People breaking rocks and limits
2023 is the year Eion evolves from an idea to a commercial business capable of solving the climate crisis. 2022 I had an unfair work/life balance, which my wife and I decided was a “worth it” family sacrifice because the success of proving Eion as an idea could alter the course of the next decade of our lives. 2023 will be another year of unfair work/life balance – but this time the stakes will be to alter the course of the rest of our lives.
When I say our lives I mean yours and mine both. Our collective lives.
2023 is when carbon dioxide removal (CDR) gets real, in terms of earning a real market segment through audits and registries and all those signs of maturation. 2023 is when enhanced rock weathering (ERW) itself gets real, in terms of publishing the science of how it works, how it gets verified, how safe it is, what’s in it for the farmer, and how to scale it up operationally and financially. I firmly believe that we’re going to be using ERW for a century to clean up our atmosphere, and it will be as ubiquitous (in Holly Jean Buck’s memorable phrase) as garbage collection. But, as of this moment it is ours to screw up. 2023 is make or break.
Culture and People are the most important piece of defining whether or not we’ll have a successful 2023 and a successful business for the future. We will double the size of our team this year. To now, we’ve grown a team of about 10 people who are all very aligned in why we’re working on this specific problem with this specific solution – and why we were all drawn together. Tom Ferguson talks about “outrageous founder-market fit”. John Strackhouse once gave me this concept of the Unicorn Hire . . . a hire where there is an exact right person for the role. I am not in love with the terms but I do love the experience of seeing someone so at home in their role that the world seems to rotate around them. They make time bend. They soften hearts. They endear loyalty. So how do we be thoughtful about who is going to be at home at Eion and the many partners we work with?
Recently we circled up and gathered our collective thoughts about what defines us, our values, what characteristics to look for, who will be at home here. I firmly believe that an exec can be level 10 on technical skills but level 2 in their expression of our values. By the same token, a junior hire may have level 2 on technical skills, but knock it out of the park on culture fit. In other words, values aren’t a plaque on the wall, they define our potential for future growth as much as our technical achievements.
So what are our values?
Our goal is to deliver 20x more CDR in 2023 than we did in 2022 (12.5K tons vs 500 tons). Our goal in 2024 is to deliver 20x more CDR in 2024 than we did in 2023 (250K tons vs 12.5k tons). More is different in each case — the business is reinventing itself every year in terms of our competencies and needs. A science innovation business becomes an operations innovation business becomes a commercial innovation business and ultimately a financial innovation business.
What I look for is people who are actively removing limiting conceptions in their personal and professional lives.
A formative read on the eve of starting my last company was Barbara Stanny’s “Overcoming Underearning”. In it she has a thought exercise: imagine your life if you made $5 a year. (Living under a bridge?) $50 a year. $500 a year. $5000 a year. At the time, I was losing money every month as a postdoc with a baby, making $50K a year, so I could readily envision that income. $100K a year (am I a software engineer?). $200K a year (am I an exec?). $500K a year (am I the CEO of a successful company?) And up. What the exercise reveals is that many of us can conceive of a life a little better than what we are living, but have an unconscious line that bars us from conceiving of a life radically better than what we’re living. And on the other side of that life is not simply a higher income but a future that is larger than we can imagine. In the words of Mama Gena: May your dreams come true, or something even better.
Another touchstone for me is Ari Weinzweig’s “Lapsed Anarchists’s Approach to Building Great Business” for making the case that business is a means to individual liberation, not by buying crap, but by living out your values in the work you do. Last year the book I recommended to everyone was “The Dawn of Everything”, because it made the ultimate case for unlearning what limitations you imagine for what a civilization can even be. For every society that was rapacious and violent, there was a parallel society in the valley next door that was ascetic and lived within its means. Just because things are this way, doesn’t mean they have to be this way.
Excellence is an expression of culture. One of my investors described his household growing up in Memphis: “Excellence was the standard”. And when we look at organizations that do outstanding work, from Beyoncé to Chez Panisse to the Princeton Ecology Department, what they have in common is a cultural norm: that if you do some work, I have complete faith that you will bring the same level of excellence that I would bring to this work.
