Every week, we shine a spotlight on a founder, designer, researcher or leader in product who is building something that will shape our future. We share these stories to lend our support, spark interesting conversations, and create visibility among a global community of those who are building the future.
Julio Corredor knows a thing or two about building impactful products. He’s spent the last 20 years working in various industries, from pharmaceutical companies to consumer products and management consulting. For him, the desire to change the world is behind everything he does in his career. “It’s about solving problems or challenges that excite me,” he tells us. “That has always been a driver for me: How does the work impact an individual or an organization to change in some meaningful way?”
As Director of Worldwide Innovation at Pfizer, he worked to shift culture within the large organization. One program he designed, Dare to Try, was an exercise in embedding a mindset of innovation at Pfizer so the company remained “always curious about the opportunities to make an impact for patients.” Five years ago, he worked with Care International in Vietnam — “an experience that has a really special place in my heart” — to help them develop their private sector strategy and fight global poverty.
Currently, he is the CEO of Zooterra, a wildlife conservation and habitat protection platform that he founded in 2018. Zooterra provides transparency and has gamified nature conservation. On the platform, people can collect digital tokens called terras tied to specific natural areas around the world. Users see their impact as each terra directly supports forest, wildlife, and community projects related to that area, and they also receive exclusive stories.
We sat down with Julio to ask him about his passions and his pioneering company. Below are excerpts from our wide-ranging conversation.
Your work experience runs the gamut, from large corporations like Pfizer to non-profit organizations around the world. Do you feel like Zooterra is a culmination of all those experiences, or is this a new area of passion that you’re exploring?
Julio: Of course when you have years of professional experience, that experience becomes very transferrable. I’ve worked in the innovation space for so many years and understand how you think about designing an experience and transforming an experience.
At one point, I thought I would become a veterinarian, which obviously did not happen, but I’ve always had a love for nature and for wildlife, in particular. I had been playing with the idea, and I got to a point professionally where I could apply that know-how to an industry that I’ve always been very passionate about. I brought a lot of knowledge from all of the innovation work that I had been doing, and also from engaging with startups and the startup ecosystem for a number of years while in the corporate world.
Can you expand a little more on your passion for Zooterra and why it exists?
Julio: So, Zooterra is re-imagining how people engage around nature conservation. And the reason why this is so important has been in the news: We’re going through Earth’s sixth mass extinction event — the biggest one since the dinosaurs disappeared. We are losing natural areas at an alarming rate. We’ve lost 50% of our forests in the last 50 years and 60% of wildlife populations in the last 50 years. We’re at a critical point in time when we realize that we’re not doing enough and it’s not getting better.
On a much more granular level, when we think about the people we’re trying to engage, which are the millennials and young professionals that are very concerned about the environment, what we’ve found is that there are a few issues preventing them from engaging or getting excited about contributing more funding for conservation efforts.
One of the things we noticed in our research, and this is one of the areas where we used Alpha, is really understanding that there’s a lack of transparency in charity, or at least the perception of a lack of transparency. People want to see where their money is going when they engage around nature conservation. And that’s not something that is happening right now. We asked people, “Do you know where your money is going?” And 80% of people that we talked to said they don’t.
Is that a new problem for nature conservation funding or one that’s been around for a while?
Julio: We’re in a different world right now where you can order whatever movie you want on Netflix, and you can know exactly when your order is going to arrive from Amazon. And yet, when it comes to engagement around charity, it hasn’t really changed in 40 years, perhaps even longer than that. We want to change that.
The other aspect that we’ve seen is people really relate to experiences where they feel like they’re making progress and where they’re having fun. Look at the gaming industry. It’s a $100 billion dollar industry every year, compared to conservation, where there’s only $9 billion that’s being donated. We want to tap into some of these newer ways of engaging that can translate into a lot more conservation funding.
We are living in a very different world, as you mention. One that’s very busy, fast-moving, and consumption-heavy. When you’re talking to people about Zooterra, what is the lasting impression or takeaway you want people to have?
Julio: I think one of the biggest challenges for people today is the fact that we live in cities that are, from a technology standpoint, fully connected. Yet, what that’s really creating is the opposite: A disconnect with nature. But it’s a matter of out of sight, out of mind, in a lot of cases.
Nature conservation is an issue that should be top of mind for everyone, because of the value we get from nature alone. Going by some estimates, nature is worth $120 trillion to the world economy. Without it, our economic system would collapse.
Zooterra is going to play a new and important role around reconnecting people with nature. And we’re doing that by giving them ownership and ongoing reminders of digital animals and species that are in danger around the world and need our help.
