The Sleeper Must Awaken

“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

-Duke Leto Atreides, Dune
Star Wars: Binary Sunset

I know I’m mixing references here but the key message is that, with incredibly mixed emotions, I must share that I am leaving Third Derivative to pursue my next climatetech [ad]venture.

You may recall my Third Derivative origin story and first progress report. I was brought in to found, launch, and lead a game-changing climatetech startup – the most ambitious (in terms of both speed and scale) accelerator ever attempted. Our founding hypothesis was that our deeply integrated ecosystem approach would bridge key valleys of death in the process of commercializing, deploying, and scaling hard climatetech, attracting the USD $Trillions that need to be invested in the sector.

And . . . we’ve done it. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built during two [very challenging!] years:

  • a diverse, world class team that performs at the highest level despite the challenges of being forged in the crucible of multiple global crises
  • an unprecedented ecosystem of corporate partners (worth USD $4T+ in market cap), investors (with $7B+ in assets under management), and startups (the largest cohort of climatetech startups in history)
  • $300M+ invested into our 60+ game-changing climatetech startups in the year since we launched our first cohort
  • a financially thriving venture with $Millions ARR (annually recurring revenue) and multiple years of runway
  • the people, systems, processes, and tools in place for scaleup

Although winning at all is crucial in addressing the climate crisis, I also believe that how we win really matters. Through this lens, I am most proud of several key aspects of “the Third Derivative way:”

  • Urgency and Purpose – we launched in the midst of a global pandemic but we didn’t let that deter us. We lived a mantra of “the climate isn’t waiting so neither can we.”
  • Positivity and Hope – we worked to be a shining beacon of optimistic light in a field that can be consumed by darkness and pessimism with each new climate report.
  • Humility and Learning – in a field (venture capital) known for everyone purporting to be the smartest people in the room, we tried to be upfront about all the things we don’t know and we open-sourced / shared our learnings along the way.
  • Gratitude – we began each week sharing all the things for which we were grateful; these meetings mostly turned into lovefests for our teammates and was an incredibly energizing way to kick off each purpose-driven week of ambitious mission fulfillment.
  • JEDI as a feature, not a tradeoff – we put JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) front and center, driving not just our hiring but also our strategy. Much more than just “checking boxes,” this approach was key to our success. This is a presentation I gave last year about our JEDI failures, learnings, and aspirations:

Some good summaries of our model and accomplishments: this recent episode of the Freeing Energy Podcast and this wrap-up / goodbye video log.

All of these not-so-humble-brags belong not to me but to the entire Third Derivative team and it has been one of the great privileges of my career to have been entrusted with its leadership. Of all the mixed emotions I referenced above, the most significant is gratitude to have worked with such wonderful people. The outpouring of love and support I received from my colleagues after announcing this transition has been moving beyond words. I treasure our time together and earnestly hope we will work together again:

Third Derivative’s Leadership Team
Third Derivative’s Diverse, Talented, Motivated, Global Climate Warriors

My gratitude, though, extends far beyond the boundaries of the Third Derivative team. Our “parents,” RMI and New Energy Nexus, were critical to our success through their expertise, networks, and support. As an entrepreneur I always look for an “unfair advantage” in launching a new venture and these awesome NGOs have definitely been that unfair advantage for Third Derivative.

Don’t misunderstand me that Third Derivative has achieved all of our aspirations. There is still a lot to learn and do . . . but it isn’t really a startup anymore. A startup is a temporary organization searching for a scalable, repeatable business model (and impact model, in this case). To paraphrase Yoda, “Searching? Found something, you have!”

Third Derivative has everything it needs to take the next step and my skills as an entrepreneurial builder are less additive at this point. My leadership style is to build an incredible leadership team, trust and empower them, and keep myself out of the critical path. Accordingly, my transition out of the CEO role is going very smoothly.

We have already begun the search for my successor so please send us great candidates! This should be the easiest job in the world, stepping in to lead such a capable, bonded, high-performing team!

Now that Third Derivative is in such a great place, I feel the call to start building the next game-changing climatetech venture. I’m not sure what that will be specifically yet but I have been inundated with opportunities (See previous post about this amazing time for climatetech.) and I haven’t been able to free up any capacity to evaluate them while heads-down building and growing Third Derivative.

As I step back from Third Derivative, I am intending to take some time off to reflect (Stay tuned for blog posts about lessons learned while building Third Derivative.), recharge (Building Third Derivative has been a sprint!), and reconnect with family, friends, and colleagues before bringing my focus to my next venture. This will hopefully be a good time for me to catch up on reading, fitness, and reclaiming some of my e-sports world records too. We’ll see, though; I have a notoriously poor track record when it comes to taking time off! Please help keep me accountable if you notice me diving headlong into a new venture too quickly!

As for Third Derivative, although I will no longer be the CEO, I will always be a founder. I believe deeply in Third Derivative’s mission and especially its team. I will always be cheering for it and even working actively to continue increasing its success, but now in the background – like a Force ghost!

It has been an incredible journey, Third Derivative, and climatetech is a small world so . . . I’ll see you out there!

The Third Derivative Team’s Only Ever In Person Get-Together In 2021

Building a Feedback Culture at a Startup

Creating a thriving feedback culture is beneficial – nay, crucial – within a startup. In a recent meeting of climatetech CEOs, I was asked to share my journey in establishing a feedback-centric environment during a particularly challenging time while leading a previous venture. Following is a summary of this discussion about the actions I took, the results, and key learnings along the way (sometimes only in hindsight).

The Fish on the Table: Unveiling the Unspoken

This previous venture’s team was full of high performers who craved feedback. However, the sudden shift to remote work during the pandemic made organic feedback more challenging. An expression we often used at IMD was that withheld feedback is like a fish under the table: if you just leave it there, it begins to stink! You have to put the fish on the table by offering direct, helpful, and ideally real-time feedback to your teammates.

Unfortunately, as teammates strived to be proactive about offering feedback in our new environment, several missteps were made. I found myself losing a lot of time to facilitating discussions between team members who had offered well-intentioned feedback to each other, but who had been hurt or offended by suboptimal communication.

It became evident that developing a feedback culture would not “just happen.” We would need to define the feedback culture of our aspirations and work proactively to develop it.

Psychological Safety: The Foundation of Feedback

Psychological safety is necessary for any ambitious, risk-taking startup to flourish. Moreover, a psychologically safe culture is a necessary antecedent to team members feeling comfortable offering – and receiving – constructive feedback.

The good news is that psychological safety can be measured. Using pioneering research from Amy Edmondson, we began anonymously surveying our team on a monthly basis to assess whether we even had the right environment to begin working on feedback. This also gave us the ability to track trends over time, reinforce areas where we were doing well, and identify / address areas that could use improvement.

Next, I had to lead by example. A startup’s culture is driven by its leaders, so I began proactively, intentionally leading with vulnerability. There is a lot of pressure on a startup CEO to be chest-thumpingly crushing it all the time, but instead I shared with the team my professional anxieties and even challenges in my personal life. Here I was trying to normalize not having all the answers all the time, and give others permission to communicate that as well.

More than just leading by example, I tried to create opportunities for others to follow that example. We began overtly celebrating failures (and the learnings that came from them) with an event called Failure Friday. I would go first, and then the dam would open up, as we all shared the many ways we had failed (and learned, and rebounded) that week.

Learning: As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed, and measuring psychological safety is in and of itself a signal to the team.

