The BBC’s weekly The Boss series features different business leaders from around the world. This week we are talking to Christian Kroll, the founder and CEO of Internet search engine Ecosia.
Christian Kroll wants nothing less than to change the world.
“I want to make the world a greener and better place,” he says.
“I also want to prove that there is a more ethical alternative to the kind of greedy capitalism that is about to destroy the planet. ”
The 35-year-old German is the boss of the search engine Ecosia, which has an unusual but very environmentally friendly business model – he is giving up most of his profits to allow tree planting around the world.
Founded by Christian in 2009, Ecosia makes its money the same way Google does – through ad revenue. It earns money every time someone clicks on any of the ads that appear above and next to their search results.
Ecosia then donates 80% of the profits it draws to charitable tree-planting associations. To date, it has funded over 105 million new trees, from Indonesia to Brazil and Kenya to Haiti.
Since obviously not everyone clicks on ads, the company estimates that on average it takes 45 searches to increase the cost of $ 0.22 (20 pence; 26 US cents) of planting a tree.
Today, Berlin-based Ecosia has 15 million users. This is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the 5.6 billion searches per day estimated by Google, but Christian says he has big ambitions: “to evolve massively, gain more users and plant billions of trees ”.
And unlike the founding billionaires of Google – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – he promises to never buy a super yacht. “Although they have big yachts, I have an inflatable dinghy that I take to the lakes. Ego consumption is not appropriate in a world of climate change.
Christian would, in fact, have a hard time buying a yacht if he wanted one, as he imposed two legally binding restrictions on the company – shareholders and staff cannot personally sell shares or take profits outside of it. the company.
Born in the former East Germany in 1985, Christian was not always so selfless. As a teenager in the city of Wittenberg, he and his friends gambled on the stock markets, often tripling their investments.
He wanted to become a stockbroker, so he enrolled to study business administration at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Bavaria.
However, his view of the world changed at the age of 18, he traveled for three months across India. “I met people smarter than me who didn’t have the same opportunities because they weren’t born in Germany,” he says. “I started to realize that maybe I should do something to make the world a better place. ”
Then, in college, he began to take a keen interest in online advertising by creating a website that compared different online brokers. “I was shocked at how much of my income I was spending on Google ads to drive traffic to the site,” he says.
And that’s how his idea of what would become Ecosia was born. “It became clear to me that Google had a very smart business model, and it was also pretty obvious that there was room for a targeted search engine to do something similar… to use the money to fund. tree planting. “
After college, he spent six months in Nepal in 2007, where he first tried and failed to start a search engine to raise money for local and non-government charitable projects. “I didn’t know how to start a business, funds were limited and most of the time there were problems with the internet and electricity. ”
He then spent 10 months in South America where the level of deforestation he saw gave him the determination to launch Ecosia in 2009 after returning to Germany. The name is a mixture of the words “eco” and “utopia”.
Christian says he started the business with the help of other people. “The truth is, I didn’t have the technical knowledge to do it, but I was able to rely on the skills of my friends and family,” he says.
Today, Ecosia employs 70 people and publishes financial statements online every month. Last year it had annual sales of 19.3 million euros (£ 17.3 million; $ 22.8 million) and pre-tax profit of 14.5 million euros.
All of its electricity comes from solar energy, and 80% of its users are said to be 29 or younger.
Its search engine uses Microsoft’s Bing technology, with which it has a long-term agreement. “They really like what we’re doing,” says Christian.
Eric Haggstrom, an analyst at corporate research group Insider Intelligence, says Ecosia and other small search engines face “significant hurdles.”
“More importantly, Google provides the default search for Android devices and the Chrome browser,” he says. “And it spends billions of dollars a year to be the default search engine for Apple devices.
Plus The boss features:
“Most people won’t use search engines other than their device or browser default settings. And on the ad side, advertisers use Google’s search product because it performs well. [so] good. ”
Christian admits it “can be tricky” and wants regulators to do something to loosen Google’s grip.
But more generally, he wants to see capitalism changed for the better. “It’s really necessary in the 21st century,” he says.
“What we are trying to do is reform capitalism. I think in its current state it is not healthy. I want us to rethink how business should be, what its role is. “