This Investor Measures ROI in Terms of Megatons of Carbon Removed From the Atmosphere
Peet Denny Founded Climate VC With the Explicit Goal to Remove a Gigaton
Devin: Look at that skill set that you’ve got. What do you see as your superpower within that skill set that will allow you to make this happen?
Peet: I haven’t been looking forward to that question. It’s difficult to introspect, and, well, it’s bold and brave to say this is my superpower. So, I asked around and, you know, my friends and family, ‘What would you say to this?” I recognize what they said, which is I’m an evangelist. One of them said storytelling; another one said optimism. And I think those two things come together to be evangelism.”
Peet Denny didn’t always focus on the environment. As a tech entrepreneur, he had a successful career. When in 2019, he became convinced that climate change was a real threat to humanity, “I decided to throw myself into it and devote the rest of my life to it.”
Peet has no delusions that this will be easy. “Climate change is a natural consequence of the human condition of who we are as human beings.”
His conclusion: “If we’re going to tackle climate change, then almost everything about the way that we live our lives needs to change.”
Never mind the difficulty, “I’m an optimist,” Peet says. “I think we’ve got a good chance of pulling this off.”
He compares the system and economic changes we’re beginning to the changes experienced during the Renaissance or the industrial revolution.
His optimism shows in his thinking about the future:
If we do pull it off, then the world that we will create will be a much more fun place to live. It'll be a place with way more equality. It'll be a place with more prosperity for for all, where we understand better how to live in harmony with with our surroundings, where we get the best out of it and it gets the best out of us.
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To go after his vision for the future, Peet raised a venture fund to deploy in climate change reversing enterprises. The fund is called Climate VC.
“Almost everything needs to change. So the problem space is very large. That means that the solution space is also really large,” he says, explaining the firm’s wide lens looking across sectors.
To make the point of breadth, he rattles off a wide range of examples:
Transports, like how we move around, how we how we feed ourselves, how we make things out of out of steel, out of concrete, our plastic, how we generate energy, how we how we circularize our economy, how we how we grow food. All of those things. How we how we educate ourselves, how we how we redistribute wealth across the across the planet. All of those things kind of need to change. And so those those are kind of the verticals that we look at.
One of the critical points of reference he uses is the work of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that published one of the bestselling books on climate change, called Drawdown. Project Drawdown maintains a list of the top 100 climate interventions based on existing and implemented technology, things that simply need scale.
Peet is excited about using the tools of venture capital applied in a new way. Traditionally, VCs use their tools to identify entrepreneurs capable of growing a billion-dollar enterprise, a “unicorn,” as such companies are known. “We try and use those tools to find companies that could become gig-icorns, companies that could have a 1 billion ton impact.”
“The way to do that is to find people who are extraordinary and see what we can do to help out,” he says.
Peet summarizes the plan for reaching the gigaton goal:
If we invest in 120 startups over the next three years, and if ten of them get to where they want to get—most companies in early stage venture don't. But if ten of them get to where they want to get and they're each having a ten megaton scale impact a year for ten years, then ten by ten by ten, that's our gigaton.
Peet shared a story to help us understand where he gets the optimism that he can lead a gigaton effort and that the world can reverse climate change before it’s too late:
I started doing triathlons like all—like many—middle aged men do. And I worked towards this long term goal of doing an Ironman like a full, full distance triathlon.
That just kept knocking me back time and again, time and again.
I remember like being at training camps where I was, you know, cycling next to a 60 year old woman. And I was like early thirties, dude. And I just couldn't keep up with it. And I'd fall off the back of the pack and it just it just kept kicking me in the pants the whole time for years.
Eventually just through bone headedness, I managed to train for and do a full Ironman. And the whole time I was doing it, I wanted to quit—the whole time. But I didn't. I finished it.
I think psychologically that that changed something in me. It made me realize maybe anything is possible. Maybe, maybe I need to raise my ambitions.
Finding and investing in 120 companies over the next three years will take a new strategy for screening opportunities.
“We, first of all, challenged the founders to show us a plan that will get you to ten megatons a year,” Peet says.
Then, he has scientists review the plans to determine if the founders really can achieve that scale of impact. If they pass, he scrutinizes the team. More conventional commercial due diligence follows. Finally, he looks for the “unknown unknowns” to avoid traps.
“We’re not just looking for deals that have already been pre-approved by others,” Peet says, to emphasize his goal to help people do what others aren’t already doing. “the reason I got into this game in the first place is to try and make things happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.”
Part of that process is to have a more comprehensive deal funnel. “We’re trying to listen to people that other people aren’t listening to,” he says.
To be successful with his gigaton goal by attracting 120 entrepreneurs to back, he’ll use his evangelism superpower.
How to Develop Evangelism As a Superpower
Evangelism can be powerful. Consider what Peet did.
“Well, I mean, I raised a venture capital fund. I went from being a complete noob in this space to raising some money, hiring some people, bringing in an amazing board. I mean, I’ve got directors from Google and Greenpeace and Nature on my board. That’s incredible.”
It is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Peet sees optimism and storytelling as component skills of evangelism. Especially for his work. If his pitch were that the world is ending, who would invest? Optimism is essential. His ability to tell a story, as he did with the Iron Man story, to make a powerful point about our ability to do virtually anything complements his natural optimism.
He offers some more straightforward and profound advice. “Just just be yourself, man.”
Acknowledging that it could be considered cliche, he encourages others not to be afraid to be enthusiastic. Similarly, he advises people not to be ashamed of their roots. Be who you are.
He acknowledges that some people may be put off but says it will create a genuine connection with others. Therein lies the power of evangelism built on authenticity.
If you strive to follow his example and heed his advice, you can make evangelism your superpower for good.
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