Great to chat with Sam Steyer, Co-Founder and CEO at Greenwork, Greenwork is a software company that connects workforce training programs to employers in clean energy, transportation, and the trades! We discussed ways of increasing the industrial workforce, the importance of finding the right co-founder,  trade schools and more!

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James

The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter

Hello today. It’s my absolute pleasure to be speaking with Sam Steyer cofounder and Ceo Greenwork welcome podcast Sam Steyer brilliant to start. Could you tell us a little bit about greenwork.

Sam Steyer

Um, thank you James Thanks so much for having me on. Yes, absolutely so ah greenwork is a software company and we are helping ah clean energy companies and generally future looking industrial companies hire skilled trades talent today. We do that by offering. Ah, platform for trade schools and workforce development programs where anyone who is a student or a core member or customer of one of those programs can make a profile and get help on greenwork in building their profile and getting their construction history together. Ah, from the trainers and career counselors. They’re already working with in real life. The schools can organize their job placement and career readiness place process in 1 place and then employers can log in and connect with schools connect with students and hire. Awesome tradespeople who are passionate about their industries and who are getting started in their careers.

James McWalter

So super cool and what drove that initial decision to start greenwork.

Sam Steyer

Ah, my interest in greenwork really grew out of working on the twenty twenty presidential campaign I’d been a software engineer in clean tech and a software founder in clean tech but on the campaign I was. You know, surrounded by the democratic party thinking around the green new deal and build back better and my dad tom steyer was running on a climate message. So I was out you know going to factories and projects related to renewable energy and talking to americans across. The country and especially the early primary states about climate and it just became so clear to me that there’s this amazing opportunity to grow and and rebuild a. Ah, highly paid. Highly trained large industrial workforce in the us and then it was absolutely a necessary step to work on climate and an amazing thing in and of itself and so I wanted to build a company that would play a small role in supporting that broader mission.

James McWalter

So That’s so Interesting. You know I think those of us working in tech were often quite insulated I Guess from you know more kind of blue- colar type work and so as you were kind of starting to have those kind of conversations. What were the initial surprises as you talked to people in the ground that kind of inspired. You do kind of start green work.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, um, the first was I visited the largest wind tower manufacturing facility in the United States in Pueblo Colorado um, it’s actually really cool because it is right by a decommissioned you know Fossil Fuel drivenn steel mill and a decommissioned coal plant and now there’s a massive wind manufacturing facility which I found emblematic. It’s also just in at so brief aside an amazing city puebo Colorado that has 4 congressional medal of honor winners for a relatively small town which is very. Ah, cool and you know statistically unlikely. But um so I was there I got to tour this incredible facility and while I was doing the tour. They let me know that they were sort of hiring for every skilled trades role and couldn’t find enough folks industrial painters, welders, etc and I was shocked by that because I felt like okay this is a highly paid job. Doing really cool future looking work I’m surprised. It’s hard to find people and that sort of set off my interest in learning more about the skilled trades and ah the shortage of people entering construction. Um, so that was one and then I would say the other experience. To me that was sort of was meeting all the staff across the campaigns. You know the nature of the primary is the campaigns are always going to the Sam Steyere place for the Sam Steyere events and I just met so many young people whose plan for their life was work on this campaign. Ah, help the Democrats win and then go get to work implementing climate solutions and I felt like okay, there’s this you know some of those people are going to be policy activists or or white collar business people but to solve climate. We need to move a lot of atoms not just bits. And some of these people are going to go build awesome careers being tradespeople and engineers and technicians.

James McWalter

And in terms of like people. Yeah not being enough people to do all that kind of construction move all those atoms is it more that those people do exist but they’re like in the wrong places geographically or even in career stage or is it. We just. Have a massive gap in the number of people who are just not trained for these kind of Roles. So.

Sam Steyer

Um, so I think it is more the latter though I will say that that we have heard over and over again from you know, contractors and experience construction experienced manufacturing people that someone who has mastered a trade is much. Way far ahead at doing ah, you know, different kind of trades work than someone who’s starting from scratch so there is a big opportunity for people who have been you know doing ah related trade to come be senior theaters in clean energy companies. Ah, but there also just are not enough raw number of people and I think that’s because ah, we didn’t have positive enough messaging about the trades we didn’t share how much money people we can make it can make how with people how much money they can make in the trades and in some cases we’re not paying people enough or offering. You know, good enough benefits of vacation and safety and the things that make it good job up to people in the trade. So I think there is a need in messaging and resources to to reinvest in the industrial workforce in the United States just to bring in more people.

