Friday, November 18, 2022

Ethics in Tech

I want to take a moment to talk about ethics. Today there are two big tech stories. The first is that an infamous entrepreneur was sentenced to over 11 years in prison, effectively for fraudulent behavior hurting investors, employees, and risking customers’ health. The second is about how fraud and theft evaporated billions of customers’ holdings in the cryptocurrency space.

One thing that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur/VC for the last 16 years is that this is an industry that runs on trust. Investing in a company is not like buying a house. A house is a zero-sum game. The reproducibility of selling a single family home is such that it can happen millions of times a year with standard legal docs. However, when VCs invest in a company, or when an entrepreneur chooses to partner with an investor, a long-term bond is formed. This exists for the next several years, where everybody is pulling for a successful outcome. We can pay lawyers all day long to try to paper every edge case and contingency, but the fact is, the startup community relies on relationships, reputations, and honest dealing to operate. Investors and entrepreneurs want to work with other investors and entrepreneurs that they know and trust. This is why trusted introductions are so important, and this is why it can be so difficult to break into the scene as an outsider - the very way that the community does business relies on this.

Having unimpeachable ethics and integrity is something I’ve always taken pride in. I have my parents to thank for that. It’s how I operated as an engineer. It’s how I operated as a founder. It’s how I operate now as a VC. I know that a number of my investors have specifically mentioned to me that my moral code was a key part of their decision to back me. I signed my first “code of ethics” oath when I became a Professional Engineer early in my career. Engineering is a demanding profession, and if shortcuts are taken, then people die. I’ve never forgotten those lessons. And now, as a VC, I recently posted my commitment to the code of ethics proposed by VC Lab. I make many gut-wrenching decisions a week, clouded in uncertainty - that’s how the startup game works - and I cannot imagine not having a strong moral compass as my guiding light.

I’m also proud to say that the importance of strong ethics applies to the entrepreneurs that I have worked with. Over my long career, I have worked with entrepreneurs with rock-solid integrity; and I have, unfortunately, worked with a few entrepreneurs (and VCs) whose lack of integrity was disgraceful. However, the latter have always been in the small minority, and do not shape my view of the community as a whole. When I invest in a company, I take an extremely active role, working closely with the founders to do everything I can to help out, as part of the company itself. I’m extremely proud to partner with those entrepreneurs who have to make tough decisions often, always considering what the right path is, to meet their duty of care to their employees, customers, and investors. There is no higher calling than service to others, and I have the utmost respect for entrepreneurs who recognize their responsibilities and take them seriously.

So, what does this have to do with today’s announcements? Too often, the media celebrates billionaire founders who have a complete lack of integrity. And, the sad truth is that you can abuse others, lie, cheat, steal, and make it to the three-comma club. But that’s not how I operate. And that’s not how most entrepreneurs I know operate. And that not how the vast majority of the venture/startup scene operates. There is no more powerful force, as a force of good, than the world-changing nature of startups, and we need to shun those who would act otherwise, because their actions don’t represent the majority, but instead, can hurt everyone. 

Friday, August 05, 2022

Emissions Impact of Inflation Reduction Act

"The Inflation Reduction Act does about two-thirds of the remaining work needed to close the gap between current policy and the nation's 2030 climate goal".  

This was the quote from the group at the REPEAT Project, who have put together a terrific analysis of the effects of the bill. 

The nation's 2030 goal is 50% below 2005 levels.  So this is really encouraging, but this shows that we are both making a terrific step with this Act, but also have steps to go, on the same order as this one, to hit our targets. 

Senate Democrats have enough votes to pass the Inflation Reduction Act (  As reported by the New York Times, "Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, announced on Thursday evening that she would support moving forward with her party’s climate, tax and health care package, clearing the way for a major piece of President Biden’s domestic agenda to move through the Senate in the coming days."

This opens the door for $369B of investment in to clean energy infrastructure at all levels, which is an amazing market signal for pulling our economy into a zero carbon future.  The effects of that investment is shown below.  The full report is here, but I'm just going to talk about one of the slides today - slide 7.



