Origin Story Interview W/ David Garrison, Climate & Capital Connect

Origin Story Interview W/ David Garrison, Climate & Capital Connect

Brighter Future


Jul 20, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #ClimateAction #MeaningfulConnections #ProfessionalNetworking #DiverseConversations #LeadershipInsights

Brighter Future

Today, we’re delighted to be joined by David Garrison, co-founder of Climate & Capital Media and Founder and CEO of Climate & Capital Connect, the world’s first professional networking platform for climate action.

Hi, David! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. We’re excited to learn more about you and Climate & Capital Connect. To kick things off, we’d love to hear about you. So, who are you, and where are you from?

Hello! I’m a Canadian who now lives in the United States. My family originally came from the United States and moved to Canada, so I was actually the first Canadian in the family!

I started off as an economics major in undergrad and then went into this mix of a career in strategy marketing/branding and entrepreneurship. I worked at some great consulting firms, including a McKinsey offshoot called Katzenbach Partners. I was also one of the founding principles for Edelman Consulting, the big PR shop consulting practice. At the same time, I’ve always been focused on the branding of things. That’s always been the way I see the world. I like creating things that resonate with people and create that sense of meaning.

Along the way, I got involved with a whole bunch of different versions of start-ups, whether bootstrap start-ups or angel-funded start-ups. This combination of various influences has really shaped the way I see opportunity. For me, opportunity always starts small but has the potential to blossom and create a sense of meaning for people, which is exciting.

That said, if you had asked me early on in my career what I’d be doing in the first ten years after grad school, I would have had a tough time answering. I think I’ve always zigzagged through my career and just chased interesting ideas, which was really hard early on. Now, however, they’re great stories. I totally see the connection between them all, and I can draw on all of those experiences, which enables me to understand a lot of different perspectives in discussions with leaders.

You’re now the co-founder of Climate & Capital Media and founder and CEO of Climate & Capital Connect, which is the world's first professional networking platform for climate action. How did you get from working with start-ups to the climate action space?

I think there are a couple of different answers to that. Climate & Capital started as a media company. We identified a need to bridge and connect a couple of different worlds—specifically, climate and sustainability with the business world. At the time, there was a lot of discussion about deal flow, transactions, risk, urgency and data, but there wasn’t a lot of discussion about the opportunity. There was no one taking a positive view of the transformation of the world and all of the associated potential. Of course, there’s certainly urgency, craziness and terrible things that are happening around climate, but there’s also tremendous opportunity. We saw a need to be clear-eyed and articulate about what it is that would motivate us, aside from regulation and requirements.

We wanted people to be excited about the changes, and that meant articulating the opportunity in a way that people hadn’t done before. I think the second thing we were trying to do was offer insight into the very human decisions that leaders were making as they led bold transformation in their market, organisation, or in their own lives. People were trying to figure out who they wanted to be in a new world, what they had permission to be, and what the expectations of them were. That was all new. It’s a very human exercise to go through those large transformations, even if you’re a one-person start-up.

Those were the two things we started Climate & Capital Media to do. Climate & Capital Connect was born a couple of years later, just over a year ago now, out of an experiment we ran in the newsroom to just introduce people. In a newsroom, one day you’re talking to someone in Jakarta, and the next day, you’re talking to someone in New Delhi. And you say, “You guys should know each other. You have the same views.” That’s where it started.

What we identified was a real opportunity to increase the pace, depth and diversity of the conversations happening around climate change. As a platform, we have been trying to build a set of practical tools that will do that for people, that will challenge their biases without much effort on their part. All you have to do is show up for a meeting, so it’s easy. But it’s also exciting because the matching process is fun. Somewhere in the world, there’s someone doing something fascinating, and we connect you to them, which is how innovation happens. We believe that these really fascinating collaborations are going to be the way we solve the climate crisis.

I use this example all the time, but if you’re a white, Harvard-educated solar engineer in San Francisco, then chances are you know an awful lot of white, Harvard-educated solar engineers in San Francisco. However, the really interesting solutions and new ideas are going to come when that engineer meets a wind marketer in Senegal and an agricultural VC in Mumbai. That’s when things get really interesting. And that’s what we’re trying to facilitate. Right now, the goal is to make people aware of our platform and how easy these connections can be.  