Learning: There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We started by building our own psychological safety survey in Qualtrics. Later we discovered that some software – like Culture Amp – already has psycholigical safety built into their engagement assessments.

Delivering Feedback: A Delicate Art

In a global, multicultural, and multilingual team, with communications challenged by the pandemic, we sought to be very careful about how we delivered feedback, and settled on several rules:

  1. Ask before delivering feedback. It may not be a good time for the other person, which could render the entire exercise counterproductive.
  2. Be direct. No sugar-coating, like the terrible compliment sandwich.
  3. Follow a well established formula: “When you [BEHAVIOR], it makes me feel [FEELING] because [TANGIBLE IMPACT].” This formula focuses on the behavior, not the individual, and provides examples of clear impacts on the person’s feelings (which are always valid) and their work. There are many such “feedback formulae” and I’m not sure this is any better or worse than the others, but we were more interested in beginning to experiment than we were in agonizing over some [likely mythical] optimal formula.
  4. Always offer feedback sensitively, and in the spirit of aiding others – never while mad, never in retribution.

Learning: engage the team in building consensus / co-developing these guidelines rather than developing them in a vacuum and imposing them on others.

Receiving Feedback: Embracing Growth and Development

Feedback is a two-way street and how is is received is just as critical to its effectiveness as how it is delivered. Here again we settled on rules to address the remote, global, multicultural, multilingual communication challenges:

  1. When someone asks to give you feedback, check in on your emotional state. If now is not a good time, you can decline – but it is up to you to schedule another time for it.
  2. You may ask clarifying questions when receiving feedback, but not challenge or justify your actions. If you feel a response is necessary, you must schedule it for after you have had time to sit with the feedback.
  3. After receiving feedback, make time to sit with it and process it.
  4. “Thank you for the vitamin.” There is a saying that feedback is a “gift,” but I find it to be much more of a “vitamin” – it can be hard to swallow, but it is good for me! To recognize the positive intent of someone offering feedback, we ritualized the recipient’s response as, “Thank you for the vitamin.”

Learning: high performers often focus on critical feedback, but it is important to receive positive feedback with the same intentionality.

Building the Feedback Muscle

Establishing a feedback culture in this challenging environment would require deliberate exercise of the techniques above. We chose to crawl-before-we-walked by starting off with anonymized 360 degree feedback for everyone, including me. This was not a performance review; it was expressly to help us all improve as teammates. We gave the 360s high priority, carving out time for each teammate to take the survey, process their results, debrief together as a group, and debrief individually with their manager. Here again we began with a bespoke survey in Qualtrics and eventually migrated to using Culture Amp.

As the team demonstrated growing competence in providing anonymized, written feedback, we augmented this “feedback stack” by organizing periodic group feedback sessions. Each teammate would come to the session having prepared feedback for three “helpful” behaviors and three “not-so-helpful” behaviors for each teammate. They would then verbally deliver this feedback – and receive their own – in the group setting.

These group feedback sessions were emotional powder kegs, so it was crucial that we adhered consistently to the rules we had set out. If someone showed up having prepared less than the required number of feedbacks for a teammate, for example, they were not allowed to participate. We did not want any teammates to feel unfairly singled out. As with the 360s, we carved out time for each teammate to prep for the session, process their feedback, debrief together as a group, and debrief individually with their manager.

Learning: offer teammates coaching before the feedback sessions. No matter how formulaic you make it, inexperienced teammates can be more constructive in the sessions with a little help.

Learning: bring in a competent outside facilitator. It was inappropriate for me to facilitate and simultaneously participate in group feedback sessions. I also blundered when I deputized other leaders in our org to facilitate sessions, and they turned out not to be adequately prepared.

Reinforcing the Feedback Loop

The team rapidly leveled up in these structured processes, but our goal was to develop a culture of feedback in real-time, when it would be most effective. We began celebrating feedback whenever it was offered/received. We would literally stop a meeting, call attention to it (and sometimes offer feedback on the way it was given or received for a sort of “feedbackception!”), and then return to the regular discussion.

Of course, I tried to lead by example too – both by giving and receiving feedback publicly. I confess to “planting” a few feedbacks in which I had teammates offer me feedback in group settings so I could model receiving it in the moment.

Learning: leverage 1:1 feedback into learning for the group. If you are giving or receiving feedback – or even coaching someone else on giving or receiving feedback – ask if they would be comfortable taking the discussion public for collective growth.

Results: A Triumph of the Feedback Culture

The culmination of these efforts resulted in a thriving, high-performing team. Our team’s gelled performance became a key recruiting advantage for us and, to this day, many of those teammates still tell me it was the best team they have ever worked on. Our engagement metrics were through the roof, and we had zero employee attrition (during a time when everyone was worried about the war for talent). It was magical!

How do we know this was a result of culture, though? There was a pretty good natural experiment when we were acquired and the parent company changed the culture. Instead of psychological safety, there was fear. Instead of feedback, there was politics. The magic was gone. I was the first to go, and then more than 90% of our recently thriving, high-performing team left within one year.

My conclusion is that feedback culture really matters, and it can be intentionally developed. In a very short time span, we went from craving feedback to actively nurturing it, even amid the complexities of a pandemic. By prioritizing psychological safety, refining the art of giving and receiving feedback, and instituting structured feedback exercises, we generated incredible results.

We weren’t perfect, though, and we stumbled many times along the way. Many of the learnings I shared were painfully won! So, I’m curious what about this journey resonates with you? What other related ideas, techniques, or experiences do you have? Please share them in the comments so we can all learn and grow together!

I Like Al Gore – And He’s Wrong

Introduction: Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s recent talk, titled “What the Fossil Fuel Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know,” has ignited a dialogue on the critical issues surrounding climate change. While it’s evident that Gore raises valid concerns, it’s essential to analyze his arguments in light of the broader context, current scientific understanding, and technological progress. This response aims to engage with key points from the talk and offer a balanced perspective on the challenges and potential solutions.

  1. Acknowledging Valid Concerns: Indeed, Gore’s talk addresses crucial issues related to the climate crisis and the role of fossil fuel industries. His focus on the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels is well-founded, considering the alarming rates of greenhouse gas emissions. He also rightfully points out that fossil fuel companies have a long and storied track record of operating in bad faith when it comes to climate change.
  2. Carbon Capture and Fossil Fuels: Gore’s premise that carbon capture technologies could be used as an excuse to continue burning fossil fuels is a valid concern. However, it’s important to note that carbon capture isn’t solely intended to justify fossil fuel use. It also offers a bridge towards a carbon-neutral – or even carbon-negative future, especially in sectors where complete elimination of emissions is challenging.
  3. Net Zero and Warming: While Gore’s assertion that achieving net zero emissions could stop warming within five years is ambitious, it’s important to recognize that even reaching net zero today might not immediately halt the warming trend. Climate systems exhibit complex dynamics, and the effects of past emissions – including worrisome tipping points – could continue to influence temperature trends for years to come.
  4. Non-linear Cost and Scale Curves: The discussion on non-linear cost and scale curves is a crucial one. Just as wind and solar technologies underwent significant advancements in the past two decades, the same could hold true for emerging solutions. Dismissing innovative ideas due to their current limitations might hinder the potential for breakthroughs that could play a vital role in combating climate change.
  5. Emissions Reduction Targets: Gore’s emphasis on achieving a 50% reduction in emissions within seven years is important, but it’s evident that more substantial reductions are required to avert catastrophic consequences. Longer-term solutions, even if they take longer to mature, should be explored and invested in to ensure a sustainable future.
  6. Balancing Self-Righteousness: While Gore’s passion for addressing the climate crisis is evident, the tone of his presentation could be perceived as self-righteous. He often evokes the position of a parent chastising a child for misbehavior, and I believe that was a major contributor to him losing the 2000 Presidential election. Effective climate communication requires fostering collaboration, acknowledging diverse perspectives, and encouraging collective action.

