Davis and Asialene Smith: On a Mission to ‘Do Good’
Description: Davis and Asialene Smith, founders of the outdoor gear company Cotopaxi, were raised under very different circumstances, but their ties to parts of the world experiencing poverty are the same. What they witnessed in those struggling countries planted in them a desire to do what they can to alleviate suffering. On this episode, we talk with the Smiths about what makes their company unique and how it has allowed them make good on the promise they made to their younger selves to create change.
No matter what I give, it’s never going to be too much—it’s never going to be enough.
All In TV special on KSL:
See Cotopaxi’s website here: Cotopaxi.com
Deseret News article about Davis: “Do good: Cotopaxi founder and CEO seeks to change the world, starting in Salt Lake City,” December 2016
All In episode with Thurl Bailey: “Thurl Bailey: The Impact of Seeing Potential”
How I Built This with Guy Raz episode with Davis Smith: “Cotopaxi: Davis Smith”
2:07- Changed by Childhood
6:23- Shaped by a Sibling
8:46- Catholic School
10:54- Marriage Being Born Into Two Very Different Homes
14:44- Gratitude for Bolivia
18:01- Entry Into Entrepreneurship
20:40- When Someone Believes in You
25:34- Fighting Feelings of Being Underqualified
33:50- A New Year's Resolution
38:14- Gear For Good
44:03- Refugee Thank You Notes
49:34- Buying Back First Business
54:41- Hard Work or Luck?
56:19- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Davis Smith grew up throughout Latin America. His wife, Asialene Smith, grew up in the Seattle area, but spent time during her adolescence in the Philippines where her mother's family is from. Seeing the poverty that exists around the world inspired both Davis and Asialene to start a company with a social mission at its core, the outdoor gear company Cotopaxi is the first company to incorporate from inception as a benefit corporation.
What does this mean? A benefit corporation is a traditional corporation with modified obligations, committing it to a higher standard of purpose, accountability and transparency. These companies are committed to creating public benefit and sustainable value in addition to generating profit.
The Smith's recently bought back one of the first companies they started pooltables.com with the intent of proving that any business can be converted to a B corporation. They are without a doubt a couple that shares a powerful purpose that has allowed them to truly make a difference in the world. Together they're the parents of four children.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones. And I am so excited to have Davis and Asialene Smith with me today. Welcome.
Davis Smith 1:31
Morgan Jones 1:31
Thank you for having me in your cool store.
Davis Smith 1:34
Yeah, well, this is exciting for us to do this together, too. We don't get to do this very often together. So I'm excited about it. Thank you
Morgan Jones 1:40
Well, I've been so excited. I interviewed you Davis, like six years ago–five, six years ago–and so as I was prepping for this interview, I like went back and read that article. But then I listened to a bunch of things that you've done since then. And I learned so much more. So I feel like we've got a lot of ground to cover from the last six years.
Davis Smith 2:00
Yeah, we've done a little bit since we last spoke. So yeah.
Morgan Jones 2:04
You've been busy.
Davis Smith 2:05
We have been.
Morgan Jones 2:06
Well, I want to start with both of your childhoods if that's okay. Davis, you had a really unique upbringing. And I–there are several parts of this that I kind of want to dig into.
You grew up in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, because your dad worked in construction for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You've talked about how you feel like seeing children who were living in poverty in Latin America then change the way that you have viewed the world since then. And one thing that struck me is you talked about how you knew that there was no reason–you had not done anything to earn the the blessings that you had, but yet you knew you were going home to a different situation than a lot of the kids that you saw out on the street. How do you feel like that shaped you as a little boy? And how has it continued to shape your life in the year since?
Davis Smith 3:10
Yeah, so from the time I was a kid, you know, seeing the things that I saw and understanding there was poverty that I think most Americans don't even really understand exists. And my parents did a really good job of immersing us in those cultures and in those communities. And we were always finding ways to give back from the time I can remember, spending time at orphanages and volunteering at different things.
And so, you know, and we didn't have a lot. You know, we had a large family–eight kids. Dad worked for the Church, so you know, not a lot of money ourselves, but it felt like we had so much. And, you know, I went and served my mission in Bolivia, so back in Latin America, where I'd grown up as a kid and as a teenager. And I remember when I came back from Bolivia, I was so excited, first of all, to be home, and my parents picked me up at the airport and I just remember being just overwhelmed with joy to see them.
But as we drove to my parents’ home and we pulled up onto the street, those feelings of joy really kind of disappeared. And I started feeling really a lot of guilt that this is where I got to live. And when all these people that I loved had so little, and it was an overwhelming feeling.
And I remember my mom taking me to go shopping for some school clothes, I was getting ready to go back to school. And I remember going to the dressing room with this stack of clothes and just–I just started crying in the dressing room thinking, this is crazy. Like, this doesn't even feel right.
And so, you know this . . . and I know that that, it was a lifelong journey of kind of experiencing this and seeing this and having to reconcile why my life was so different and recognizing that these people that I saw every day and that I interacted with every day–some of them were brilliant, they had brilliant minds, they were creative, they were hard working and they had no hope.
And that's what I felt when I was in college. That was my dream was like every day was thinking about how do I find a way to help people? And I didn't know how to do it. But I figured I need–and I'm not even that talented. Like, I'm not the smartest person. I'm not that talented. Like, I don't even know how I'm going to do this. But I knew that's what I knew I needed to figure out.
Morgan Jones 5:19
Love goes a long way though.
Davis Smith 5:21
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Morgan Jones 5:22
Makes up for a lot. Asialene, meanwhile, you were growing up in Seattle, Washington. And you had a unique upbringing as well, because your mother was from the Philippines. How do you feel like having had a mom who came to the United States shaped the way that you viewed the world, and maybe your desire to help those in other countries?
