My Nori Story with the Techstars Sustainability program
Last month, Nori graduated from the Techstars Sustainability Program. The program is a 14-week long intensive accelerator for start-ups working on “viable technologies that can rapidly scale to help sustainably provide food and water and address global issues like climate change.” It represents a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Techstars. Each cohort is an elite group of 10 companies selected from almost 1,000 applications. The aim is to crunch a year’s worth of progress into a 3-month window. It culminates in a “demo day” where each company presents to a crowd of about 1,000 people.
Here’s a video of Nori’s CEO, Paul Gambill, pitching at demo day.
To my friends and family, I described the program as summer camp meets grad school meets training camp to become a pro-entrepreneur. If you are an entrepreneur wondering whether this program is for you and want more behind the scenes information, we recorded a podcast with the team behind the program.
As a whole, I couldn’t be more grateful than to have gone through the Techstars program. It helped Nori in several ways, here’s how:
The program helped me level up in my game
On a personal level, the program was lifechanging. Nori improves when its team members improve, and I’m glad to see many noticeable differences from going through the program. I was matched up with a professional coach and got to take advantage of ten “free” coaching sessions. This helped me recognize patterns in my leadership style, hone in on what I was doing that was/wasn’t working, and help me show up in a way that brings out my best, and the best of others. I can’t say enough about the value of having an objective and trained ear to provide feedback on the entrepreneurial journey.
I gained even more confidence as a salesman, focusing on the value proposition to unique customers, providing the right amount of information, and closing. One of my highlights was during in an “Ask Me Anything” with Brad Feld and David Cohen (founders of Techstars and well known venture capitalists) and after laying out what Nori did was able to put them on the spot with a “what’s it going to take to get you to buy in to the presale” — getting both of them to use Nori to reverse 17 tonnes of their last years’ emissions.
As a strategist, I kept going back to nuggets of wisdom that I picked up along the way. There were many. One way was to help the company find a product-market fit and continually be hyper-aware of who we are selling to, what are they buying why are they buying it, and how we know. When we know, then we have replicability. Another concept that really stuck with me was “Collective authorship.” For Nori, this couldn’t be more important; we are designing a system that isn’t written by us, but by the people using it (entities removing and paying to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) and the people who contribute to open and transparent forms of quantifying it.
Our whole team upped our game
Up until Techstars, we had built a product, but no one truly was using it. And we had established a hypothesis (people would pay for carbon removal if it were easy and trustable) but we hadn’t tested it without getting people to commit to paying for it. One of the early suggestions from a lead mentor, Ryan Martens, was for the entire team to read the book Play Bigger by Al Ramadan, et. al. Through reading it, we learned about the concept of a “lightning strike” and how to establish a category. It helped codify things that we were already doing, but put an incredible focus on an outcome that aligned the entire time. During Techstars, we shipped our first software product that had people using it. Over 300 people pre-bought over $80,000 worth of carbon removal (~5,000 tonnes) during a “lightning sale.” And we better understood the market we were in.
As a small and dynamic ten-person team, we kept things going in Denver and Seattle with one-person offices in Vancouver and Chicago. We got in the trenches together. We put in the time to recognize things about Nori that we wanted to improve and embodied the learning-by-doing mantra. We changed (and improved) processes and technology platforms. Each week, we were held to report out on Objective and Key Results. This forces us to align on the outcomes we were working toward on as a team, and find meaningful ways to quantify our progress in reaching those goals.
We pivoted as needed
A couple of big things happened while in Techstars. We changed the name of the asset being sold in our marketplace from a Carbon Removal Certificate (CRC) to a Nori Removal Tonne (NRT). NRTs get packaged into Certificates of Carbon Removal. We pivoted from launching the marketplace as just business-to-business to also sell directly to consumers. We expanded our marketplace to individuals, and over 300 people have pre-ordered over $80,000 worth of NRTs. We proved that we can sell a product that people will pay money for. Most importantly, we adopted a leaner approach that is conducive to running micro-experiments from which we can learn and scale.
We experienced the magic that came from Zach, Hannah, and August
Above is a picture of August, Zach, and Hannah. They each are amazing in their own right. You really should listen to their podcast to get to know them better. Day in and out, they made themselves available to help answer questions, connect to key stakeholders, and were there to bounce ideas off of.
We plugged in more deeply with The Nature Conservancy
As a result of going through the program, our relationship with The Nature Conservancy is even stronger. By admitting Nori into the program, TNC has effectively invested in a carbon removal market and is supporting a public and transparent way to estimate, quantify, and verify the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Not all organizations move at the speed of start-ups, but going through the program brought substantive pilot proposals in front of us as well as being able to bring more relevant scientists on to Nori’s peer review committee.
We created long term connections with an amazing cohort
Our cohort is amazing. There is something extremely rewarding about collectively going through an experience with others and coming out of it on the other side. Each week, we shared our highs, lows, gratitude, and got a little goofy (with required karaoke for companies who didn’t meet their goals).
We also went above and beyond with amplifying some of the other companies on our podcast. While there, we were fortunate to record podcasts with Microterra, Mobius, Aquaoso, and Mammoth Water. We realize that by going through this program, we are part of this network for life. Indirectly, we can be working with all of the folks in our cohort in the broader mission to reverse climate change. But amongst the cohort, there are direct business opportunities to advance the reversing climate change ecosystem with groups like:
- Mammoth Water / Aquaoso who could support farmers collecting data in the Nori app to access water markets to help stack value.
- Propagate Ventures who can advise farmers to put trees on farms to sequester more carbon (and get paid through Nori).
- Regen Network who can build a platform that helps projects collect some of the data to help entities that can sequester carbon sell into our marketplace.
Calling all climate entrepreneurs!
If you are an entrepreneur working on an idea that could have a major impact on climate change, I couldn’t recommend this program enough. It will give you a specialized treatment for what your company needs and put you in front of hundreds of mentors from successful and failed businesses and The Nature Conservancy who are eager to help you and your vision succeed.