Origin Story Interview W/ Nathan Bonnisseau, Plan A

Origin Story Interview W/ Nathan Bonnisseau, Plan A

Brighter Future

 / 

Oct 11, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #carbonaccounting #environmentaltech #carbonreduction #greentech #carbonmeasurement #decarbonisation

Brighter Future

We’re here with Nathan Bonnisseau, co-founder of Plan A. His company builds software that helps with carbon accounting.

Thanks so much for being here, Nathan. To start, could you tell me a little about yourself and your business plan?

My name is Nathan Bonnisseau, and I am the co-founder of Plan A, a carbon accounting software company we established in 2017. For the past five years, we have developed a platform that enables businesses to undertake the end-to-end sustainability journey. This includes data collection, transformation into relevant CO2 equivalent carbon measurements or other impact measurements, reporting to comply with the law or to be transparent with stakeholders, and implementing emissions reduction or ESG performance activities. We aim to enable businesses to become leaders rather than laggards in the sustainability transition by decoupling the creation of wealth from carbon emissions.

On a personal level, I have a background in politics and communications, and my goal has always been to learn how to become better at gathering and convincing stakeholders and unifying entities, whether they are people, organisations, businesses, NGOs, institutions, or others, around the same goal and through the same paths.

Where did your career journey begin?

My first “entrepreneurial experience” occurred when I was four years old. We had a berry bush next to my house, and I lived near a national monument, an old castle in France. My brother and I used to build little berry cornettos and sell them. My career actually started creating content and writing for various causes. For example, I wrote pieces on gentrification in Brazil or the role of culture in the development of favelas.

Additionally, I worked as a radio and media contributor in France, focusing on education and culture. In parallel, I also worked on developing business skills such as accounting, control management, and other necessary acumen to understand the basic economics of a business. These experiences were the starting points that led me to where I am today.

When did your interest in climate start?

As far as I can remember, climate has always been on my mind. I grew up in the countryside, next to a forest, and my dad, a biology teacher, taught me a lot about biodiversity and how nature works. So, I have been interacting with the concepts of nature preservation and stewardship for as long as I can remember.

Keeping up with the news has been a big part of my life since I was a kid, and my interest in climate has been a part of my awareness since childhood. With the additional experiences of seeing waste in the most remote places of the Earth or the dramatic reduction of millenary glaciers, I have come to understand nature preservation as the most important battle to be won.

We all want to save the planet, preserve biodiversity, and protect our oceans, but the real debate is how to achieve that. It took me years of experience, studying, learning, and training myself on a business level to understand where and how I could contribute to this objective.

When you were eighteen or nineteen, what steps did you take to gain the experiences in your career?

In the context of my career, my first paid gigs involved working on communications. At the time, I had just graduated into the University of Bath at age eighteen, where I studied international relations and gained an understanding of geopolitics. I began working on issues related to gentrification, popular education, and access to education. This included learning how to market education, sustainability, and fundraising for schools. I also took on jobs that taught me how to manage a business properly, learning about accounting, budgeting, and planning. Eventually, I gained enough confidence to pursue the role I had been preparing for, and that's when I co-founded Plan A.

What led you to found Plan A? Can you share the idea and how you entered this field?

When we started in 2017, corporate sustainability was less developed than today. For example, carbon accounting, and digital sustainability software were as readily available as they may be today. The need for sustainability and the shift of business towards sustainability because of investor, client, and moral pressure led to the creation of a platform capable of serving these  needs.

The data-driven decision-making trend that businesses now follow has also influenced the shaping of Plan A. Companies require data to inform their decisions and stay ahead of the competition. However, to collect and analyse data, we need a structured approach and transformational elements to calculate CO2 emissions to provide insights.

The decision to target private sector organisations instead of individuals is a deliberate choice due to the fact that large enterprises are responsible for a significant portion of global emissions and have the potential to change faster. This means that although we do rely on individuals to push the agenda within these organisations, we believe that changing collective structures will allow us to meet the very tight deadlines set by our planetary boundaries.