Conclusion: Al Gore’s talk highlights crucial facets of the climate crisis and the necessary steps to mitigate its impacts. While his arguments are thought-provoking, it’s crucial to consider the nuances surrounding each point and the rapidly evolving landscape of climate science and technology. Engaging in open discussions that embrace diverse viewpoints will ultimately pave the way for more effective climate solutions.

Running and Reunion: My Return To Lausanne

After weeks of blog silence, I’m back with another adventure! This time, it’s not so much about me getting back on the horse as it is about my first gallop across international borders since the pandemic put a temporary halt to my globetrotting escapades. This expedition was more than a trip – it was a reunion of the IMD MBA Class of 2008 in the ever-lovely city of Lausanne, Switzerland.


My flights took me to Geneva by way of Frankfurt. At passport control in Frankfurt, the customs officer complimented my German. Considering that I don’t even speak German, I thought this was an auspicious start to my first European visit in four years!

As my plane touched down in Geneva, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of emotions. The world had changed, and so had I. It had been quite some time since the pandemic had forced us all into our shells, but here I was, back on the move, vaccinated, tested, masked, and thrilled to be back in my old stomping ground.

Switzerland, it turned out, hadn’t changed so much. I was greeted by familiar watch advertisements at the airport, and Tekoe, my favorite tea shop, was right there on my way to the train station. There is something to be said for consistency and dependability!

Arriving in Lausanne, I had some meetings with business partners and investors (some of whom are IMD faculty!) before switching gears and settling into reunion mode. For my hotel, I stayed at the Chateau d’Ouchy. Having spent years walking and running by this beautiful hotel and restaurant, it was lovely finally to stay in it. It didn’t disappoint! My room offered glorious lake views and of course I enjoyed the castle architecture.

The Chateau d'Ouchy

That evening I met some of my classmates for dinner at the Creperie d’Ouchy. How lovely to enjoy crepes along the lake with a McKinsey consultant, a supply chain executive at Amazon, and a dignitary at the European Commission – this was pretty much exactly how I would have imagined us 15 years after embarking on the IMD MBA!

Twilight in Ouchy

Day 1

Jet lag catching up to me, I turned in early and then woke up early for a long run along the lake. Stepping foot again on the well-trodden running path by Lac Léman was nothing short of cathartic. Slipping on my Vibrams, I embarked on a pilgrimage along the lakeshore to Lutry and back, the breathtaking views of the crystal-clear water contrasted with the austere Alps in the distance serving as a spectacular canvas.

Each stride was a journey back in time, an echo of the many mornings and evenings I had spent pounding the pavement, lost in my thoughts, contemplating everything from leadership feedback to case analysis. It was here, on these solitary runs, where I found solace amidst the intensity of MBA life, where I discovered the perfect harmony of mind, body, and spirit.

It was this same path along the lake that cultivated my love for running, a hobby that has since grown into a keystone of my health and well-being. The beautiful lake was my first running companion, one that silently bore witness to my transformation from an exercise-driven runner to a runner who runs for joy and mediation.

IMD - it's great to be back!

After my run – and a shower – I made my way to the IMD campus for our reunion program. First we joined the other reunion classes in the main auditorium for an update from IMD leadership. After a lunch (The IMD restaurant did not disappoint!), our afternoon was for a session between just our class and Professor Jennifer Jordan. Jennifer led a great – and topical – case discussion about working with challenging colleagues. Our class really came alive, and it really felt like being back in school again!

After class, there was to be a dinner, but first we had some time off, so naturally we found . . . the ping pong table! Back during our MBA days, the ping pong table was more than a game setup; it was a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and some friendly competition. With every volley and every spin, we were not just players; we were classmates navigating the fast-paced rhythm of MBA life, just as we navigated the ping pong ball’s unpredictable trajectory.

The ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ of our student days reemerged in full swing during the reunion. Paddle in hand, surrounded by my multinational classmates, I found myself back in the familiar rhythm. The echoes of laughter, cheers, and light-hearted banter around the table were reminiscent of our past victories and losses, both at the table and in our academic journey.

Just like in our student days, the ping pong games were a metaphor for our professional lives. Fluid teamwork, strategic maneuvers, and adaptability to sudden changes – the hallmarks of successful leadership – were all mirrored in our game.

Running along Lac Léman was a daily meditation, but the ping pong table? That was our battlefield and our meeting ground, the place where we celebrated diversity, built lifelong friendships, and most importantly, learned to take life’s unpredictable spins in our stride. Although the ping pong arena began to smell a bit ripe with our sweat, it was glorious to be back!

Multinational Ping Pong Diplomacy

Day 2

The following morning, several of us met early to go for a run along the lake in the opposite direction – to Vidy and back. This was our typical path when sneaking in exercise between late night group work sessions in “The Dungeons” of IMD. As we ran together this time, discussing everything from geopolitics to business opportunities, the synergy was electrifying. Our shared pace, reminiscent of the shared ambitions and relentless drive from our MBA days, added an extra layer of camaraderie and nostalgia.

IMD MBA 2008 Morning Run

In the afternoon, we took the train up into the mountains and had a fondue lunch hosted by our local classmates and their families. Their kids actually did the organization and service. It was pouring rain outside, but we were holed up in a cozy lodge / hiking refuge, which was a lot of fun!

After a very necessary post-fondue nap, we gathered at MGM – a familiar haunt from our MBA years – for a closing dinner. We shut the place down and it was such fun just to catch up with everyone; we likely could have kept going for more hours.

Between the lake runs and walking everywhere, Switzerland is always good for my step count!


Early the next morning, I was off to the airport and headed back across the Atlantic. The passport control officer in Geneva complimented my French, which was a nice bookend to my arrival. The flight back included some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, but we made it safely in the end.

Returning to Lausanne – and reuniting with dear classmates – after so long was a true joy. Lausanne, IMD, and my MBA classmates all continue to be secure bases for me, so it was envigorating to immerse myself in them all for a few days. The one missing piece was my family, whom I missed while I was gone. Hopefully I can bring them along next time, which will make the experience that much more more complete.

Sunrise as I depart for the airport

DEXMAT’s First Crisis: Bank Failure

Well, that escalated quickly! No sooner had I announced DEXMAT’s successful fundraise than Silicon Valley Bank, where we had parked all of our investment, failed and we no longer had access to our funds. It began to look like we had set a new record for fastest startup failure of all time!

Below I will chronicle the tumultuous week, with special attention to communications I shared with our team and investors in the interest of open-sourcing my approach to crisis response. If others can learn from what I did, great. If others have feedback to help me learn and do better next time, even better.

Wednesday, March 8

This was DEXMAT’s “launch” date. We went live with our public funding announcement, held interviews, and broadly shared our vision with the world. This was a success and I felt pleasantly at ease as I boarded my plane for Houston.

Thursday, March 9

I spend Thursday at CERAWeek, both attending presentations from other friends / colleagues and also presenting DEXMAT’s vision to attendees. My talk was well received and I was inundated afterward with interest from investors, customers, and – of course – service providers. My phone was in airplane mode most of the day.

