Today's guest is Diego Saez Gil, co-founder & CEO of Pachama, a YC-backed company focused on restoring the forests to solve climate change. Diego is a serial entrepreneur, but new to the climate change fight, and came in because the problem is too important not to focus on, and reforestation can be a huge lever to help address it, if done right. We cover a number of things in this episode, including info on climate change, carbon offsets, reforestation, some of the historical challenges and how Pachama plans to address them, and much more. Enjoy the show!
Today’s guest is Diego Saez Gil, co-founder & CEO of Pachama.
Diego Saez-Gil is Co-founder & CEO of Pachama, a company focused on restoring the forests to solve climate change. Prior to Pachama, Diego co-founded Bluesmart (acquired by TravelPro) and WeHostels (acquired by StudentUniverse). Diego was awarded MIT 35 Under 35 and was selected High Impact Entrepreneur by Endeavor. Pachama is working to help restore the forests to solve climate change. They are developing technologies to bring trust, transparency, and efficiency to the Forest Carbon Market. They are combining machine learning with satellite and drone data to accelerate the verification of carbon in forests and increase the flow of capital from those offsetting their carbon emissions to those protecting and restoring the forests. They are backed by some of the best investors in Silicon Valley including Chris Sacca, Paul Graham, Y Combinator, among others.
In this episode we discuss:
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I hope you enjoy the show!
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics and guests.
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests, to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change, and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone, Jason here. Today's guest is Diego Saez Gil. Diego is the cofounder and CEO of Pachama. I thought this was a fun episode because I happen to be a small investor in Pachama, that's one reason. The second is that, although I've spoken to Diego on the phone, I had never met him in person, which was a real treat. And the third was that I ran eight miles from Sausalito to Diego's office in San Francisco, and I showed up so sweaty, and honestly I'm surprised that he let me in the door.
Jason Jacobs: But we covered a number of things in this episode, including Diego's background as a serial entrepreneur, and we talked about Pachama and what led him to founding the company, the opportunity that he sees, and how he thinks it can be most impactful on the climate fight. We also talked about where Pachama is on the trajectory today, what progress they've made, and where they're going next, as well as the long vision for the company. And we had a great dialogue about climate change overall, and how to think about it, how to solve for it, and what kinds of levers can be most impactful. I learned a lot in this episode, and I hope you do as well.
Jason Jacobs: Diego, welcome to the show.
Diego Saez Gil: Thank you for having me.
Jason Jacobs: While I am a small investor in Pachama, this is actually the first time that we are meeting in person.
Diego Saez Gil: That's right, thank you for trusting me without meeting in person.
Jason Jacobs: Well, thank you for allowing me to be a small part of the journey, and for the work that you're doing as well. I'm excited about it.
Diego Saez Gil: Thank you, yes, we are excited too. Happy to tell you everything, the story and what we're doing.
Jason Jacobs: Awesome, well, why don't we jump right into it? So what is Pachama?
Diego Saez Gil: What we're trying to build is a set of tools that can unlock the full potential of forest and other natural solutions to solve climate change. Forests have been, for billions of years, capturing carbon from the atmosphere. They are the carbon capturing tool that Mother Earth has given us. And today, not only are we not harnessing the potential of 2 billion hectares of land that could be reforested, but we're actually deforesting the tropical forests which capture billions of tons of CO2 every year.
Jason Jacobs: Why are we doing that?
Diego Saez Gil: Because we live in an economic system that doesn't give its right value to the services that the forests provide from an environmental perspective. So instead what we're doing is we're cutting down the forests to do cattle ranching, to feed hamburgers to people.
Jason Jacobs: So yesterday, as you know, I interviewed Pat Brown from Impossible Foods. He said that 45% of all of the Earth's land is used for grazing cattle.