James McWalter

And we also have this yeah this concept the great resignation that’s been happening over the like the last six months yeah and that seems to be happening basically across the entire economy um people are you know are trying to upscall and people who are already I guess upskilled. But maybe in a lower skill job than they initially committed to. Um, they want to kind of move on to something bigger and better often with kind of an impact level. Yeah how you thinking about that I guess that macro piece is that helping to be a bit of a you know tailwind for what you’re trying to build as well.

Sam Steyer

Um, it. It is because companies are really reckoning with hiring problems and so that you know makes them more inclined to talk to us the way that I really think about it is it is. Holding companies accountable to offer good Jobs. You know in ah in a world where there are more jobs than job seekers and where people are sort of taking a step back to look at what’s happening in their lives jobs that were underpaying people or offering a you know, unfriendly or unhealthy environment. Um, but. They cannot cut it anymore and so the the way that you know I think that’s a good thing and the way that we try to reflect it in our platform is we um, won’t let you know any employer post any job. We um, you know want w two full-time Jobs. We want fair. Wages and if we have people through the platform get a job at a company and you know report back you know a number of them. It doesn’t work out and they say it’s not a good work Environment. We would remove that company from the platform. So I think it has meant. You know companies need to think harder and work harder to offer good jobs and I think that’s a good thing.

James McWalter

You absolutely and then in terms of the the kind of company getting up and running right? So You know you saw this kind of massive need. Um and I believe you have kind of a cofounder. You know what were those kind of interim steps to kind of go from this. Yeah,, there’s a big problem to be solved I have this idea. Up to you know I have I have a startup and cofounder and we you know we have a product and all that kind of thing.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, yeah, great. Great question and I’ll tell you what I did and also you know ways in which I would do it differently for for entrepreneurs who are listening because I definitely did do everything right? Um, so I I decided I wanted to do this sort of an August Twenty Twenty I spent

James McWalter

Right.

Sam Steyer

Ah, the rest of 2020 just organizing conversations with people who I thought would have a interesting perspective or who who might you know were sort of a good model of our future users to to ask them and to try to learn more about what we should build through that process I was extremely lucky to meet. My cofounder gotham j a raman he was a good friend of a good friend and he had um, ah recently ah been cto and cofounder and built a business called rickshaw that was bought by Jodache and then he was working at Jordache and after a while at jordash he decided. He wanted to do something focused on climate and so he was when I met him on a sabbatical trying to figure out a next step related to climate and um I after 1 or 2 conversations just had an extremely strong. Intuitive feeling that he was the right co-founder for me that you know why values it was just someone I really liked and wanted to spend time with and and that you know I am a software engineering background but probably not or or certainly not qualified to be a cto um and whereas he’s really really strong. Ah, engineering and product person who’s a great cto and um I think so I I realized I wanted to to be cofounder at First. He just wanted to sort of be an advisor and help explore the idea together and then a few months later he came on as co-founders sort of December January Twenty Twenty one um I actually had my first child was born in January Twenty Twenty one my wife and I welcomed our son and so I took paternity leave and or I guess I didn’t technically have a job but I took so you know a step back and then we.

James McWalter

Button Sure course. So.

Sam Steyer

Incorporated the company and sort of started operating on March thirty first twenty twenty one

James McWalter

And that’s pretty much exactly a year ago from when you know we’re recording this or even actually when I think this might be coming out. Um, and so you know and that’s I think having personally just also just gone through the kind of cofounder search process and finding also an amazing cofounder which for the.

Sam Steyer

Um, yeah.

10:18.84

James McWalter

Audience Sam Steyer also has met to charles my co-founder and charles and I would be doing our own podcast here in the next couple of weeks to talk about what we’re working on. Um but it is it is kind of remarkable like I probably easily talk to well over a hundred people in that co-founder search and then when you find them it just feels very easy and and you know the default the default is yes instead of like.

Sam Steyer

Um, yeah to yes completely agree.