Asialene Smith 5:51
Yes, well, I think both of my parents are very frugal. And I think part of it is because of my mom's upbringing, where–she didn't have very much. And all throughout my life, she has been good at saving and making wise financial decisions so that I could have more than she had. And I've just been grateful for that. For what she's given to me and how I would love to share what I have so others can have opportunities as well.
And I also have a sister with a disability. And so I feel like that really shaped who I am to and some of the compassion that I have for others, because she had health issues. And a lot of people served us as we were dealing with that. And I've always been grateful for that and wanted to help other people as well, anyone disadvantaged.
Morgan Jones 6:46
Yeah. What kind of disability does your sister have?
Asialene Smith 6:49
So she was born with hydrocephalus, so she had water in her brain. And now that's something they can detect from the ultrasound and they can fix it in utero. But they didn't recognize it until she was six months old. And my mom was, she knew something was different about that pregnancy and about her baby, but she felt that because she was Filipino the doctors didn't . . . they just didn't take her seriously.
And it wasn't until her mother in law–so my American grandmother–went with her to an appointment and put her foot down and said, "Something's wrong. You need to check this out," and they figured it out. So, but we feel very lucky because she's very high functioning, she can take care of herself, and she always will be with my parents. But yeah, that's what, that's what she was dealing with.
Davis Smith 7:44
And she's, she's incredibly special. We love Em. And–but seeing, you know, having Asialene grow up with Em and her family, you can see how much it's created empathy in her heart and in the way she feels about other people, and it's been great for our children to have Aunty Em. And, you know, they look out for her. And, you know, she calls our oldest daughter her best friend. And so . . . it's definitely shaped us.
Morgan Jones 8:24
I think it's so neat to see, I think there are a lot of different pieces to every human being, and the things that shape us into who we are. And I think that's really beautiful. Because you have like a goodness about you that I think probably is greatly shaped by that experience of having had your sister.
Davis, I want to come back to when you were little, I read or I listened to something where you talked about how your parents, instead of putting you all in an international school, they had you attend a Catholic school in Latin America. And so you grew up speaking Spanish, and you also grew up understanding Catholicism in a way that a lot of people probably don't. And so then when you ended up serving a mission in Bolivia, you knew a lot going into that. Tell me a little bit about how that experience–specifically becoming so familiar with another faith–shaped kind of your worldview and your view of religion in general.
Davis Smith 9:29
Yeah, you know, this was a really, this was so wise of my parents–looking back. And I think it wasn't an easy decision, I'm sure. It would have been a lot easier for us to go to an international school with a bunch of other Americans or people from all around the world. And we did go to some international schools, different places we lived, but there was a five year period where we lived in Puerto Rico where we went to this Jesuit school, this Catholic school, and we were different from everyone else.
We looked different. We spoke different, you know, we had different religious beliefs. But I was surrounded by really wonderful, good people. And I had to learn all the prayers. And, you know, we went through the first communion training in school. And, you know, I got to understand these really important pieces of their lives spiritually, that when I was a missionary, later on, I understood deeply.
And so as I was talking to a family, and they were talking about their daughters preparing for the first communion, it's like, oh, I know exactly what that's like. And it just helped me have more empathy and understanding of people.
And I think beyond just my mission, I think I understood what it felt like to be different. And to, you know, to not always fit in, and I think that gave me a lot of empathy for others. You know, when I see someone that's maybe stands out, or is a little bit different or unique, it's always the first person I'm looking out for.
Morgan Jones 10:54
Asialene, in your family, your mom introduced your dad to the gospel, which I think is unique, because your dad was an American, in the Philippines. And so how did your mom come in contact with the Church?
Asialene Smith 11:10
So the missionaries actually came to her home. So my grandfather was baptized first and my mom was the second one to be baptized. And eventually her mother and four siblings were baptized.
Morgan Jones 11:22
And how old would she have been then?
Asialene Smith 11:24
She was about 16.
Morgan Jones 11:26
Okay. So cool. So then, so she introduces your dad to the Church.
Asialene Smith 11:32
Yeah, my dad was in the Air Force band. And my mom lived close to the base. And so at that time, she would go to youth activities. And they were held on base because a lot of the members were American. So her branch president and his wife were American. So she would go on the base for those, and that's how she met my dad. Then they eventually got married in the Philippines. And then he was stationed in Florida. So they moved to Florida, but he didn't get baptized until about three years after they got married.
But my mom knew. She had dreams about this man she would marry and she knew that it was supposed to be him. And so eventually he joined the Church and he was super social and happy and friendly guy that the members of the ward were surprised he was getting baptized, because he had attended church for so long–
Davis Smith 12:33
They just thought he was a member of the Church.
Asialene Smith 12:36
Yeah, and they have just been super committed my whole life. They've always found a church, attended the temple, I've watched all of that and they've been a great example to me.
Davis Smith 12:48
But I'd say our parents are very different. You know, I come from a, you know, a family where they've been members of the Church for generations, and are very . . . very orthodox. Very . . . very strict. Asialene grew up in a family where neither of them had grown up in the Church and a very different homes and very different parents.
Asialene Smith 13:09
Very different. I mean, I was worried about this–about getting married. Can we find this balance? What kind of a father was Davis going to be? And when I had grown up in such a different home that was super laid back.
Morgan Jones 13:23
So how do you do that? How do you make that work when you're coming from two completely different backgrounds?
Davis Smith 13:30
Morgan Jones 13:30
How do you meet in the middle?
Davis Smith 13:31
And to be clear I have wonderful parents.
Asialene Smith 13:33
Oh, they are amazing. I have learned so much from them. I have taken what they do and used that in my family. So I think just hearing about it from the outside as a, you know, young adult, it sounded so strict.
Morgan Jones 13:49
Asialene Smith 13:50
But that's because I didn't really have–you know, even just as far as house chores. I didn't have very many house chores. And Davis had–there were 10 living in their house. So they all needed to have a job around or two or several. But I've, yeah, we've definitely found a balance. We do a little bit of both.