That night I remained off-grid(ish) and had dinner with a dear friend from high school. Afterward, I headed straight for bed, blissfully unaware of the SVB storm clouds that were brewing.

Friday, March 10

I arrived at the DEXMAT production facility early Friday morning, prepared for a day of time with the team and interviews with new potential team members. As I checked my email, there was a curious message from SVB about how strong their balance sheet was. That was strange but, as I was catching up on two full days of missed emails and lots of new inbounds, I didn’t think much of it and moved on.

Then, as I was checking twitter, I saw a press release from the FDIC that they had put SVB into receivership – suddenly SVB had my full attention! I was able to log in and see all of our funds there but confidence was low that I could actually access them.

We had an account with another bank, but only our CTO had those login credentials. Our CTO happened to be taking a well deserved holiday with his partner on the other side of the world as I frantically tried to reach him in the middle of his night to see if he could initiate a wire for our funds. He did initiate such a wire but, again, confidence was low that it would go through.

I spent much of the rest of Friday on hold with the FDIC (They never picked up in the end.), reassuring our Houston team that they would be fine, and trying to joke about the situation (a defense mechanism for sure, but what else could I do?) with my interviewees. Friday night I slept very uneasily.

Saturday, March 11

Saturday I finally had the capacity to go into war room mode and assess our situation and options. DEXMAT was actually in a pretty good position relative to others. Of course it would have hurt us to lose all of our investment capital, but we had plenty of operating capital in another account, modest expenses, and significant revenues. Still, with so much uncertainty around SVB’s future, it was a useful exercise to plan for several scenarios.

In the meantime, candidates for a Government Relations role for which we haven’t even started hiring yet, used this crisis as an audition, connecting me with policy makers at the federal, state, and local levels, to share how catastrophic it would be for climatetech specifically and innovation more broadly if they just let SVB fail without any intervention.

I was actually surprised that I wasn’t already being inundated by anxious investors (This gave me confidence that our investors weren’t the ones causing the unnecessary run on SVB.), but I wanted to get out ahead of any such inquiries and transparently communicate our status (as I had learned in crisis management training). Plus I wanted to ask them for any help they might be able to provide. Below is a lightly censored (just dollar amounts) copy of the email I sent out midday:

Dear DEXMAT Team, Investors, and Advisors,

Executive summary: DEXMAT has significant exposure to Silicon Valley Bank but will very likely be fine in both the short and long terms.

First, the good news: last week’s public funding announcement and launch were a smashing success. We were covered in Axios, the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Business Journal, FinSMEs, InnovationMap, Benzinga, and others. Our presentation at CERAWeek was well received, traffic to our website has spiked, and we have had several inbound contacts from customers and investors alike: 


Thank you to all of you for helping us come out of the gate with such a bang!

Now, the bad news: after years of using Bank of America exclusively, DEXMAT recently opened a Silicon Valley Bank money market account and had parked much of our investment proceeds there. The failure of a 40-year-old, A-rated, large US bank was not on our bingo card of risks to consider in our treasury strategy!

Here is where we stand today:

Bank Of America operating account: $000,000
Silicon Valley Bank money market account: $0,000,000
Investment Funds Receivable: $000,000

Our Silicon Valley Bank exposure causes two concerns:
1. Short-term liquidity
2. Long-term asset recovery

1. Short-term liquidity
* Cash in our operating account is sufficient to fund seven weeks of on-plan expenses. “On-plan” includes forecasted new investments in growth.
* Cash in our operating account plus forecasted 90%+ revenues (POs received, active grants) is sufficient to fund four months of on-plan cashflow.
* Cash in our operating account plus forecasted 90+% revenues plus the remaining $000,000 of investment receivables is sufficient to fund seven months of on-plan cashflow.
* Cash in our operating account plus forecasted 90+% revenues plus the remaining $000,000 of investment receivables is sufficient to fund a “belt-tightened” operational plan (delayed hiring, reduced investments in marketing, more aggressive A/R, less aggressive A/P, deferred compensation starting with me) for more than one year.

2. Long-term asset recovery
* We initiated a wire for our SVB funds Friday, although I don’t expect it to go through.
* Our best understanding is that Monday we will have access to $250K via FDIC insurance.
* And by the end of the week we will have access to 50% of the remainder.
* We expect 100% recovery of the remaining funds but we are less certain about how long it will take.

3. Options and actions
* There may be another avenue to access our Silicon Valley Bank money market assets via a related custodial account at a different bank; we are investigating.
* I am in touch with multiple congresspeople and senators to ensure they understand the gravity of the situation. If this crisis is poorly handled, it would be catastrophic for climatetech, for American innovation, and likely it would cause a significant domino effect that would plunge us into a broader crisis. That’s above my pay grade, but I am at least trying to help policy makers understand the existential threat this represents for many organizations like ours.
* We have access to credit. For example, we could shore up liquidity by factoring our 90+% receivables. It would cost us a little bit in the long run but would add certainty now.
* We can take in more $ on our seed round. The round is technically still open as Aramco Ventures completes its CFIUS review. We generated a lot of interest over the last week, including from investors capable of writing small-for-them checks quite quickly.
* We can diversify our banks further in future. We will retain our Bank of America account. We will likely have a new account from whichever bank takes over Silicon Valley Bank’s assets. We could add another bank to the mix for increased risk management.
* We can engage a fractional CFO. Our small seed raise did not warrant building out a full C-suite so I am acting as not just the CEO, but effectively as the CFO, CRO, CPO, etc. as well. One reason I was late to react to this looming crisis was that I was focused on our launch and CERAWeek, so I was off-grid for two days – two very impactful days, it turned out! Some additional capacity with an eye always on finances might help us manage this risk in future.

4. Asks
* Urgently: if you have access to those who are influential in the US government’s SVB intervention, now is the time. We need a full-court press to ensure that they do the right thing and guarantee returns of deposits. I can be available on short notice if they need to talk to someone on the front lines.
* If you have knowledge or ideas from your other portfolio companies (or from prior experience) on how to increase the probability that we will emerge from this event unscathed, please share.
* If you have knowledge or ideas about how best to manage our risk of such black swan events in future, please share. This is far from my first rodeo, but I am always eager to learn from others.

Again, we believe that DEXMAT is well positioned here but there is still a lot of uncertainty ahead of us. We will know much more Monday but, in the interest of transparency, I wanted to go ahead and share our working view with you all, invite your advice and counsel, and make the specific asks above. 

Yours in solitude,

Bryan Guido Hassin

This email was largely well received. I received many responses ranging from advice to simple messages of support. It felt great to have such a helpful, supportive bunch of teammates and investors. We all agreed to focus on controlling what we could and to keep our fingers crossed for what we couldn’t. Saturday night I slept better, but not well.

Sunday, March 12

Sunday I departed Houston for Austin, where I had some commitments for SXSW. While I was on the bus (First time on Vonlane – highly recommended!), I posted a sardonic tweet about the SVB situation

This tweet received mixed reviews. It resonated with many of my fellow entrepreneurs who were staring extinction in the face without much sense of agency about it. Many people found it humorous and I was invited to be interviewed by multiple media platforms. On the other hand, it rubbed some of our investors the wrong way; they felt that I was making light of a very serious situation.

After I arrived in Austin, I went for an easy jog along the lake to clear my head and, upon my return, the news was breaking that the FDIC would guarantee all SVB deposits. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from all of the startups and investors gathered there for SXSW.

