. Allen built his social media following through 13 to 18-year-old females who are constantly sharing with friends and family. These followers are proud of their accomplishments and share them on Instagram, which makes a charitable product a perfect fit. He finds that more and more people are looking for an experience. When people buy one of Ivory Ella’s products, there is a story behind it. It’s not your everyday t-shirt purchase.
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