Brenden Millstein has already raised $133.5M for his climate change startup. They are just getting started and have lots of room to grow.
In our recent interview on the DealMakers podcast, Brenden shared how he got started, all the data they’ve been collecting, what the future looks like, and surviving the trying days of being a startup founder.
Exposure to Climate Change
Millstein was born and grew up in Berkeley. Before it merged with Silicon Valley. It is where he developed his passion for climate change. Just five blocks from his childhood home lived his current cofounder, Raphael Rosen, who he became fast friends with since kindergarten.
It was in high school that Brenden really got interested in climate change. His senior year nuclear engineering class showed him how to use math to better the lives of billions of people around the planet, by preventing more damage being done to our environment. If only he could find a way to hand out money to stop the direction of climate change.
One of the things which really stuck with him from his nuclear engineering class was the effects of El Nino and El Nina weather patterns. Specifically, how the data shows rising temperatures causing increases in the spread of diseases like malaria.
Increased temperatures also mean more hurricanes and stronger hurricanes. Like deadly Katrina in 2005. It adds to flood damage, storm surge and wildfires too. All of which we seem to have been experiencing more of in recent years.
Eager to learn more Brenden Millstein moved across the country to study physics at Harvard. Then wanting to learn the business side of the equation he went on to Stanford for his MBA and an engineering degree. Both of which he finished in just two years.
This was after a stint in New York, working with the state and their energy policy. An experience which taught him how tough it was to do things on a state by state level, as well as the freedoms the private sector could offer in contrast.
During his second year at Stanford, Brenden began working on his startup Carbon Lighthouse. His childhood friend Raphael was the one person who could beat him at math.
During the time they were apart Raphael had gone to work at a solar startup. One where he helped grow the company from three people and zero revenue, to 15 employees and $25M in revenue.
Raphael was someone who was clearly valuable, and who Brenden really wanted on the team. So, he filled in his cofounder’s name on a grant application and sent it to him to review. It was a bold recruiting method, but 90 days later they were working together.
They started with all the basic setup items. Incorporating, opening a business bank account, setting up Quickbooks, and writing business plans.
Then they started on what he describes as one of the most important tasks, calling potential customers. They exhausted their networks, calling everyone they knew, and asking them for referrals and introductions. They said they must have made 1,000 to 2,000 calls before they landed their first customer.
During this time they quickly learned how big of a piece of the puzzle sales can be. Especially for technical founders, and when you have an ugly website.
Of course, even once you win a customer, that’s when the real fun and work can start. They managed through the first couple, building on their successes. Even though they almost landed in legal hot water for turning off the air conditioning to a courthouse in 105-degree weather.
They started going after serving commercial real estate. These buildings are the cause of around 40% of carbon emissions in America. A huge part of the problem, and one no one else had really tackled due to how hard and complex it was.
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