Sunday night began with dinner with fellow entrepeneurs, after which I was pulled into event after event after event throughout Austin. It was wonderful bumping into friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen before the pandemic and I think the atmosphere would have been very different had the FDIC not made their announcement. I finally made it to bed in the wee hours of the morning and slept . . . not uneasily, but not well either. I was exhausted from the roller coaster.

Monday, March 13

Monday was a very busy day. I spent most of it with Shell Ventures and CEOs of several of their other US-based portfolio companies. They put together a very thoughtful program and it was a good environment for us all to collaborate – rather than the entrepreneurs negotiating against the investors! Side benefit: for the first time in person, I was able to meet CEOs of Third Derivative startups in which Shell Ventures had invested!

I ducked out of the Shell program in the late afternoon to speak at an event organized by Climate Draft. It was a lot of fun and full of solution-oriented hope and optimism. Side benefit: I was able to meet even more Third Derivative CEOs! The one drawback was that they only had fizzy drinks, which I can’t handle. I made it through my talk without spitting all over everyone, though, so call it a win.

After rejoining Shell for dinner, I turned in earlyish. I had been trying all day to access the SVB website, but it was failing on me – likely due to thousands of others trying to log in at the same time – but I had faith that this would work out and I slept well.

Tuesday, March 14

I woke up barely in time for a podcast interview and hopefully made sense despite my still-fuzzy brain and octave-lower voice. Our CTO successfully accessed our SVB account and transferred all the money out. We may put some back in eventually, but we wanted to wait and see how things shake out with SVB’s next chapter.

Later, I sent a follow-up email to our broader team:

Dear DEXMAT Team, Investors, and Advisors,

Executive summary: DEXMAT has fully recovered its capital at SVB and is taking low-cost action to further mitigate risk in future.

Well, that was a tumultuous week! I am pleased to report that we have fully recovered 100% of our funds from SVB. Thank you to all of you who provided support and counsel. We have only just started this ambitious journey and it is wonderful to know early on that we can rely on all of you. I know that many of you were working behind the scenes as well – with policy makers and with your other portfolio companies. 

This was a good fire drill that tested DEXMAT’s capability to react quickly to a black swan event and hopefully we have emerged on the other side with more trust throughout our team, our investors, and our advisors. We may even have emerged with greater resolve, akin to the “remote miss” phenomenon observed in Londoners who survived WWII aerial bombardment. At a minimum, I hope you all see clearly that my intention as CEO is to communicate transparently and proactively during such times. 

100% funds recovery was the likeliest outcome, but as we say in all matters (customers, investors, etc.), don’t count it until the money clears the bank – which it has now done. So, back to business as usual? Of course not. As we also say, never waste a good failure! Some of the options I proposed in my original email cost us very little and make good risk management sense regardless. Please see below for the options we will likely pursue over the coming weeks and I welcome your feedback or experience with them:

* Diversify banks: I think it would be extreme to put USD $250k into 12 different banks, but proceeding with three banks, each of which maintains a minimum of one month expenses, will minimize our all-eggs-in-one-basket risk exposure.
* Raise more seed $: We have the potential to raise up to an additional $350k on our seed convertible note from investors who can move quickly. Bolstering our cash reserves will be prudent.
* Factor receivables: We have very strong revenue streams, e.g., from the US government. Products like Enduring Planet will bring those receivables from months out into our accounts today. 
* Fractional CFO: To manage all of the above, as well as the bookkeeping, AP, AR, and financial reporting that we already needed to transition off of our CTO’s shoulders, we will bring on a fractional CFO. Beyond these tasks, this new addition will keep their eye on our finances and financial risks such that we are not caught unawares – as we were last week – while my capacity is focused elsewhere.

Additionally, we have just brought in a new sales resource who is already having success converting conversations into revenue streams and, over the next three weeks, we will be submitting more than $1M of high-probability grant applications.

Thank you again for your support over the last week and for your trust and faith in me as CEO. This won’t be the last roller coaster DEXMAT endures, but I am glad to be riding together with all of you.

Yours in gratitude,

Bryan Guido Hassin

P.S. This actually wasn’t my first experience with a near-catastrophe like this; the next time we are sharing a pint or a nice bottle of wine, please remind me to regale you with my story of a startup early in my career that relied on Enron as our primary source of revenue!

What an ordeal! The ultimate outcome is fine, but I lost a lot of time/focus when I could have been building the business. A few lessons learned from this experience:

  • DEXMAT has great investors. I would go to battle with this group any time!
  • Proactive, transparent stakeholder communication is generally preferred over locking yourself behind closed doors and only coming out once you have an answer.
  • A startup is never too early-stage for financial risk management.
  • Communications, however well intended, can be received in different ways by different people – especially when anxieties are high.
  • Never waste a good crisis as an opportunity for learning; the hero’s journey requires you to traverse the dark forest in order to emerge transformed.

I hope everyone else emerged as unscathed by this debacle. Like NetFlix’s Chaos Monkey, this should make affected companies more resilient in the end. Hopefully we (climatetech startups and investors) have learned some lessons and are now in an even stronger position to scale up transformational solutions globally.

Introducing DEXMAT

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.”

Einstein, A. (1946, June 28). Physics and Reality. Journal of the Franklin Institute, 242(3), 215-240.

With incredible excitement, gratitude, and optimism, I am proud to announce that I have become CEO of DEXMAT, one of the most ambitious climatetech moonshots ever attempted.

What/Why is DEXMAT?

DEXMAT (“Deus Ex Materia”) is a nanotechnology startup that is making steel, aluminum, and copper obsolete with advanced, carbon-negative materials. Based on IP from Nobel-winning physicists and chemists at Rice University, DEXMAT’s patented products are superior to today’s materials and are produced not by combusting carbon, but rather by capturing it. At scale, DEXMAT will have 2-3 gigatons of annual CO2 impact so we have just closed our first equity round of funding to invest in rapid scale-up.

Why focus on materials? Because materials are massive contributors to climate change; steel, aluminum, and copper alone account for nearly 10% of human CO2 emissions! These are especially hard-to-abate emissions too; at Third Derivative we reviewed thousands of startups and didn’t see much quality dealflow in this area. As we #electrifyeverything, these materials are becoming more crucial – and harder to produce. Rather than bending ourselves into pretzels trying to make these industries slightly greener, DEXMAT is reimagining a world unconstrained by these dirty, centuries-old materials.

What/Why is Galvorn?

DDEXMAT produces GalvornTM, a material made of pure carbon and engineered at the nano-scale to be stronger, lighter, more conductive, more flexible, more corrosion-resistant, and less toxic than steel, aluminum, and copper. While the properties of those dirty, incumbent materials haven’t improved in recent memory, Galvorn is following Pasquali’s Law such that its properties are improving 2X every three years. We have only hit a small fraction of the maximum theoretical limits so we expect this performance improvement to continue for some time.

Galvorn’s basic form factors are fiber and tape. The fiber can be braided into yarns, which are ideal for wires and cables; the yarns can be further woven into fabrics that can be soft and supple as a textile or stiff as a mesh. The tapes are ideal for wrapping applications such as shielding. Both the fiber and the tape can be utilized as the matrix for composites – like carbon fiber or Kevlar but better in almost every way.

