Neil Patel

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Trevor Best ditched the oil fields to take up his role in the fight for climate change. His startup has now raised over $100M on their journey, as they set a fast pace for fueling the transition to greener sources of energy. The venture, Syzygy Plasmonics, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Equinor Ventures, Goose Capital, and The Engine.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How to hire for your startup
  • Trevor’s top advice for other entrepreneurs
  • The big announcement they made on the Dealmakers Show
  • The future of energy and our climate

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    About Trevor Best:

    Trevor Best is the founding CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics. He has a demonstrated track record of success in a corporate setting, from management to intrapreneurship.

    Trevor’s skills in launching special projects, project management, and supply chain management will be essential for the success of this early-stage venture.

    He graduated from Texas TechUniversity in 2007 with a triple major in International Business, Marketing, and Management with a minor in Spanish, while also learning Chinese.

    After joining Baker Hughes in 2009, he has steadily progressed to the level of Senior Manager, where he has gained expertise in quality assurance (Six Sigma Black Belt), regulatory compliance, technology development management, project and personnel management, supply chain management, internal/external communications, and business process architecture.

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    Connect with Trevor Best:

    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So very excited about the guests that we have today. We’re gonna be talking about building scaling financing building some really cutting edge staff climate change. You name it so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today. Trevor Best welcome to the show.

    Trevor Best: Hey thank you very much all Andra This is fantastic to be here. You’re really excited to to be on on your podcast and share our story today.

    Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. So so born in Texas so give us a little of a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up. Cool.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, life has been great growing up in Texas I was born and raised in West Texas I love it out there. You know it is the land of like Cowboys oil and gas. You know, but after living in the desert for. 18 years I wanted to to move on to find better things moved to Lubbock Texas Texas tech to get ° in business which unfortunately was not far enough out of the desert ah took some time to go to China. See the rest of the world and then came back to get a job at ah Baker Hughes in the oil and gas industry where I worked for about 8 years before leaving to start sissigy.

    Alejandro Cremades: And what? what What really push you and we’re gonna be talking about. You know what? you’re up to nowadays which is remarkable but before getting into that you know, just so that we get to know you a little bit more what triggered that move to China because I mean you were a Texas guy through and through so I mean. What the hell happened for you to say I’m out I’m going to China.

    Trevor Best: Ah, yeah I I have always had you know a desire to like try new things and you know see the world see different like ways of life and having been in West Texas you know at that point for like 21 years it I really just wanted to go see something completely different I had been learning chinese in my spare time while I was in college and so yeah, what better place to go than China where I could like continue honing my my skills with chinese and and really see just a completely different way of life from. What I was used to I had an absolutely amazing time I taught english at shuyo dashshua which is the china university of petroleum in huangdao next to tingdao if you’ve ever read ting dao beer I was about an hour outside of that city and. Yeah, just really fantastic experience. I have come back and have not used chinese at all in about you know oh man going on 13 years now and yeah, fourteen years now and so I yeah know a little bit.

    Alejandro Cremades: Wow.

    Trevor Best: But ah lost most of it. But yeah, yeah, just a desire to to try new things and you know branch out push my limits.

    Alejandro Cremades: So obviously there in in Texas you know a lot going on around you know, energy and oil and gas I mean everything you name it. You know there’s just like so much going on there now your case you know you decided to um to join you know that segment and you were at Baker Hughes for about 8 years a little over 8 years before you know you decided that it was time you know for you to to really go at it. You know, starting your own company. So what did you learn over the course of those 8 years and what do you think you know needed to happen for you to really have that level of exposure to the problem. You know, really push it to say you know what I’m going to do something about this.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, so there’s there’s a couple things I’ll talk a little bit about my experience and what I learned about you know, developing new products and getting them to market and I’ll also talk a little bit about ah you know the the desire to go. You know, get in the fight on climate change. What I was seeing. In the market at the time and so ah, you know to to my experience I worked with ultra deep water quite a bit I went through a project management and quality path. Actually you know being a business major and becoming a quality engineer was something quite notable. Turned out to be quite technical whenever I got into industry getting into ultra deep water equipment in the gulf of Mexico and becoming a quality manager for the gulf of Mexico lots of R and d equipment going into deep water so I got into the r and d facility and ultimately became the quality manager for their r and d process. So like how do they invent things. You know why does the invention the process of inventing things and bringing them to market like how does that break down. How do we get that more repeatable and successful. So I was involved in yeah at a high-level advisory. Ah, kind of role involved in more than 100 products being released into the market got really into the details on a few dozen. You know, kind of the problem children and really learned like product development and how it worked and you know what made things successful and how that process broke down.

