We should all be paying attention to our consumption of products that are damaging, from plastic straws to the type of car you buy, but more importantly investing in funds, companies, and technologies whose mission it is to further the life of our planet.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Walter Schindler, an accomplished lawyer, investor and strategic advisor who was an early US pioneer of sustainable investing and who is well known internationally as an early thought leader of investing in innovative energy, water and agriculture projects. Walter has 38 years of corporate law experience in mergers and acquisitions and public offerings of securities. He is also the founder of the pioneering cleantech venture capital firm, SAIL Capital Partners LLC. Today, with his new global project development firm, Transformation, LLC, Schindler serves as the lead legal advisor for clients in the US and globally on projects in energy, water, agriculture, and infrastructure with the mission of protecting sustainable resources and tackling climate change through the use of new technologies across the whole spectrum of energy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 1999 the unexpected loss of three members of my family within a brief time period forced me to reconsider what I wanted to accomplish in my life and career. During that time, I was also doing research on environmental pollution and climate change, and in considering the recent tragedies I had experienced, I felt a sense of urgency to devote the rest of my life to something that would change the world for the better. The result was my decision to leave Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in order to build SAIL Capital Partners, one of the first sustainability-focused venture capital firms at the time. After many years of the ups and downs of venture capital, I developed the vision to have a bigger impact through project development: I saw the opportunity to start a new firm called Transformation, LLC that would focus on the convergence of new technologies and energy, which has been an emerging trend of great force in recent years. At Transformation, LLC we are focused on advising, counseling, developing and managing projects across the entire spectrum of energy.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
At SAIL, the mission was to invest in impactful venture-stage companies while making above-market returns for investors. Our aim was to pick new technologies that would mitigate pollution, improve climate change and promote sustainable solutions. This is still our goal today, but our approach at Transformation is different.
We now work on very large energy projects, with the goal of improving the entire infrastructure of energy, water, and agriculture, and creating greater efficiencies, so that we optimize output while minimizing negative impact.
At Transformation, we have the opportunity to solve the many issues that exist across the spectrum of energy. In every aspect of global resources, there is an opportunity to create better, more sustainable practices using smarter technology. Problems like growing populations, increasing risks of world hunger, safe drinking water shortages, and lack of updated infrastructure (especially in developing countries) have enormous impact on global resources. How we plan to use these resources is key in making sure we can both support the growing population of the world while maintaining, and maybe even improving the health of our planet.
Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is taking to tackle climate change? Can you give an example for each?
What was the most difficult thing you faced when you first started your company/organization? Can you share how you overcame that. This might give insight to founders who face a similar situation.
Being a pioneer in anything is a huge challenge in itself because of system resistance to change but the areas where we focus are the most difficult and impenetrable systems on earth. Since the idea of cleantech or impact investing (whatever you’d like to call it) was so new in the early 2000’s, we were paving the path to what this type of investment looked like. The hardest truth we had to face is that cleantech companies required much more capital, and more time to have impact and significant returns — much more than other company’s VC firms might have been investing in at the time. It’s only now — in 2018 we realize what it takes to make cleantech firms successful. The only way to overcome that problem was to raise more money and convince investors that cleantech investing is a new beast and there is a balance between having an impact while also achieving returns.
Many people want to start a company to tackle environmental issues, but they face challenges when it comes to raising enough money to actually make it happen. Can you share how were you able to raise the funding necessary to start your organization? Do you have any advice?
My career as a lawyer helped greatly, my best suggestion is to surround yourself with the right people, and create a good business plan (this is highly underrated).
Do you think entrepreneurs/businesses can do a better job than governments to solve the climate change and global warming issues? Please explain why or why not.
Absolutely. The issue is that most don’t know how — but there any many ways businesses can help. They can invest outside help to determine how they may be able to update their systems, devote resources to better technology, and involve their employees in greener day-to-day practices.
What are some practical things that both people and governments can do help you address the climate change and global warming problem?
Paying attention to your consumption of products that are damaging, from plastic straws to the type of car you buy, but more importantly investing in funds, companies, and technologies whose mission it is to further the life of our planet.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1. It doesn’t matter how good a person’s resume is, the most important part of running a successful venture is having a team that works well together and has synergy. I’ve made the mistake of hiring wonderful individuals with outstanding resumes, but if they can’t work together, none of that matters.
2. In Venture Capital, know that you’re going to need more money than you think. This is especially true for cleantech, because further development requires more funding. Your companies will continue to need more funding as they grow and scale.
3. If you should be lucky enough to be approached by a serious buyer of your company, you should take it very, very seriously. Why? Because it is often the case that the future will bring unexpected adversity that is hard to predict. For example, in the year 2006, while I was negotiating the sale of our first investment to DuPont for $150M, the board overruled me because they felt the company would sell 3 years later for at least $1B. But 18 months later, the company was sold in Chapter 7 for $600,000. You don’t need a calculator to know the difference! (told in my blog.)
4. Deals will never go as quickly as planned. Closing a deal, whether it’s $1M or $1B will take much longer than either parties expect. The reason for this is it’s like dating — both parties need to spend time to really feel comfortable with each other. For instance, the quickest deal I’ve ever closed was 90 days, and it only happened that quickly because the two parties golfed with each other for two weeks straight. I elaborate on that experience here.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the world, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I hope to make a global impact on climate change and agriculture.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
@walterschindler on Twitter
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com