That’s a fascinating idea! As you mentioned, we so often end up in the same circles as people just like us, who have the same education and background as us, and who know and believe the same things as us. There’s little opportunity for inspiration to strike or a new idea to take root in an environment like that. How did you get to where you are now—and what motivated you to start Climate &Capital Connect?

It’s funny because I think people get so performative about their motivations. We all want to present our motivations in the best possible light. For me, the superficial answer is that I think there’s an opportunity here to not just accelerate the climate solutions that other people are working on but to also fundamentally change the way we identify and view opportunities. I believe the platform we’ve created can change how we see and interact with what other people are doing, as well as how we apply our own thinking to their work and vice versa.

But there’s a deeper level for me, as well. I’ve become increasingly invested in helping to solve this great challenge we face. And I’ve also become increasingly against binary decisions, stances and positions. It creates a false sense of security. What motivates me most right now is the exploration of that grey area in between. For example, what are the kinds of questions you can ask in a conversation that shift it from being very narrow to being very open? So, my own motivation is about making tangible that greyness between the easy binary endpoints.

That’s an excellent point. There are many motivations beyond those commonly mentioned. When you think about all Climate & Capital Connect has achieved and is yet to achieve, who exactly are you doing this for? What is the goal or mission of the company?

I’ll tell you what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to say I’m doing it for the world, for the Earth, and for our kids. And that’s very true. I want my kids to have a nice world to live in. One where they don’t have to wear a gas mask togo to school. And there are places that are already like that. This isn’t a distant vision of the future. This is reality.

But there’s also that old school of thought that says there’s no such thing as true altruism. In some ways, I feel like that’s true for me, too. This is something that I’m struggling to figure out. How do we wrap our own arms around ambiguity? How do we become more comfortable with it on a day-to-day basis? How do we get comfortable looking at a world of people and trying to figure out how we get outside of our normal networks, out of the circle that we are used to talking to, and change how we see potential?

In some ways, I want to build Climate & Capital Connect for myself, because it’s the kind of tool that would make my life easy. I think there’s my higher self who says it’s for the Earth and the world, but in a lot of ways, I’m building this for me.

That’s an interesting and very honest perspective! Looking back on your life and career trajectory, what do you think gave you the perspective and confidence to start an organisation like Climate & Capital Connect?

I came from a family that really believed in me and encouraged me to be myself. Although I recognised that I lived in a world with other people, I knew from early on that you couldn’t control their responses. You could only walk away satisfied with the way you approached things. I think that had a big impact on me. As I moved into my working years, it meant making sure that when I had an opportunity, I fully went for it, because I didn’t want to come out the other side with regrets about how hard I had tried. That certainly informed how I approached Climate & Capital Connect.

But there were some other really formative experiences early on that changed how I thought about seizing opportunities. In high school, for example, I was not a great athlete starting out, but I decided to try out for the football team. I went through the try-outs and got cut in the last round. However, the coach thanked those of us who got cut and encouraged us to stay involved in supporting the team in any way we could. Afterwards, I asked him if I could train with the team, even though I hadn’t made the cut. Surprisingly, he agreed. So, for a whole year, I went to all the training sessions, learned a lot, and attended all of the games. The team actually became so invested in me that when we made finals, they gave me a uniform to wear so I also felt part of their success. When the next year’s try-outs came along, I made the team.

That experience shaped how I approach opportunities and challenges. I’ve noticed that if you approach it with genuine curiosity and a real desire to be rigorous and disciplined about doing it well, whatever that means for you, people see that. Even if you don’t make it through the normal channels, there is a recognition of a kindred spirit. People come to really appreciate and value that, and it pays dividends later. So, my family and a great coach really informed and shaped my mindset from an early age. I’ve certainly carried those lessons with me into my career.

Thanks for sharing your experiences—especially the one with your coach. There’s a lot to take away from that. It’s important to acknowledge that great ideas and great people sometimes fail on the first try. True entrepreneurs know that it’s all part of the process and persist. Did you experience any failures or setbacks when you started out on your journey? If so, what did you learn from them?

It’s funny to say “early on” because we’re still relatively early on. However, there have been challenges and failures along the path so far. For example, at one point, we decided to raise capital for the company. We invested a lot of time and effort into it, and we even changed how we were talking about this combination of the media side and the network side of the business.