    Trevor Best: While all this was happening I met my cofounder and ah that is Dr Summan katiwada ah we were both really interested in what was happening around. Ah you know the energy transition. It wasn’t called the energy transition then. Ah, we actually called it. The green wave. We saw this like wave of green electrons coming online with solar and wind. We saw the reports from the international panel on climate change saying that humanity only had like a decade or so to to get its act together and start to bold things. You know we really wanted to be on the frontline of that fight we were tired of feeling hopeless and what we were seeing in the oil and gas industry at that time didn’t make us believe. That the industry was about to change as I mentioned no one was talking about the energy transition yet and we decided that if we weren’t going to be able to change it from the inside we wanted to go find a technology so powerful and so disruptive. That we could force it to change from the outside. Yeah something that could not only prevent emissions but had economics so good that it would be undeniable similar to like what’s happening with solar and wind like those are scaling because the economics can work.

    Trevor Best: And so find something that could disrupt the oil and gas industry while making things cleaner. And yeah that that desired. Ah yeah, go get on the front lines to fight to to find hope for ourselves and others that that this was possible really drove us to get started.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then so then let’s talk about that moment where you were so like you really saw the problem like like in such a powerful way that the only way to stop thinking about it was to take action to give your notice because I mean we’re talking about. Over eight years you know being at a company I mean I mean hey where where I’m from originally in Spain you know everyone stays in companies for a long time but here in the us people don’t stay that longing company. So after over eight years at the same company I’m sure it was not an easy decision to give you notice.

    Trevor Best: No, it was not there actually was a single event and ah so you know I love baker hughes they taught me everything I know they’re like family to me, you know, but. In mid 2015 the oil and gas industry was not in a strong point and they were really focusing on their their core activities as any good business should and what happened at that time was also that the Obama administration had. You know, recently issued a methane emissions rule and they were going to require you know the operators to start tracking their methane emissions at well sites and you know whenever I was looking I was like this is it. This is the chance. Yeah, this is something that aligns with the capabilities of our business. And also has a positive emissions impact like we should move right now and go after this market and begin tracking methane emissions at well sites and in 2015 the oil and gas industry was not ready for that and. What I saw across the whole industry was a whole lot more effort was being put in to fighting that rule than to adopting it and preventing the emissions and that was when I realized you know that it wasn’t something you know.

    Trevor Best: Just had to do with the company where I was working and it wasn’t something yeah that ah that technology could necessarily Solve. It was something endemic to the energy industry as a whole. And I realized that it needed external disruption and that was what really pushed me to be like Okay, if we aren’t going to be able to change this industry from the inside we need to go find some something that can be powerful enough to be disruptive to force it to change from the outside.

    Alejandro Cremades: Show them what happened next.

    Trevor Best: Ah, we started looking my cofounder and I we developed a framework technology market and impact we would assess things like is the technology good. Is there a market for it like can it be disruptive will people buy it if we make it and then finally impact like does this you know have a positive effect on society. Can it. Prevent emissions or help human health or or something along those lines we started reading publications things coming out of Stanford things coming out of Berkeley my co-founder Dr Kati Wlpkujlkjljada he was a ph d in nanomaterials from rice university so of course we were tracking publications from rice and in August of 16 we found this paper on the antenna reactor photo catalyst from the Hollis and nordlander groups at Rice University is very interesting. Yeah, the science behind it was pretty compelling and we decided to give them a call. And Dr Cadi want to called him and said I’m a rice alum. You know you you owe me 5 minutes he got them interested in those 5 minutes and we started to put together a diligence. Yeah plan and really evaluate the technology and they showed us some data that had not been published yet and that data. We recognized as unique and potentially world changing so we decided to yeah this is the thing quit our jobs start the company.