The other thing I think is important for people to understand is that conservation is a multifactorial endeavor. It is important for us to try to support all the different aspects that ultimately make nature conservation work. So, we’re helping support projects that are doing reforestation and protecting natural areas, or projects that are specific to wildlife protections. For example, I’m monitoring the greater Bamboo lemur in Madagascar, which is a critically endangered species, and providing funding for that species. But just as critically, we’re also supporting projects that engage humans and communities, so they can coexist with these species in a way that doesn’t create conflicts.
You founded Zooterra last year. Who has been the biggest champion for your work so far, and what’s been exciting about working with them?
Julio: I’ve been inspired by the young people that I’ve talked to and their passion and concern around the change that needs to happen in the world. They’re really excited about finding new ways of engaging and the concept of Zooterra has resonated with them, and that’s been a big motivation for us.
On the other side of it, there are partners we’ve been working with that are doing the work on the ground. For them, it’s also been a struggle to get consumers engaged with fundraising efforts. Not so much the big funders — like foundations or high-earning individuals — but consumers in general, it’s been a struggle. So, our partners have been very supportive about what we’re doing with Zooterra. For example, they love the interface, which visually represents the animals we’re helping in the wild, and they love that we’re creating content that spotlights their work.
They’re incredibly excited about having a different way to communicate with consumers and not have to worry about fundraising, which is what we can do for them. They can continue to do what they love, which is protecting species and protecting forests.
What kind of content is Zooterra producing?
Julio: It’s content that helps people connect to nature, or to places around the world they may never get a chance to experience. Through Zooterra’s content, they get a window into that world, to explore the nature, what the area looks like, the species that live there, the people working on the ground, and the difference that the project is making. It will be fully individualized and personalized, based on the choices that people make with the tokens that they purchase on the platform.
Our partners are excited about the content, but we’re excited too because it helps close that gap of that existing loss of connection between people and nature.
You mentioned that you know who you’re trying to reach with Zooterra: Millennials and young professionals. Knowing who you’re serving with a product is such an important convincing people to get involved. What are some of the other ways that having insights like that has catalyzed your efforts?
Julio: As entrepreneurs, we’re trying to transform industries. Although we’re operating in existing industries, we’re doing it in a very different way and potentially transforming those industries. So, you’re paving new ground and you’re not sure how people are going to respond to what you’re creating. You have to de-risk as many options and choices as you can. So insights are even more critical for startups than for corporations, because corporations already have a portfolio of products, for example.
The more that you can de-risk through research, insights, and conversations with your customers, the better. I think insights are one of the critical aspects of being successful. And it will be your downfall if you don’t have that constant flow of information around your product.
How would you say Zooterra is building the future of conservation?
Julio: Zooterra is building the future in a couple of different ways: One, with transparency. People are supporting specific projects for specific species, and in locations that we are disclosing. And there’s a different level of engagement understanding of what your impact is. Two, the fact that it’s a gamified experience. We’re trying to make people feel more empowered and engaged. By changing the mindset from a donation mindset to an ownership mindset, each individual knows they are owning the future of nature and wildlife conservation.
Obviously, this is a sector that can be a lot of gloom and doom, and justifiably so, but we want to create this mindset shift around more empowerment, so people feel like they are making a difference and they see how they’re making an impact on a more sustainable society.
What is something you think our future needs more or less of?
Julio: I think the wave of innovation that we’re seeing across industries is something that we need to continue to see. Though we do need to guide more of those efforts towards sustainability. I’m also really excited about the greater awareness and sense of empowerment I’m seeing among the younger generations. We’re seeing it in the choices they make when they go shopping, or when they go to the polls. We need these generations to continue to drive awareness and societal change. As consumers, we have so much power, and we need to continue to communicate that power.
We’re excited to be building this community of founders and innovators, and one of the reasons we’re spotlighting people, beyond the obvious of sharing these great stories, is that we want the community to find ways to come together and help each other. What are some of the ways that we can celebrate the work you’re doing, contribute to the work you’re doing, or lend insight to the work you’re doing?
Julio: I think startups are really supportive of each other, and I’ve been lucky to have a number of people that have been super helpful. That’s something that I’ll continue to tap into. One thing I would say is that we are in the process of launching our next iteration of the platform and that’s happening on September 16th.
I would be excited to hear what the community has to say and to have them try it out and get their input by signing on for early access on Zooterra.com. Like I mentioned earlier, we have an open dialogue with our customers and with people that are passionate about protecting nature and wildlife. I’d love to open that conversation to the community.
Also, we’re growing, and we’re continuing to engage different types of partners. So, if there are connections that the community thinks would be a good fit for us, that would be welcomed as well.
If you’d like to get in touch with Julio, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or Instagram. To learn more about Zooterra, visit the website, the company’s Instagram page, or read more about their work on Medium. If you feel we can lend our support the work you’re doing, please reach out to Aaron Davis, Alpha’s Head of Community, at email@example.com.