Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 4 of Green Add Venture with Liv Sibony.
Listen to the episode available here.
[0:02] Jake: Have you ever wondered what happens when entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, and venture capital collide? If so, you’re like me, and you’re in the right place. Welcome to the Green Addventure. On the show, you’ll learn from the critical insights of both founders and investors alike, not random advice or generic guides, but real stories born out of their experience with genuine climate action. We aspire to create a network of people collaborating to build the green economy, accelerating us towards this critical target of net zero emissions. I’m your host and founder of the show Jake Woodhouse. For all the notes, links and episodes, please visit www.greenaddventure.com, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode.
[0:54] Jake: In this episode, we speak with Liv Sibony, founder of SeedTribe. SeedTribe is an impact investment platform connecting entrepreneurs and investors focused on the United Nations SDGs. Listen to learn how important purpose driven business is, how collaboration is at the heart of scalable impact, and how sometimes it’s the communication of the emotional elements of a startup that really grabs an investor’s attention. Liv’s passion shines through in this extremely insightful interview, enjoy. Hi, Liv, welcome on the show.
[1:25] Liv: Thank you very much.
[1:26] Jake: So, to kick things off, a snapshot, please, can you give us a summary of your current role?
[1:31] Liv: Sure. So, I am the CEO of SeedTribe and SeedTribe, at its core, connects angel investors with impact for startups. So, we essentially help find investment for impact for startups, which means profit driven organizations addressing a social or environmental challenge. So, actually taking a little bit of an evolution, I’ve actually realized that there’s a lot of infrastructure and plumbing that needs to happen within the ecosystem in order to help it grows, it’s quite niche at the moment. So, I’m slightly evolving it beyond just connecting entrepreneurs and angels, and helping entrepreneurs just build great businesses by providing a wider ecosystem around that. So, whether that is connecting them with other forms of funding, like grants or debt, or things like that, but also possible partnerships with corporates who want to take part in their or connection to accelerators, etc. So, actually, there’s a lot of scope for collaboration and partnership within the space to help businesses become great, without only having the purpose of looking for equity investment. So, it’s slightly broadening the reach.
[2:41] Jake: Awesome. I can’t wait to learn some more about Liv, as the conversation goes. Today, we want to try and explore the investment side of things, and also entrepreneurship and you’ve been both an entrepreneur and investor now, so in order to follow that journey, let’s take a step back and rewind slightly as to how things started and understand you did linguistics at UNI, so perhaps you can talk us through a little bit of the journey that got you to where you are today, then Liv?
[3:03] Liv: Sure, it’s probably one of those journeys that makes more sense when I look at it in retrospect, then particular design at the time, as these stories often do. But I guess essentially, I grew up in Monaco, in quite a sort of financially privileged environment, and also a non-environmental environment. And I was probably slightly scarred by all of those perspectives. And it really always, sort of drove a passion for me to be much more involved in both social and environmental projects. So, I always thought I’d work in charities and that’s how I started my career, and then I actually realized that there was quite a few challenges in that third sector space for me and my experience of the organizations I worked at, I then moved into public sector, and then somehow wangled my way into the corporate sector working at Goldman Sachs for seven years, which is also an interesting learning experience. And essentially a sort of mixture of having worked in third public and private sector really helped me understand where I felt the challenges were in each and the opportunities and that led me to set up my startup, Grub Club. And the idea with Grub Club was that, so what we did is we connected through our platform, we would connect talented chefs with underused spaces in order for them to create temporary restaurants. And then we would showcase those dinners on our sites to bring diners to the platform.
[04:34] Liv: So, really, it was a sort of discovery and booking platform for amazing dining experiences. And what it did is it provided the opportunity for people to share a meal for people who didn’t know each other, to be able to meet away from technology, and for chefs to be able to have a platform to grow. So, it was a little bit of an antidote to the sort of cookie cutter, high streets and walking past with the same restaurants everywhere and everyone in twos with their heads down on their phones, and just, so actually food is really powerful, connective for people, and something really soulful and inspiring and creative and that just bring that back. So, it was really a way to sort of use that to bring people together, and to give chefs a platform to be able to grow their brand and business so that maybe one day they could open up their own independent restaurant. Interestingly, though, my real purpose was also connecting people to the supply chain within food, so that people better understood where food came from, because I felt really upset actually by people’s buying patterns and where those people who can afford to, was still buying your, sort of Tesco value chicken every day. And I just thought, well, you can afford not to do that, that would be great not to do that. And I thought lead by example and show how delicious food can be. If you spend a bit more money on it, if you’re a bit more mindful about etc.
[05:59] Liv: The one big thing I learned from that was that, that was my real purpose. But it wasn’t embedded into the mission of the company. And the more we grew and scale the company and had to go for another round of investment and another investment, the further away we moved from that. And the more we just had really beautiful, wonderful, expensive middle class dinners in cook spaces and it was nice dinners but honestly, it was moving further and further away from the true purpose that was driving me to a point where I just sort of felt the business is great and exciting, etc. but it’s not really where I want to be going. So, we sold the business, and it now exists under the guise of, Eat What You Are, as the US counterpart, so it’s still going, it’s still does what it does. But what it really taught me and what really drove me to sort of embed this into SeedTribe is actually understanding how you can really use purpose as your actual business model and those two need to be heavily interlinked.
[06:58] Liv: And actually partly just five years of being an entrepreneur, and just being beaten around in the eye of the storm, and really understanding all the different challenges that entrepreneurs go through and really empathizing with that journey, both in terms of building your business, but also in terms of seeking investment, that in addition to that, actually, for me, I believe that we can use business as a force for good. And that is really what drives me. And so, it makes me be incredibly strict on taking on the businesses that I do at SeedTribe and I’m really trying to understand where there is no compromise, where the purpose is the business model, and you make money from it. Because if you can’t make money, you can’t pay the bills, and you’re not going to have any impact at all. But at the same time, you can use that as a force for good rather than a sideline.
