Designing Businesses for Sustainability

Four people at a table with paper and markers.

 

One of the most critical challenges that we face today is climate change. But organizations have an ability to take action and make progress on sustainability. Maria Fujihara, Founder & CEO of the decarbonization platform SINAI Technologies, and Gabe Kleinman, Head of Portfolio Services at venture capital firm Obvious Ventures, share their perspectives on how businesses and individuals can address climate change.

Here are five takeaways from our conversation with Maria and Gabe on the Creative Confidence Podcast. Listen to the full episode to hear them talk about their experiences in the field of sustainability, challenges for environmental startups, and how to grow a business to have greater impact.

 

Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

 

1. Doing good for the environment is a business opportunity.

“As we experience greater and more dramatic climate events, we’ve seen incredible resonance with companies that are tackling these big problems.” — Gabe Kleinman

Through both consumer demand and regulatory action, climate action and sustainability have become front and center. According to Gabe, carbon intensive industries span across nearly the entire U.S. economy, and companies that are visionary and act early will benefit. There has been a huge increase in the total addressable market for sustainable systems, from electric vehicles to plant-based food, and entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create new solutions.

 

2. Fall in love with your problem.

“If you don’t fall in love with the problem, you’re never going to try to find a solution. Falling in love with your problem is the first step for any entrepreneur or founder.” — Maria Fujihara

Having parents who were forest engineers made Maria feel connected to the environment very early in her life. She started her career in the sustainable construction industry, and realized that her passion was in sustainability. Maria credits her success with SINAI Technologies and dedication to decarbonization to her love for the environment that she developed as a child.

 

3. Involve potential customers in your product design.

“By incorporating your future clients and stakeholders into the product development process, you’re giving them ownership and early buy-in.” — Gabe Kleinman

When Maria first launched her product, one customer immediately gave feedback that the designs weren’t visually appealing and looked like software from the ‘90s. After hearing this, she worked on updating the platform to fit their needs. From an investor perspective, Gabe says that keeping customers involved is a great way to get them to have a stake in what you’re creating and care about your product.

 

4. Even complex software benefits from low-fidelity prototyping.

“If you’re proud of your first sketches or even your first product, you’ve launched too late. It’s so important to launch early and get early feedback.” — Maria Fujihara

Don’t be afraid to make quick prototypes. In the beginning, Maria started sketching and prototyping with different tools, from pen and paper to whiteboards to her iPad. She created an initial, rough design, and while she wasn’t proud of the designs, Maria said having her product out there early was crucial to getting feedback and later making improvements.

 

5. Complex challenges require good storytelling to connect the need with the solution.

“There’s a developing sense of sophistication on the need for great narrative storytelling around what you’re building and how it’s going to improve people’s lives.” — Gabe Kleinman

Oftentimes, technical founders and teams gravitate toward focusing primarily on the product and idea. But Gabe says there’s now a realization around the importance of storytelling as well. As a company, you’ll have many audiences, including investors, customers, potential employees, and the media. Each group has a different level of understanding of your problem and solution, and it’s your storytelling and messaging that will allow you to get through to them.

 

About The Speakers

Maria Fujihara
Founder & CEO, SINAI Technologies

Maria founded SINAI Technologies to provide organizations the technology necessary to build deep decarbonization strategies. She is an architect and urban planner with 13+ years of expertise in sustainable certifications. Previously she was coordinator of the Brazilian Green Building Council and advisor to Project Drawdown. She’s a graduate of Singularity University at NASA Research Park in Mountain View, CA. Learn more about SINAI at www.sinaitechnologies.com.

 

Gabe Kleinman
Head of Portfolio Services, Obvious Ventures

Gabe leads portfolio services and marketing at Obvious, helping companies build resilient, values-driven operations and stewarding the Obvious brand. He was previously at Medium where he led People Operations, Product Marketing, Partnerships, and Social Impact (not all at once). Prior to Medium Gabe co-led the Design for Learning practice at IDEO, helping organizations in the private, public, and social sectors tackle large-scale challenges in education. Gabe began his career at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) working across CAA Marketing, the CAA Foundation, and strategic agency initiatives for over a decade. Learn more about Obvious Ventures at https://obvious.com.


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