James McWalter

Figure out ways to say no you know Um, so and so and you know in that’s kind of I guess in the last year you’re like okay you know you have this kind of founding team. You’re ready to go. You have a clear you know need within the market. Um. Were the kind of different like product ideas I guess right? because there’s a lot of different ways to potentially kind of solve this problem. You know what? what were your kind of thoughts that as that kind of went along. Yeah.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, we yeah gosh we have been through several. Um, so we actually originally launched as an online cohort based class for people to transition into ah technical solar jobs. So we. Um, we worked with a really awesome experienced solar technician to build a very short online course five total hours of live instruction as well as some sort of quizzes and tests and we would offer it for free and then. Ah, try to help the graduates get jobs and charge the companies that hired them a placement fee. Um I still think there’s definitely room for more online education in the climate space and and there’s some cool companies building it. But in our case for that role. We learn pretty quickly that hands on. In-person training was important both you know to learn how to do stuff that’s at least partially kinesthetic. Um, and second to understand the the challenges of being a solar installer you know fear of heights and physical demands of crouching and lifting heavy stuff and feeling comfortable in a construction site environment. And that we were you know, not even though we were trying to tell people those things that that we weren’t conveying them that well in an online course and um and so it wasn’t a good. It wasn’t enough preparation and it wasn’t a great you know, vetting mechanism to figure out if people it was the job as a fit for them so we did that for a few months and then. Ah, you know, adjusted to what we are currently building. Um, so other ideas we considered are were instead of building the marketplace between people and jobs building the marketplace between you know subcontractors or you know. Contract small construction firms and big companies I think I think there’s lots of things that are needed to approach this problem. We ended up feeling really excited about what we’re focused on because of what we were talking about earlier that we felt like we need just more overall people to have skills and experience. In the trades and that we need a ah more inviting more transparent path for people to get there and so we wanted to build that.

James McWalter

It makes a ton of sense. So just just quick show note: um your Mike just started just just in the last minute just started hitting against maybe the table or whichever but is up to the up to up to about 1 minute ago everything was fine but nowheres at all.

Sam Steyer

Oh sorry about that I’ll step back from the table has this made it a little better. Okay thing.

James McWalter

This is this is perfect. This is perfect I think you just wanted if it hit something that was the only thing um and Q were back in and so once you kind of as you kind of iterated through those I mean it sounds like you were doing actually a little bit of coding you’re getting it actually launched seeing where where the sticking points were. Um, or was this more kind of user kind of qualitative user research based I Guess how was that kind of entire process and then what was the point where you were like oh this is very clearly the the right thing to move forward with.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, so we right or wrong really had a bias to try things by launching them. Um, and so we we actually created our online solar installlar course we actually taught 9 cohorts nine one week cohorts of it.

James McWalter

Oh Wow I.

Sam Steyer

Um, and we sort of lucked into what we are now building because we as one of many recruiting tactics to get people to take the course we approached the California conservation core which is a state. Ah. 1 to one and a half year service program where people go and learn either land conservation firefighting or ah energy efficiency and for the energy efficiency folks they work on state buildings and it’s just an amazingly cool program in my opinion. It’s been around since one 76 it has. Really high. You know review from the people who go through and it’s a mix of sort of like hands-on technical skills learning to work in challenging environments with a team and then also sort of like spiritual conservation like they have a ah reading list of amazing. Poetry and writing’s about working with the land and working outside so but a brief aside but so we’ve got a number of students from the Ccc the California conservation core and we found that in teaching our class our average student who we acquired off an online channel who had little. Construction background was struggling to get a job and if they got placed in a job. Not always finding it to be a fit in both directions but that the folks who took the course from the Ccc who were very close to finishing their service who then worked with us to get a job. We’re getting a job. Job offer in the first interview and then we’re having a good outcome on the job and so it made us think oh like going through a trade school or a workforce you know conservation course some sort of training is a really. Strong signal that someone will get and succeed in one of these jobs and so we decide to just reorient towards working with those kinds of programs.

James McWalter

And so you’re kind of been moving into something with some sort of kind of Marketplace dynamics right? So you have you know the like the the trade schools on one side and then the employers in the other.

Sam Steyer

Very much. Yeah.

James McWalter

And when you in Marketplaces you always have a bit of a cold start problem and always one side is harder than the other. How do you think about those dynamics and.