I don’t want to mistake excellence for perfectionism. Where a shared goal of excellence lifts us up, perfectionism is a tool of dominance, to peck on someone if they make a mistake. I think mistakes actually become an expression of excellence, by reifying our shared conception for what better would be. My wife cooked for years with Judy Rodgers at Zuni Cafe, and every single night they tasted every single dish. How do you roast a great chicken? You taste that chicken 10,000 times with your other chefs and ask each other how it can be even better. Counterintuitively, imperfection in the pursuit of excellence builds trust, because it affirms a shared desire to make things better. It’s hard to know which direction is better if you don’t start from somewhere.
Scratch the surface of the carbon world and you quickly find cynicism and accusations of fraud.
Like is this just some woke bullshit?
Objectively not! There is is too much CO₂ in the atmosphere, we keep putting more of it up there, and it is having big fucking consequences on people and the places we live and love. I have been in awe of a giant sequoia, it has been on this planet since the dinosaurs, and it is threatened with extinction.
But what we do about it can be a little scammy — my favorite is an Australian company that offset its emissions using an Indian menthol tobacco factory that runs on coal supplemented by wood chips. The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary sold carbon under the sketchy premise that it might otherwise be clearcut. I bring these examples not to indulge in callout culture, but just to say that people are on alert, and our integrity must be our defining feature.
That said, nobody likes a scold. To be in agriculture is to be 1 person in 100 who does it, and to have 99 people with opinions (but no experience0 on how you ought to do it. I completely get that we don’t want to massively disrupt the Earth system, but try reading Peter Vitousek’s classic from 25 years ago “Human Domination of Earth’s Ecosystems”— we’re there already! Let’s be humble enough to be cautious but not so timid that we don’t take steps to address the challenge at the scale that is needed. Remember that sequoia.
I am here because so many paths in my life converged on Eion, the science we do, the industry we’re in, the people I have recruited in to work with me. In turn, every person on this team joined because in some fashion it makes sense: it solves a problem they have been wrestling with too, be it in agriculture, or carbon, or science, or supply chain. Some of what we’re solving is around a technical innovation, some of it is social or cultural. There is some aspect of Eion that solves this problem in a way they had been searching for. To be clear, Eion didn’t form with the goal of solving all those problems, but as we have matured, and people have joined, the story of what we can do grows by what they are bringing to augment the vision.
This context is not only an important part of providing the energy for all of us in our roles, but also ensures that each of us has skin in the game. As much as anything, context is what provides the glue that holds this wildly diverse group of individuals together, because we have attached some aspect of our life ambition to this company’s ambition.
I think context is most concrete with our position in rural communities. It’s almost a cliché that a startup is supposed to pivot, to test hypotheses, and be willing to move in radically different directions as the results come back. But we’re working with people who embody nearly the opposite of that – farmers: No matter what happens, I am staying put. Part of Eion that excites me is that we have assembled a set of partners upstream and downstream that enable us to make long term commitments to the growers and rural communities we work with. I am excited for Eion to grow roots in the communities we serve.
This didn’t come up in the group discussion, but it’s what I observe brings us together and shapes so much of the discussion. This is a group of different individuals that are seeking out new tools, new ways of doing things, and working hard to activate those tools. Maybe it’s reading Brené Brown or Sun Tsu or Ed Catmull. Maybe it is endurance or strength or nutrition. Maybe it is PhreeqC or streamlit or late. Maybe it is speaking in front of crowds, or serving on a board, or mentoring young people. Maybe it is investing in our relationships and communities. When I look out, every person here is stretching in some direction, gaining fluency in some new tool, and bringing it back to the group and adding to our arsenal.
Leah brought me a quote from Lou Gerstner to close us out:
“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”
What I am saying in the end is this company is all about people, and we want more people to join us and add what they got to what we got and together we can make this 2023 dream come true.
We have a couple jobs in particular that you should know about. We are looking for the exact right people for each of these roles. If you read this far, my guess is that culture and values motivate you too. If one of these speaks to you – or they remind you of someone you know – let us know!
- Carbon Demand (Open Rank) – to join Commercial team
- Content Marketing – to join Commercial team
- Finance (Open Rank) – to initiate Finance team
- Carbon Ops – to bridge Operations, Commercial, and Technical team