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“It’s a hybrid between Etsy and eBay, but for the outdoors,” said Sander DiAngelis, a business administration senior and founder of MOJA Gear. “Much more engaging.”

Kait Freeberg
Special to Mustang News

It’s a cool Friday morning, and Sander DiAngelis bikes to the Starbucks on Foothill Boulevard. He sits at a table with a warm drink in his hand, sporting a plaid shirt. On his head sits a green hat — a hat that’s been there and back with him on every adventure.

His computer is open to flashy sites like REI, Mountain Gear and North Face. He’s scoping out the competition.

“I pull my hair out every time I am on a computer website (like this); my eyes bleed,” said DiAngelis, a business administration senior and founder of MOJA Gear, a rock climbing website.

To help develop his website, DiAngelis has worked closely with The Hatchery program on campus, a part of the Cal Poly Center For Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“MOJA Gear is not a retailer, per se, but a community-driven rock climbing marketplace that divides its efforts among personal engagement, high-quality content and products,” DiAngelis said.

The vision

The word “moja,” which means “one” in Swahili, is the foundation of DiAngelis’ brainchild. After a failed attempt at making a website similar to eBay that donated all of its money to charity, he came up with the idea for MOJA Gear during the summer of 2013.

“It’s a hybrid between Etsy and eBay, but for the outdoors,” DiAngelis said. “Much more engaging.”

Still, DiAngelis wanted some portion of the website’s earnings to go to charity. With every sale, 1 percent goes into the community and is donated to either Access Fund or The American Safe Climbing Association.

Jake Disraeli, the innovation coordinator at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, said other climbing websites are often elementary and boring.

Disraeli sees everything from food to hardware companies, and he said he believes in MOJA Gear and DiAngelis’ vision.

In December 2013, DiAngelis brought on Sara Roudebush to join the MOJA Gear team as the marketing and community engagement director. She was placed in charge of marketing and community engagement, but said she does “a little bit of everything.”

“We make most of the decisions together,” Roudebush said. “But (DiAngelis) has the final say.”

Andy Peterson, a software engineering freshman, was recruited to do design work and web development. These are the main people who are working to further the company, though DiAngelis has also sought help from students working on their senior projects.

Roudebush described DiAngelis’ leadership style as relaxed, hands-off and open-minded.

“If you come up with an idea, he always encourages it,” Roudebush said.

Moving forward

While the site’s main focus is rock climbing and gear, DiAngelis said his dream is to add surfing and yoga aspects to the site.

“I am really passionate about this sport,” DiAngelis said. “I wake up excited about every day.”

DiAngelis, who studied in New Zealand during his sophomore year, was able to climb during his trip. He also spent six months as a guide for beginning rock climbers in Vietnam.

“Giving people experiences that they will remember forever, it was really life changing,” DiAngelis said.

Having to choose between a favorite hobby or a money-making job after graduating is not something DiAngelis said students should have to do.

“The question is, how can you bring them together?” he said.

After graduating in June, DiAngelis plans to work full time with MOJA Gear, combining his rock climbing interest and making it into a career.

Community sellers

MOJA Gear has several hundred fans on Facebook and and an active presence on social media. With the hashtag #climbmoja, many people in the climbing community have tagged themselves in photos on MOJA Gear’s Instagram. Chris Sharma, who was called the world’s best rock climber by NPR, was tagged in a photo on their site.

“We want to engage our user base,” DiAngelis said. “In these early days, we are trying to engage and grow our trust.”

The climbing market is a multi-million dollar annual industry.

“We believe we can be a prominent player in that market,” he said.

The expense of climbing gear such as carabiners, ropes, chalk bags and shoes has forced MOJA Gear to look at other options for their site. They have reached out to community sellers on the internet to bring in more traffic.

MOJA Gear reached out to Ambatana Threads, which employs refugee women from Kenya and Iraq, to make handmade chalk bags out of their studio in Salt Lake City.

By bringing in small, community-driven businesses such as Ambatana Threads, MOJA Gear is becoming a retail platform. They have a business model worked out for each sale: 80 percent goes to the seller, MOJA Gear takes 19 percent commission and one percent is donated back into the climbing community.

“This model is great for them, great for us (and) gives them more exposure,” DiAngelis said.

DiAngelis and his team are now working on making connections with community sellers that share MOJA Gear’s passion and workplace ethics — and bringing them onto the site.

“We only want to carry brands we believe in,” he said.

With the goal of adding 30-40 more climbing businesses to the community portion of their website, they have some work to do. Only five sellers are on the site now.

Though DiAngelis dreams of expansion, he said he will not become like his competitors.

“It is always placing our mission first,” he said.

Not just making money

Though the MOJA Gear team is not keen on setting goals, according to DiAngelis, they are focused on the future.

“Between now and summer, we are growing our user base and obtaining investors for the summer,” DiAngelis said.

The company could easily look to Silicon Valley to find some wealthy investors, but DiAngelis said they want to find people who believe in the mission of MOJA Gear, not just people who want to make money. For the summer, DiAngelis will search for investors from the San Luis Obispo area.

“There is a community here that wants to see more entrepreneurship and innovation,” DiAngelis said. “Within the next nine months, we want $50,000 to $100,000 invested in MOJA Gear.”

That money will go toward purchasing more products to sell on their site.

DiAngelis and Roudebush will represent MOJA Gear in the LeanModel Start-Up Competition later this month.

“I think we have a really good sense of self,” Roudebush said. “So we are pretty far ahead of some companies.”

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