Davis Smith 14:09
Yeah. I don't think it's been an issue for us.
Asialene Smith 14:11
Yeah, it hasn't.
Davis Smith 14:13
I think she's–Asianlene's been very patient. When we got married our sealer gave us a piece of advice, which was to not criticize each other. And she has been very good at this and I'm working on it.
Asialene Smith 14:26
You have been–you're amazing at it.
Davis Smith 14:29
But it's–I think that was one thing that was really important because it's–especially when you merge two people that are very different, or maybe had different upbringings, like that's–it's easy to have tension in the way that you might do things, but that just hasn't really been an issue for us.
Asialene Smith 14:41
Yeah, you've been really good about it.
Morgan Jones 14:43
I want to come back, Davis if it's okay, to your mission, because I understand that your mission meant a ton to you. As I was listening to you talk about it I thought about Elder Holland's quote where he says like a mission has never meant more to a boy than it meant to me. And when I heard you talking about your mission, I thought man, he might rival Elder Holland and his love for his mission.
So tell me about how–so you had this kind of a little bit of an advantage coming in because you spoke Spanish, you had grown up in countries that were not entirely different than Bolivia, you go on your mission–talk to me about how you think your mission shaped and changed you as a person. And also why you think it has led to the things that you've done since then.
Davis Smith 15:32
I love that quote from Elder Holland. And I have felt the same way. It's like, I don't know if anyone could love their mission more than I did. I am obsessed with Bolivia. And with my mission, and I talk to my converts, probably . . . probably every week. I have some conversation with one of them. You know, I've gone back quite a few times. Every few years, I tried to go back and we've gone back together, which was a really special experience.
Asialene Smith 15:59
Yeah, it was really special.
Davis Smith 16:01
I think one of the highlights of our marriage, honestly.
Asialene Smith 16:03
Yeah. It was. It was neat to see–to meet all these people I had heard about for, like, 10 years. We went back probably 10 years into our marriage, and meeting those people and seeing how much love they had for Davis.
Davis Smith 16:17
Yeah, so, you know, it's definitely been one of the–I think–the grounding force of my life was that experience, that two years. And like you said, it wasn't culturally–it wasn't a huge shock, you know, the language–I was lucky that I knew the language going down. But it definitely opened a part of my heart that I didn't even know existed. Just a love for the people, just a desire for them to be happy. Recognizing, I mean, this is one of the poorest countries in the world, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
My first area there were just dirt roads and no telephones. No, you know, the Church building we met in was just a little tiny house, the bathroom was a hole in the ground in the back. Like that was our Church. Like this, there were, you know, you shower with buckets, it was a very different experience, and, in a lot of ways, very difficult.
But I just developed a love for this place and for the gospel and for the church and seeing the difference that it could make in people's lives, it was really a life changing experience that continues to shape me. In fact, President Nelson visited my mission when I was there as a missionary. And one of the things he told us was that our converts were our converts for life, and that we had a responsibility to stay in touch with them.
And this is back in the days of just like letters, and there's no addresses in Bolivia, you can't send someone a letter, you know, write an address, put a stamp on it and it gets to them–that doesn't happen. So I was worried about like, how am I going to do this? And, you know, shortly after I got back from my mission there's like the internet and there's Facebook and all these things that allow you to stay connected. And so I've always tried to follow that guidance that we were given.
Morgan Jones 17:59
So cool. So you get home from your mission. And did you start pooltables.com before you met Asialene?
Davis Smith 18:09
No. We–I started that business when we were married. And we actually, we'd recently graduated. We'd just barely were finishing school as I was like dabbling in these ideas of like starting my own business. And we graduated–the day we graduated, we, Asialene gave birth to Savannah. In the hospital we–she came a few weeks early.
Asialene Smith 18:34
Yes. And we–I wasn't due until a couple of weeks after graduation, but she came the day we were supposed to walk. And we were at the time, you know, poor students and frustrated that we paid the $50 for the cap and gown. So we still went and picked them up so that we could get a picture wearing them with our new baby.
Davis Smith 18:57
Yeah, so we wore them in the hospital.
Morgan Jones 18:58
Davis Smith 18:59
It was like we've got to get our 50 bucks–or 100 dollars added together–out of this. I was like, I couldn't believe–that was so much money for us.
Morgan Jones 19:04
Right. Just thrown away.
Davis Smith 19:06
Yeah. And we bought a little tiny home, like we graduated, we had this baby, and then we moved into our home that first day. And it was a two bedroom, one bathroom home. Very, very small. But it was our own little place. And I had been given a job, I'd done an internship for a company, they offered me a job but I was starting to dabble in this entrepreneurship thing. And we ended up starting the pooltable business within a few months.
And I was kind of doing it on the side on the weekends and nights. And at some point about six months down the line, we realized like I need to be all in. I need to jump into this thing a hundred percent. And so I quit my job, which was a very scary thing with a mortgage with the little baby, you know, I felt I had this family to support. It was stressful, but I really felt guided that that was the path that I needed to take.
Morgan Jones 19:59
And you all had–you had quite a few people that were willing to kind of invest in your ideas that you were having as well, in your family, right?
Davis Smith 20:11
Yeah, you know, again, we didn't come from money. Either of us! But we were very lucky that our parents both had homes, which isn't always the case. And they mortgaged their homes, both of them did, to help us finance the business, and that was a lot of pressure. Because I knew that they couldn't lose their homes. So I needed to make sure this business worked. And I think sometimes when your backs up against the wall and you know you can't fail, you do whatever it takes, and that was certainly–I felt like that was certainly the case with us.
Morgan Jones 20:40
I think–that's something that I've been thinking about a lot lately, We had Thurl Bailey on this podcast, and on his episode, he talked a lot about people that had believed in him. And just the idea that when somebody believes in you, it kind of changes things for you. And I always say this podcast, there was a guy that expressed belief in my ability to do something that I had never done before. And so I think there's power in that idea of somebody else thinks that I can do it. How do you think that your parents being willing to make sacrifices and to put their homes on the line because they believed in you two, and your ability to succeed? What did that mean to you?
