In climate tech's dynamic and critical world, scaling a business demands a blend of strategic insight, innovative thinking, and a deep understanding of the sector's unique challenges and opportunities. In this article, I offer some key learnings from my journey. Since founding the company in 2013, our AI-powered analytics software solution has come a long way. The journey to get here has afforded me lessons, insights, and valuable experiences that have shaped our company's trajectory and my approach to entrepreneurship in this rapidly evolving field.
Navigating the complex landscape of climate technology requires more than just a great product; it involves cultivating robust partnerships, staying ahead of the market's evolving needs, and continually innovating to meet those needs. The path to scaling in this sector is not a straight line – it's a journey marked by constant learning, adaptation, and resilience. Here are some learnings that I’ve picked up along the way.
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast
- Stick to the knitting
- Build a dream team
- Foundations before roof tiles
- Oily rags
- Become a national champion before a world champion
- Build raving fans
- Money has energy
- GTM awesomeness
- Leverage the ‘impact’ angle
1. Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Culture is a pivotal and foundational element of success in the climate tech space. Establishing the right culture early will ensure the right people are hired, the right mindset is fostered, and the right behaviours are prioritised. At CIM, the culture set in the early days still reverberates around today's company. The team continues to embody a growth mindset, values respectful dialogue, encourages constant learning, celebrates success, and embraces experimentation. A strong culture not only nurtures innovation but also attracts talent, investment, and client buy-in; but keep in mind that it’s constantly evolving. At CIM, for example, we recently re-launched our values to ensure we retain the core of our strong culture as we scale.
2. Stick to the knitting
In the fast-evolving field of climate tech, the temptation to branch out into multiple areas can be strong, but staying true to your core problems is crucial. This means identifying a significant, specific problem that aligns with your expertise and channelling all your resources into solving it. For CIM, it was about extracting and normalising equipment data from commercial buildings in real-time, a niche yet critical area ripe for innovation and impact. The prevailing thinking at the time was this wasn't possible and required the installation of costly additional meters and equipment, meaning we had to build our solution from the ground up and remain laser-focused. Such a focused approach also enables more efficient allocation of resources, be it time, money, or manpower. It allows a company to build deep expertise and credibility in a specific area, attracting clients, partners, and talent aligned with your mission.
3. Build a dream team
To maintain the right culture, securing the right team is fundamental. It's about attracting individuals who are not just skilled but also deeply committed to the mission. CIM’s success story in this regard is notable – the company has attracted top talent from prestigious firms like Atlassian, Xero, SafetyCulture, and Salesforce – people who had already enjoyed huge success in their own right but felt captivated by the promise of contributing to valuable climate mission. When building the team, I aimed for the stars to secure the best people by relentlessly selling them the CIM dream of bringing joy to the 2 million people who manage commercial buildings globally. This strategy of assembling a highly experienced and passionate professional team has driven CIM’s innovation and growth.
4. Foundations before roof tiles
Establishing a solid base before pursuing expansive growth or adding complex features is essential. This means ensuring the core aspects of your business – such as a robust product, a clear market strategy, and a reliable team – are firmly in place and functioning effectively. In CIM’s early days, we remained focused on getting data out of buildings and securing some key client partnerships (the software is now used in 33 of the 50 largest retail centres in Australia and counting). Solid foundations are crucial in climate tech, where the market is dynamic and demanding. It enables a company to withstand the pressures of rapid growth and market shifts. This approach advocates for building step-by-step, ensuring each business layer is resilient and sustainable before adding another.
5. Oily rags
In the formative years of a climate tech company, limited funds are often the norm, necessitating a bootstrapping approach. When I founded CIM with just $1,300 in capital, every resource was to be maximised. This scenario demanded frugality and fostered a culture of resilience, creativity, and relentless innovation. Embracing this 'founder mentality' is more than survival; it's a powerful catalyst for organic growth and long-term success in the competitive climate tech landscape. This approach enables companies to stay lean, agile, and focused, turning constraints into a breeding ground for breakthroughs and innovation. CIM’s story shows how resourcefulness and resilience can shape a company's journey from humble beginnings to industry prominence.
6. Become a national champion before a world champion
A key growth strategy in climate tech is to dominate the home market before expanding globally. This approach, adeptly executed by CIM, involves becoming a leader in the local market as a foundation for international expansion. For us, the initial focus has been on delivering impactful solutions to top Australian property companies. Australia has the most sustainable built environment in the world, so it felt right to build the product in an advanced market, finesse it, and we are now taking it to the world. We are now building a strong presence in EMEA with blue-chip clients like Dell, Analog Devices and Flutter Entertainment. Our strategy underscores the importance of mastering local market dynamics and building a robust reputation at home. It serves as a stepping stone for understanding and adapting to the complexities of diverse global markets, highlighting the value of a phased approach to scaling in climate tech.
7. Build raving fans
Cultivating a base of passionate and loyal customers is essential. CIM's strategy exemplifies this principle, focusing on delivering an exceptional user experience. Achieving high user satisfaction ratings and a strong Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been a cornerstone of our success. By prioritising user experience and actively incorporating customer feedback, CIM has built a customer base and a community of delighted users. Facilities Managers have one of the most challenging and fast-paced jobs in the world, so we focused on building a solution they would love to use and would make their jobs easier. The best software solutions democratise entire functions; think Canva for design; and this precisely what we are trying to do in the property operations space. Traditionally, building performance could only be improved by experts, like technicians or engineers. Now, we have empowered non-technical operational teams to find and fix technical problems quickly.
8. Money has energy
A suitable investment can be a game-changer, offering much more than just financial backing. CIM's experience is a prime example of this. Successful fundraising with investors led by Five V Capital alongside Carthona Capital and also included seasoned property executives such as Mark Steinert, former CEO of Stockland, who aligned with our vision for sustainability, has played a pivotal role in our growth. These investors have brought to the table not just capital but also strategic insights, market knowledge, and invaluable connections. Such partnerships are crucial in navigating the complex climate tech landscape, providing resources beyond mere funding. They offer mentorship, industry expertise, and networking opportunities, which are indispensable for a growing company.
9. GTM awesomeness
The world is full of great software that nobody uses. So, crafting an effective and predictable GTM motion is vital for launching a climate tech product and ensuring it is actively used and valued. The journey might start with founder-led sales, harnessing the founders' passion to spark initial interest and adoption. As the product gains traction, a dedicated customer success team becomes critical in retaining and delighting clients, ensuring they receive maximum value from the product. The strategy then evolves into strategic scaling, with marketing creating awareness and compelling value propositions and sales teams focusing on expansion and reaching new customer segments. This holistic approach, combining efforts across sales, marketing, and customer success, ensures the product resonates with its audience, meets specific needs, and maintains a strong market presence.
10. Leverage the ‘impact’ angle
People wants to spend their career adding value to society. In climate tech, the promise of creating meaningful environmental impact is a potent lure for top talent. In fact, the dual allure of contributing to climate solutions and being at the forefront of technological innovation sets us apart in the talent market. In CIM’s case, a dedication to environmental sustainability has fueled business success and positioned us as an attractive workplace for skilled professionals eager to make a real difference. This unique blend of climate and tech appeal gives like-minded companies a distinct advantage in the war for talent. Embracing this dual appeal allows these companies to attract the absolute best in the field—individuals who are not just seeking a job but a purpose-driven career that is progressive and meaningful.