Diego Saez Gil: Yeah, and in a very inefficient way, of providing calories and proteins to humans. The reason for that is that the accounting systems of the companies that are producing that food don't consider the cost that they are actually incurring on destroying the forests and destroying the machines that we have to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
Diego Saez Gil: So what we're trying to do is to unlock the full potential of that solution, and the way we're doing it is by helping the carbon credit market, that can finance reforestation and forest conservation at scale, work effectively. And in that sense, what we're doing is we're building technologies that help measure and monitor how much carbon a forest captures using satellite images and machine learning algorithms that analyze those satellite images and other forms of data like LIDAR data and drone images capture of the forest.
Diego Saez Gil: We analyze all that, and we can tell you how much carbon is standing on a forest, how much carbon the forest captures every year, and with that, hopefully helping issue carbon credits in a faster, cheaper, and more reliable way.
Diego Saez Gil: And then the second part of it is to help connect those forest owners, that are doing the right thing, and are obtaining those current certificates, with the companies that need or want to offset their carbon emissions through the purchase of carbon credits. That market exists today, and has existed for many years, but it's incredibly inefficient. The tools are very manual, there are a bunch of intermediaries along the way, a lot of confusion on how it works. And what we want to provide are hopefully tools that make the market more efficient for all the players involved, and in doing so, help drive billions of dollars to reforesting and conserving the forest of the planet.
Jason Jacobs: What is a carbon credit?
Diego Saez Gil: So there is a system proposed by the United Nations that makes a lot of sense, which is this. There are a lot of activities that cannot be decarbonized, that cannot transition fast enough to non-carbon solutions. Like airplanes, right? We're going to continue having to fly on airplanes that burn CO2. So those activities should offset, should compensate for those emissions by supporting projects that either reduce emissions or recapture carbon from the atmosphere.
Diego Saez Gil: The way to do that is through a system of credits in which projects that recapture carbon from the atmosphere or reduce emissions can have 10 credits that then can be sold to those companies. And then these companies can retire those credits, meaning that they basically take them out of the market, effectively compensating their emissions.
Diego Saez Gil: That system is a really good way to transition as we transition to a non-carbon economy, which will take decades. In the meantime, it can drive a lot of funding to solutions to climate change, and in a way it starts to put a value to the carbon capture and solutions that are needed for the planet.
Jason Jacobs: I'm certainly no expert on carbon credits, but as I think about that carbon credit market, if you can measure properly that the emissions that you do are going to be at least as offset one-to-one by the credits that you are purchasing, then I could see how that can maintain equilibrium at least for that unit of emissions. But that presumes that you can measure properly and that there's no funny business. So what's the current state of that market? Can you trust these credits?
Diego Saez Gil: There are two parts of the equation. On one hand, the companies that want to offset their emissions need to calculate their carbon footprint, and there is a set of protocols and formulas to calculate your carbon footprint. For certain companies it's easier, for others is harder, but it's super important that you do good accounting there. Today, it's still not super easy to do it, and there are some startups that are working on making it easier.
Jason Jacobs: Any that are doing it well, or that you're excited about?
Diego Saez Gil: There is one that I am excited about called Climate Neutral, it's a California-based startup, and they're coming up with a solution soon, I'm happy to introduce it to Pete, one of the founders, and we hope to partner with them on providing the tools to the companies that want to calculate how much their footprint is.
Jason Jacobs: And Evan, make sure to link to that in the show notes as well.
Diego Saez Gil: That's the first part of the equation. The second part of the equation, as you said, the carbon credits have to have integrity, have to have really been issued following a protocol that assures that the project actually has captured that carbon or has reduced those emissions.
Diego Saez Gil: And there are certain criteria like additionality, is a project actually additional, would this project have happened regardless of the current credits coming to them? In that case it wouldn't be additional. Is it permanent, is a carbon capture actually going to stay captured on the Earth, or is it going to come out again through the burning of something? Is the project actually not creating emissions somewhere else by doing this project?
Diego Saez Gil: So there are all these criteria that need to be tested and evaluated. And in forests in particular, forest projects, either reforestation or forest conservation or improved forest management, can obtain carbon credits for the carbon that this forest is going to capture.