Davis Smith 21:26
I mean, everything. I mean, first of all, I couldn't believe they were willing to do it, it seemed crazy. And looking back, it even seems crazier. At the time, I think I was pretty convinced that we had something really special that was going to work. But there were no guarantees, there was–I mean, 92% of all businesses fail. So the chance of this business working was very, very slim. But yeah, the fact they believed really made a difference.
You know, another person, I think that to your point about giving you a lot of confidence, there was a man named Steve Gibson, who I met when I was a college student that the same thing–he had, he saw something in me that I didn't see in myself and I wanted to work for him, he created this amazing organization called "The Academy for Creating Enterprise" where he taught returned missionaries in the Philippines, how to get out of poverty through entrepreneurship. And I wanted to work for him. I tried to convince him to let me go work for him and expand this program to Latin America where I'd grown up and he instead told me that I didn't, I shouldn't work for him, that I should be an entrepreneur. He saw something in me that I'd be able to, to be a good entrepreneur. And that gave me a lot of confidence in myself.
I think Steve tells everyone that, but it gave me confidence that I needed at the time to go try something that I hadn't really considered for my life.
Morgan Jones 22:41
Yeah, that just is something that I've had on my mind a lot is this idea of people believing in us and the difference that it can make when somebody believes in you. Asialene, you have obviously had to put a lot of belief in Davis and his ability to follow through with these ideas and build these businesses. Why do you think that you have believed in him so much? And then Davis, I'd love to know what her belief in you has meant to you?
Asialene Smith 23:13
Well, let's see. So Davis, he's always been there. Like if–whenever I need anything, any question I have, just, he always has the right answer, he always knows how to support me, I'm so lucky, I can turn to him for anything. And so I just, I know that he can do it. Like he's a go getter. He has this drive that not very many people have, and he's determined.
And he's overly qualified in anything he's asked to do. And so I've never been afraid. I've–even back when he started his first business and we just had a, just a baby, and he was going to give up his job and work for himself, I wasn't nervous about it for some reason. And I think it's–I think it was just the like I was talking about before the spirit, like having that–just feeling impressed that this is the path that we should take, and having–feeling at peace with that.
Davis Smith 24:14
Yeah, I mean, I don't know that I feel that same way. Like I don't know that I've always felt overqualified. I've, in fact, quite the opposite. I've often felt under qualified and maybe not enough. You know, I remember going to BYU–I didn't get into BYU when I applied out of high school. And I was pretty disappointed and but I ended up transferring there after my–I did a year of school before my mission, went on my mission, I applied to BYU and was able to transfer in and I got to BYU and I was like, shocked.
Like I felt like the dumbest person in the world. And I felt very intimidated. And I felt the same way at Wharton when I was in business school it was like, how is everyone here so bright? And often felt like I didn't have maybe what I needed to succeed. But having, you know, Asialene has always been, you know, the greatest supporter. And, you know, she's always believed in me and gave me confidence and, and really, like when I want to take big risks, she's always been the first to say, "Let's do it." And that's been–that's meant the world to me. I don't know that I could have had the success that we've had as a couple and as entrepreneurs, like if I didn't have her supporting me and her willingness to encourage me to go do hard things.
Morgan Jones 25:34
Let me ask you this Davis, you mentioned feeling at times under qualified or not the smartest in academic situations, I think that that's something that a lot of people feel is kind of that imposter syndrome, like, how did I end up here? What am I doing here? I shouldn't be here. What would be your advice to people that may be feeling that way?
Davis Smith 25:59
You know, I had lunch yesterday with a good friend of mine from my mission. And we were talking about this. And I think both of us kind of were–as we're talking about it, we were realizing like, I don't think this ever goes away. I don't think you ever reach a point where you're just like, I'm really confident in myself now, like I really, I've got this all figured out. I think it's just part of being human is, is just understanding that you like–you are going to, you're going to feel like not enough a lot in life.
And I think the biggest piece of advice I could say is like don't let that get in the way of trying new things. And I'm oftentimes in situations where it's like, I'm the least experienced, or I don't know exactly how to add value, but I show up, and I try to learn as much as I can. And even though it's uncomfortable and can be really intimidating, I really enjoy that process of learning, and meeting new people and opening my mind to a new way of thinking, and then figuring out ways that I can use whatever talents I have, even though they're not gonna be the same talent as everyone else where I can add some kind of value.
Asialene Smith 27:02
Yeah, so there is no way we would have, I would have been able to get an internship to Peru, or to Grand Cayman if it weren't for Davis because he pushed me. For me at the time, I remember saying I barely speak Spanish, I only took a few years in high school and it was the easiest class ever, barely had any homework. And now he wants me to apply for this internship with him where we are speaking and teaching full time in Spanish to young adults. But he just he–he had me go for it. He told me I could do it, we did it together, and I was surprised that we actually got it because I didn't think I was qualified.
Davis Smith 27:45
Oh, it was so fun. So much fun together.
Asialene Smith 27:45
Those were great, both of those internships.
Davis Smith 27:50
And that internship we had, oh my gosh, we were–so we lived with a really wonderful woman and her two daughters. And the room that we had was infested with bedbugs. It was unbelievable. And we also had no money. And so I remember we'd buy these little, these little packages of Oreos, they had four Oreo cookies in this little package. And every other day was Oreo day, and we'd split an Oreo and it was like the highlight of every other day was this Oreo that we'd split and, but like looking back, those were some of the most wonderful memories together.
Asialene Smith 28:27
Yeah, or we'd go to Blockbuster and rent a movie, and then have one package of peanut M&Ms and suck on them and make them last the entire movie.