Before launching Plan A, we spent a year conducting research. We read extensively and worked individually to understand what we needed to do. As individuals, we carefully consider our understanding of sustainability and climate change and how we can contribute to these causes. Each of us needs to engage in this exercise to become more effective in addressing issues.

As a co-founder, how did you meet your fellow co-founder?

Lubomila Jordanova and I have known each other since university when we both did our undergrads in the UK. I studied at the University of Bath, while Lubomila attended Aston University in Birmingham. We quickly realised that we were aligned on our theory of change and our determination to create sustainable transformation. This was the starting point for us in 2017 when we began discussing how to use our knowledge and enthusiasm for sustainability. A few months later, we launched the first version of Plan A, which was already six years ago.

Choosing the right co-founder is often compared to choosing a life partner. Have you had this perspective before, and if so, how has it played out? Additionally, have there been any particularly successful moments in your partnership?

Choosing your co-founder wisely is important because when you build a company, you have to think long-term. Five years later, I'm proud that we're so aligned on what we set out to do and how we are doing it. Things would be very complicated without this alignment on the intent and the way you want to realise the journey.

You can evolve on a certain level of alignment, but when decisions become expensive, and strategy becomes crucial, that's when the partnership matters. Without the right alignment on your values, who's doing what and why,  there is a risk of your company splitting in different directions.

Our success is the success of the team we have managed to gather. To see more than 100 people working towards a shared goal and sharing a spirit of change together are the most rewarding moments.

What have been the biggest challenges with Plan A?

The most complicated thing is managing the speed at which the company needs to change things. There are lots of dependencies between company culture and the size of the company, between the product and your commercial strategy.

As an example, now that we're localising our content in multiple languages, the terminology must be consistent across all languages. This can be tedious, but ensuring a cohesive brand identity is necessary. This is just one operational example of the challenges of experiencing growth and implementing previously unnecessary changes. What worked for one size may no longer be effective for another. As a result, you must be patient and ruthless with your own work. Things need to be constantly updated and upgraded.

Have you made any significant mistakes and learned from them?

To make our vision a reality, we needed to sequence it into digestible building blocks. At the beginning of our journey, we expanded in multiple directions, organising events, coaching, workshops, all related to sustainability. While this taught us a lot, it also cost us time and effort to implement. It's important to be clear about what you want to do and the pathway that will lead you to achieve your goals. While our vision remained unchanged, the pathway to achieving did evolve greatly.

Have you ever deviated from your initial plan and done something completely different or pivoted in another direction?

We have evolved our original idea quite a bit. From a platform dedicated to orienting funds towards where and how climate change would hit the hardest, we now have a tool to help businesses.

It's a big mistake to think everything will go according to plan, as the plan is simply a canvas to organise your ideas in time.

Similarly, you must know when you have made a mistake or are deviating from the course of action that leads you astray from your desired outcome. Correcting course is a change of plan. We have made hundreds of decisions outside of our original plan, but it's essential to be adaptable and open to change.

What do you think is the most personally fulfilling aspect of your work?

The most fulfilling thing for me is engaging over 100 people with our vision. When hiring, we look for people who can get behind this shared vision and adhere to Plan A’s theory of change. To keep our planet below critical thresholds, we need to create a wave effect that changes the culture of work and business. On an operational level, I enjoy finding solutions, even if the problems are tedious. It's nice to see things working, and I find a lot of pleasure in this aspect of my work.

Have you ever had any big “Aha!” moments, or maybe one significant moment that shaped you as a founder or person in how you approach things?

One important skill is the ability to surround yourself with people that know how to do things better than you do. No one can be an expert in everything, and this realisation hit home when we finally decided to hire a product manager for a role I didn't have the training or skillset for. This triggered a change in my mindset from "I need to do this myself" to "We need to build a team that can handle this." A team of experts, rather than a one-man army, brings more value to the company.

Where do you fall on the scale of rationality vs. intuition?

Instead of using that scale, I propose a different one: the entropy scale. How much chaos can you embrace in your relationships and environment?

