Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Gambill. Paul is the co-founder and CEO of Nori, the world’s only carbon dioxide removal marketplace. Nori empowers enterprises and individuals with a full range of solutions to begin to reverse climate change. With a broad background in engineering and management, Gambill has long been an entrepreneur for businesses dedicated to social goals. He also brings six years’ experience in leading mobile and web application projects for clients and has shipped more than a dozen apps to the public.
In addition to his role at Nori, Gambill founded Carbon Removal Seattle, the first meet-up community dedicated to carbon removal. He also co-founded and developed and marketed apps for You Enjoy My Stickers, an iMessage sticker design company.
Earlier, Gambill was the project manager and Director of Operations and Delivery at Mentor Creative Group, where he served more than 30 clients and delivered more than ten mobile and web apps. Before that, he was product and project manager at Deloitte Digital, where he designed, tested and subsequently delivered four iOS and Android apps to Fortune 100 companies and managed teams of up to 15 people.
Gambill has also trained others to apply his Agile and Lean principles to improve their project processes. At General Assembly, he taught more than 20 classes and 250 students about process design and product management.
Gambill earned his Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from Arizona State University and his Master of Engineering Management degree from Duke University. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
About four years ago while tackling a different small business concept, I came across an article about how climate scientists were becoming depressed because no one was listening to their warnings about climate change. I started thinking that surely there had to be a way to recycle carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that there was some incentive to draw down CO2. I wanted to figure out how to make the problem of climate change go away, not merely make it less bad. From there I founded a networking group so I could meet other people interested in learning about carbon removal, and that ultimately led to meeting my co-founders for Nori.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Pitching Tim Draper about Nori on his network and web show ‘Meet the Drapers’ was distinctly surreal. Nori was selected out of the many applicants to come onto the show and talk about our company’s unique approach to bring regenerative agriculture, carbon markets, and blockchain architecture together into a single potentially profitable and world-changing investment opportunity. It was over in what seemed like the blink of an eye, but I was encouraged that others saw the same ray of hope that we see to clear the carbon out of the atmosphere.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Nori is a carbon dioxide removal marketplace. We are building a transparent and secure platform that will allow anyone in the world to pay to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Our voluntary marketplace will enable carbon removal suppliers to connect directly with buyers, improving efficiency and reducing costs. The Nori platform ensures easy and reliable carbon accounting, it reduces transaction costs for both buyers and sellers, and enables a secure payment process for removing carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) from the atmosphere.
How do you think this will change the world?
It better! If this — or something soon — doesn’t change the world, there might not be much of a world left as we want to know it. Our motto is “Reversing Climate Change,” which we know is not a small task, but we firmly believe it’s time to start thinking audaciously, like turning carbon into a cash crop. Once we can make it profitable for farmers and chemical companies and airlines and others to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, there will be less cause for political conflict over climate change. When environmentalism looks like a tax or a regulation, that’s a recipe for disagreement. When it looks like a way to make money, that scales and does so without political battles.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
The thing that keeps me up nights — some nights, anyway: could we pull too much carbon out of the atmosphere and launch a new Ice Age? Though I guess those are more dreams of clearing the air and reversing climate change than they are nightmares of overkill. We do, after all, keep saying Nori will help take the excess carbon out of the air. And it seems improbable that people would keep paying for a service to pull CO2 out of the sky once it was no longer needed. So yes, an occasional “black mirror” nightmare — but I’m far more afraid of the realities of what will happen if we don’t succeed.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We sometimes describe ourselves as “the API for reversing climate change.” This means that we’d like the Nori software to plug into the back end of all sorts of transactions that have emissions and be involved in negating them at the point of creation. Existing carbon markets do not have a hardcore software focus, but we do, and we know that if something is to catch “fire”, it either needs to be easy to use, seamless and as much of a savings or a moneymaker as, say, clicking on “buy” in an Amazon cart.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s often better to be unique in a crowd than standing all alone. It’s better to have the opportunity to explain why and how you’re tackling a seemingly unsolvable problem than to be outside the circle shouting, “why don’t you get it”?
- Being the CEO doesn’t mean you get to just think “big picture.” I spend a lot of time dealing with the basic administrative and financial functioning of the company. I expected and set out for the vision-setting part but hadn’t anticipated the traffic cop part. I’m learning, though, that once you hire smart people whom you trust and who share your mission, you don’t need to be constantly directing all the daily traffic.
- Don’t ever say “it’s simple.” It’s not. Even dirt, for instance, is complex stuff. Even just measuring CO2 in the soil isn’t as simple as sticking a sensor in the ground. Quite a lot of Nori brainpower goes into sketching out the methodological details of how it works so that our buyers, sellers, and investors can make a credible yet straightforward claim of carbon removal.
- “If you build it, they will come” isn’t enough. We made some good marketing decisions, particularly with our podcast Reversing Climate Change, which has a fanbase. However, we were all so focused on building the marketplace that we didn’t always do enough to showcase what we were doing, mainly because the team tends to be modest by disposition, which is distinctly out of fashion in the social media era.
- Being wrong can be right. Making a wrong turn is helpful for design. Closing off possibilities helps one find the next best path. Small experiments that one can build on quickly are useful whether they succeed or fail. The trick is knowing how to learn success and failure — and expecting more of the latter than the former.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Creativity and soft skills seem relatively future proof. We do have many people on the team with engineering backgrounds, but we also have a strong bench with backgrounds in the humanities. Interdisciplinary creative thinking is necessary to strategize and make sense of the complex emerging world, and it is abstract enough that I think it will be hard to duplicate with AI or automation generally.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
I’m not allowed to give investment advice, but I do keep a close watch on the relationship between oil and gas, direct air capture, and what is coming to be known as Atmospheric Services.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
It’s the same in business and personal life: When you find good people, hang on to them.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Curiosity is just as valuable than expertise. Generalists are often good people to be at the top of the company to connect the dots. That isn’t to say one shouldn’t become good at specific tasks, but that it should be done akin to Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You where you complete and master a task while keeping an eye on other opportunities to broaden your intellect and experience and build diversity and antifragility.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Who says you can’t save the planet and make a profit at the same time? When we talk about investing for both the short and long-term, we mean investing in the future of the Earth by making something as essential as removing CO2 from the air into a profitable venture for investors and for the people who will be “selling” carbon and buying Nori’s Carbon Removal Certificates.
We anticipate that a trillion-dollar carbon removal industry is on its way. Nori is building the financial infrastructure to make it broadly accessible. We invite you to join us and be part of changing the world for good.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can subscribe to our podcasts Reversing Climate Change and Carbon Removal Newsroom in your podcast app of choice. We are @nori on Twitter, @noridoteco on Facebook and LinkedIn, and @noricarbonremoval on Instagram. We also have a weekly newsletter at https://nori.com/subscribe.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.