    Alejandro Cremades: And I know that the company that you guys started then is a little bit different from the company that you guys say you know are running today, especially when it comes to to the to the business model. No I mean you you did a few pivots. So so why was especially. You know you raised that first stretch of money. And then you realize that it was time to pivot. But I guess before or or perhaps you know, even better. You know to answer the question of what is the business model today. How would you say you know that it has say a transition over the course of time.

    Trevor Best: Um.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, so I’ll I’ll talk about 2 pivots. You know one is on the technology side and just to give people a flavor of like what it’s like to you know, get a deep tech startup up and off the ground and I’ll talk about another pivot on the business model side so on the technology side. Our very first idea was to embed our photo catalyst into arroweroggelel because aeroggelel being optically transparent would allow you know more light penetration into the catalyst bed. You know we would be able to increase the amount of surface area of our catalyst exposed to light by embedding it in aerogelel. And that was idea number one and it was just a phenomenal failure. You know to say it didn’t work at all. It did not work at all, you probably could have gotten more hydrogen production out of like putting shoelaces inside of our reactor than you could have ah you know the catalyst embedded in arrow gel. And we found that out about two months after starting the company and we did our first technology pivot and our yeah lead chemical engineer Dr Shreya Shah found a new catalyst support and a new way to embed the catalyst into that and that worked phenomenally well and you know set the stage for a lot of future technical success. So. Those kinds of technology pivots are things that we have to do every now and again when one pathway isn’t working out similarly on the business model. Yeah, when we’re getting the company off the ground in 20182019. It’s very different climate in terms of ah you know fundraising in terms of excitement around clean tech.

    Trevor Best: And we were primarily focused on small scale steam reforming where we would make small scale steam reforming plants to make hydrogen for the transportation industry so you targeting hydrogen buses hydrogen vehicles and we were not getting a lot of traction with that message. In late twenty twenty and so we pivoted. Ah you know towards focusing more on the platform aspects getting into you know, 0 carbon reactions or carbon negative reactions focusing on the electrification aspect of our technology our ability to electrify heavy industry. And really getting away from distributed small scale applications and focusing on large central applications under a licensing business model where we license the tech to to the big operators and that kind of pivot proved massively successful and we got a bunch of those operators to sign up and start supporting us.

    Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. So so in this case, you know at what point you know, especially with the business model at what point do you realize that you guys are turning around the corner. Yeah.

    Trevor Best: It’s it’s hard to describe I usually describe this as a smell you know because it doesn’t really you know make sense. In a lot of other ways and so talking about it in terms of a smell like sometimes things just smell good like when you’re on the right pathway. It’s a gut feeling kind of thing ah in late Twenty twenty when we decided to pivot the messaging and and adjust the business model. Model. Ah, you know we were going into investor meetings and when you hear like no just outright like no other questions like just this isn’t an area of interest for us right now when you hear that you know a dozen meetings back-to-back. Investors that you think should be excited about your tech. You know that something’s not working and then you have to go figure out like what it is and make the adjustments and so like from a technology standpoint like our tech hasn’t changed. We’re still like commercializing a photocadalytic reactor. Platform but just the way that we’re talking about it and the way we’re going about trying to enter the market. You know, realize that wasn’t working and you make a few adjustments and then suddenly the person who three months before didn’t want to follow up meeting you. You give them the new pitch.

    Trevor Best: re like oh that’s interesting. They start asking a bunch of questions about like how profitable can you be? what’s your customer pipeline look like and you realize like oh this this path smells pretty good I think we’re onto something.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then so then in this case I mean you guys have raised quite a bit of money. So in total how much capital have you guys raised Trevor on what has been. You know that experience going from one cycle to the next.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, all together we have raised about one hundred and ten million dollars the first fundraise is a million bucks back in 2018 then we raised about 10 at the end of 2019 but we raised around 24 at the beginning of 2021 and we just closed 76 at the end of last year you know and through this yeah, the company goes through these like development stages like the very beginning you know when you’re like just a handful of employees working. Kind of like out of ah, a very janky lab like almost like a garage or something is one stage of the company you know and you know, really everyone like works together as this single cohesive unit like you know manager employees you know, kind of ah. Not useful ways to think about everyone and there’s just not much structure and everyone adapts to to fill the gaps and get the work done. Ah you know after we raise the series a you start applying a lot more structure to it. You actually have ah you know somewhat leadership team structure where you have the founders. And other employees you start to like branch off into functions and after the b 24000000 you really start to put like structure in place where you have like you know cs suitite vps managers and now after the series c like we get to the point where we’re like you know.