Diego Saez Gil: The problem historically has been that it's difficult to measure a forest. You need to count how many trees are there, what size of the trees, how old the trees are, to be able to estimate how much carbon they are capturing, how much carbon they are going to in the future. And to do that, historically what the certification bodies would do is they would send auditors to the field to measure trees with a tape, literally.
Diego Saez Gil: What we do is today we have this wide availability of high-definition satellite images. We have LIDAR, which is what self-driving cars use to scan their environments. We can use that to scan forests, and with that we can measure very precisely how much carbon is there on the forest and how much carbon will be in the future with predictive models.
Jason Jacobs: And you mentioned drones before, is that one small piece of what you're doing on the certification side, or is that a big piece of the story?
Diego Saez Gil: I know that all of those are buzzwords that sometimes are abused by startups that actually are not doing that. But we did get very excited about the convergence of these four technologies that are advancing exponentially.
Diego Saez Gil: One of them is satellite images. You have all these companies like Planet Labs, like Capella, like Satellogic, that are launching nano-satellites to space with high definition cameras, and that is creating an explosion of remote sensing data. The second one is drones. Drones a few years ago didn't work really well, and today you have these drones that can actually scan very large areas, that can recharge themselves. And these are technologies that are advancing exponentially.
Diego Saez Gil: Number three, LIDAR. LIDAR, again, a few years ago they were giant devices that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now you can buy a LIDAR for $700, and it's the size of a can of beer, right? And then number four, deep learning algorithms, algorithms that Google and Facebook have developed to analyze images, and models that train themselves, that can analyze images, in this case a forest, and come out with insights.
Diego Saez Gil: Those four technologies are advancing exponentially, and the convergence of them allows for a new way of verifying these types of projects. And yes, we're utilizing all of them.
Diego Saez Gil: We don't see ourselves as actually running the drones and going into the field with drones, but we want to partner with companies that are doing that. Today we are sourcing images from different sources, and we think it's a lot more efficient to send a drone operator to a forest than to send a crew of 10 foresters that have to go and measure the trees.
Jason Jacobs: If I'm a landowner, how am I getting my land certified for reforestation without Pachama? And then what does my experience look like with Pachama?
Diego Saez Gil: Today, one of the problems of the market is that it's really expensive to go through those certification processes. Getting the first auditing is already tens of thousands of dollars, the entire process sometimes goes between 100 and $300,000. In South America, in the Amazon basin, where we need the most these types of certifications, it's even more expensive, more difficult to afford, because of currency and the purchasing power of landowners there.
Diego Saez Gil: So the protocols that exist today require all these manual verifications of a lot of things. And what we hope to do is to help update those protocols to consider remote sensing technologies, so some of these steps can be done remotely, can be automatized.
Jason Jacobs: And those manual steps, who's actually doing those? Is it the landowner themselves, or is it a third party service?
Diego Saez Gil: That are third party auditing and verification firms that get engaged by the project developer. The project developer, it's not necessarily the landowner, but it's an organization that helps the landowner do the preparation for the certification, and do the work that they need to do afterwards. If it's planting trees or if it's improving the forest management, that's what these different players help the landowner do.
Jason Jacobs: Are you a service for those third party providers, or are you a replacement for those third party providers? Who is your customer?
Diego Saez Gil: The way that we are starting is ... We're still in the business model discovery phase, I would say. We want to build these tools, we want to make them useful for the players of the market. We don't want to replace anybody, we just want to build tools that are lacking today. Whether those tools are going to be contracted by the project developer, or by the verification agency, or by the certification body, or by the buyer, we still don't have total clarity. We just want to now prove that remote sensing technology is equally-
Jason Jacobs: You just see an inefficient process.
Diego Saez Gil: Yes.
Jason Jacobs: You see an inefficient process, it can be more efficient, you're still figuring out is it going to be better to work with the existing players and give them tools to strip costs out and do things faster and more efficiently and more effectively, or are you going to build a new service soup to nuts?
