John Bissell is going even further than carbon neutral, by pioneering carbon negative materials to help combat climate change on a large scale.
On the Dealmakers Show Bissell talked about taking on this multi-trillion dollar industry, the truth about recycling, raising capital and managing a public versus private company. Plus, how they are growing at $1B each quarter, and how to get a job with them.
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If You Can’t Fix It, Startup From Scratch
John Bissell was born in Sacramento, California.
He attended UC Davis to study chemical engineering, before moving back to his hometown.
It’s a career that he says most students don’t really understand until they get into it. If you have an interest in, and do well at math, biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus, you may well end up pursuing chemical engineering.
However, chemicals and engineering go well beyond what we traditionally think of as chemicals, like those that are used to clean your swimming pool. It is the basis for just about everything we use and touch every day. From product containers, to clothes, construction materials, and more. It’s the very fabric of our lives today. Many of which have become incredibly notorious for their damaging health effects, and negative impact on the environment.
After graduating in 2008, Bissell found himself working at a rocket company, and working on his startup idea as a side hustle, together with his cofounder Ryan Smith. It was shortly after Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the world descended into the Great Recession that they chose to make the leap into entrepreneurship full time.
Their reasoning was two fold. Firstly, that they believed that they could create something better. They didn’t see the large legacy organizations of the time tackling modern problems. Especially in relation to climate change. They had no need or incentive to. They were making plenty of money without changing anything. At the same time, the web 2.0 tech boom was taking off, giving birth to new large companies from scratch. John and Ryan perceived it as being easier to start a new company from the ground up, rather than trying to change an existing one.
While the timing for starting a company, especially one requiring capital may have been challenging. It just so happened that by the time they had really developed and honed their technology, capital markets had come back, and the world was waking up to the urgency of doing something about the environment. They ended up with a 10 year head start.
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John Bissell’s startup, Origin Materials is a chemical technology company.
They make ‘intermediates’, a lego brick of material manufacturing. What’s unique is that he says they do this in a way that is carbon negative. Meaning not just carbon neutral as many are striving for today. They actually take more carbon out of the atmosphere than before.
In turn this means their customers are able to reduce their own carbon footprints when using their material and technology.
Origin is both setting up its own plants for production, as well as providing their tech to others.
Their vision is to create “the materials technology that’s required for the human species to be successful in the next millennium.”
In part this means using alternative foundations for materials. Instead of oil, which is so common now, it can be biological waste, waste from food production, and left overs from harvesting wood.
They also look forward to minimizing the number of materials in use. Which John says will reduce the mixtures of materials used to make products. Which can greatly help in recycling. Unfortunately, today, product materials are so complex that they cannot be separated for recycling. They just end up polluting the planet instead.
Today, Origin Materials has over 150 employees. Over half of which are scientists and engineers.
They are currently building their first plant in Canada. At the cost of over $100M. A seven story facility with a footprint of several acres.
Their second facility is being planned in Louisiana. Which is expected to cost $1B, and spread out over 150 acres.
Which may still be small in proportion to this multi-trillion dollar industry. One which has been dominated by just around 20 companies.
They continue to grow at around $1B a quarter, or 100% year over year.
Taking Your Startup Public
Storytelling is everything which is something that John Bissell was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Origin launched its IPO in 2021.
Working on another round of funding, John says they did the math, and the cost of equity capital was just cheaper in the public market.
So, even though it was in the middle of the COVID lockdowns and everything was being done remotely, they took the company public.
He says that there are both differences and similarities between public and private fundraising.
On one hand he sees the communication between company and investors as being healthier and more standardized. You have regulations and expected practices. You are not just choosing how you want to interact with your investors.
However, he says that you are still dealing with big fund managers. Those who may have billion dollar funds they need to allocate from. So, you are still engaging with decision makers that individually control a lot of the capital out there.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Recruiting and credibility
- Startup fundraising
- How to get hired at Origin Materials
- John’s top advice when starting a business