Sam Steyer

Totally yes, so we we definitely face all of the cold start marketplace dynamics. Ah we we believe that the hard side of our marketplace is talent that. You know if you can find ah great tradespeople and technicians and maybe engineers. There is a huge demand for them from the kinds of companies that we work with um so to solve the cold start problem. We we have. Trying to do are 2 things 1 limit geography. We’ve only launched in the Bay Area Sacramento in Los Angeles and the idea being if we can get to you know, ah honor number of users if they’re dispersed across the country. It’s very unlikely that we’ll have matches between jobs and people. But if we if they’re concentrated. Have a much better shot. Um, and the other thing that we’ve done is try to build helpful tools for the supply side that are helpful even in the absence of looking for a job or having the right job on the platform. So we have been. You know you can use greenwork. To work with your career counselor to build a job search profile and a resume and a cover letter. Um, you can see other folks from your school and what they’re doing their job search and so we’re trying trying to you know, build something that really listened to and solve problems for a trade school ah to. To have a way to sort of build up supply in because they’re awesome and we want to help them.

James McWalter

And then in terms of the trade schools right? So I would imagine they have some ah yo some courses or diplomas or or certifications that are very well fitted right? like explicitly maybe renewable energy related others will be something more akin to construction or generous construction general contracting. You know. Electrician that kind of thing and so how do you think about? you know, pairing things up relative to a very very specific ah type trade schools skill into a specific role and yeah, and yeah, how do you kind of think about that balance.

Sam Steyer

Ah, we focus almost completely on the latter kind of background that ah you know our belief is it is hard both to learn and to sort of have the desire. You know the right desires and attitude to succeed as a. Construction worker or an Electrician but that the um, the a like the new learning that someone needs to do from that skill set to to succeed at a solar company or a battery company or a Ev company is much smaller than the learning to build that. Core skill set. It’s much more like we need good tradespeople and we need them to work on these problems. Not like we need hyper specialized people who are you know, really different than an Electrician um and then also on our experience companies do want to teach on the job. They want to teach. Ah, specific to their product. They want to teach their way of doing things. They they want to and so so it almost does it make sense to bring them someone and say like this is a fully finished person who knows how to do everything you do because each company has little things they do differently. The key is. Connecting with people who have the core skillset and who understand the rigors of these jobs and are are going. You know, excited for them and able to thrive.

James McWalter

And how do you think of it. You know your kind of key metrics. So is it Yeah people placed people who are still there after a certain amount of time that kind of thing.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, so we um, we haven’t I mean are are given that we’re working with a marketplace that has sort of 2 sides sort of three sides we we have a number of metrics. It’s it’s not super simple but basically ah first we think about. Building supply you know number of job seekers number of schools. Then we think about ah connection and placement. So a number of interviews number of placements and then critically you know retention in the job because we want to help people get jobs. They’re really excited about and we want to help companies hire people work out and then our business model is. Greenwork is free for job seekers and for schools and we charge ah employers on a saas basis and so we have sort of standard saas metrics around monthly recurring revenue and growth and churn.

James McWalter

And in terms of the employer side. So I’d imagine it’s a ton of solar especially if you’re in California maybe a couple of wind. Um are you seeing kind of any interest in some of these other you know green infrastructure type elements. Yeah ev charging stations hydrogen those kind of things.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, absolutely so so most of our existing employer base are solar contractors but we have absolutely have seen a big opportunity in ah energy efficiency building automation green construction. Um, we’ve had the. Ah, we’ve definitely seen a big opportunity in building out and maintaining charging infrastructure that we don’t actually have a customer in that space yet. Um, and then the um I would say the biggest surprise to me very pleasant surprise is um I’ve seen a number of awesome advanced manufacturing. Projects in the Bay Area you know companies that are building a factory or a product design facility in the bay area who need assemblies and fabricators and cnc machinists and and other sorts of high skilled hands-on rolls.