Diego Saez Gil: That's right.
Jason Jacobs: You don't prefer to, but you will if you need to.
Diego Saez Gil: Yeah. And the second part of it, as I was telling you, is we want to help ... So for a project developer that has gone through this process, imagine someone in Brazil has taken money to do the certification, has taken one or two years to go through the process. Now they have to find a buyer, and most buyers are in North America or Europe. How is a landowner in Brazil going to find a buyer?
Diego Saez Gil: So today there are all these intermediary parties, and what we want to do is we want to make it easier to find a buyer and make it easy for a buyer to find a project. So we're building this platform in which we are going to bring that transparency of remote sensing verification, a secondary verification if you want, and there, there is an easy business model because we can take a commission of the transactions that happen through that platform. So yeah, we're building these two fronts of tools, on one side building verification and monitoring tools, and in the other hand building this platform for the parties to connect.
Jason Jacobs: And so one of the areas where you see inefficiencies is that the companies that need to purchase these offsets don't know where to go, or have an inefficient experience to actually find them and make that connection. Same thing with the landowners who have land that is a potential candidate for offsets. And then in the certification process itself there are also inefficiencies. And then there are existing tools that are out there, like LIDAR and drones and things like that, and you'll work with the tools that are out there, and you'll work with the landowners, and you'll work with the companies.
Jason Jacobs: Which piece is Pachama taking on? I know the business model is still not there, but what about just from an asset standpoint? If you're not doing the sensors and you're not owning the land, what are you doing?
Diego Saez Gil: We're developing models, we're developing algorithms and training those models with data, LIDAR data, satellite data. Those models can be used, then, to analyze a particular forest and estimate how much carbon it has. So we're building that. And we're also building this marketplace-like platform in which, in one hand you have forest projects, in the other hand you will have carbon buyers, and in the future there might be places for other players as well, to meet and connect. That's what we are building as well.
Jason Jacobs: So the sensors are there, but nobody has pulled them together and built the intelligence to productize that offering in this category.
Diego Saez Gil: That's right, the data is out there, and the tools are out there, but nobody has brought them together to make them work for this market in a productized way. These are things that many universities have been researching, this has been in academia, and some companies have been trying to build solutions for the timber industry. No one has productized it to make it work for the forest carbon market, and that's what we're trying to contribute to the market.
Jason Jacobs: What's the long vision for Pachama? What does success look like?
Diego Saez Gil: The long vision I guess ... Our mission is to help restore nature to solve climate change. We think that nature has a big part of the solution to climate change, we just have to help it a little bit. The vision is that we could be the platform in which these nature-based solutions get analyzed, certified, monitored, and in which we can drive the necessary capital to finance those projects. If we can manage to help drive the billions of dollars that are needed to restore the planet, and with that solving climate change, then we can call it success.
Jason Jacobs: That's an ambitious vision, and obviously it's still early days, but where do you start? What does phase one look like for you?
Diego Saez Gil: We're in phase zero, I would say. What we're doing right now is we are partnering with forest project developers in North America, in the US, that have gone already through traditional verifications. We are analyzing their data and providing this additional layer of transparency to the projects that can help them monitor how the products are going and can help them get new buyers.
Diego Saez Gil: And in the other hand, we're talking with companies mainly here in California that want to offset their emissions, and there is a growing number of companies that voluntarily decided that they want to take climate action. Sometimes it's because their employees are asking, sometimes their customers are asking, sometimes their founders care deeply about the impact that their companies are having.
Diego Saez Gil: And what they're doing is they are calculating their carbon footprint and trying to buy carbon offsets. So we're talking to all these companies, and we're saying, "Hey, buy forest carbon offsets," which by the way, forests not only have the ability to capture carbon, but they also generate a lot of co-benefits like biodiversity, community impacts, water flows that improve the entire ecosystem of the areas in which your projects are developed.
Diego Saez Gil: Many companies historically have stayed away from forest carbon offsets because they were difficult to measure and monitor, and they went to other solutions like energy efficiency or methane capture. And we're trying to convince them that forest is not only a safe solution, but actually is the best solution.