Of course, this concept has different meanings to different people, but for me, it means I embrace both order and chaos. There are benefits to both ends of the spectrum when building a startup. You need to embrace order to achieve your goals and chaos to move quickly.

I try not to stay in one place on this scale but instead move from one end to another depending on the situation.

Sustainability and climate change are emotional topics, but it's important to understand your relationship with the subject. Without this analysis, it's easy to fall into overly emotional conversations, that provide a disservice to solution-building. While I understand the emotional aspect, it's not the tool I use most to craft solutions.

What future are you hoping to create with Plan A?

Our vision is to decarbonise the economy. We aim to decouple growth from CO2 and help people maintain a certain level of livelihood while sustainably growing their livelihood.

I wish that, as a species and society, we continue to work towards making our lives more sustainable. This includes better food distribution, biodiversity preservation, and ensuring that sustainability doesn't mean a return to the past or regression of our society but rather the next stage of it.

The biggest challenge in sustainability is politically articulating a true and tangible narrative for people. We need to package this vision in a coherent way that is accessible to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. If we can do this, we can get more people behind this vision and scale up this change.

Despite the inevitable setbacks and sacrifices, I'm positive that we can achieve this. The energy crisis is just one symptom of our limited resources, and we need to adjust our lifestyles to live more sustainably.

What were the biggest compromises or sacrifices you had to make personally to get where you are today?

Time is of the essence, not just for me, but for every person pursuing their goals at Plan A. Starting a company inevitably leads to tradeoffs in the way that you shape your time.

Over the last five years, I have skipped out on many events with friends and opportunities that I would have loved to attend or be a part of. I have not been able to nurture my relationships with friends and acquaintances as much as I would have liked. This is because I have been focusing on developing my project.

I have had to constantly learn and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and interact with stakeholders in the sustainability space. This has enriched me as a person, as I have had the opportunity to meet new people. However, it has also meant that I had to leave many things aside that I would have liked to do.

What advice would you give young entrepreneurs who are just starting or considering starting a business in the climate space in the future?

First, I emphasise the importance of starting early. Many people have fantastic ideas, but having an idea alone does not constitute a company or an achievement. Most of the work is executing that idea and bringing it to life. So it’s crucial to start working on it now, even if it’s only a pet project. Starting early will prepare you for future opportunities.

Second, learning how to ask for help and talk about your project with others is essential. You cannot do everything alone, and it is okay to ask for support. You never know who can offer assistance, and many people have been successful in their ventures through serendipitous conversations and recommendations. Seeking help costs nothing and can provide a significant boost to your project.

What would you like future generations to remember about you?

I want to ensure that my generation is remembered as active and that it made a difference. This has been driving my reflections for some time now. How can we ensure we do things meaningfully, particularly regarding climate change? There is a lot of talk about it being in the future, happening in 10 years, or being a tipping point, but until we start taking action, these conversations will not change. Even if we stopped emissions today, temperatures would continue to rise for some time. This change may only be visible in 50 or 100 years depending on the timescale. However, if we can prove these predictions wrong and take meaningful action, it would be a significant achievement for me and my generation.

If there were one lasting message that you could share with everyone on this planet, that could reach everyone, what would that be?

I suggest talking to your neighbours and getting to know them. There is often more to people than meets the eye, and it's easy to project a certain identity or role. But it's more interesting to go beyond this and discover what lies beneath the surface. While there may be a paper-thin wall between people, it's easy to break through it. Unfortunately, digitalisation has led to an increasing amount of wallpaper being put up, which makes it harder to connect with others. If people could get up from their seats and start talking to anyone, it would do a world of good for everyone. Let's break down these walls and speak to each other, even if the walls are just made of paper.

That sounds like great advice to us. Nathan, thank you so much for your time and sharing your story. From all of us at Brighter Future, we wish you the greatest success imaginable with your carbon accounting software. The world’s going to need a lot more of tools like yours if we’re going to beat climate change, and you’re doing great work.

If you’d like to read more about Nathan’s company, please visit www.plana.earth.

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