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Interview with Dr Vanessa Rauland


April 2020


As an entrepreneur, the owner of a start up in a new area, how have the government stimulus packages helped you?


The cash boost has been very helpful as I have four full time staff that I’m paying PAYG tax for. We didn’t have to pay PAYG this quarter - so this money went back into my operating budget. That had a massive positive impact. We were also eligible for Job Keeper, which was super helpful, but didn’t cover all our expenses. A business loan would have been brilliant, though, as a start-up who had received investment, we weren’t yet profitable so were seen as too risky for banks. We had revenue (pre-covid) but not enough revenue to be profitable. We ended up successfully raising VC investment, but that obviously came at a cost (i.e. giving away more equity). It would be nice to have had the option for government-backed loan.


Can you tell me about your company/ initiative ClimateClever?

ClimateClever began as an Ed-tech startup focusing on schools, helping them to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on their utility bills and educate kids about sustainability, climate change and resource efficiency. We do this via a proprietary App created by ClimateClever (see https://www.climateclever.org/). We have recently expanded into the wider community focusing on homes, and in the future we will be releasing a business version.


What motivates us about working with kids and the schools is the notion of intergenerational change; kids take the knowledge and learnings from school home and can educate and upskill their parents about how to reduce the carbon footprint.


The App is based around three modules; measure, audit and action. Many competing Apps are based on lots of assumptions. Our ClimateClever App uses real life utility data and is therefore very accurate. Our carbon accounting in the backend meets the international protocols, standards and methodologies and can help users credibly become carbon neutral.


The App is also extremely quantifiable in terms of actions. We provide evidence-based using a citizen-science approach. New actions are continuously added to the App, based on what our users are implementing. It is essentially a peer-learning platform. One of the most empowering parts of the App is the ‘Track’ section. People can see their progress and understand that, collectively, we are making a big impact.


We’ve just released a Local Government Partnership program, and already have 10 LGAs on board, who are encouraging their communities to sign up. They love the data driven aspect of it and that they can use the de-identified data directly in their environmental reporting.


Our main competitive advantage is how engaging the App is. It is bright, happy, fun, and easy to understand.


What do you want to achieve, what’s your goal?

What we are trying to do is create a network of climate champions around Australia; an inspired community that can make a difference. Providing an easy and an affordable way that people can take action.


What motivates you about the project?

Inspiration for ClimateClever originally came from helping to certify the first carbon neutral school in Australia back in 2012. I loved the idea of kids spreading that knowledge into the community. Even though my PhD was very infrastructure-based (focussing on decarbonising cities and low carbon urban development), this idea of ‘community impact’ stuck with me. I love waking up every day knowing that I’m doing my best to make a positive difference in the world.


What have been the biggest challenges for you so far?

The constant mismatch between growth but not necessarily having the resources to deal with the growth. Even though we have investment, it always feels like we are behind where we need to be or go! If we had more resources, we could get there faster. But that may also just be the impatient entrepreneurs mentality!


The other big challenge was creating an App as a non-technical person. I initially outsourced our App development to create our MVP (minimal viable product). It was a wonderfully steep learning curve! I was absolutely thrilled when Alexander Karan came on board last year as my CTO and co-founder, after our first investment round. Having a tech partner in the business has made a world of difference.


How did you go about raising funds for ClimateClever?

My journey started when a Not-For-Profit organisation who developed curriculum resources approached me to partner with them to deliver a project that would help schools to reduce their carbon footprint for schools. They had been approached by a philanthropist who wanted to fund this project. However the NFP required us to give our ClimateClever App away for free, which we couldn’t as that was our revenue stream. In the end we couldn’t align our business models. Frustrated, I just asked if I could have the contact details of the philanthropist, as we could deliver what they wanted! The Philanthropists turned out to also be impact investors. When I pitched the idea to them, they saw a great business opportunity. That started me on a journey that took us 18 months until we got the initial investment in the bank. It took 18 months because I was learning so much along the way. I was a eager, new entrepreneur and I had no idea what I was doing. So they kept coming at me with “Well have you thought about this? And what about that?”. And I would constantly think, “Oh goodness - I hadn’t thought about that!”. My Business Plan grew from one page to 30 pages by the time the money landed. All those questions really helped me develop my Business Plan. We have just raised a second round from the same investors.


In developing your project, if you had your time again, what would you do differently?

Hmmm… I’ve made soooo many mistakes along the way. But we don’t refer to it as ‘failure’, it‘s “Flearning” (learning from failure!). I don’t regret much. The stuff ups are just part of the journey and provide fantastic dinner stories or panel discussions!


I would probably avoid going down the freelancer route for developing the MVP. That cost me a LOT of money in the end, when we tried to fix poor code or architecture. While it’s a bit more expensive, an App agency is probably a bit safer.


Does ClimateClever have export potential and does it create new jobs?

We are certainly creating jobs and support the local tech industry in Perth! We just hired another two Software Developers, bringing our tech team to four and our overall team to 6.5. We are also potentially helping to support other companies and professions who can use our App as a tool (i.e. energy auditors). And yes, we certainly have plans to go global within the next few years. Watch this space!


What advice would you give to leaders of future projects in WA?

There is such a pull towards the east coast as soon as you get a whiff of success. Everyone feels like they have to move over there to survive and grow. However, we have an amazing opportunity in the West, i.e. being in the Asia-Pacific time zone, which represent huge markets. I’d say to future entrepreneurs - stick it out in WA! We have such unique advantages and opportunities. We just need to convince our State government to support this sector a little more!


Do you think the WA economy is sustainable? Why or why not?

We have traditionally relied on our resources, which has helped us through various financial downturns, but we are all familiar now with how risky that is, with the growing concern around climate change and the need to switch to lower carbon technologies. So no, our current WA economy isn’t sustainable the way it is. But we also have huge opportunities to transition our economy to create a renewable, clean economy here. There are some fantastic reports that highlight the types of clean jobs that could emerge– see i.e. https://www.cleanstate.org.au/


To have a decent career in WA in the future, what advice would you give school kids about the skills or disciplines to focus on?

I think STEM skills are hugely important, especially given our renewable resources (wind, solar, lithium for batteries etc) in WA and all the supporting technology we will need to power our future. The tech industry is also only going to grow and will need lots of people working in that field. This will be a VERY well paid industry!


After sitting on the Board of the Blue Room Theatre, which opened my eyes to the importance of the arts sector, we are also super fortunate to have some of the best Arts facilities and education programs in Australia. My main advice is - make sure you pick a career that you love. Life is too short!


How do you organise your time?

I’m not a great one to ask about this… It is one of my biggest challenges! Since ClimateClever is now growing, I am slowly learning to delegate more and outsource tasks that so take up so much of my time. Something I am STILL trying to teach my self is to only check my emails at certain times of the day and not let them rule my day! Urgh, emails…


Do you have any other comments about being an entrepreneur in WA?

Enjoy and embrace the fabulous lifestyle that we have in WA! Many other States lure startups over by providing more incentives for entrepreneurs (we need to lobby for some more support here!). However, we have a wonderful start up community in WA. And the great thing about starting a business here, is that you can become a big fish in a small pond quite quickly! There’s a lot more noise to cut through if you start out on the East Coast.


InfraNomics is a paid member of ClimateClever.