Jason Jacobs: So phase one is matchmaker, and then you'll get into the actual certification piece in phase two and beyond?
Diego Saez Gil: I would say that, again, it's analyzing data and providing this data business intelligence of the forest projects, and then hopefully matchmaking.
Jason Jacobs: When you first approached starting this company, did you know that forests specifically where the area that you were going to focus on, or was it the offset concept first and then you went and evaluated different areas? How did you get here?
Diego Saez Gil: It was an interesting journey, and one thing I love about this podcast and what you're doing is that I went through a similar climate journey myself. I wasn't from this world whatsoever. I had built two other technology companies for the travel industry, and I had this moment of personal crisis, if you want, in which I was like, "Damn, I'm working really hard to build companies to be successful, to contribute to my customers. But in the meantime, the planet is falling apart. What can I do to make a contribution to solving climate change to restoring the planet?"
Jason Jacobs: That moment of crisis, anyone from Silicon Valley or the broader technology industry ... Silicon Valley in spirit, not Silicon Valley in geography ... It'd be great if more of us could have that moment of crisis, we fucking need it.
Diego Saez Gil: Yes, absolutely.
Jason Jacobs: It really bothers me. No judgment on people's life choices and things like that, but these are some of the smartest minds, there's a lot of horsepower in this industry, with exceptions, but it's focused on a lot of vapid shit.
Diego Saez Gil: I agree. And look, I did it myself. I don't judge anybody because I built an app to book hostels and connect with other travelers. That was what I needed at the time, I was a backpacker, and I wanted to build that. But I do think that we should be building more companies that have a positive impact on the planet for real. Solving climate change, restoring nature.
Diego Saez Gil: By the way, I do think it's an enormous economic opportunity as well. If you solve the biggest problem of the 21st century, society will reward you economically and in other ways. So yes, I do hope to see more entrepreneurs having this personal crisis moment. Crisis means clarity sometimes.
Jason Jacobs: But now let's get back to your personal crisis moment. So you're working on stuff over here, but you see the planet falling apart over there, and then what?
Diego Saez Gil: So I decided to take some time off, and during that time off I did a lot of soul searching, I went to the Amazon rainforest and was super inspired by the beauty of our planet, the nature that we have there, and realized that the Amazon rainforest is the machine that is capturing the most carbon in the planet. And I saw some deforestation happening there.
Diego Saez Gil: I also read a lot of books, I actually put there on my desk two books that were important on my journey. The first one is Earth in Human Hands by an astrobiologist called David Grinspoon, which by the way, you should try to interview him because he's awesome. And in that book he-
Jason Jacobs: I didn't get that for the show notes.
Diego Saez Gil: The second book is Why Forests? Why Now? by Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch, a scientist and an economist that studied forest solutions. But the first book was actually the one where I had the first aha moment about the potential of forests to recapture current. The central idea of the book is we are this species that came out of Gaia, the interconnected network of organisms that form this planet, and all of a sudden accomplished all this power to modify the planet. Like it or not, we are now in charge of the planet. And we seem to be a very mature species in charge of the planet, we're getting there, we're conscious, we can talk about it, and we can mature, hopefully in time before destroying ourselves.
Diego Saez Gil: So in that book, he goes through all the things that we should do to put spaceship Earth in shape, so that we can continue the next two billion years, or whatever we have left on this planet, managing the spaceship in a good way, right? Which is, by the way, an idea of Buckminster Fuller and Carl Sagan, all the people of the 60s that had this realization of, "Wow, we're managing this spaceship Earth."
Diego Saez Gil: So in that book he talks about how reforestation and forest conservation can capture hundreds of gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. And I was like, "Oh wow, I didn't know that." I mean, I knew that trees capture carbon, but I didn't know that it can actually be so effective at taking out carbon from the atmosphere.
