20 Minutes With: Entrepreneur and Ocean Activist Brandon Leibel

In 2014, Brandon Leibel and two of his friends, Bruno Aschidamini and Steven Ford, quit their corporate jobs in pursuit of their shared passion for the ocean.

They started selling beach towels at San Diego beaches, and the three young entrepreneurs later founded Sand Cloud, a beach lifestyle company with an underlying mission to help preserve marine life.

In 2017, the founders appeared on the TV show Shark Tank and won investment from investor Robert Herjavec. Herjavec sold his company BRAK Systems to AT&T Canada in 2000 for C$30.2 million. He is currently chief executive of Herjavec Group, one of the largest Internet security providers in Canada.

Sand Cloud has grown explosively since then, with an estimated annual revenue of over $10 million this year.

The company donates 10% of its profits to different charities, and they expect their donation to marine life-related nonprofits will surpass $100,000 this year.

Leibel, 27, who grew up in New York suburb and studied film, TV, and media studies at San Diego State University, talked to Penta about the challenges his startup faces, his commitment to the oceans and their inhabitants, his social media strategy, and more.   

Sand Cloud has grown into a beach lifestyle company that sells over 100 products, including its signature beach towel.


Courtesy of Sand Cloud

Penta: How did you decide to start Sand Cloud? Where did the idea come from?

Leibel: We pretty much wanted to use social media to try to make beach towels cool. That was our initial idea. We started this four years ago, we started selling beach towels in San Diego, walking up and down the beaches.

We became very popular on social media, then we started coming up with other products, like accessories, clothing, and other things. Now four years later, we have a brand that sells around 100 products, and we are coming out with more.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a young entrepreneur?

At the beginning, it is all about not running out of money and trying to keep the company getting off the ground and alive. That is the hardest part of doing that.

We never raised money, we just quit our job and started with whatever we had.

We teach ourselves how to do everything. So we save money, we also become experts in certain areas, like PR, social media and marketing. We kind of take it as an advantage to do it ourselves.

Why did you go on Shark Tank ? How has the experience helped you?

I applied for Shark Tank four years in a row. And we wanted to get on the show because it is really good, probably the most important free exposure you will ever get. It is worth millions of dollars just to get on TV and get on the show. And we thought it would be a great way to broadcast our vision to the world.

We made a partnership with Robert Herjavec. I can’t talk about the details, though. In general, it gives us Robert, a very experienced businessman. He has a lot of connections, a lot of experience in starting companies.

Robert is just a great mentor, he is good helping us navigate growth and make high-level decisions.

How do you pick nonprofits to work with?

We take organizations we feel are grassroots, which means that when we donate to them, we know where is the money going.

We pick very small nonprofits that are really passionate about marine life and beaches, oceans, and environments. For example, one of our partners is Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, which rescues and rehabilitates sea lions.

We also work with a turtle hospital and a Hawaii wildlife fund. The donations go a long way for them because they need more than anybody.

How are you personally involved? Are you helping them identify issues?

It’s actually the opposite, they tell us what’s going on, they are the experts, we utilize our social media following and our influence online to give them a chance to talk to our audience and inform people what is going on.

We let them post on our Instagram, post on our Snapchat, we gave them access to our 700,000 followers (on Instagram), let them talk directly to them, showcasing what the nonprofits are doing.

What are your future plans?

We are going to try to make everything out of recyclable, sustainable material in 2019. We have a whole line of recyclable t-shirts that are made of recycled water bottles and recycled cotton.

We want to be 100% eco-friendly. Our mission is to save marine life; it just makes more sense that we are trying to make our products stand more in line with environmental range.

Any advice you can share with young entrepreneurs?

The number one thing you need to possess to be successful is that you can’t care about what other people say. That’s what holds back most people. That is it. When you combine that with an idea, being crafty, being social, networking, you can do anything.

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