DexMat's CTO, Dmitri, imagining applications of Galvorn fabric

Crucially, Galvorn has multiple pathways to carbon-negativity at scale:

  • Today, Galvorn is produced from hydrocarbons through pyrolysis – splitting off the hydrogen as a byproduct (which goes on to displace emissive fuels) and keeping the remaining carbon for our materials.
  • Instead of being combusted and emitted as CO2, the carbon is permanently embodied in Galvorn; if our materials reach end of life, they can be reformed into new materials with no loss of properties for a truly circular supply chain.
  • Galvorn displaces many times its mass of CO2-intensive materials like steel, aluminum, and copper.
  • By producing materials that are stronger, lighter, and more durable, DEXMAT is helping to make heavy industry – and especially transportation – more efficient and less polluting.
  • In the medium-term future, we have multiple pathways to produce Galvorn from captured CO2.

An analysis we conducted in partnership with Shell, ARPA-E, and The Grantham Foundation concluded that, at scale, DEXMAT could reach 2-3 gigatons of annual CO2 impact. Again, after having reviewed thousands of climatetech opportunities at Third Derivative, I just never saw anything with that kind of incredible impact potential.

Progress To Date

DEXMAT spun out of Rice several years ago and has been built on more than USD $20M of non-dilutive (grant) funding from, e.g., DOE, ARPA-E, NSF, NASA, AFFOA, and the Air Force. With no spending on sales or marketing and with an incredibly high price point, DEXMAT nonetheless has seen sales of Galvorn growing rapidly year after year. The team has done an incredible job scaling up production and reducing cost to meet this growing demand, so DEXMAT is well on its way to leadership in ultra high performance materials for niche applications.

However, DEXMAT’s customers are already deploying Galvorn in markets worth $2T and responsible for 3 gigatons of annual CO2 emissions. These markets are as wide ranging as defense, aerospace, automotive, power transmission, and wearables, but our customers all say the same three things:

  1. Galvorn is amazing.
  2. DEXMAT needs to be able to produce more of it.
  3. It needs to cost less.

Therefore, we believe that DEXMAT’s greatest potential is not as a niche provider of high-priced materials. We could build a very profitable business that way, but we would never move the needle on CO2 emissions. Rather, we need to scale DEXMAT up and reduce the cost of Galvorn such that we can begin displacing steel, aluminum, and copper at massive scale.

Why Me?

Almost exactly a year ago, I announced that I would leave Third Derivative “to start building the next game-changing climatetech venture.” I spent several months investigating where my time would be best deployed for maximum impact and I was flattered to be recruited for several incredible roles. At the end of the day, though, nothing got me as excited as DEXMAT. DEXMAT is the next game-changing climatetech venture.

DEXMAT has deep roots at Rice (and was even founded by my former entrepreneurship students there, so I know the team is full of amazing people) and in the City of Houston (a place that I love and that will play an outsized role in the energy transition). Beyond DEXMAT’s incredible potential and my personal ties there, I also chose DEXMAT because of my own additionality. Without me, DEXMAT might continue its path to leadership in niche, premium materials. With me in the CEO chair, however, DEXMAT becomes an ambitious, climatetech moonshot.

Game On!

Since officially accepting the CEO role in October of last year, I have led DEXMAT’s first equity funding round of $3M. It’s just a small step (Scaling up to meet our ambitions will require billions of investment over time.), but building out our commercial team and scaling up / costing down by an order of magnitude will be a giant leap for our trajectory.

Our investment round was led by Shell Ventures, with additional participation from Overture Ventures, Climate Avengers, another energy company that can’t yet be named openly until we pass a regulatory hurdle, and many individuals whom I admire and respect. I am on record as saying that, if we fail to build the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future, it will not be a failure of ability; rather it will be a failure of imagination and of courage. While raising this round, I encountered many investors who thought our vision was too bold or too risky, so kudos to this syndicate for their imagination and courage as we build something truly transformational.

I need to be clear that DEXMAT’s new goal isn’t to make materials like steel, aluminum, and copper a little bit greener; it’s to make them obsolete. If successful, this is industrial revolution-scale innovation. We often think of eras of human civilization in terms of the materials used: the stone age, the iron age, etc. Our ambitions at DEXMAT are nothing short of ushering humanity into the carbon age.

This month we are going live (“Hello, world!”) with several articles, podcasts, and talks. I will be presenting at CERAWeek, SXSW, and the ARPA-E Summit, so come say hi if you are also attending. Otherwise, let me know how you are doing, what you think of my next [ad]venture, and whether there might be opportunities to collaborate. As I often said at Third Derivative, together – and only together – can we build the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future.

So join me in this incredible journey as we scale up by orders of magnitude to transform some of the biggest and dirtiest industries in the world.

2022 Movie and TV Reviews

2022 has come and gone and awards season is now upon us. I saw a lot of movies and shows last year so below are my thoughts on all of it! WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!

The Good

  • Everything Everywhere All At Once: This was amazing and so unrelentingly mind-expanding. The concept was interesting, the acting was great, the meta-commentary was smart, and it was so heart-warming to see Data back in action (literally). The third act was a bit too long, but this was easily one of the best movies of the year and I will still probably need to see it many more times to grok it all.
  • Prey: This was such a fresh take on a franchise that has been so bad for decades. Despite a few instances of poor editing (like the mountain lion fight), this film was non-stop tension from the go. They went all-in on the Comanche setting and it really paid off. Amber Midthunder was a badass protagonist (Stabbing the Predator with its own fang was such a boss move!), but she ultimately won by out-learning her opponent. It was so cool to see the Predator on its own learning journey, working its way up the food chain (Seeing the Predator’s outline in bear blood was epic!) and the sound editing was next level. Showing up covered in green blood at the end was the perfect bookend callback to the beginning. This is easily the second-best Predator film.
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife: I had very low expecations about this one due to previous sequels but this was so good that we watched it again the next night. It blended creepy and funny like the first movie and kept me guessing up until the end. What really made this film work was McKenna Grace, whose deadpan comedic timing was perfect. She was almost too good; part of the charm of the original was the parity between each of the three original protagonists (Egon – the brains, Ray – the hands, Peter – the mouth), but, in this version, there was McKenna’s character and then everyone else. Still, it was really enjoyable and I hope they build on this strong foundation.
  • Nope: This was a creepy and tense creature feature that kept me guessing most of the way through and then, even when I knew where it was headed, blew me away with the payoff at the end. We were still discussing it days later, especially the relevance of the chimpanzee. I will definitely rewatch this one!
  • Glass Onion: It seems that Rian Johnson can do no wrong. This didn’t quite capture the magic of Knives Out for me, but it was still very entertaining and it kept me guessing to the end. I enjoyed its structure but found its characters to be less compelling than those of its predecessor. I probably won’t rewatch this one but I’m very glad to have seen it!
  • Apollo 10 1/2: This was a fun, understated snapshot at life in Houston in the 1960s with special attention to the Moon race. Much of it resonated with me, even though I wasn’t alive during that time period. I probably won’t rewatch it, but it was enjoyable and I’m glad to have seen it.
  • Ted Lasso: I was late to the Ted Lasso phenomenon, but it was worth the wait. Coaching through kindness and believing in others was refreshing and many of the characters were endearing. Season 1 was 10/10, Season 2 lost its way a bit (I found some of the character choices/motivations a bit unbelievable.) but was still enjoyable, and I can’t wait for Season 3!
  • Only Murders In The Building: This series is delightful so far! Excellent writing and acting, some fun high-concept moments, and a mystery that keeps me wondering whodunit until the end. Season 2 was almost as good as Season 1 – as above, I can’t wait for Season 3!