James McWalter

It makes sense and yeah, it’s ah super exciting. You know people literally like building out like these kind of future kind of use cases and in terms of the um, the trade schools themselves and you know in in Ireland trade schools are like a very kind of integrated part of the community part of education. Um, yeah I grew up. Yeah in in a kind of farming background and like the default is like your construction every day you know for most your your teenage years and so there’s like a very clear pipeline into getting some somewhat certified and then moving into kind of more professional type type use cases. You know and I know other countries like Germany and so on have also these kind of incredibly like sophisticated ways of of matching people. You know, matching people with skills and interests and and all that wouldn’t trade. How is the Us doing in general like do we have enough trade schools are they to write types of trade schools to kind of hit the numbers that we need to over the next decade

Sam Steyer

Um, so my opinion is without just casting any aspersions at the existing trade schools some of which are fantastic. No I think we need more I think we need them to get more. Attention and have more prestige. You know like if you if you ask the average person to list as many colleges as they could and then as many trade schools as they could um you know most people who lift many borders magnitude more colleges. Um, and ah and so no I think we need more. I would also just say we right now work with schools that we ah you know consider good feeders for us. But that are really different like we have 2 year community college programs we have twelve week nonprofit training programs we have state conservation core. Which are somewhere between a school and a state or national service program so there so there are awesome programs out there. But I think we need more more attention and ah a more sort of organized and standardized system.

James McWalter

And the trade schools themselves. You know I’ve talked to a few people and not through the podcast. But in general who are trying to sell to you know, educational institutions governmental institutions and so on those sales cycles can be you complex and long even when maybe the ticket price isn’t even that high and so. How do you? Yeah, How have you’ve kind of found that. Um you know are are some of the trade schools. Incredibly Excited. Some are more difficult.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, um, so we are in a slightly different boat than a product that is like at core selling to schools because our product is free for the schools. But um, but my general impression has been the administrators and teachers and career counselors at these schools are. Fantastic, fantastic like really committed for the right reasons really smart, really practical. Um and are understaffed and over committed and so the I think the slowness that people see in the sales cycle is they’re selling to someone who has. 18 priorities on their plate and is doing their their best and so what we have tried to do is make sign up and onboarding incredibly easy and fast and impress upon people that we don’t need to start with a schoolwide rollout that like if they have. 1 technical education program and 1 instructor who’s willing to hold the admin account and 20 students who they can email their school greenwork link to that. That’s enough to start and then we try to land and expand.

James McWalter

So super interesting. Do ever any of them. Ask you to come in talk talk to anybody get get on the ground kind of thing.

Sam Steyer

Yes, and we’re trying to you know?? Um, we we obviously started the business during the pandemic and we’re very remote and online at the beginning. But um, we’re trying as much as possible to get in person with schools and companies and it it. Um. They ask us to to do it to sort of onboard and help people set up their accounts but it is actually a gift to us every single time we go. It’s worth It. We always understand more learn more build a deeper relationship by going and meeting people in person.

James McWalter

And yeah I think one of the fascinating things about this whole space is that the perceived risk of getting a job is um, probably higher to the average person than what it actually is because it’s so opaque you know I’m ah I’m currently in and in South Bronx at my mother-in-laws and all the ads around here. Are you know. Basically force trade schools in spanish um, but there’s kind of ah I guess a gap between what’s being advertised and like the actual role that people will be doing right? It’s just kind of like talking about the course itself but not really kind of filling in the gap of like you know this is a twenty thirty year 40 year career

Sam Steyer

Um. This minute.

James McWalter

Ah, this is the actual income you could have this is how you would become you know a respected memory of community All that kind of thing. So how do you think about those kind of community kind of social elements that inspire people to kind of engage in. You know the kind of jobs that we both agree need to be you know, need to have more of.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, that is a really smart question. Um, so I think 2 things 1 is our goal is ultimately to make our software tell that story in a transparent clear way. You know show people who have graduated from this program now work at these companies. They work in roles where people are making this much money here is a video of someone who has a awesome career that started at a trade school talking about their career that sort of thing. So I think that’s one is just trying to make that information much more accessible I think the other is. Um, trying to dispel a sort of Stark distinction between trades and white collar. You know it. It doesn’t make sense to me and it actually is usually not true that the whole senior leadership team of a so of a excuse me solar company would come. From a white collar background when a solar company is you know in most ways, a construction company and a core you know, moving atoms. Um, and and so I think ah making sure that it’s actually true that there are are roles that start as. You know, hands on technical roles and and laid to a career path in a very senior position of leadership making a lot of money and highlighting people who have walked that path.