Morgan Jones 28:39
I love that so much. My dad was in law school when I was a little girl and we lived in this tiny house. And we ate all of our meals at this little tiny table. And we always talked–my brother and I–about how those are like the best dinner memories of our entire lives. We're sitting at this, like it was like a little kid's table. My parents me and my brother would eat all of our meals. But I think it's sweet how like sweet memories can be attached to like a time in your life. And I think it goes back to you know, kind of this idea that happiness is not necessarily what we may think of it as and doesn't equate to wealth or monetary success.
So let's talk a little bit about that, actually. So you are in, you're in college, you finish you go to Wharton, get your MBA and an MA as well, is that right?
Davis Smith 29:34
Morgan Jones 29:35
And then you decide to start a business in Brazil. So at this point you've successfully started a couple of E commerce companies. Is that right?
Davis Smith 29:46
Yeah. Uh huh. I built one company, gone to school and was looking to do something again.
Morgan Jones 29:53
So you go to Brazil, you start a company, how long were you all there?
Davis Smith 29:58
About three years.
Morgan Jones 29:59
So what was it like–you're kind of starting a young family, what is it like doing that in a foreign country?
Asialene Smith 30:08
Well, it was super exciting. I was ready for the change, ready for the adventure, and then we got there. And it was a lot harder than I had expected. Every other place we had lived was easy, and not too much of an adjustment. But it took about six months to feel comfortable down there. But we just immersed ourselves immediately. We made friends, Brazilian friends, we chose a place to live that would allow our daughters to be close to their school and meet other expats and other Brazilian kids. Our ward was super supportive. And it ended up being such a special experience for all of us.
Davis Smith 30:52
Yeah, it was, it was a very hard transition both for our family when we first got there, we kind of timed the shipping of a container with all of our, all of the things that we needed our clothes, our bedding, everything was in this container–mattresses, and we timed it so that it would get there by the time we got there.
What we didn't realize is that Brazil was going to hold it for months, and they were wanting a bribe. And we just made a decision as a family and as a business that we would never pay bribes. And so we were living in this little apartment, and we were sleeping, we got an air mattress that we were sleeping on and it somehow half it like came apart. So it was like a big bubble on one side of the mattress. And then we were like squished on the other side. And there's like–it was freezing. Like every night was like it was like PTSD, like I don't want to lay down and go to sleep because it's so miserable.
Asialene Smith 31:45
Because they don't–they have almost perfect weather outside where you don't need air conditioning or heat. But it was like cement buildings.
Davis Smith 31:52
And we were there in the winter, so there's no insulation through this mattress anyway, it was like we were like using the same plastic plates over and over, washing them, and they were like falling apart. And we were still using them.
Asialene Smith 32:06
We didn't want to spend money.
Davis Smith 32:07
Well, it was expensive. It was more expensive than living in Manhattan.
Asialene Smith 32:12
At the time it was.
Davis Smith 32:13
So buying anything in Sao Paulo was like crazy expensive. And we're like, our container is here. Like any day, we're gonna get it. Let's like, we don't want to spend this money. And like we were nervous about money because we were starting this new business, an it was just a very, very complex place to do business as well, much harder than starting a business in the United States.
Morgan Jones 32:32
So how did you decide to start it in Brazil?
Davis Smith 32:35
So I, you know, having grown up in Latin America, I loved Latin America wanted to get back down some of my best friends in business school–my best friends in business school were Brazilian. And you know, we talked a lot about Brazil. And it just kind of clicked this idea of let's go build a business there. It's this large emerging economy, 200 million people, they were kind of at this, I think this really perfect inflection point where about 40% of the population was using the internet. So there wasn't a lot of competition yet. But there were enough people online that there was an opportunity to go build something.
So we felt really optimistic about the opportunity. And we move down. And we went from four employees to 300 employees in like 18 months. So it was a really crazy ride. At the same time. It was like totally chaotic. And everything was going wrong all the time. And it was very stressful. And it was challenging. My cousin and I who built the business, he'd gone to Harvard business school at the same time I'd gone to Wharton and we built our first business together, it became–there was a strain in our relationship, which was really sad for me–and still is. That was a really painful experience. And so that added some complexity to the experience.
Morgan Jones 33:49
Davis, one thing that you've talked about a good amount is the idea that you kind of came into business thinking that you would create a business with somebody, and because of that relationship, the business would kind of thrive. And you've talked about how, you know, now you view it as you find people with certain skills and put a team of people together. And so when you finished that business in Brazil, you ended up starting Cotopaxi, which is what people probably best know you for now. And that's what you kind of tried to do is build a team of people. Tell me a little bit about why you think that is so important.
Davis Smith 34:40
Yeah, you know, after that experience in Brazil, I just, I started rethinking everything, really. Did I even want to be an entrepreneur anymore? What I really cared about was like helping people and I was like, I haven't accomplished that. I've been an entrepreneur for 10 years. I haven't figured this out. I was discouraged and I had this really unique experience where I was, we'd all set new year's resolutions for family home evening.
Luckily Asialene is so much better at this stuff than I am like making these things happen. But I set a new year's resolution that I wanted to change somebody's life. That was my New Year's resolution. And Asialene makes fun of me because my goals are not . . . [Laughter] You're supposed to have goals that are like SMARt, I guess.
Morgan Jones 35:25
Yeah the SMART goal.
Davis Smith 35:26
Like measurable, attainable–I can't remember all of them. But my goals are not very good. And Asialene always reminds me that I need to be more specific or whatever. But it was a very broad, but I had this vision of life, I wanted to change somebody's life that year. And it was now May, I hadn't changed anyone's life, it just one more thing to add to the discouragement that I was feeling.
And I'm laying in bed. And I've been thinking about this nonstop around this desire that I'd had. And pretty soon I started having some ideas that came to my mind around how I might be able to have an impact and to accomplish this lifelong goal that I'd had. And I was really tired, I'd actually just flown in from China. And so it's like a you had to fly through United States or Europe and then down to Brazil. So it's a very long trip. I was feeling jet lagged and tired and I just wanted to sleep. But I had these ideas rush into my head. And I ended up just rolling over and typing some of these ideas onto my phone thinking, if I wrote them down, I could just forget them and go back to sleep. And the ideas kept coming.