    Trevor Best: Kind of a fully formed company. We have all the major functions purchasing accounting finance shipping receiving you know, ah all the different pieces needed for the company to work and it’s all you know, getting to the point where I don’t have to be involved in the day to day anymore and it starts to run itself. Ah, the. Biggest thing I’ve learned through this is you have to build for where you’re going and not where you’re at if you build for where you’re at you always run into problems when you try and scale up and so if you need to be at a point in six months you need to start building today and so like if you need you know 70 employees to accomplish a goal in six months you don’t wait for six months to come to start hiring you start hiring today so that when. When you need to do the work six months from now you can do it at a sprint and so yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then in that in in that case to mean that’s very interesting so scaling a team you know, especially how do you go about scaling a team I mean it said I mean because you guys have been. You know, growing like crazy the team. So I guess how do you go about. Knowing who you need to get on board because it sounds like you need to start going after this guys and building their relationship six months or even more before you even need them.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, and so you know part of it is just having the foresight to predict what’s coming in the future. Yeah know and basically planning for success. So assuming that you’re going to accomplish the goals and you know building the team so that like you are ready to go when you to accomplish the goals. Ah, in the beginning. So I mentioned like the different kind of stages and how the the management of the company changes through the different stages ah building. The team was different before about 30 employees than it was after 30 employees so before 30 I was heavily involved in all of our hiring. I would look for you know purpose-driven people. So I found that that you know when someone has a personal mission you know and and that could be a lot of things that could be you know fighting climate change. It could be taking care of their family. You know. But some people naturally find meaning in their lives and some people are looking for others to give it to them the ones who have who are able to do that for themselves are usually also able to adapt and overcome. You know, challenging situations which happen all the time in startups and so getting beyond 30 what we had to do was train our leadership.

    Trevor Best: How to look for those qualities. Not just the resume not just the bullet points like did they get a mechanical engineering degree and how many years of experience they have but like kind of like do they have the passion. Do. They have the fire you know in training people how to look for those qualities so that they could start. Growing themselves now I’m hardly involved in any of the hiring outside of like the c-suite because we have trained others on on how to do that. That’s been probably the most instrumental piece to to get right.

    Alejandro Cremades: And in terms of I mean you’ve been talking about the future. Um, and I know that you guys have a something exciting happening this summer what’s that

    Trevor Best: Yeah, so we started the company in 2018. We were basically a science project you know coming out of a university lab. You know have been growing and scaling over the past couple years and this summer we will build our first commercial. Reactor. Yeah, this is an industrial size reactor and is the base unit for our future growth and ah this unit will actually be delivered to customers at the end of the year and so we will be building and turning on the first one over summer to go from university research. To an industrial reactor in 5 years is ah virtually unheard of you could say that we’re moving at the speed of light.

    Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing and and 1 thing here. You know that comes to mind you know when it comes to climate change and and also like following course on on talking about the future here is there is there hope for what’s coming is there hope for for the future I mean there’s a lot of very pessimistic. You know people out there. Some. Some that are more than others you know others that are optimistic I guess what are your thoughts since you’re like you know, seeing this you know right? You know very close to the trenches.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, and so you know pardon my optimism but I absolutely think that there’s a lot of hope for the future and you know I think this. 1 for yeah, the data we’re seeing in our lab like it gives me hope like this technology does have the potential to be disruptive to make you know, clean energy like hydrogen much more affordable to you know, take you know greenhouse gases like co 2 and methane and turn them back into. Useful chemicals in a very economical way and you know having bold solutions like this coming to market gives me a lot of hope for the future but the real reason why I am hopeful for the future isn’t because of sysoggy. It’s actually because. Yeah, we get to be a part of an amazing community where I meet you know dozens hundreds of other climate tech founders who are bringing incredible technologies to market. It’s not just sysiji’s technology that is growing and being supported right now you know there is an army of clean tech. Starting to stand up to come confront this problem and not only that having been in Houston having been in the oil and gas capital of the world for you know the past twelve years I have seen a shift in mentality take place in the past few years that is unlike anything I ever saw before it.