James McWalter

Its super purchaing and you know there’s also this and I’d love to kind of get your take especially having you know seen the kind of internal kind of political machinations and and um on the kind of policy side over the last couple of years. But what’s been really interesting is this kind of. Set of thoughts around what some people are calling new industrialism others have called the abundance agenda these are coming from people like Ezra Kline and Derek Thompson and so on were you talking about how the United States in particular over the last you know few decades just has not built enough things internally right? and we just need to do a ton of that and so obviously build back better is like this. Very big shiny like effort at a kind of moving policy in that direction I know the the motto of your company is build the future. You know how do you think that policy can interact better with the kind of work that you’re doing day-to-day to kind of accelerate that you know just building more out you know things getting more atoms and you know deployed.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, um, that is a great question I think for one ah the one the way that would sort of most directly impact us and that I really believe in is more public funding for. Ah, trade School Education Community College education having less people take on college debt. You know I think that there’s there is a lot of innovation in Silicon Valley around finding creative ways for people to pay for vocational education. But I think it. Ah. It’s hard because the benefits to vocation to education not to vocational education accrue to the person who’s learning over the rest of their life which is a really long payback time and accrue to you know all of us the the people who work with them. The people who vote in the Sam Steyere elections as them. The people who live with them and so I think there’s. Education so valuable. Ah, but it but it usually or often makes sense either for people to pay for it through tuition or just for society to pay for it. So I think more funding for education and including trades and engineering education. Um. Is is 1 thing and then I think the other thing which I think the byed administration is doing a great job of is using the public sector to model good things to the whole country so you know buying ah 0 carbon advanced. Infrastructure projects with federal government having good labor practices and high wages for the people who work on those projects and it is a little more abstract but like setting an exciting positive example that we can build really cool, big things and so I think. You know most of the the private the public. The private sector is bigger and a lot of the the sort of stuff we need to build is going to end up being private sector. But I think the public sector can set a really strong inspiring example.

James McWalter

And yeah, that that makes some sense and ah you know one of the ways I think about how these things play out is like there are different types of levers right? and so we have you know to tackle climate. We need to have all the levers you know being used in similar ways. But it’s you with activism lever you know you have ah you know. Policy lever. You have you know, kind of large corporate enterprise lever you startup levers you all these different for kind of levers that kind of hit pieces of problem in different ways and 1 of the things I’ve been kind of thinking a lot about is how government and actual startups I could potentially could be interacting better and so you know on 1 side you know should startups. You know.

James McWalter

Ah, as well as you guys are as as well as like the kind of thing I’m working on should be more involved should we be more involved in the political process and on the other side you know should governments be doing more to kind of encourage successful startup formation or is it really just you know it’s like oil than water like those 2 things have such kind of ah you know opposite methods of like thinking about risk and all those kind of things that.

James McWalter

You know it’s better for us to kind of be somewhat siloed and and figure out problems and in kind of unique ways.

Sam Steyer

Um, I’ll answer your questions reverse order. It is not oil and water and we definitely should have relationship with each other it. We almost must you know we’re working on the Sam Steyere huge problems living in the Sam Steyere country. Um I don’t think that startups.

Sam Steyer

I Mean maybe they should but I I would actually not frame it as startups should participate more in the political process I think startups should interact more with the civil service and the apparatus of government and I think that there is a conception among startups that it is more difficult and less efficient than it actually is. You know I think if if you call a workforce development board or a city or you know a part of the department of Energy. You are typically pleasantly surprised by how responsive and helpful and eager to work Together. You will find the person on the other end of the line to be. Um, and and and so I do believe that that sort of startups should be interacting more with government but I don’t think it should be to set policy I think it should be to you know, do projects and um, not always but often. Government is a convener and a funder and a priority setter but not, you know doing the the execution and so I would encourage startups to figure Out. You know what their state and local government is doing and seeing if you could fulfill some of it and I think oftentimes you’ll find if you can. You’re not replacing Government. You’re replacing like an old school software company. That’s good at selling to government and you probably can offer something better.

James McWalter

And then you know I on I guess startup somewhere more generally right? So I believe you went through y combinator and would’d love to kind of hear quick thoughts on the on that experience. But I guess specifically around you know the number of you know climate or you know.

