Get To Know: Treedom Tools (with Michael Kadisha)

November 21, 2022

In our line of work, our clients are the people who intrigue us the most. Get To Know is a series by Aquí Design where we take you behind-the-scenes to find out who they are and what they do.

In this Get To Know, we speak to Michael Kadisha, CEO and Co-Founder of Treedom Tools, a family of three brands - Treedom, Maple and Salt. Our story with Treedom Tools started in 2020, back when Treedom was looking for web designers to revamp the website. Down the line, when Maple and Salt were founded, we were brought onboard to work on the brand identities and websites. Having worked with all three brands over the past two years, we are very excited for you to get to know them!

Aquí: Hi Michael! Could you introduce yourself to our friends?

Michael: I'm Michael Kadisha, CEO of Treedom Tools, which was founded by Greg Chumakov and I.

Aquí: Could you tell us more about Treedom Tools?

Michael: Treedom Tools is an umbrella of three companies that are centered around the idea of building things for good. Our first project was Treedom, a scholarship platform for students. The second was Maple, focused on digital inclusion for students who do not have online access. And the third is Salt, a subscription service that allows people to offset their carbon emissions while earning rewards.

Aquí: We’re so excited to dive into each of these brands with you. Let’s start with Treedom - how did it all begin?

Michael: Treedom has been on my mind since I was in eighth grade. I thought – is there a way to mobilize the millions of students around the country to do good? 80% of schools in the country have community service requirements for graduation. But even so, much of it was done through pen and paper. There was also no real incentive beyond clocking those hours. So we decided to attach scholarship incentives to the service that students would do in their communities and improve the experience with software.

(CREDIT: TREEDOM)

So I thought, “Let's make a platform that is convenient, easy and solves that problem.” And that’s exactly what we did. The app that we created lets students submit their hours easily, and there is also a portal for administrators (who are essentially the educators) which made the process so much more enjoyable for both. As the goal of Treedom was to mobilise students around the country to do good, we needed more attractive incentives to draw them in as the significance of community engagement is not obvious to them at first.

80% of schools in the country have community service requirements for graduation. But even so, much of it was done through pen and paper. There was also no real incentive beyond clocking those hours.

Aquí: Why offer scholarships as incentives?

Michael: We began testing with other types of rewards - iPhones, concert tickets, gift cards, and more. We came to realize that students cared more about their college education than material goods. So we tested scholarships and saw that it performed better than other rewards every time. That was a great indicator of what they prioritize and prompted us to create a system where students can carry out community service, and, in return, win thousands of dollars in scholarships from brands whose missions are aligned with the cause.

(CREDIT: TREEDOM)

Traditional scholarships in America are merit-based - meaning it has much to do with a student’s abilities. Ironically, a lot of the students from low-income communities don’t have the support or resources to excel in subjects and crafts since shouldering many responsibilities. We realized that a scholarship model predicated on service could be much more equitable than awarding students based on ability. Our model is about conviction and commitment, not about result. 

 

We are the first non-merit-based tech-enabled solution for students to procure scholarship funding for themselves. We don’t  aim to replace merit-based scholarships. But rather to expand opportunities for students by making scholarships more accessible.‍

Traditional scholarships in America are merit-based - meaning it has much to do with a student’s abilities. Ironically, a lot of the students from low-income communities don’t have the support or resources to excel in subjects and crafts since shouldering many responsibilities.

Aquí: Treedom is now widely adopted by schools and businesses across the USA. What’s next on the roadmap?

Michael: Today, Treedom is in about 20 US states and a handful of countries around the world. We are looking to invest significantly more in scholarships, creating more opportunities for students.

(CREDIT: TREEDOM)

Aquí: That would be amazing for students. Speaking of other companies, could you tell us more about Maple?

Michael: Maple came about at the start of the pandemic and stemmed from Treedom. When the pandemic hit, we (Treedom) partnered with Green Dot Public Schools and LAUSD to give out Chromebooks to students in low-income communities so that they can do their homework online. But we soon found that most didn’t have WiFi at home. We did some research to figure out how we can get WiFi hotspots into the hands of students, and when the government announced the Emergency Connectivity Fund to bridge the digital divide, we found our way in. 

(CREDIT: UNSPLASH)

We distributed thousands of Hotspots. And if you factor in the three to five people per household, Maple reached many thousands more. 80% of LAUSD didn’t have access to stable WiFi before the pandemic, but now that’s changed and Maple is still on a mission to continue driving that number down.

Aquí: Incredible. I love how each company’s vision correlates to one another. Which brings us to the next company, Salt. Tell us more!

Michael: We owe a lot to Treedom as that’s where both Maple and Salt were born.

Something we picked up on at Treedom was how climate change was always the most popular category for service on Treedom. Students were always thinking about what they could do for the planet. So we thought of creating a feature specific to climate change. They could calculate their carbon footprint and subscribe to a restoration project around the world. But when we thought about it more, we realized that high schoolers don’t have much of a carbon footprint to begin with; many don’t drive, travel or consume in excess. We wanted to open up to a wider audience, leveraging our existing tech, team and resources. And that was how Salt was born. 

Natural disasters are happening all over the world, more aggressively and at a larger scale. You see floods in places where it never happened before, and deforestation that is causing the Amazon to become a carbon sink. So many of us are seeing this and want to engage but don’t know where to begin. And that’s the feeling we want to plug into with Salt.

If you think about it, we have a subscription for everything in this world – food, cars, TV, dating, and music - why can't we have it for one that addresses the most pressing issue of our time?

Natural disasters are happening all over the world, more aggressively and at a larger scale. You see floods in places where it never happened before, and deforestation that is causing the Amazon to become a carbon sink. So many of us are seeing this and want to engage but don’t know where to begin. And that’s the feeling we want to plug into with Salt.

Aquí: What you said really hits home. And I’m really curious now - how does Salt work?

Michael: Sustainability as a service - that’s a way we put it. 

On our website, which Aquí helped us build, you can calculate your carbon emissions, choose to subscribe to a project – the conservation of the Amazon or reforestation in Madagascar. We want to concierge different projects for the climate for all our members.

All members also have access to rewards from our brand partners. What’s great about this is that utilising the rewards from our brand partners would allow you the chance to offset the price of your subscription. Every time a reward is used, we’ll plant trees, which makes it a carbon-neutral transaction.

(CREDIT: TREEDOM)

We want our members to see that when they invest in the planet, the planet contributes back, which is why we’ve partnered with mission-driven companies to offer rewards.

We want our members to see that when they invest in the planet, the planet contributes back, which is why we’ve partnered with mission-driven companies to offer rewards.

Aquí: How are the reward partners selected?

Michael: We hand-picked them. Many of them already have sustainability programs in place. We want to create a community of businesses that are conscious and want to support the planet.

Aquí: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from Salt?

Michael: Everybody wants to do something for the climate but nobody knows how to do it. And that includes brands that want to leverage their business to do good. And we’re offering a convenient way to help them achieve that without reinventing the wheel.

Aquí : What is 'design' to you? Do you use design in your day-to-day? What are some examples?

Michael: It’s not only about aesthetics. It is a critical part of building businesses as it creates the conditions for success. It’s like the way an orchestra uses sound to design an experience. Within the company, you design structures and cultures. However, the aesthetic of your product or service is where your end user first meets you. 

You have to know your vision; you have to know yourself; you have to know what you want. The best designers, in my opinion, are the ones who know who they are and transfer that into what they are creating.

Learn more about Treedom, Maple and Salt.

Contact us with new business opportunities, speaker requests, media inquiries, and more.

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