Diego Saez Gil: That led me to the second book. In that second book, this scientist and economist go specifically into studying how tropical forests specifically can be a solution to climate change, and what programs are put in place and should we put in place to foster that market. They talk about the carbon credits market, the UN [inaudible 00:23:46] agreement, and so forth.
Diego Saez Gil: So those were sort of the inspiration for me to start researching. I actually reached out to the writer of Why Forests? Why Now?, Frances, she received me in her office in Washington, DC, another really good person for the podcast, and she gave me a lot of feedback about how the market works, what the inefficiencies are. And that was sort of the beginning of, "Oh, there's something here in which we can bring technology and the service of making this market work."
Jason Jacobs: One of the things I wanted to ask you about, just given that there are some parallels to your journey and mine in this way, and probably to a lot of our listeners as well, is I'm really concerned about the planet, and thus I'm here, you're really concerned about the planet, and thus you're here. But historically, neither of us had any domain experience in our professional backgrounds.
Jason Jacobs: And so coming in, talking to Gustav for example, I think from a [inaudible 00:24:37] standpoint, it seems like that domain experience, at least from day zero, not too important, right? But imagine if you're an insider who's been dedicating your whole career to this over multiple decades, and the tech bros come in and think they have all the answers. So what's been your approach in terms of navigating that, and how have you been received by the people who have spent their career in this area?
Diego Saez Gil: I think that we will need to solve such a big problem, the biggest challenge of humanity, we will need the collaboration of everyone. We will need the collaboration of the experts, the scientists, and the people who've been analyzing this for decades, and we also need the contribution of the innovators that come with questions, "Why? Why? Why? Why we can not do things differently? Why we don't use these tools that are right available, that Silicon Valley built to put filters on faces or to make self-driving cars?" All these tools can be used at the service of solving climate change.
Diego Saez Gil: So we will need the collaboration of the naivete of the founders and innovators that Silicon Valley attracts, with the expertise and knowledge of the people that have been here for decades. And sure, there are some people that are skeptical about newcomers, but generally most people have been super, super welcoming. They are grateful that more people are coming, bringing tech tools to this market. That's been my experience.
Diego Saez Gil: Of course, my attitude also is of respect. I don't think that entrepreneurs should come with, "Let's disrupt the climate market." You know what I mean? We need a respectful attitude of, "Okay, there are people that have been thinking about this for a long time, let's listen to them and then let's question and let's bring new ideas. But let's go with a lot of humbleness into contributing to this."
Jason Jacobs: I think that's really important, trying to be really thoughtful about how I carry myself coming in as well. Because, on the one hand, the recipe for insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. So I think coming in with some fresh eyes and beginner mind, there's a lot of value there, and many insiders have told me that. But on the other, you just can't replicate the wisdom that comes with deep institutional knowledge. Trying to balance those two things is more art than science, but I think going in, like you said, both with an inquiring mind but also with a humble soul, I think is very important.
Diego Saez Gil: Yeah, go like a kid, like a kid that wants to learn and wants to question why, why, why. And then bring the tools that Silicon Valley has, the playbooks that Silicon Valley has developed on how to scale solutions, how to think about scalability and exponential growth. These are the things that YC is really good at, and it was super helpful for us to get the push of YC of launch, and how this is going to be a billion-dollar company. These kinds of questions help you think on bigger terms, and help you try to push the solutions out of the lab as fast as possible.
Jason Jacobs: If anybody's listening and they really dig what you're doing, where do you need help? How can our listeners help you?
Diego Saez Gil: I think that following us on social media ... We've been very silent so far because we're still building, and we're still learning. But soon we're going to start talking more publicly about what we're doing and asking for help. We're looking for talented people that want to join us, so check out our careers page. We also don't have many job positions listed yet, but reach out to us, reach out to info@pachama. I get this email, so anybody can email me. And if you know of companies that want to participate in offsetting their emissions and showing their climate action, also let us know. And if you know of people that can restore or protect forests, also let us know.
Jason Jacobs: I forget. Are you talking at all about how you're capitalized?