So I ended up getting out of bed and I went on the couch with my computer and just started writing down these ideas. And I ended up spending the entire night, the entire next day and the entire next night on this couch. And I've never had an experience like this before in my life, I'm sure I never will again. But the entire idea for Cotopaxi came to me. The business model, our name, our slogan, "Gear for good." The early ideas for this questival, this 24 hour adventure race, I knew how to go make a difference. Through business, I could go make a sustainable impact on people's lives.
And for me, it was really an amazing experience because it gave me hope that God knew me, that he understood what my desires were, and while I was feeling discouraged, and I felt like man, I've spent 10 years building something that's just not helping me get where I want to go. I look back and I was recognizing that the Lord gave me these experiences that I needed to have to be able to go build Cotopaxi. I couldn't have built that when I was 24. I needed more experience, I needed to go have some success and have some failures along the way. And one of the learnings that I had was around team building that I wanted to go build a team that really kind of–I knew–at this point I knew where my strengths were and I knew where my weaknesses were and I needed to go build a team around me that offset a lot of those weaknesses that I had.
Morgan Jones 37:48
That's super interesting and such a good, I think that's a good lesson for all of us in a lot of different things. And I think you actually taught multiple good lessons there. One being that God knows us. And that sometimes when we think we're just like falling behind, or things aren't working out the way that they're supposed to that things are actually working out for our good and looking back and being able to recognize those things.
So one thing that makes Cotopaxi so unique is this mission that it has to do good. And you've set it up as a benefit corporation, which means that you have specific standards that you meet–I understand that it's like the the FDA, like you have to abide by certain rules. Is that right?
Davis Smith 38:40
Yeah. So in the articles of incorporation, when we incorporated the business, I legally committed to making decisions based on our company's impact on people and planet. So not just on maximizing shareholder value, making as much money as possible. And we have to report on our impact, and so it's a legal commitment that we made. So it's it was serious, like when we decided to do this, it wasn't like a small thing. We were going to be held accountable to this. And that's exactly what I wanted.
And I wanted our investors to understand we have committed to this, like legally. We don't have a choice, we have to make the right decisions for our planet, for people, before making money. And so I think that was a really important decision because when I went out to Silicon Valley to go fundraise for this business, it was nothing but a PowerPoint. It was just a vision of what I had. We hadn't sold anything. We hadn't made a single product, and I had to go convince investors to give us money to go build this and a lot of investors I pitched over a hundred VC's and angel investors, and most of them were no's.
And but there were a few that believed in us and understood why I was building it. I always lead first with our mission, why I was starting the business. And we had a woman named Kirsten Green that was the first believer in us and she wrote a big check to back our business and then a few others followed in that round because they saw that we had a great lead.
And our second round of funding was led by another woman named Ellie Wheeler. Our third round of funding was also led by a woman. And our fourth round of funding was also led by a woman. And I think what's interesting here–I don't think that's a coincidence, like 2% of venture investors are women. I honestly think women better understood a business that was built around purpose and mission. And I think that, and our board has always been predominantly led by women. And I think that's really shaped our business. And I think you can see that in who our customers are, what the product is like, the purpose and mission, the heart that our brand has, I think it reflects that.
Morgan Jones 40:39
I think that that is so cool. And I want to ask you, one thing that I read is that while a lot of these benefit corporations focus on the environment and the earth, and certainly that's something that you care about, clearly, in the way that your products are made, and all of that. But also, you said that yours, you wanted to focus on people and giving back to people, why are people so important to both of you?
Davis Smith 41:10
Maybe I'll start and then Asialene you can go next. But yeah, I care about our planet and the environment deeply. I believe we have a responsibility to protect our planet and to take care of it. And I think that is reflected in the way that we make our product, to your point. 94% of our product last year was made of remnant recycled material. So a lot of the products that we make are made of leftover material from a lot of the other outdoor brands that we all know. We use the same factories, and there's so much waste, and we empower the sewers to go design the product. And we said you can use any colors you want, any materials you want, the only rule is that every bag has to be unique–one of a kind.
And so that was really powerful, because it not only tied, you know, to the social mission of like, protecting our planet by manufacturing better and more responsibly, but it gave a voice to someone that was voiceless, that these really talented artisans and craftsmen that never had a choice in creating before they were sewing what people like us told them to sow. And they–we believe they had more in them. And so that's been a really special part of the business.
But yeah, I mean, for me, protecting the environment is table stakes. That's–you have to do that. That's not a choice, you have to do that right. But I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to focus on people and other outdoor brands, a lot of outdoor brands are focused on the environment, but no other outdoor brand is focused on people and on lifting people out of poverty. And, you know, we can't protect the planet if we have people living in squalor. We have to do these things together.
Asialene Smith 42:41
Yeah, and I feel like I have been so blessed in my life with wonderful people wherever I've lived. And with my family and friends, I've always felt that support and love. And I just I would hope that everyone can feel that. That everyone would have someone that they can turn to to have the support, to have the opportunities that I've had. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for children. And so anything having to do with children is like my priority. But if any disadvantaged children out there, whatever needs to be done, there's enough of us that we can all do something to help make a difference in a child's life.
Davis Smith 43:21
And Asialene's so passionate about this, you know, I I'd say we rarely fight. But we have times. And I think the last time we we got into an argument was actually about giving she is was pushing me to do more. And I was like What do you mean, like my entire life is focused on giving. And she is like constantly pushing me that we should do more that we need to give more. And I think that's been really helpful for me because it's while it's something that I've always cared deeply about to have someone else that's like pushing me and saying, it's like we haven't done enough like this. You can't feel satisfied with what we've done. We need to give more than we have. I think it's it's been really helpful.