James McWalter

Large global problem focused or impact focused startups in your cohort and I guess how did I guess the very impact focus startups interact with I Guess the less impact focus but maybe still working on you know, large B Two B Saas problems and whatever it may be um, like is there any I guess tension is there a need for you know. People working on on the very impact side are they looking across and me like hey guys you know, maybe maybe you know we should evangelize and onto the impact side and and how do you think about that dynamic.

Sam Steyer

Um, so we we were in the Y Combinator Summer Twenty One batch. Um, it was fully remote. We had a really good experience I think it that um this is not what you asked, but just to give the the context that one of it. We kind.

James McWalter

So please.

Sam Steyer

Incredibly valuable was the partners at Ycombinator have just are very smart people who have seen an incredible amount of startups at our stage and so they were able to guide us direct ah direct us and in some cases sort of push us and hold us accountable to make changes that would have taken us a very long time to figure out on our own. Um. So it. It was really helpful in that regard. There was not a tension at all of trying to be an impact driven startup in ycombinator. In fact, most people I think had a sort of impact lens or you know would be like whoa cool like you’re working on climate or well cool. You’re like.

35:23.44

James McWalter

Right.

Sam Steyer

You know, building something for a blue collar audience that that made it easier to sort of relate and people were supportive of it. Um, ah, there are plenty of climate companies in y combinator. In fact, there was a recent Paul Graham tweet about how there’s a bunch of exciting new climate. Companies why combinator and maybe it foretells a trend in terms of how startups can interact with each other and push one another I think ah at the stage that we were at last summer it is so hard to. Get customers find product market fit. Ah you know, figure out how to do all the things that are expected of a founding team with the time in a day that there’s much more emphasis and sort of shared learning about how to. Get your company off the ground and how to make things work and that is common across you know the companies that are doing b two bs or or climate or whatever and I think that that and so it felt very easy to relate to other companies. It felt like we were mostly sort of strategizing with each other about how to.

James McWalter

You right? right.

Sam Steyer

How to do those things how to make a early stage business work. How to learn from your customers and try to get towards product Market fit. Um, so I think that that conversation about impact lens is super important and I but I could imagine it. Dominating more with companies that are further along in their journey right? right? right? that that’s that is being honest, you know what it what it has felt like and why it’s felt very easy to relate to other early stage startups.

James McWalter

You right? when you’re default dead like everything everything is about just being getting to default alive.

James McWalter

No Absolutely. Um and I guess for you Personally, you know if you were starting out because I know you you had previously cofounded station a and and had these kind of other kind of experiences working at different companies. Um, so. You know some some young person are not not so young, but they wanted to kind of start a company over the like the next little while um, what are something that I guess you learned or you’re like oh I wish I’d known that before I before I get it set out and running.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, so I’m first give advice that is is very common already that I think is cliche but I think is true which is you have to launch and start operating and that is actually a faster way to learn even though it’ll feel you know. Challenging and scary and it’ll be tempting to do more analysis and conversations the things that I’ve found that I think are less commonly known that were more counterintuitive to me. Um, ah oh and the other one which is cliche but it’s definitely true. Is. It’s more fun and easier with a cofounder and and quality of cofounder is so important you know it’s worth time and effort to be the right person. Um, the things that I found that I that were more surprising to me I would say number one when I started I thought of it as like there’s this sort of challenge to get investors challenge to get. Customers challenged to get employees challenged to get you know media whereas now a year in I feel like customers is actually the only challenge and everything else if you can get customers will these you know if you can get sales. You can definitely get investors in media. You know and then employees is hard but it’s sort of a second order problem. You need to hire them to work for a business that exists. So I really if I if I was starting again with think much more about like who are my first 5 customers because that’s what’s really hard. Um, the other thing I would say is there’s a huge amount of writing and talking about. Ah. Product market fit. But I think there’s an increasing amount of writing and talking I think is really smart about founder market fit you know the startups are a very long journey. It is much easier to work that hard for that long if you love and feel authentic about what you’re building and a lot of the early sales will be 50% selling yourselves and if you are a effective you know logical face of the business. It helps a lot. So I think ah, you do need you do need product market fit but also it will be easier to get product market fit and and a lot more fun for the you know 10 years of your life. You’re pursuing it. If you pick something that that stems from a personal mission but also like a personal love for what you’d be doing day to day you know if if you love math and data start a business that has a big you know data science and Ai component if you love marketing and brand. Start a business that’s like an online community that kind of thing.

