Reduce your carbon footprint: Take public transportation, turn off lights you’re not using and when you leave the room, advocate for clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Isaiah Steinfeld.
Isaiah Steinfeld is an entrepreneur in residence at VF Venture Foundry. He has successfully built, launched, and scaled disruptive products and businesses (Lyft, Nike, Intuit Workforce) for over a decade. Currently, Steinfeld is building Wild Scout, a new discovery platform that enables more sustainable and equitable access to the outdoors. He also sits on the national board of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and mentors for Verizon’s Forward For Good Accelerator focusing on climate justice, as well as, Berkeley’s Blockchain Xcelerator.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been fascinated by sneaker culture and its intersections with music, skateboarding and art. In my last role as Senior Director, Advanced Innovation of Valiant Labs at Nike, I led global exploration around emerging technologies and founded new business ventures to help shape the future of sports commerce.
Along the way, I grew a deep appreciation for Nike’s journey toward zero carbon and zero waste initiatives and realized I could make a significant impact in creating a more sustainable world. As I started to explore what these sustainable solutions might look like, VF Corp (parent company of Vans, The North Face, Supreme, and more) launched their new innovation arm called VF Venture Foundry, they reached out and offered me the role as Entrepreneur in Residence.
VF Venture Foundry’s Entrepreneur in Residence role provides the freedom of creating an early-stage startup business, with the stability and resources of a large organization. Currently, I am building a new outdoors discovery platform called Wild Scout.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Wild Scout’s mission is to bring more awareness to climate change while also helping create more equitable access to the outdoors. People of color and underrepresented communities are disproportionately less likely to engage in nature-based outdoor recreation activities.
Parents are having a particularly hard time right now finding time motivation or structure to get their kids outside. Wild Scout is leveraging technology to overcome that hurdle, so recreational activities are more accessible. This will help families experience nature and outdoor adventures based on location, temperature, and precipitation. By encouraging activities, games, and movement outside Wild Scout also hopes to positively impact the mental health of children as they are particularly susceptible to stress and depression.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Wild Scout is building a solution that democratizes outdoor access to people of all ages, races, genders, abilities, locations and income levels. We are creating a more sustainable world by:
Helping families experience nature and outdoor adventures: The medical community recommends kids engage in physical activity for one-to-three hours a day but research shows that kids struggle to fit in activities that require physical movement.
Encouraging activities, games, and movement outside: Kids have become addicted to screens and lack the motivation to play outside. The current solutions motivating kids to exercise are tech-heavy and do not incorporate the benefits of nature, even fewer aim to connect kids with other kids in real life.
Enabling and encouraging diversity in the outdoors: We’re creating opportunities for parents and kids to have safe, free play time to encourage creativity and development.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
There continues to be an increased demand for businesses to be more environmentally accountable. Barron’s reports that two-thirds of Americans prefer eco-friendly brands. Businesses should pay attention to what the market is asking for and then cater to this demographic.
Beyond consumer preference there are other factors creating immediacy for businesses to become more sustainable. The pandemic showed us the upheaval and chaos that can happen when supply chains are strained. Additionally climate change is affecting weather patterns, creating record-high temperatures in the West and increasing the likelihood of wildfires, we’ve seen this most recently in Oregon with the Bootleg fire destroying communities. Wild Scout aims to leverage our sustainable-first approach by offering purchasing options of second-hand gear that can be incorporated with equitable outdoor experiences. In turn, we project that our customer acquisition rates will increase because we are providing value that is more affordable, enjoyable and better at protecting the climate overall.
The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Demystify going outside: Remove barriers to the outdoors by starting small with an afternoon trip to a local park or hike.
- Educate your kids early on: Create and label recycling bins, pick up trash around the community, plant a garden.
- Eat local: Transportation of food is responsible for a large share of food’s carbon emissions, eating local can reduce this significantly.
- Make thoughtful purchases: Avoid fast fashion, seek out sustainably made products, use and waste less.
- Reduce your carbon footprint: Take public transportation, turn off lights you’re not using and when you leave the room, advocate for clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Proximity to opportunities is important: Be aware of the physical and digital locations industry activities seem to congregate. This could mean moving to a place in the country where the market is primarily based or joining an online community of professionals that will keep you near to the things you’d like to manifest in your own career. Thanks to the internet, knowledge is super accessible. By being in the room or close to the action opportunity exponentially increases and so will your access to observational knowledge.
- When seeking advice, get a broad sample size: Most people will give you feedback based on their own experiences, successes, fears or doubts. Consider all advice but take it with a grain of salt. Just because something didn’t work for them doesn’t mean the idea won’t take off or be a success for you.
- You will continually evolve yourself: I started my career as a touring musician playing in punk bands and sleeping on floors. During that time the tech industry wasn’t as prevalent and there was virtually no gig-economy that would enable me to work on a flexible schedule when I wasn’t playing shows. Industries may create new opportunities for your career that didn’t exist prior. Take the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired from different roles along with you. I’ve found the creative process musically correlates to building a business through pragmatic iterations.
- Learn how to prioritize ruthlessly: It’s important to be able to triage priorities to focus on what’s the most important. Especially when you are building an early-stage venture, it’s necessary to optimize the resources available to get the best results.
- Understand the nuances between working at startups versus established corporate environments: Established corporate businesses have more data to look back on versus a startup where everything is being created for the first time.
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?
During my time at Nike, I reported to Hannah Jones, who was the Founder and President of Nike Valiant Labs and previously served as Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer & VP of the Innovation Accelerator. She set the gold standard for corporate sustainability early on, making sure that Nike was using different materials and looking at ways to limit and reduce environmental impact. I owe her a lot for making me a stronger founder and entrepreneur overall.
Hannah helped sharpen my skill sets in reading the room, building for the future and aligning stakeholders to get buy-in on addressing complex problems. She trusted me to build and innovate constantly. Market timing lined up with our initiatives and made the work we were doing even more relevant. This ultimately set me up for success in my current role as Entrepreneur in Residence at VF Venture Foundry.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to inspire people through education to be more aware of climate change and motivate action to tackle the topline problems. We are living in a digital age and I believe that we can use technology to get us off the screens and create more equitable experiences in the outdoors that are inclusive to everyone.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” — Mark Twain
In the micro it can be hard to keep in mind how far our abilities can and will take us, so we don’t always act as boldly as we should. Throughout my career I’ve taken actions to insert myself into opportunities early on and provide value. Now through my experiences gained in disruptive and innovative executive roles, I’ve identified a formula for success that I’m able to share with the people I mentor.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!