Thursday, March 24, 2022

What do you do? Who is it for? Why do they care?

 When I was involved with iCorps, several years back, one of the senior leaders, Viktor, would always ask teams: What do you do?  Who is it for?  Why do they care?

I thought that this was brilliant.  In three questions, a company can explain their innovation, their market, and their value.  I see so many pitches that talk about the need to solve climate change, and their commitment to the world, and the value of the team, and it takes until page five until I see the company is pursuing an energy storage technology.

One of the first things an investor does is try to see if a company is even a fit (sector, stage, etc) with a fund.  Answering these three questions right upfront is helpful.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Being part of the solution is going to create tremendous value

 “Being part of the solution is going to create tremendous value”

Those were the words of Mark Carney today (UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, prior Governor Bank of England, Governor Bank of Canada), when speaking about COP 26 today.  It was a great summary, so I’ll grab a few highlights.

Paris was about pledging to 2C with a stretch goal of 1.5C.  Glasgow was about pledging to 1.5C.  There was a serious commitment to this new number now that the science has clarified the consequences of even a 2C raise.  Global policy is currently putting us (roughly) on a 2.6C trajectory, so there is a gap between policy and 1.5C pledges.  In Mark’s opinion, that gap is going to close, and it’s only going one way - with policy driving towards 1.5C.

A consequence of this is that there is a push, in totality, for net zero emissions, with a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, so things are going to happen in a big way in the short term.  This will be led by the financial community (which was led by a sub-sector of the financial community - the insurance industry - which have been noticing the consequences of climate change for a while).  Every financial institution of serious scale, either debt or equity, is going to own the emissions of their investments.  If a bank loans money to a company, they are going to own the financial liability of the Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 emissions of that company.  Because of that, financial institutions are going to be asking pointed questions to the companies that they work with, which will start with the large public companies, and work downwards.  Those companies, to meet financial compliance, will then ask questions of their supply chain, and make purchasing decisions based on that information.  This chain of Finance —> Corporates —> Suppliers is the lever that moves the world.  He gave even just a simple example of a large fast casual restaurant being asked these questions, digging into their supply chain, and discovering, of all things, vast differences in carbon footprints of their various feta cheese suppliers, causing them to shift purchasing decisions in that part of their supply chain.  As Mark then said, about 90% of global emissions are going to be covered by this dynamic, which then forces financial institutions to question whether they want to move their business to the 10% that is remaining, or whether they are going to be part of this change.

Finally, when discussing the speed of these changes, he said, “We need quantum leaps in climate finance”.  I love what is happening in the financial world.  Long vilified (and reasonably warranted), the financial community is such a powerful force for change, it gives me great hope.  It also gives me great pride for my ability to have Thin Line Capital be a small part of pushing on this lever.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Amanda Gorman - Earthrise

In late August, 2018, I had the privilege of seeing Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, read this poem, Earthrise, at the Los Angeles Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training on Tuesday.  It was thrilling to see in person, and I'm glad that I can share with you the video and transcript.

Because an environmental movement of this size 
Is simply another form of an earthrise.

Amanda Gorman

(Transcript taken from the North American Association for Environmental Education)

Our Purpose in Poetry:
Or, Earthrise

Dedicated to Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project 

On Christmas Eve, 1964, astronaut Bill Anders 
Snapped a photo of the earth
As Apollo 8 orbited the moon.
Those three guys 
Were surprised
To see from their eyes
Our planet looked like an earthrise
A blue orb hovering over the moon’s gray horizon, 
with deep oceans and silver skies. 

It was our world’s first glance at itself 
Our first chance to see a shared reality, 
A declared stance and a commonality; 

A glimpse into our planet’s mirror,
And as threats drew nearer,
Our own urgency became clearer,
As we realize that we hold nothing dearer 
than this floating body we all call home. 

We’ve known
That we’re caught in the throes
Of climactic changes some say
Will just go away,
While some simply pray
To survive another day;
For it is the obscure, the oppressed, the poor, 
Who when the disaster
Is declared done,
Still suffer more than anyone. 

Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time, 

Of this, you’re certainly aware.
It’s saddening, but I cannot spare you
From knowing an inconvenient fact, because
It’s getting the facts straight that gets us to act and not to wait. 

So I tell you this not to scare you, 
But to prepare you, to dare you 
To dream a different reality, 

Where despite disparities
We all care to protect this world,
This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel 
To muster the verve and the nerve
To see how we can serve
Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect, 
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours,
To use your unique power
To give next generations the planet they deserve. 

We are demonstrating, creating, advocating 
We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything but lenient
With the future of our youth. 

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet, 
There is no rehearsal. The time is 
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal 
Should be anything but controversial. 

So, earth, pale blue dot 
We will fail you not. 

Just as we chose to go to the moon 
We know it’s never too soon
To choose hope.
We choose to do more than cope 
With climate change 
We choose to end it—
We refuse to lose.
Together we do this and more
Not because it’s very easy or nice
But because it is necessary,
Because with every dawn we carry
the weight of the fate of this celestial body orbiting a star. 
And as heavy as that weight sounded, it doesn’t hold us down, 
But it keeps us grounded, steady, ready, 
Because an environmental movement of this size 
Is simply another form of an earthrise. 

To see it, close your eyes.
Visualize that all of us leaders in this room
and outside of these walls or in the halls, all
of us changemakers are in a spacecraft,
Floating like a silver raft
in space, and we see the face of our planet anew.
We relish the view;
We witness its round green and brilliant blue,
Which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly:
What can we do?
Open your eyes.
Know that the future of
this wise planet
Lies right in sight:
Right in all of us. Trust
this earth uprising.
All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before
For it is our hope that implores us, at our uncompromising core, 
To keep rising up for an earth more than worth fighting for.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Climate Justice with Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

We've been so focused on our acute, global catastrophe, that it's always good to pull back and occasionally check in on our long-term global catastrophe - climate change.  The effects of Covid-19, and the global response to Covid-19, have shown us what can happen in an interconnected world, and more importantly, how, as an interconnected world, solutions need to be cooperative and inclusive.  It is in both the best interests of the human race for us to work together, but it is in each of our *own* self-interests for us to work together as well, and I would like to keep speaking about that topic.  It is a topic called Climate Justice, and I was first introduced to the idea at the Los Angeles training for the 2018 group of Climate Reality Leaders, with Al Gore, where I was participating as a mentor.

This video I'm attaching is an interesting discussion, which speaks a lot about climate justice.  It is with the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, moderated by Ibrahim AlHusseini, Founder and Managing Partner of Full Cycle, a growth fund targeting climate solutions.  Ibrahim and I met at USC when I was just in the initial phases of getting Thin Line Capital started.

Rather than tell you too much about the video, I just want to share with you this one quote from President Robinson.  I think it's magnificent:

We shouldn’t have the image of climate change being the polar bear on a melting ice floe…

it should be a woman, desperate because she can’t get enough food or water.

A very different image…

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson
July, 2020

It's almost an hour, but well worth watching:

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Where We Are Now - and what about July 4?

"Everybody sharing graphs and charts"
 -Steven Page, Isolation

First off, I want to thank everyone who appreciated my prior post, so this follow-up is for you.  I spend a lot of time looking at charts and graphs and I have no illusions that everyone else does that.  So, I wanted to let people know exactly where we are right now.  This coming weekend celebrates when, 244 years ago, “one people” chose to dissolve their prior allegiance and set up a new government - one that, four score and seven years later (87 years), would be described as “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people”.  While people talk about individual liberties, this country was founded as a group that felt that they could collectively determine their own destiny.  We need to come together as a group to beat this.  To quote Lincoln again:

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

While some might argue that this danger has come from abroad, the result is the same.  We ourselves are responsible for finishing it. 

Let’s see how we’re doing.

