Investor Tim Schumacher Explains Ecosia’s Shift To A Self-Owned Company

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Five years ago, I invested in Ecosia, the “search engine that plants trees.”

From the minute I found out about the idea, I loved it. Ecosia for me was the perfect marriage between my two passions: economy (internet technology, to be more precise) and ecology. The former has dominated my business life, having founded and funded multiple internet companies. The latter is deeply rooted in my upbringing, not coincidentally in Freiburg, often dubbed the greenest city in the world. As a teenager, I was a bit of an activist, demonstrating against nuclear power and new roads… unsuccessfully though: nuclear reactor Fessenheim is still there, and the new highway B31 was built despite our protests. These days, my activism is largely reduced to annoying my wife and my kids in an attempt to reduce and recycle trash.

Tim Schumacher

So when I met Christian, the founder of Ecosia, I immediately bought into the idea of using the power of the world’s internet users to tackle one of the world’s biggest problems: deforestation. Ecosia does this by generating money through the most profitable venture of the internet, namely search engines, and funneling it into a greater good instead of the pockets of shareholders. Millions of users together make millions of euros and dollars to plant millions of trees. After all, trees are the most efficient CO2 absorbers on the planet. Trees help mitigate climate change, restart water cycles, keep deserts from spreading and turn barren grounds back into fertile woods and farmland. Overall, trees mean a happy environment, healthy people, and a strong economy. Sometimes, the best solutions are very simple.

Over the years, from 2013 to 2018, we grew Ecosia together. Our million tree goal became a billion tree goal (still far away, but doable, and we will continue to strive for it!). Our team grew, with over 30 people working in our Berlin office, plus tens of thousands of people in over 10 large-scale tree planting projects all over the world.

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By classic standards of the Internet economy, Ecosia would now be a company worth tens of millions of euros.

But something along the way didn’t feel right. Was it the fact that Ecosia was a company? Maybe. Because Ecosia always felt so much bigger than a company. It felt like a movement. So over the past year we investigated many legal models that could change this status. We looked at foundations, cooperatives, b-corps and other options, but finally settled on the fairly new model of a “self-owned company.”

A self-owned company basically operates like a normal company, but there are two important restrictions:

  1. Shares cannot be sold at a profit or owned by people outside of the company.
  2. No profits can be taken out of the company.

These two restrictions sound like a terrible idea to most traditional business people. After all, why would a smart business person want to start a company if they can’t sell it or take money out of it, right?

Ecosia, however, is a radically different kind of company. We’re not interested in maximizing profits: our ultimate goal is to build a greener and better world for everyone. So for Ecosia it makes perfect sense to become a non-profit company. And that’s what we’ll do.

So today, both Ecosia’s founder Christian and I are gladly donating our stakes. From today on, will become a self-owned company.

Other than that, my pledge is to continue to help Ecosia grow, just like I did over the last five years.

I invite all of you to join the Ecosia movement with us. Start today by installing the Ecosia extension. And continue tomorrow by telling your friends.

And hugging a tree.


About the author: In 2001, Tim Schumacher co-founded, the world’s largest domain market place. Since selling the company, he works as an active entrepreneur and/or investor in various start-ups such as Eyeo, Hitfox, Aklamio, Miomente, PiwikPro, BasicThinking, Home, Zolar, Joblift, and others.

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