The Bad

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore: It is no secret (See what I did there?) that I am no fan of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, so I came into this with low expectations, and yet it still underwhelmed. There were so many plot holes, so many “but why?” character decisions, and so many “but who cares?” scenes – and so much expository dialog of characters just talking to each other. I hope this is finally the nail in the coffin for this misguided series.
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi: Oof, speaking of beloved IPs really screwing up prequel attempts. This was well acted and featured great music, but that couldn’t compensate for a nonensical plot, utterly predictable/bad writing (We were calling out what each character would say before they said it.), and even bad special effects (some terrible green screen). There were so many inconsistencies with the original trilogy and then the climax was just a rehash of the fight at the end of Revenge Of The Sith or the second season of Rebels (This fight even borrowed verbatim dialog and choreography from that fight.). This really felt like they had an idea to have a fight between Obi-Wan and Vader and just focused on the spectacle of that without regard to plot and character. If there is a Season 2, I won’t be watching.
  • Rings Of Power: I was so excited for this. It seemed to have the blessing of the Tolkien estate and Amazon seemed to be investing a lot in it – but it was bad. Production values were high – great music and sets – and it was cool that orcs were true menaces, not fodder. However, the show seemed so intent on creating shocking reveals that it forgot to make them earned, interesting, or even sensical.

    It came across more like a Tolkien-themed soap opera than anything serious. I’m so bored of “will they or won’t they” inter-species romance subplots; it’s been done thrice now and each time it becomes less interesting. They were going for Game Of Thrones, but they wound up with GOT Season 8! And, like GOT Season 8, they had too much going on simultaneously so that they had to transport people instantaneously all over the place, which I found to to diminish the scale of Middle Earth.

    They also mischaracterized well established characters from Tolkien’s Legendarium. I don’t believe that source material is sacred in adaptations, but, if you’re going to mess with the writings of one of the most beloved writers of the 20th century, it should be purposeful. Instead, this was just . . . fan fiction. Very disappointing; I won’t be watching Season 2.
  • Foundation: Similar to the above, this was pretty and well acted, but that’s about it. They were trying so hard to make GOT in space that they forgot what made GOT so interesting: it was sociological, not psychological, storytelling. The written Foundation Series is one of the greatest sociological stories of all time, but the show runners tried to shoe horn the material into psychological stories of individualist heroes. It was literally the opposite of the source material and it just doesn’t work. I won’t be watching Season 2.

The Meh

  • Top Gun: Maverick: This was . . . fine. It didn’t really capture the magic of the original film for me. The original movie was a sports film set in jets. This movie was more of a Mission: Impossible movie set in jets, but without any big reveals, which are what make Mission: Impossible movies interesting. The action was great and there was a wonderful scene with Tom and Val, but otherwise the characters were pretty forgettable. The original movie was a cultural phenomenon, but people have already forgotten this film. Disclaimer: I didn’t see this in the theater, which probably would have helped.
  • The Northman: My hopes were high for this film since I have found the previous work of Robert Eggers to be rivetting. I found this instead to be meh, not nearly as interesting as its predecessors. It was a pretty straight forward bloody revenge tale and there isn’t much more to say.
  • His Dark Materials: I’m a huge fan of the source material and I even liked the film adaptation but found this adaptation to be pretty meh. It felt very BBC: the actors were very capable but they just seemed to be expositing to each other on soundstages. To make it more GOT-like, they parralelized some characters that were serialized in the novels, with the result being that those characters didn’t have much to do for much of the series.
  • Wheel Of Time: I’m not a huge fan of the source material but decided to give this adaptation a try. It suffers from some of the same plot/character parallelization issues as the above, but the production values seem a bit higher. I don’t love it, but will give Season 2 a chance.

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree with my reviews? Have I missed any key content from 2022? Let me know!

Rice Outanding Engineering Alum Remarks

As I posted previously, I was incredibly honored to be selected as a Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum. In October, I attended a wonderful dinner and ceremony in Houston to recognize the honorees. The event was a love fest for Rice Engineering and it was incredible to share the stage with so many of my heroes!

Each award recipient had a few minutes to share remarks and below are a rough approximation (what I can remember through the fog of two months) of mine:

Thank you, Rice, for this incredible award!

As a child of the space industry, I have always been inspired by moonshots, so it is not a coincidence that I chose to study engineering at the one school that would also let me play football in the very stadium where Kennedy gave his famous moon speech.

But I have always found that, in order for me to have the courage and conviction to take my own bold, ambitious moonshots, I need people to believe in me. My relationship with Rice has been a story of people believing in me – and several of them are here tonight.

Joe Warren, who invited me into his office to tell me about the CS curriculum and encourage me to apply when I was a high school senior visiting campus – neither of us knowing at the time how important design and engineering would become in my career.

Dan Wallach, who gave me one of my first opportunities to mentor and develop younger talent as a TA for his keystone CS course – neither of us knowing at the time how much mentorship would become a keystone of my leadership style.

Moshe Vardi, who supported me in launching the Rice CS Club – my first startup! – neither of us knowing at the time how starting new organizations would become my professional focus.

Bart Sinclair, who, many years after being my professor, created a new role for me as the School of Engineering’s first Entrepreneur In Residence – neither of us knowing at the time that that would become a platform for me to pay it forward by believing in and supporting the next generation of Rice Engineering innovators and change makers.

Past REA President, Dick Wilson, who mentored me into leadership of the REA and inspired me with Rick Smalley‘s vision of a transition to a sustainable energy future – neither of us knowing at the time that that would rapidly become the North Star to which I would orient the blood, sweat, and tears of my career.

Dozens of Rice-related investors, who have believed in me through both successes and failures.

And, of course, my partner, whom I met at Rice, and who – for some reason – believed in me enough to sign up for a lifetime together.

Like every good Rice story, though, this one keeps on going. I’m proud to share that my next bold, ambitious moonshot comes from Rice too, commercializing an incredible technology out of Matteo Pasquali‘s lab: advanced carbon nanomaterials that blow current materials out of the water. This is industrial revolution-scale innovation; we’re building a trillion dollar company that will have gigatons of positive climate impact – the most ambitious climatetech venture ever before attempted!

And it’s all due to Rice. So thank you, Rice, for believing in me then. Thank you for believing in me now. And, in the immortal words of Journey, don’t stop believin’, because the best is yet to come! Go Rice!

Receiving my Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum award with REA President, Marylauren Ilagan, and Dean of Engineering, Luay Nakhleh
Receiving my Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum award with REA President, Marylauren Ilagan, and Dean of Engineering, Luay Nakhleh

Favorite and Least Favorite Tolkien Movie Scenes

The Broken Sword, a Tolkien-focused YouTube channel I enjoy, recently posed these questions as research for an upcoming video:

What is your favourite scene in The Lord of the Rings? And why?
What is your least favourite scene from The Hobbit Trilogy? And why?

Having just rewatched the entire Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy (to wash the taste of Rings of Power out of my mouth), here are my thoughts:

Lord of the Rings favorite scenes:

  • the Bridge of Khazad-dûm for the epic threat of the balrog and the epic badassery of Gandalf fending him off
  • Gandalf fighting the balrog all the way to the depths of Moria with gorgeous cinematography showing off the scale and profundity of the battle
  • Gandalf riding out to fend off the Nazgûl and protect the returning Gondorians with magical light, again demonstrating Gandalf’s power of light against the darkness
  • the lighting of the beacons showing off the distances across beautiful mountains – and Theoden’s “and Rohan will answer” response

Hobbit least favorite scenes:

Oof there’s too much bad here and accordingly I haven’t watched it recently. I would say anything with gratuitous, silly, physics-defying action and anything with Tauriel and Kili’s contrived love story. Those both pulled me out of the movie and felt counter to all of Tolkien’s writings, intentions, and tone. They felt more like pandering to what generic audiences might want vs faithful to the characters and story.