    Trevor Best: And that shift in mentality is a change from people saying like greenwashing things and just trying to get you know, clean tech to go away so they can keep producing oil and gas. To a change of mentality where all of the operators and the big energy companies are scrambling to try and figure out what they are going to do I see them placing bets on a lot of different technologies and over the next Decade I see them doubling down on those bets. As data starts coming back from their tests to figure out which technologies work there’s no longer a thought that this is going to go away. It’s no longer viewed as a nuisance everyone is trying to figure out what shot they are going to call and the energy transition because it is now viewed as a given. The the energy transition is going to happen and that makes me hope for the hope for the future.

    Alejandro Cremades: And let’s talk about that just a little bit more about things that work. Let’s say you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of the company is fully realized what does that world look like.

    Trevor Best: So I’m going to describe it for ssigy then I’m going describe it for the greater world. Ah so for syssogy you know that means us producing yeah reactors similar to the way tesla produces cars. We yeah, we have a mass manufacturing line. That rolls you know thousands of our reactors out the door every year to go you know deploy in large chemical operations these operations you know make clean hydrogen they take cotwo and turn it back into useful molecules. They create things like ammonia and ethylene. Ah, one of these plants if you were to envision it. It looks a lot like a chemical plant does today except no smokestacks and so able to you know produce these molecules that planet earth needs without putting emissions into the atmosphere and ah the way I like to think about it is if you’re familiar with the houston area. We have a. Ah, the ship channel baytown which has a lot of chemical refinery and refinery processes along the Gulf Coast if you were to drive through there. Ah you would see all that infrastructure but without the smoke stacks pumping emissions into the atmosphere. That’s what that future looks like for me for the world. It looks. Ah. Similar Sysigy’s technology definitely plays a part but it’s not just us it also means the success of a lot of other technologies. You know electrolysis batteries electric vehicles renewable energy geothermal I think that to truly solve the problem in front of us.

    Trevor Best: Ah, we need all these different solutions working together to fill different gaps. There is no silver bullet that completely solves the problem. Ah, but there might be enough Silver Buckshot to get it done and ah between like syssigy and a dozen other key technologies. I think that we can start to get this under control.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then now let’s talk about the past with a length of reflection if I was to put you into a time machine. Trevor and I was to bring you back in time to that moment where you are wondering. You know what to do about. You know this problem taking action and you’re able to go back in time. And able to give yourself 1 piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.

    Trevor Best: So ah, if I were to give myself a single piece of advice I would tell myself to sleep more? Ah, ah. I have lost a lot of sleep over the past couple years and it’s really only been in the past year or two that I have started to value my sleep more because if I’m not functioning. Well nothing with the company is functioning very well. And so yeah, taking care of you know my body as we go through this is probably probably the single piece of advice I would give because ah yeah, especially when your heart is really in it. It’s easy to to like keep pushing yourself and go on like 4 hours of sleep a night

    Alejandro Cremades: I Love one.

    Trevor Best: For a week in a row but let me tell you after years of doing it. It starts to catch up with you.

    Alejandro Cremades: Oh yeah, 100% I mean we’re ultimately like machines if you don’t take care of them over the machine. The machine is going to break down so I love that you know very profound trebor. So for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

    Trevor Best: Yeah, so the best way I get on our website or you know follow us on Linkedin our website wwwww.plasmonics.tech you know you can connect with me Trevor Best on Linkedin or you know follow sysogy plasmonics on Linkedin. Ah, you know feel free to shoot me a message on Linkedin I’ll do my best to respond and you know I love to get involved in the community and help out. So if there’s any opportunities for sysigy to give back. You know, very happy to explore those with you.

    Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey Trevor thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

    Trevor Best: Ah, thank you so much. Ah Andra has been absolute pleasure. Sir.

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