Morgan Jones 44:01
I think that's remarkable. I wanted to ask you–so, Davis, when we spoke five or six years ago, you told me a little bit about this refugee thank you note program that Cotopaxi has, where when people receive a package in the mail from Cotopaxi it includes a thank you note from a refugee.
I wondered if you could first tell people how that program works, because I think it's a great example of what you do and ways that you give back. But I also recently saw on your Instagram, this picture of a girl who had been part of that program who recently graduated from the University of Utah. And I just thought it was so cool because like five or six years ago when you and I spoke about that she wouldn't have even been in college. So tell me a little bit about how that program works, and then maybe we'll have Asialene tell us exactly what happened with that particular story.
Davis Smith 44:56
Yeah, when we started the business, I actually would write handwritten thank you cards to all of our customers, because I just felt it was important. I wanted them to know how much it meant to me that they were supporting us.
That couldn't last very long, obviously–
Morgan Jones 45:08
Not super sustainable.
Davis Smith 45:09
Yeah, it wasn't very scalable. You know, I only had a certain amount of time. And, you know, I asked my team if they would be willing to help us write some for a little while and one of our interns from BYU, she said, "Davis, I know how passionate you are about refugees. What if we had a program where we had refugees help us write these cards, and we could pay them?" And I was just like, that is the most brilliant idea. I love this idea.
So within the first few months of our business, we started working, we created a job club where newly resettled refugees could get a job with us. And our team volunteered, teach them how to create a resume and how to do a job interview and help them get on their feet. And they'd write these thank you cards, and they'd write them in their native language, since they were still learning English.
I remember the first session we did we, you know, we're kind of working with these different refugees explaining what we needed done. And they spent a few hours, you know, together writing these cards–now they can do it anywhere, they can do it at home, and a lot of moms do it. You know, they have children, they've just been resettled here and it's a way they can help support their family.
The second time we had the session, we had some of these refugees come back, and they're like, "Hey, we're excited to do this again. But this time you have to pay us." And it was like, "Oh, like we did pay you, we gave you those checks." And one of them said, "No, I took that check to the store. And they wouldn't–I tried to buy food with it, they wouldn't take the check."
And I was like, "Oh my gosh," like they don't even, they don't even understand that there's a bank, you have to go deposit a check in a bank. And it was just like, we had to rethink everything it was like, wow, like, these people are coming here with like, no understanding of how our lives work. And it was really humbling. And so that's been a really special experience.
And one of the first people that were this brother and sister were doing this Card Writing Program and I would always go and participate and I met these two young brother and sister. I think they were 17 and 16, Fisten and Jolly. And I was–I'd seen them there a few times. And I was just chatting with him. And I said, "Well, tell me about, tell me about your your parents?" Like these were by far the youngest people in the program. And I was like, "Tell me about your parents?" Like, "What are they doing?" And they said, "Uh, we don't have parents." And it was like jaw dropping like, wait a second, like, what do you mean? And they told me they had–there were six siblings in their family. And this is a family that we've ended up getting to know quite well.
Asialene Smith 47:34
Yeah, so Jolly just recently graduated from the University of Utah. I believe she was student of the year.
Davis Smith 47:41
Asialene Smith 47:42
And they've just come so far. They've used all the resources here in Utah, so that they could be where they are today. And they're helping others in their own way. Fisten was 14, when he escaped from Congo, and he led his five siblings to Uganda. And they entered a refugee camp there, lived there for a few years, and they were fortunate enough to be resettled here in Salt Lake City. And when they came here, they had to be foster children for some time. And they I believe they were split up. And then eventually Fisten was able to take all of them and care for all of them.
Davis Smith 48:24
But all six of them have now–the youngest just graduated from high school, the one that was four when they walked from Congo to Uganda, she just got accepted at the University of Utah full scholarship. So all six of them have gone to college now. They are the most inspiring kids. And there's some of them are some of the same ages, like our kids, so like we've loved spending time with them.
And the amazing thing is they're doing these fantastic, incredible things. They have these goals of like being attorneys and doctors and other things. And they have nobody They don't have like a neighbor that's helping them get an internship. They don't have like an uncle that was like a doctor or something that inspired them. They, they came from absolutely nothing. They drank out of rivers, and ate food on the ground to survive as they were walking from Congo to Uganda. And to see that this is what they're doing–this is why refugees are so inspiring. And, you know, they start businesses at higher rates than native born Americans. They take welfare at rates lower than native born Americans, like refugees are this amazing asset that we have in our community. And it's so inspiring to be close to some of them and see, like these amazing lives that they're living.
Morgan Jones 49:33
Absolutely. So now you have just done something kind of exciting. You–initially the first business that you ever started was you started a website called pooltables.com–billiards.com?
Davis Smith 49:48
Yeah, we have both of those domains.
Morgan Jones 49:49
Davis Smith 49:50
Morgan Jones 49:52
And so that was your first business. You just recently bought it back with the intent of turning that into to a benefit corporation as well, with the goal of showing that any kind of business can be a benefit corporation. Tell me a little bit about the vision that you have for this going forward and why it's so exciting for you.
Davis Smith 50:13
Well, I talked earlier about Steve Gibson and this inspiring figure he was for me. And that's really what pushed me to go start my first business. And when we started that business, all of our–and I actually had dabbled in a couple other ideas before starting the pool table business with ideas that had social impact connected to the business model, both of those ideas failed, like did not work. And we ended up–the pool table business worked, like, you know, we started selling online and we flew to China and found a factory that would make our own branded tables. And we ended up doing a million dollars in our first year in business, which was like, we couldn't have dreamed that that would happen. And at the same time, it had no social impact.
All of our passwords were connected to social impact, like helping children other things, even though we had no social impact. But that was what was in my head, I was thinking about it constantly. But I didn't know how to merge doing good and building a business at the same time. It just–I didn't understand how to do it.