What do you think? What are your favorite and least favorite scenes from movie adaptations of Tolkien’s Legendarium?

TJHSST 25-Year Reunion

Last month I traveled back to Northern Virginia (“NoVA”) for the 25-year reunion of my Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology (TJHSST) class of 1997. It was an incredible trip down memory lane and a wonderful chance to reconnect with lifelong friends for the first time since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

I arrived Thursday, a day early, so that I could take care of a few things before the reunion activities became all-consuming. This was my first time back in NoVA in three years, so I had a lot of catching up to do! After checking into the reunion hotel block in Arlington, I had a quick business meeting and then met some Lake Braddock friends for dinner, which was a wonderful experience.

Friday morning I woke up early to go for a run along the Potomac. I needed to compete in a virtual 10k race and I thought running it at sea level after training at elevation would be fun! This was the longest “race” since my surgery so I took it easy and focused more on consistency / completion than on performance. As I ran along the GW Parkway, I had to keep stopping to take pictures, so, even if I had been in better race shape, I wouldn’t have run a great time. I also discovered and explored Roosevelt Island while I was running – was this always here??

After nearly an hour of running in the cool, gray weather (which felt very appropriate for how I remember DC-area autumn), I showered up and took a Lyft to my old neighborhood in Springfield. There I spent an hour and a half doing a literal walk down memory lane. I walked to my old house, the houses of my family and friends, the trails through the woods that we used to take as shortcuts to visit each other, my old bus stops, and everything in between. It was very nostalgic and I was encouraged to see that there was an entirely new generation of families with young kids growing up there – I hope the neighborhood is as good to them as it was to me!

My friend, Nick, who incidentally helps me edit this blog (You can thank him for improved comma placement and removal of broken links!), picked me up and chauffeured me on a driving nostalgia tour. We drove around South Run, Burke, Lake Braddock (where we both attended intermediate school), Keene Mill (where I attended elementary school), and the Springfield Youth Club sports fields. Fortunately no one called the police on a couple of creepy old dudes driving around school parking lots!

Our driving tour culminated with lunch at Springfield Mall, where I spent just about every weekend of my youth. It has been renovated and redeveloped a bit, but its “bones” are still the same and it was easy to remember which favorite stores used to be where. The food court was in a different place and offered different fare, but the experience of eating there with a friend for the first time in 20ish years was sublime.

Nick dropped me off back in Arlington, where I met up with some of the other TJ football captains. We found a park in which to throw the football around and spent an hour just tossing the pigskin, catching up, and telling stories about our glory days. It was a lot of fun and, crucially, no one got injured!

I returned to the hotel where others were starting to arrive. My dear friends, Danielle and Ashley, came by to say hi, which was euphoric. I missed them so much during the five years since the previous reunion and hadn’t had a chance to see them in person due to limiting travel during COVID. These mini-reunions got me very energized for the rest of the weekend!

The first official reunion event was the TJ home football game. I threw on my jersey from senior year and my letter jacket then hopped into a car with Dan (who used to give me rides to school!) and we made our way to the school. Due to Hurricane Ian, the weather wasn’t great (cold and rainy) so only a few of us alumni showed up. Embarrassingly, though, there were more of us than “regular” fans as the stands were empty! No students or band were there (apparently because the SATs were the following morning) and all the parents of players seemed to be in their cars on their phones. Very sad! At least the cheerleaders were out in full force!

After the game, we joined the rest of the class at Bronson Bierhall. We had a private [covered!] outdoor area and a few of my classmates joined in the nostalgia cheese by sporting their TJ apparel of yore. It was a fun, late night reconnecting with dear friends from more than half our lives ago.

Saturday morning was open so Ashley and I drove to nearby Arlington National Cemetary to pay our respects to departed loved ones. The gray drizzle was the perfect backdrop for a somber, reflective visit.

Many of us gathered at the school in the afternoon for a tour. TJ has been extensively remodeled since we were there, so it was great to see the lush new facilities that support new generations of students. The tech labs – ranging from nanomaterials to DNA biotech to satellite launch – really blew me away! Amazingly, I even bumped into some of my former teachers who are still at it!

Saturday evening was the main event, held at Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill. We had about 150 (including a few +1s) out of our class of 400 show up and it was just so rad! Everyone was looking great and we picked up exactly where we left off five years ago without missing a beat.

At one point, I was asked to say a few words so I grabbed a mic, hopped up on a table, and made a few toasts, something to the effect of:

What’s up, TJ Class of 1997! We don’t have any formal program tonight but, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll make three quick toasts.

First, we have many classmates who couldn’t make it to this reunion. Whether because of COVID, family or work conflicts, or other reasons, they are still a part of this special class, and we miss them – here’s to them!

Second, we have some classmates who can’t be with us because they’ve moved on from this mortal world. Before our 5th reunion we lost Bonnie, before our 10th we lost Dick, and most recently we lost Richard. They were part of the special experience we all had 25 years ago and they will always be with us – here’s to them!

Finally, indeed it was a special experience we all went through together, as demonstrated by so many of us coming from all corners of the world to be here together tonight. When we graduated 25 years ago, we were all full of dreams. Some of us may have achieved those dreams already. Some of us may not yet have achieved those dreams. And some of us may have found ourselves adapting our dreams to the lives we find ourselves living. And that’s all OK. I hope tonight we can leave all that behind, drop the personas, and just be present in the moment. The last few years have been difficult, so tonight let’s get back to rebuilding these lifelong relationships that will carry us through the next 25 years – and beyond. And so, TJ Class of 1997, here’s . . . to us.

I guess I really leaned into the imposter syndrome that tends to hold people back from our reunions but it seemed to be well received. There was an incredible energy all night and people seemed to enjoy the event thoroughly. We repaired to the hotel after the bar closed down and kept the party going until the wee hours of the morning.

Later in the morning we reconvened in the breakfast room and compared notes about hangovers, lost voices, and great memories. Slowly, one-by-one, people began departing for the airport. Ashley, Jeff (one of my best football buddies), and I grabbed brunch nearby and then I too had to head to the airport.

After three full days of nostalgia and personal connection, being alone at the airport felt like a liminal space, as if I were re-emerging from the land of faerie. That time period – and those people – were so crucial to my development into the person I am today. It was wonderful to spend such a dense period in places and with people who mean so much to me – I can’t wait for the next one!

Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum

Today Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering announced that I would be recognized with its Outstanding Engineering Alum award!

Rice Engineering’s 2022 Awardees

What an incredible honor! I am moved beyond measure to be recognized by an organization I love so much and to join such an incredible group of honorees – not to mention heroes of mine who are previous honorees!

This recognition is particularly meaningful because I spent much of my time studying engineering at Rice feeling like I wasn’t good enough. My classmates seemed so smart and so motivated that it was hard ever to feel very successful. However, my Rice engineering education has been crucial to my development as a climatetech leader and entrepreneur – engineering business solutions to address the greatest challenge of our time. It feels wonderful for that to be appreciated.

To pick up where I left off in my previous post about Kennedy’s inspirational Moon Speech, I’ll conclude with a paraphrasing:

“We choose to study engineering at Rice and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

If you are in Houston Oct. 19, come celebrate with me at the awards dinner!