Diego Saez Gil: Not yet. We did raise around that haven't talked about publicly yet. You're one of the investors, and then we had other amazing-
Jason Jacobs: Oh man, I didn't know.
Diego Saez Gil: Yeah, I took your wallet, and I took money out of you. And then we have other awesome investors like Chris Sacca and Paul Graham. I can say that because they said it on Twitter. But we're going to announce it at some point soon. Fortunately, we've got great support from amazing people in Silicon Valley.
Jason Jacobs: If you weren't focused on Pachama, what else do you think are the high leverage things that one could do in the climate fight? And what would you be doing if it wasn't Pachama, and you were focused on this problem?
Diego Saez Gil: Definitely what we eat I think is a big part of the problem and the solution. So thinking of more ways of moving out of meat. And I'm Argentinian, meat is a big part of our culture. I became vegetarian as part of this journey, and I'm happy, I'm a happy Argentinian who eats plants now. Trying to think of more replacements for meat, more ways to get people out of meat, I think is a great opportunity.
Diego Saez Gil: The book Drawdown has a lot of unexpected solutions, or problems that can be solved. The way that we air condition our buildings, the way that we build cities, cement has had such a big impact on carbon emissions. I think also, humanity, we're going to have to shift our ways of living significantly. And not necessarily sacrificing happiness, in fact, I think that we can go to a happier way of living with a lower footprint. I think there are many companies to be built around this change of lifestyle that is going to happen in the next few decades.
Jason Jacobs: One question I forgot to ask you from a Pachama standpoint is just how important is policy, and where does that fit into the equation?
Diego Saez Gil: I think policy is super important. I just saw, this morning, news that I tweeted, that California approved and endorsed the inclusion of tropical forest carbon credits in the California cap and trade market. That's great news for us and for the world, and that's a policy decision. They could have gone the other direction, right? The European Union is showing great commitment, after the Paris agreement, implementing more regulations for companies, either through carbon markets or carbon taxes, and I think we need more of that, definitely.
Diego Saez Gil: A lot of things that were big societal changes, they came from a moral place, but then they became law. We outruled slavery, we outruled torture, we outruled a lot of things that we didn't want anymore in society. And I think with carbon emissions we should also have a policy stance. That's an important front too.
Jason Jacobs: Bouncing around a bit, but is venture capital a good fit for climate innovation on the whole?
Diego Saez Gil: Look, venture capital wants exponential results. And what is more exponential than solving climate change? What solution is of larger impact than solving the biggest problem that humanity faces in the 21st century? So yes, I think it's absolutely a fit for venture capital. Definitely the solutions have to be scalable, the solutions have to be really with the potential of having a big impact.
Diego Saez Gil: And then there are other things that venture capitalists look at, like defensibility, unique value proposition, go to a market that can actually scale in the timeframe that they want. They generally need to return their capital within seven years. So there are certain things that are stretches, but I think definitely there will be many venture scale companies from this opportunity.
Jason Jacobs: So I'm going to push you on that a bit. I think that you guys are a good fit for venture capital, and so I think to the extent that you can find companies that can scale in the venture capital timeframes, that can do so capital efficiently and without a ton of science risk, then that's a good fit for venture capital. It seems that the companies that fit that profile, if you look at the ones that can actually be a big lever on de-carbonization, are the exception rather than the rule. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Diego Saez Gil: I disagree. I think if you look at companies like SpaceX and Tesla, these are companies that at first sight wouldn't look like venture capital, and they were one of the best venture investments by Founders Fund and by Polar Capital, and other venture investors that invested in them as a rocket company. So I do think that a lot of these science projects, air capture and other very hardware heavy solutions to climate change, if they actually have the potential to take several gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, they could create venture scaled returns. So, yes.
Diego Saez Gil: That doesn't mean that we only need venture capital. I think we also need more government funding, we need more philanthropic funding, we need more impact investing, we need every source of financing. In fact, I think if we were an intelligent species, we would put all the financing that we have available into solutions to climate change. Because it's an existential threat to humanity.
