The Startup Playbook: No. 10

The Gut Check

As the founder of a climate tech startup, your responsibility is to bring together the numerous and necessary elements that will make it successful––the technology, capital, team, vendors, customers, and more. But the most critical piece of them all… It’s YOU!  

In the never-ending race to launch, it’s easy for founders to forget themselves in the process. You spend countless hours working on the technology, developing a go-to-market strategy, and communicating your vision. You do this with vigor, convincing those around you, investors, advisors, employees, and customers to believe in your company’s potential. You, the founder, are central to all this activity, and your well-being is vital in ensuring your business scales.

The best thing one can do when launching their climate tech startup is to pause and take a gut check. Ask yourself, “Do I truly want to be the founder?”

For many, the answer will be a resounding “YES.” Trust me, I get it. We’re passionate people who want to find solutions that address climate change. We can effortlessly apply our devotion to climate tech entrepreneurship, especially when there’s an opportunity for major economic gains and social glory.

But here’s the thing. Entrepreneurship is hard, fraught with risk, and likely to fail more often than not. So, do that gut check to ensure you’re ready to be the founder your investors, employees, and customers need you to be.

Put Your Passion for Climate to Work

For most climate tech entrepreneurs, your journey, rightly so, starts with your passion for climate, where substantial interest in building a better, healthier planet for future generations is a prerequisite. Entrepreneurship, however, is just one of many ways to put that love to work.

Lucky for all of us, there are a lot of different professional pathways that can fulfill one’s climate passion. Decarbonizing oureconomy requires climate advocacy, investment, policy, and philanthropy. There are climate marketers and salespeople, climate lawyers and accountants, and many other climate careers that fit every trade and skill imaginable.

You get the point, which is a passion for climate doesn’t mean you have to be a climate tech entrepreneur, so don’t hesitate to explore different avenues.

Be in It for the Long Haul

If those other professional pathways don’t attract you, then climate tech entrepreneurship may be the path for you. That brings us to our next consideration: You must be in it for the long haul.

Starting a company takes time. The technical nature of most climate tech startups means you’ll spend the next 7-10 years, if not more, developing your business. I’d love it if there were a shortcut, but deploying physical products into existing infrastructure or building one from scratch is a process that invariably takes more time and capital than you may anticipate.

Ten years isn’t a lifetime, but it is a long time. It requires mental, physical, and financial (i.e., no pay or low pay for extended periods) preparation to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and changes in your personal life, such as marriage and kids.

Buckle up, and let’s move on to the challenges you’ll face as the “boss.”

Building Technology and Managing People

So, you’re passionate about climate and ready to go the distance. Here are another five considerations:  

  1. You’ll wear many hats, but none more meaningful than Chief Storyteller. But, fair warning. Your family, roommates, and close friends will probably tell you to shut up at some point. Ignore them. You should be excited to tell your company’s story and sell your vision because, as the founder, you’ll do it countless times a day.
  2. Raising capital requires cognitive dissonance to believe you’ll succeed while simultaneously being entirely okay with failing. Without that disconnect, taking big checks will get stressful pretty darn fast.
  3. You may be the boss but don’t forget your Board of Directors, as the group likely includes some of the investors writing you those big checks. Managing up to the board and down to your team requires constant effort and a deft touch.
  4. Speaking of, you’ll spend a lot of time managing people—a LOT of time. Your focus on the technology will supplant your focus on the team you’re assembling to develop and deploy said tech. Still, be an enthusiastic leader and listener because founders must excel in people management.
  5. You’ll make a lot of decisions, and you’ll make them quickly. Somedays, it’ll feel like you’re making hundreds of decisions, but that’s how it should be in a rapidly evolving company. Recognize from now that every choice you make won’t be the correct one, but learning from your mistakes is just as important.

It's Lonely at the Top

Despite the people around you, entrepreneurship can be an isolating experience, more so as you experience the highs and lows of launching a startup. Founders must be as mindful of their mental health as they are their KPIs.

Take time for yourself to exercise, sleep, and connect with others. Find a mentor who can be an unabashed sounding board for you. Build a community of founders with whom you can share your experiences and recognize that things are never as good or bad as they seem.

Not a Solution in Search of a Problem

If you’ve made it this far and are as committed as ever to being a climate tech founder, there’s still one last thing you’ll need: A product.

Ah, that pesky product. A compelling tech-based solution wrapped in a well-defined, sellable innovation your company is uniquely positioned to deploy to the masses in a manner that delivers a predictable, positive gross margin.

Your hunt for this scalable product is our focus for the next blog, but there’s something else worth mentioning here. Your creation should never be a solution in search of a problem. For everyone’s sake, including your own, develop your tech with an easily defined and significant concern in mind. Our climate passion can easily cloud our business judgment, especially when it involves the company’s viability. Cleared-eyed judgment is absolutely essential for any founder working on tech that addresses a meaningful problem for consumers.

The presence of a problem-solving product may be the greatest gut check of all. Without it, your startup is going nowhere. With it, you could be on your way to building something great. So, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I ready for this ride?”

Stay in touch to receive insights about the latest happenings within our industry, events, career opportunities, and more.