James McWalter

Right? I guess like so much is so difficult and getting customers as you said is is by far the most difficult all the other bits have to be fun and easy just because that’s your default that’s your default emotion and so if it’s like ah you’re waking up out of bed. Um, you know and I’m sure you’re similar like I’ll like I’ll wake up sometimes at five thirty in the morning and I’m not.

Sam Steyer

Um, yes, yes.

James McWalter

I Don’t feel stressed I’m just like so excited to think about what we’re going to be doing over the next like day I’ll just be like woke up like woke like excited and it’s all stressful of course but like’s it’s also like I can’t wait to you know to get through breakfast to to get going at these things right.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, totally seen.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, and like there’s going to be some parts that are gri like I don’t think Eddie would like cold call it customers or you know figuring out how to set up accounting or and like if you’re the the Ceo you definitely have to do both of those things and um. And so like make sure as you’re saying make sure the parts that are content are something you really love Yeah yeah, the comedy hit of the two and.

James McWalter

Or cold calling quickbooks which is a recent experience I had basically to try to get something up and running um and also no absolutely I also believe you’re a reser ah reservist at San Francisco Fire department um

Sam Steyer

Um, yeah I am.

James McWalter

Which which you would text me but also my my researcher found independent lays I wanted to ask you what that experience is like.

Sam Steyer

Um, it’s awesome. So the the san francisco fire reserve is a a volunteer organization. It started during world war ii in order to have a domestic fire department in case of some sort of attack that caused a fire especially when you know lots of. People were in armed services. It has gotten much smaller since then but carried on you know since I think 1942 it um is a once a week organization where we meet on Thursday nights to practice and then if there is a 3 alarm or greater fire. In San Francisco we’re called to go to the fire and assist the professional fire department. You know we’re doing the sort of support kinds of roles. It is primarily made up of people who um, plan to become professional San Francisco Fire department firefighters and are going through the process and are using it as a way to learn and build their relationship with the department. Um, but there are also some folks like me who are who for whom it is the the end goal. Um, and it’s it’s really fun like we get to go do. Cool physical thing you know spraying hoses and throwing ladders and that kind of stuff and it has a bunch of really nice. You know, sort of community civic oriented people. Um, who who live in San Francisco and it I’ve only been doing it for a year but I love it and it’s been real.

James McWalter

Yeah, and I think having some sort of community engagement is something that I always promote to to friends and and founders and and all that kind of thing. It’s so easy like when you’re you know, servicing a global market and all this kind of thing to forget that so much change and impact can happen.

Sam Steyer

Treat.

James McWalter

On the road and it gives you just a ah bit of perspective on how much just thought the people are living and other people are kind of going about their day that that’s often missing you know when you spend your life on different slack communities. So.

Sam Steyer

Totally totally agree and it yeah it has totally enriched my you know I’m a deep San Francisco lover already. But it has even further and enriched my feeling of community and connection with the place I live which I really really really value.

James McWalter

Sam Steyer It’s been amazing. Um, is there anything I should have asked you about but did not oh.

Sam Steyer

Um, yes, 2 2 things. Ah 1 is both with the the startup and the San Francisco Fire department you know Thursday night volunteer opportunities I’m married and have a 1 year old son both require. A lot of time and put me and the startup puts me in a stressed out mood sometimes and so I want both say a huge thank you to my wife Tessa who’s incredibly supportive and awesome and also just let any ah aspiring founders know that if you are in a long-term relationship you you know your.

James McWalter

So amazing.

Sam Steyer

There is also something your partner is signing up for when you start the company. Um, and ah the other thing I would say wanted to say is I’ve been working in climate tech in 1 way or another since twenty eleven I’ve always loved it and loved the people in it but we are in a moment right now where the amount of. Talent and funding and attention and excitement in climate tech is just so so much higher than it’s ever been before. There’s so many good companies. Um, there’s so much more ah sort of like ah legitimization in the eyes of conventional tech. It’s just awesome and I encourage people to come join and I want to send send love and support to all the climate tech folks out there.

James McWalter

Absolutely I can’t echo either of those enough. Um, thank you Sam Steyer it’s been amazing.

Sam Steyer

Yeah, thank you Really appreciate the opportunity.

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