 It seemed smart at the time. And, in a lot of ways, it was the right decision. The capital was mostly going to be for marketing. But on the Connect side, it was going to be used for building the MVP and expanding on it to develop the product.

I still like where we ended up with the pitch, but I can accept that it was confusing for investors. We didn’t do ourselves any favours with the way we presented it to them. Ultimately, the media investors didn’t want to invest in a tech company, and the tech investors didn’t want to invest in a media company. So, combining the two, even though there is an awesome argument for it, just wasn’t the right approach. It was definitely a lesson learned.

We ended up pulling back and changing the objective, opting for a slower growth model that was more organic. It would take personal sacrifices and trade-offs on our part to just slowly increase the growth and development of the company, but it was a better solution for us. We were in a spot where we had flubbed. We had just wasted a lot of time and money. We could have gone on presenting that same pitch over and over and over again until we found an investor who was willing to do it. But it felt right to take a moment to reassess what we were doing and what we were trying to accomplish.

Despite this setback, I still really believe that our combination of pushing content into personal action and real relationships at a meaningful level is something that other media companies can’t do. I believe that personalised content that is attached to specific interactions is something that other social networks can’t do. That’s a really cool thing. 

That’s a great example of being creative and adaptable, as well as persisting through difficult spots. It sounds like you learned a crucial lesson. When reflecting on the process of getting a business off the ground, many entrepreneurs report experiencing an “a-ha!” moment. A moment when something just makes sense or clicks into place. Have you ever had that experience?

Yes, absolutely! I’ve often laughed with my co-founder Peter about this. You see, I’m not really your typical climate advocate. I love this space and I have gotten deep into it, but I don’t have the credibility of going to rallies for the last 30 years. And unlike many of my colleagues, it wasn’t my high school passion. That wasn’t me. So, although I’ve come into it and feel passionate about combatting climate change, I’m not a long-time climate actor. I’m also not a finance person or a media guy. And yet somehow, I’ve ended up running a company that is all of these things.

But somewhere along the way, I had a sort of quiet “a-ha!” moment, where I found confidence in the role that I play and what I bring to the table. I have an understanding of where meaning sits for people and how to figure that out. It’s all about how to personalise things at scale. At its core, that’s the experiment we’re running with Connect—can we create meaning?

There are lots of organisations that do what we do offline, in small pockets, and they do it really well. We are trying to create meaningful conversations at scale, and that’s something I know how to do that other people don’t. So that was the big “a-ha!” moment for me—that there are these wonderful worlds that can come together. And again, going back to the point about the value of diverse conversations leading to innovation, I’m a good example of that. I am in this world that I don’t have deep experience in, applying things that I know really well to create something that feels really special to the members that are participating… and that’s awesome!

Amazing! That’s a great “a-ha!” moment. Sometimes these realisations develop gradually and then hit us with a bang. You mentioned that you had to make some personal sacrifices and trade-offs when raising capital. What other sacrifices did you make to get the company off the ground?

Well, there’s the obvious one of not making any money. Again, I feel like this is one of those performative answers that is important to acknowledge, but people also say it for a reason. Because it’s true!

I think one of the big trade-offs with taking the non-linear, slightly fuzzy, sphere-shaped career path that I have is that you are slow to believe in or have great confidence in what you’ve set out to achieve. There’s this sense of not fitting in anywhere or knowing what will give you meaning. Figuring that out is hard, and it takes time to feel fully confident in what you’re doing. On the flip side, when you do get there, there’s a lot of confidence because you’ve built a world for yourself, and you’ve been forced to articulate it in a way that others haven’t.

That’s an interesting point—and not one commonly mentioned by entrepreneurs. How long did it take you to feel that confidence?

Until yesterday? Just kidding. But it was just recently. I would say it took up until I left Edelman with two of its clients to start my own company, The Brytemoore Group, which is a branding collaborative. That company was a real win. And it certainly changed the dynamic of the next set of clients I got.

It’s rare to start a company with two big agency clients already in place. That was awesome. But even then, it wasn’t that I was confident, it was just that I had their blessing. I became more confident when I realised that I had a process that I could articulate. Suddenly, I could see on paper that I knew what I was doing. Then, when I began to really articulate and believe in my approach, and stand behind it, I grew in confidence.

