In the second week of COP 26, the scrutiny intensifies as to the final outcome of this much anticipated climate crisis summit. Famous faces like Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg and William and Kate are all in bonny Glasgow to try and accelerate the slow burn of heavily bureaucratic international negotiations.
As we target Net 0, doubtless the headlines will be captured by the public sector commitments made by high-emission countries like India, or deforestation goals made by South American nations.
Less reported on but arguably just as vital are the slew of private sector negotiations taking place behind closed doors - with billions of dollars in venture capital now siphoning its way to support the next generation of climate tech startups. Chris Sacca alone, with his group Lowercarbon Capital, has raised $800m with a stated mission to "unf*ck the planet".
But how do this generation of startups actually distribute their products? It's all well and good having fantastic climate-saving tech, but the crisis can only be tackled if consumers and businesses adopt the solutions in practice. As an early stage climate tech startup, nailing your go-to-market strategy must be seen as mission critical.
A shortlist of current climate-tech startups
- Supercritical: a software platform that helps businesses reach carbon net zero and tackle the climate crisis.
- Aqua: developing the first whole-muscle cut sushi-quality seafood alternatives created using microbial fermentation.
- Goodr: a sustainable surplus food management platform that leverages technology to reduce food waste and combat hunger.
- Carbon Lighthouse: Delivering easy building de-carbonisation for commercial real estate owners
- Compound Foods: creating coffee without coffee beans
- Pledge: a software platform that enables businesses of any size to provideefficient and measurable climate solutions to its customers.
- Pachama: an AI-powered marketplace for nature carbon removal credits.
- Copia: the next-generation technology platform for food waste management.
- Sustain Life: Helping businesses to meet sustainability targets with customised action plans, easy-to-use implementation tools and progress reporting.
- Cellibre: turning cells into specialised, sustainable factories for the manufacture of globally significant products at scale.
- Gardyn: reimagining the future of food: all the fresh produce you need to feedyour family at home. No space, time or green thumb required.
- 44.01: Carbon Mineralisation as a Service
How to approach growing and marketing a climate tech startup
1) Sell your story in a format that people want to consume
For anyone who believes strongly in an issue as vital as the climate, it's tempting to preach your message at length in a 10,000 word, stream-of-consciousness blog post. The reality is that, unless you've managed to write a generational piece that escapes into the public consciousness, your only readers are going to be existing converts.
Netflix documentaries like Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy have raised global awareness around the climate crisis; they've reached hearts and minds typically excluded by the dense, scientific collateral that experts would read. The same goes for YouTube star Jack Harries or TikToker Louis Levanti - these are self-proclaimed "knowledge brokers" of the climate crisis that rightly see themselves as the vehicles through which the urgent mission can and will spread to the masses.
Startups - whether organically through their own native content strategies, or inorganically through brand partnerships with these sorts of creators - must recognise that scaling customer adoption will be catalysed by such knowledge brokers. This goes for B2B as well as B2C: with the consumerisation of enterprise gathering pace, reaching decision makers through editorially-generated, virality-optimised video content is increasingly a reliable way to drive top of funnel leads while also converting existing leads from consideration to purchase.
2) Perfect your product marketing to reach message-market-fit
So often we see B2B companies that have failed to properly evaluate, refine and define their core messaging, competitive value prop and sales enablement material. The story you tell your investors, or prospective employees, is unlikely to be the same one you tell potential customers.
The concept of product-market fit (PMF) is revered - and rightly so - by VCs and startup operators, but one of the key components on the journey to PMF is what we call message-market fit (MMF). Adapting Marc Andreessen's commonly cited litmus test for PMF - whereby he suggests "that in a great market—a market with lots of real potential customers—the market pulls product out of the startup" - MMF is about the market pulling messaging out of the startup.
Telltales signs of MMF taking place are when customers play back the same phrases and epithets that are on your landing page in their tweets or LinkedIn posts, or their is a +40% positive ratio of customers organically introducing you to other potential customers by quoting you and your product story. Ensuring that you speak your customers' language, and therefore better engineering word of mouth, is doubly important for ClimateTech startups whose (often self-imposed) limited time horizon for success of 2050 means that rapid speed of adoption is a need-to-have.
3) Leverage the media to its full extent; recruitment included
PR is often seen by founders as an analogue strategy in a digital world. Granted it is never going to be the primary growth engine of your business, but they can provide considerable "turbo boosts" at critical moments in your journey.
Especially in weeks like these when editors at newspapers, digital media and high-circulation newsletters are searching for stories related to your business, it's vital to be part of the conversation: not only for driving immediate top of funnel pipeline, but delivering long term SEO benefits through high-authority backlinks.
Beyond new user acquisition, engaging a PR specialist in these moments can play a critical role in the internal employee engagement and recruitment process. The war for high quality talent is at an all time high. Exposure in the media is a shrewd way to validate the importance of your mission to candidates, as well as to keep existing teammates inspired by your vision.