First, let’s look at LA County’s numbers.  As of today, July 2, we have been averaging roughly 2400 new cases per day, the highest we’ve ever been (Chart 1).  Back *in early April* I was hoping that we were seeing evidence of recovery, but not only are we not out of the woods, we haven’t even found our peak.  There are over 107,000 people known to be infected.  At a population of 10million, that puts the number of infected at about 1 person in 100.  The CDC says that, due to untested asymptotic carriers (that is, people who are sick and can infect others, but have no symptoms, so they don’t know it), the number could be up to 10x higher.  California is testing a lot, so let’s assume the current infectious pool is 2x-10x higher.  That puts the number of infected between 1-in-50 and 1-in-10.

Think about that.  If you go out to get a coffee today, or pop by the grocery store, did you see 50 people from the time you left your door until the time you got home?  If so, statistically speaking, one of them was infected.  Were you closer than six feet to them?  Did both of you have masks?  When you realize that infection isn’t some abstract concept, but a mathematical certainty, I hope it helps you examine your behavior.  If you are invited to a backyard party this weekend - how many people will be there?  If you *knew* that someone there could get you and your family sick, would you still go?
1 in 100 confirmed; 1-in-50 to 1-in-10 possible.  That is where we are in LA County right now.

Let’s turn to Pasadena (Chart 2).  From the start of this, until the end of May, Pasadena had a real tragedy with cases burning through elderly care centers.  A large, compromised population, in close proximity to one another, was a real tragedy.  However, it also blinded us to the larger danger, and in early June our infection rate dropped.  But that’s not the case any longer.  In the last half of June, infections have been increasing again, this time in the regular population.  Our 7-day average is now over 20 new cases a day, and just like LA, is not slowing down.  It’s easy to dismiss a disease as “only for old people”, but that’s not true anymore.  While the majority of deaths are our elderly population, there’s no indication that young people are immune from getting the disease.  This is happening and it is spreading through our city - affecting your neighbors, your friends, and your family.

By the way, the probability of death is more a function of co-morbidities, than age.  It’s just that older people tend to have more combined diseases.  However, one that isn’t correlated with age is obesity - this is actually killing more *younger* people who get infected.  So, it’s false to assume that younger people are safe.

One other aside before we continue - just because someone who is infected with Covid-19 survives, doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer tremendously.  There’s a large range between “asymptomatic” and “death”, and having permanently scarred lungs, but surviving, isn’t a winning scenario - one faced by many young people who are misled into feeling they are safe.

What about the increased testing?  The argument that increased testing causes increased cases (and, therefore, by extension, we don’t need to do anything) is misleading - however, it highlights why we need to focus on chart 3.  This is the data for all of California, not just LA or Pasadena.  California has been doing a great job in increased testing.  We are fighting an invisible enemy and testing lets us see where it is.  Back in April we tested maybe 20,000 cases per day and recently we’ve been testing over 100,000.  However, in a state of 40 million people, that’s still a small drop in the bucket.

Now, with those tests, if the number of actual infected stays the same, but our testing goes up, then the percent of tests that are new cases should go down.  We want that number to be less than 5%, and then we want to watch as it goes to 3%, 2%, 1%, and then finally zero.  No new cases, we’ve beaten this thing.  If the number is greater than 5%, and if it is going up, then that means the virus is expanding faster than our testing - we can’t find all of the infected, and it’s blowing up.  One week ago it was 5.3%, yesterday it was *11.2%*.  What little control California had is being undone.  This is why the Stay at Home orders are being reinitiated.  We aren’t winning this battle.  We can see it’s exactly the opposite and it is time for people to get serious.

So, what does that mean for this coming weekend?  Our chance to celebrate the document that dictated that we were a group of people, free to self-govern?  I think we should reflect upon our history.  Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Imperial Navy is oft-quoted as saying, post the Pearl Harbor attack:

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

We need to awaken and fill ourselves with resolve that we are indeed under attack, and that the time for half-measures is over.  This whole time, had everyone taken this seriously, we could have ended this in a month.  Support your country by doing what L.A. County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer says - stay home with your family this weekend and keep yourself safe.  You are not a victim of tyranny (we fought that 244 years ago); instead you are a part of the legacy of that effort and by isolating, keeping distant, wearing a mask, and recognizing the truly dire situation that we are in, you, and all of us as Americans - especially this weekend - can be what Lincoln called the “finisher” of this collective threat.