Nathan is a true animal lover, and has built a wonderful niche e-commerce company with the mission of helping elephants. Beautiful story.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where are you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Nathan Coleman: I grew up in Westchester County, which is right outside New York City. I am 29 years old. I went to Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated in 2009. I got out of college with a Business Management degree and went to work at a chicken wing shop that I worked at in high school. I worked in retail and then eventually made my way to Kraft.
When I was there, I was Product Change Manager. I was there for about a year. Then I went to Unilever where I pretty much did the same thing for deodorants. While at Unilever, I started a men’s wear accessories company. We sold neck ties, bow ties, and socks. That was our first introduction to e-commerce.
Sramana Mitra: What year was that?
Nathan Coleman: That was in 2011.
Sramana Mitra: That’s not the business we are talking about today?
Nathan Coleman: No, that’s what we did prior to Elephant Pants. That’s where we learned all of our e-commerce skills. We made a ton of mistakes but we learned a lot from all of those mistakes. We grew our skill set to be able to apply to Elephant Pants.
Sramana Mitra: How big a business did you build with that one?
Nathan Coleman: That was tiny. We made, at most, $150,000 a year.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you do that for?
Nathan Coleman: We sold it in 2015. We started Elephant Pants in October of 2014.
Sramana Mitra: What is the concept of Elephant Pants?
Nathan Coleman: It started with a journey to Thailand. It started with the elephants themselves. I love animals in general. I like them more than most people. When I was growing up, we had three dogs at all times. One of them passed away, and we got a new one. We had cats, turtles, fishes. Animals are very important to me. I feel like I connect very well with them, sometimes almost better than humans. I went to Thailand in 2013.
Over there, we did a lot of the typical touristy things, one of which was going to a supposed elephant sanctuary. When we got there, the first thing we saw was people riding elephants. We didn’t know as much then. When we started walking around, we saw all these elephants in chains. They were being abused. You could see it. These elephants were visibly upset.
It was eye-opening and life-changing experience for us. We had heard about the declining elephant population. I don’t think we really knew enough about it. When we were over there, that was the first reality check. This is a serious problem. We came back on a mission to do something about it. We did a lot more research. We learned how grim the situation truly is for elephants across the world, and how problems are so different in every region.