(I recently spoke with Danny Trejo. Updates for May 2019 are included in bold!)
Two fraternity brothers from Stetson University are offering some Florida sunshine for your office, patio or living space. Meet Danny Trejo & Charley Todd – founders of ViaCitrus and initiates of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity.
Here’s a fun fact: Charley, Danny and I all joined the same chapter of the same fraternity! Danny and I initiated in 2008 and Charley as a senior in 2010. I noticed Danny share some information about ViaCitrus when it publicly launched earlier this year. I thought the idea was cool, missed living in Florida, and now have an orange tree growing in my window sill!
Beyond ViaCitrus, the benefits it offers to consumers, and the benefits it offers to farmers is a story of friendship rooted in common interests, common values and compatible skill sets. I caught up with Danny and Charley last month to talk about their relationship, the future for ViaCitrus, and asked to write about it for FraternityMan and our alumni newsletter:
That commonality helped Danny and Charley connect while roommates on a summer study abroad trip to Innsbruck, Austria. Charley then joined the same fraternity chapter as Danny, as mentioned above, after returning to Stetson in the fall. (We then discussed whether or not Charley listed Danny to be his “big brother” in the chapter and whether or not Danny turned him down…that doesn’t say much about ViaCitrus, but this is a fraternity blog and I took an unnecessary amount of notes for that section so let me nerd out where I can, okay?)
After hearing Charley and Danny’s story I noticed how much of their relationship, including the creation of ViaCitrus, happened out of chance. For example, both come from families with family businesses, which helped them connect beyond college.
From Families With Family Businesses
Danny’s father sells citrus trees wholesale and Danny grew up around the business in Florida. He watched the farm grow from 80 acres of trees to more than 200 acres today. Charley’s father established an AllState agency, which is now the largest in the country and a newly operating 6th office in Atlanta.
Both men visited New York City for spring break in 2011 and decided to stay together and explored the city. Charley was looking for a place to live and Danny was considering options for work; he picked up a job with the Todd family business. Charley came to notice and appreciate Danny’s commitment to the company as Danny stuck around. Charley took over leadership responsibilities for the agency about three years ago, transitioning it to a 2nd generation family business, and Danny later moved to his current role as CFO.
ViaCitrus certainly benefits from their experiences working together, and came together as Charley searched for a plant for his new office.
The Same Tree For Half The Cost
Charley explored the city and found a Calamondin Orange tree at a local plant shop for about $120. Knowing that Danny grew up around a citrus farm, Charley asked for some insight into whether it was a good investment… It wasn’t. The tree Charley was looking into actually came from Danny’s father’s farm, and could be purchased for half the price from the source.
They visited the farm and Charley suggested that they sell the trees directly to consumers. The idea was one Danny had previously considered, but his father hadn’t been interested, so the two Delta Sigs worked to bring the idea to life. As a pair, their strengths work well together.
Danny offers a can-do logistical skill set and an understanding of the citrus market – he “makes things happen.” Charley offered connections to the creative, promotional and tech side of things thanks in part to relationships he built while working on another of his start ups.
Trust for one another, trust in the product, and experiences growing up around family businesses helped launch the company with only their personal funds. Danny and Charley tested and perfected the product over the course of two years and then started selling the trees publicly in January of 2018.
How To Keep An Orange Tree Alive In The Mail
Every good product is tested and improved or streamlined before being sold to consumers. Cars are crash-tested to ensure that they’re safe, Nintendo systems are drop-tested to ensure they’re child-proof, and farmers use a variety of techniques to improve the resiliency and taste of their crop.
When one orders a tree from ViaCitrus it arrives alive, in a tall box, and with fragrant orange blossoms ready to brighten up a room. The process from ordering to delivery takes less than a week, but far more time went into making that seemingly simple process a reality.
ViaCitrus was originally going to sell cocktail trees with different fruits on different branches, but it made more sense to start with readily available orange trees. Grower pots they selected to ship the trees in later became unavailable, one of many unforeseen challenges an entrepreneur comes to expect in the years it takes to perfect a product – one can never be sure that a potential provider will still be in business in 2-3 years.
– Charley Todd
To ensure that trees arrived alive and that one isn’t covered in dirt after opening the box, Danny and Charley got help from a former Space X employee to design a box that works well for the trees and for recipients.
Millennial Sensibilities & Getting Noticed
An important aspect of ViaCitrus is the benefit it offers to farmers by providing them with better rates and less debate. Danny noted that agricultural costs are always rising, and recalls his father debating for better margins with sellers to hire more people, take care of his land, and improve his produce. Meanwhile the sellers are fighting for every nickel and dime to manage costs associated with their overhead, something a web-based company like ViaCitrus does without.
Local farmers will benefit from higher margins and less stress while customers benefit from more affordable trees, one fewer trip to a gardening center, and better peace of mind (by supporting farmers and because being around plants offers real-world health benefits). Charley and Danny are looking to secure additional tree suppliers in order to legally ship trees to several U.S. states (listed at the end of this post).
Meyer Lemon trees and Key Lime trees are now available through Via Citrus, and Trejo mentions that the team is looking in to ruby red grapefruit and navel orange trees in the future. In the short term, after receiving feedback and questions from customers, Via Citrus is exploring selling potting soil, planters, and single-user fertilizer fit for citrus trees. (As an owner of a Via Citrus tree I can say that the fertilizer would be a welcomed addition to the product line!)
Although still relatively new, ViaCitrus has picked up some important admirers.
Early promotional campaigns revolved around sending trees to influencers (users with large, dedicated followings) on Instagram. Things took off when Eva Chen, the youngest ever editor at Vogue and presently heading Instagram’s fashion initiatives, promoted ViaCitrus to her 900,000+ followers. The duo sold 20-30 trees that day. ViaCitrus has once again been featured in many “Best Mother’s Day Gift” articles, including BestProducts.com and Huffington Post. The trees are now available for purchase through Amazon, which Trejo mentions is outpacing their own website in sales volume.
Most of the fraternity men and women I know are on some sort of Instagram fitness journey and/or love to support businesses which support communities. Let me put on my Integrative Health Science-was-my-major hat to suggest that freshly picked oranges are great for your health and that farmers will appreciate you purchasing your orange or lemon tree(s) through ViaCitrus.