Amazing! Confidence is not something that appears overnight. It takes time and a track record of real wins to get there—and most of us are always a work in progress in that regard. As a people and a planet, we are currently undergoing a period of great change. As someone contributing to the building of a better world for our future generations through your companies, we’d love to know how you envision the future? 

This is a question that climate people get asked a lot. There are already a lot of very insightful climate-based answers to that, so I’ll let the climate and capital markets experts answer that. For me, however, I see the world through the lens of creating meaning, the choices we make, the permissions and expectations we have in the market.

From my perspective, it’s important to recognise that there is no one future. And that’s not just because we have choice, but because we can make a difference. We are a diverse species with exceptionally different experiences of life and climate and finance and love and everything else. We have to realise that we are not building a future for one person or for one living life—we are building a future for everyone. And that means choice and a spectrum of decisions that will benefit everyone in the future, not just now. The sooner we become comfortable with that ambiguity—that grey area—and the need for guardrails, the better.

With Climate & Capital Connect, for example, our role is simply to create the space for ambiguity and for beautiful relationships between professionals to form. That is something that is rare, that we’re not comfortable with, and that has a huge potential impact on the way we approach the decisions we make, all of which will impact the future.

So, again, when I talk about the future, I know there are lots of people who have awesome ideas about the tools we need to use to get to a sustainable future and a world that we can live in. But what I would like to see is that, along the way, we radically shift the way we view things and the way we build relationships that we can draw on in the work we do.

That’s a very interesting perspective! Thank you for sharing! When future generations look back on your life and what you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from your story?

I think a lot of people aspire to be remembered for that signature thing they did, whether it’s a policy change, a product, a movement… whatever it is. My father was a famous astronomer who was known for a lot of things. But the world will remember him for the work he did on supernovas. He probably would have been proud of that, but I think he would have been even more proud of the way his students remember him pushing them to do their best work. I think I’ve taken some of that into my own life and learned from it.

So, for me, the thing I hope people remember me for when I’m gone—family and colleagues alike—is the moments of candour and curious generosity. Conversations that got them to a better place when they didn’t know what they believed. If you can do that with the 500 people you’re going to meet over the next couple of years, that’s pretty cool. Will one of those people I meet say that I radically changed their business and made them profitable in 2023? Will all of them say that? That wouldn’t matter to me as much as if they all walked away feeling like I was someone who allowed them to be themselves and who they didn’t have to perform for. Someone who helped them become a deeper version of themselves. I think that would be a good legacy to leave.

Very beautiful! We’ve spoken a little about the future and future generations. Now, we’d like to give you a chance to speak directly to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out and are possibly shaping the future through their businesses. What advice do you have for them?

Buy our stock so that you have enough money to not worry about—no, I’m kidding! I would say be confident in yourself and believe in what you’re doing. I would also recommend that you take the time to think about the common thread that goes through all of the things you’re doing. Not so much what you want to do—that’s the classic career advice—but what’s that overlap between what you want to do and what the market will pay for? That’s a really useful exercise that I did myself.  

I would also say be consistent. Think of yourself as being similar to a brand. When you look at all the decisions you’ve made, they should all have a similar flavour. You should be the same person, no matter what setting you’re in. That will allow you to be comfortable and confident in the decisions you’re making.   

Great advice, David! Unfortunately, this really interesting and insightful conversation is coming to a close. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak to you today. To finish up, we’ve got one last question for you: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

That’s a difficult one because I think “one message” suggests that there is one answer. I feel like there are things that I lean on for comfort at different times. Sometimes I lean on the idea of curious generosity, as that’s one of my core beliefs.

Other times, I lean more on being the best version of yourself that you can be—but doing so with care and compassion for yourself. I lean on different things at different points in time. Maybe that’s my one lasting message to the world: lean on different things at different times and figure out what makes you comfortable taking bold action.


A huge thank you to our wonderful guest David Garrison from Climate & CapitalConnect for participating in this interview and sharing his knowledge! If you would like to find out more about David and the great work he is doing at Climate & Capital Connect, you can find him at: www.climateconnect.club.

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing people like David, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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