And so over the last 17 or 18 years as being an entrepreneur, I've learned how to do it, or I'm learning how to do it. I mean, we're constantly learning. But this business, the pool table business that I'd sold over a decade ago, the owner of the business who I'd sold it to contacted me and said, "Hey, I'm retiring, I'm in my 60s, I have a–" like, he has like 17 different domains and businesses. And he said, "Hey, I want to, I'm going to sell all my business off, and I'm going to sell your pool table business. And I've got a buyer, publicly traded company that wants to buy it."
And at first, I was thinking, great, that's good for him. And, you know, we had a little bit of ownership in the business still so it was like, that's feels good. And, but pretty quickly, I changed my mind. And I was like, "I can't let somebody else own this thing. Like I know exactly what to do with it now." I didn't know what to do with it in my 20s. But now I'm in my 40s I know how to, I've spent the last eight years seven, eight years building Cotopaxi learning how to build purpose and mission into a business and how to use that business to do good. And this business is already profitable, and it's working and it's growing. So I can go have an immediate impact. It's not going to take years to kind of get there like it took with Cotopaxi. So I thought, you know, I'm gonna go, I'm gonna go by this thing. So Asialene was very hesitant at first.
Asialene Smith 52:28
I knew you could do it, I–no hesitation with that. You were qualified, but it's a busy time in our lives right now. And I wasn't sure about that.
Davis Smith 52:42
But I decided, You know what, I would only buy this back if it was to further our mission of fighting poverty. And so I decided I'm going to buy this business, but we're going to convert it to a benefit corporation–which we've done–and we're going to use this business, the profits, to go support fighting poverty. And I'm really excited. And I have a big vision for how I want to build and scale the business, we're gonna expand beyond the billiard space into all home and yard recreation and things that bring families together and friends together. But all these products will be helping us fight poverty and making a difference. So we're really, really excited about it.
Morgan Jones 53:19
Asialene you're on board now?
Asialene Smith 53:21
Yeah, I am. When he talks about the vision for it itt gets me excited. Especially I think with this one he'll, he'll do a lot in the Philippines and that's super exciting for me. Yeah, it'll be good.
Morgan Jones 53:35
Kind of full circle.
Asialene Smith 53:36
Morgan Jones 53:37
In multiple ways!
Davis Smith 53:38
Asialene Smith 53:39
That's really neat.
Morgan Jones 53:40
I just have two last questions for you. One, I loved you were on own Guy Raz, "How I Built This," and he has his famous question at the end of every episode of his podcast where he asks, "Do you think your success is the product of hard work or luck?" And you said–and I loved your answer, you talked about how you think that yes, hard work plays into it. But that more than anything, it was luck. And essentially being blessed. Blessed to have been born, where you were born blessed to grow up the way that you grew up, blessed to be born in the time in which you live because you said you probably wouldn't have thrived as much with your skill set 200 years ago. And so I wondered, you said that you feel like there's a responsibility that comes with having those blessings and receiving those blessings in the Church we talk a lot about it's kind of like the Spider Man quote like the, "With great power comes great responsibility." But for you all, what is the responsibility that you feel because of the blessings that you've been given in your life?
Davis Smith 54:49
I really believe this, like I I can't believe how lucky we all are. You look at the whole of human history–the chances that we'd be born in this time is just incredible. I mean, we, almost every other human that lives on the planet has lived in extreme poverty. And I just feel very lucky that I'm living today, that I was born where I was born, I had parents that were both–had gone to college. And I had, well, we didn't have a lot of money, I had opportunities that most people on Earth have never had, you know, I would have been a pretty lousy farmer. I'm pretty wimpy. And so I look at like the work those people had to do to survive. And it's like, I don't know, I would not have excelled in that work.
And I think because of that, we definitely felt this, this responsibility to give back. And, you know, we all know that that hymn that we sing as children about, you know, "Because I haven't given much I too must give," we believe that, but I think, I think it needs to go beyond just because I have a lot I'm going to give. For me, this is really a lifelong pursuit, I feel like I could never repay the debt that I have. No matter what I give, it's never going to be too much. It's never going to be enough. And so that's really how we think about it is, we have this great debt to pay. And we're going to use our entire lives, wear out our lives in finding ways to give and serve others.
Morgan Jones 56:17
Well, I think what you just said is a great example of our last question, which is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Asialene Smith 56:31So for me, being all in means to do whatever the Savior asks of me, whatever I'm prompted to do, go wherever He wants me to go, serve in whatever capacity in my ward that I'm asked, take my family wherever I need to go and make any type of sacrifice in my life, because he has sacrificed so much for me. And so I think a big part of it is, is being willing to sacrifice the way God sacrificed His son, and then Jesus Christ sacrificed for me, and now whatever I can do, to sacrifice and do His will in my life.
Davis Smith 57:12
So being all in for me, I think has been really an evolution. I think when I first started my career, I thought, you know, I needed to, you know, this is my professional life and this is my spiritual life. And what I've learned over time is that to be my authentic self, and to be my whole self–which is something we talk a lot about these days, is like people being able to be their authentic self or their whole self in the workplace. It's important for me to be able to bring these values, my spiritual values, the spiritual learnings that I have, and apply them to work and take the learnings that I have from work and apply them into my family, how to lead a great organization and create a great culture, I can apply that to my family and the principles, the gospel truths that I learned around service and giving and caring for others, like I want to apply those into my professional life and into the culture and business that I'm building. And so for me, being all in is about merging those things, about being my authentic self all the time, and no matter where I'm at and merging those those different parts of my life.
Morgan Jones 58:10
Thank you. Thank you both so much for taking the time to be with me. I really appreciate it.
Asialene Smith 58:15
Thank you, Morgan.
Davis Smith 58:16
Thanks Morgan, this was fun.
Morgan Jones 58:19
We are so grateful to the Smiths for joining us on today's episode. You can see Davis and Asialene on the KSL All In special, which we will link in our show notes. Thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode. And thank you so much for listening. We'll be with you again next week.