Jason Jacobs: Clearly we're not an intelligence species, or at least not as intelligent as we think we are.
Diego Saez Gil: We're getting there, we're getting there.
Jason Jacobs: One other question, just that I've been noodling on that I'd love your input on, which is just that, given that a lot of these climate focused businesses rely on policy, or have a heavy regulatory bent in some way, do you think that the investment community in this area should be exploring getting more involved on that side of the house? Advocacy, maybe even lobbying?
Diego Saez Gil: Yeah. In other areas we saw how companies ... Airbnb, Uber, Lyft had big regulatory and policy implications on their operations, and they started bringing on board people that studied regulations, that influence regulations. Every time new technologies come out, law regulations are impacted. The car had to create new regulations, right? So I think that yes, the investment and the entrepreneurial community should get to talk to the policy guys.
Jason Jacobs: Two last questions. So one, it's like my stock question, maybe I should think of new questions now because people are going to start prepping in advance for it. But if you had $100 billion and you could put it towards anything, so now we're not talking about you and your passion and what gives you energy and all that, we're just talking about cash that can have an impact on the climate fight, where would you put it, how would you allocate it?
Diego Saez Gil: I'll definitely put it on forests and on natural based solutions. Not necessarily in Pachama, but I will buy forests. In fact, at some point Jeff Bezos sent a tweet saying, "I want to put a couple of billion dollars to philanthropy, what should I do?" And I responded to him, "Buy forests, and by forests in the Amazon because you've been using the name of Amazon, right?"
Diego Saez Gil: So I do think that buying forests, protecting forests, restoring forests is an amazing solution. Oceans as well, by the way, that's something that hopefully at some point we're going to get. Oceans, forests, and coral reefs also capture carbon, and if we could restore that part of nature, it also can help us with the impact of magnitude and climate.
Jason Jacobs: And last question, which is just for anyone out there listening who is maybe either at the beginning of their journey, or thinking of going on a journey, but kind feeling how you and I are feeling, what advice do you have for them in terms of how to navigate and find their way?
Diego Saez Gil: Again, I'm going to come back to the same answer. Go to the forest. I do think that going and reconnecting with nature and your nature is a way to find a mental space to find the solutions to these types of problems. Go for a walk in nature, or go for a retreat in nature, that will be a spiritual start point. And then from an intellectual place, read books, talk to experts, reach out to experts, they are surprisingly open and welcoming. And just start tinkering, start putting together ideas, and build on those ideas before writing a line of code or doing anything, just by talking about your ideas with people.
Diego Saez Gil: That's what I did, by the way, also. I started putting together mini Google docs in which I would make a business plan, and then I would send to people and say, "What do you think of this?" And then they'll tell me, "Oh, it has this problem and it has this other product." And I pivoted several times before even having a cofounder.
Jason Jacobs: For anyone listening that can't actually see, I just want to give a plug that there are books all over this place, and that the Pachama headquarters is located right near Golden Gate Park, which is like a forest in the city. So Diego is not just giving you this advice, he eats his own dog food, folks.
Diego Saez Gil: And by the way, Golden Gate Park, little story if we have time, that park is on a forestation project, meaning that that park was actually at a certain area with sand dunes. And at some point a group of humans here in San Francisco said, "We should have a forest in the city like Central Park in New York." And then they built two windmills, they started extracting water from the ground and started planting trees.
Diego Saez Gil: I invite you to walk through the park, because it's an amazing forest with giant Redwood trees and eucalyptus trees. It's been built by men, so to me it's a success story of how we can forest and reforest the planet.
Jason Jacobs: Maybe I'll go put my running clothes back on and grab my suitcase, and go for a run in the park with my suitcase on the way home. But Diego, thank you, this was awesome. I'm psyched to meet you in person as well.
Diego Saez Gil: Likewise. Keep up the work with this podcast.
Jason Jacobs: You've been a great guest.
Diego Saez Gil: Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com, but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend, or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.