[7:46] Jake: Well, Liv, thank you so much for sharing all that. There’s all sorts of steps that I think is so fascinating when it comes to meeting people and initially your talk of personal motivation from where you grew up and that all the way through to your experience in the banking sector, giving you kind of, high pound will to, then jump into being an entrepreneur. It’s a step that a lot of people never actually go and take. And you know, the financially minded people will probably perk up when you talk about an actual exit, which, of course makes everything work. Yeah, so Liv, I’d love to focus on your SeedTribe experience at the moment and the business you’re trying to build. It’s very clear your mission when you explain that, how that translates into real product now is super interesting. So, perhaps you could talk a little bit about then exactly how you look at the businesses, you’re potentially investing with or into and from a thesis perspective, what excites you so much about this space? And in particular, for us here on the Green Addventure, we’re looking at environmental sustainability, so yeah, your wider thesis, what’s specifically focusing on the space?
[8:44] Liv: Sure. So, just to clarify, one thing is actually we’ll connect the angels and entrepreneurs, so we don’t directly invest ourselves. But what we do is we sort of use that investor lens in order to decide which businesses we would take on board and showcase to investors. So, we still apply that mindset, but I guess I just want to be transparent that we don’t directly invest ourselves. So, I guess it’s really sort of twofold, in a way environmental projects are probably my favorite, partly because I increasingly, on a personal level, feel really deeply connected to nature and the planet and just feel we need to protect it. But partly also, because there’s a much clearer business model that can be made with more clear revenue streams that are less shades of gray, than some of the social projects. So, obviously, first and foremost, what is again, the purpose of the business? And again, I’d say on an environmental perspective, there, it’s often quite straightforward, right, I’m an energy saving device, I’m a machine that turns dirty water into drinking water, or I build renewable energy devices or something like that.
[09:50] Liv: So, the purpose tends to be quite well embedded, which is sort of nice and clean. And then it’s really actually just looking at the business model itself, so is it genuinely, a viable business? So, I guess, as usual, the top thing we look at is the team, what’s our experience, are they well positioned, and it may be, we tend to look at relatively early stage businesses, so they are revenue driving, but they are pre-venture capital. So, they tend to be raising up to a million. So, it could be quite a small team often time and they won’t be complete, and they’ll be areas missing, but at a minimum that they’ve identified what gaps there are in the team, if there are any key ones. And in an ideal, whether they’ve actually identified who could come on board to actually fill those roles once and the investment is ready. So, I’d say that is, again, the key, because if it’s a really great team, no matter what challenges will happen, they will be able to overcome them, and we understand pivots happen, and a lot of changes along the way. So, you need to be sort of flexible and adaptable, I think you need to have the right experience. But humility is also really, helpful. We really value that aspect of an entrepreneur. So, you need to have that balance of being confident and knowing what you’re doing but also being aware that you don’t necessarily have all the answers and you want to listen to what other people may suggest, whether you then take that on board or not, then remains to be seen.
[11:24] Liv: So, I think that sense of humility is important. To me, I really appreciate the sense of collaboration as well, I think, especially when you’re looking to address environmental challenges, it’s about something much bigger than what one individual, person or team can do. And slightly thinking outside the box in ways that they can partner with other organizations, whether that’s another startup or corporate or a government agency, or whatever it is, I think there’s a lot of opportunities to scale our collective impact by being a little bit more open minded about how you work with other people. So, I think there’s quite a big sort of mindset shift there, in terms of not just being a land grab of everything being about how I’m going to grow my business and get the biggest slice of the pie. It’s how we can collectively reduce carbon emissions and ideally, we all have a smaller slice, but have a significantly bigger pie. So, I think we will benefit from it, but it is about looking at business in a slightly different way.
[12:30] Liv: So, first and foremost team, obviously, the classics, you know, is the market big enough? Does the business model make sense? And unfortunately, there is an element of just right time, right place. And I would say that it is really important for someone to be coming up with a product that is suited to the market as it stands. So, there are times when maybe people have a really pretty awesome product or concept but it’s probably just not right time for it. And I think that’s really important. So, I do really think that no matter how great it is, if you’re just a little bit too, out there, for us, it’s just quite difficult to find the right investors who would actually invest into those products, investors, I find a lot more traditionally minded, than we may think, and tend to be more excited by something that is current affairs. I mean, I’ll give you an example, we are finding investment for a company at the moment who has developed a bio-plastic. So, it is a product that uses organic waste, so it’s, sort of food, landfill, and they sort of break it down and then they are able to produce a whole range of different types of plastic that serve different purposes. So, they can create your single use plastic that is completely biodegradable within weeks, and you can literally throw it into the sea, and it will just turn back into food, which would feed the fish. So, that is magic, and I would say now is the right time. Had we not had David Attenborough and someone had come up with this product, I don’t think it would have been the right time, they’ve been working on it for seven years, now is the time for the product. And everyone is sort of climbing over each other to try and invest into it. But that’s because it’s something that suddenly everybody cares about.
[14:21] Jake: So much, you’re saying resonates really, really strongly Liv. It’s amazing, I mean, in particular, your point about collaboration and scale and it’s one of the founding strategies so, we say in starting this podcast, is there’s so much interesting work going on out there, that people don’t necessarily know about. And it’s only by drawing attention to it and helping tell the story that more and more people will get drawn in, more and more people will hopefully start to work towards these goals that we hold so dear. And yeah, of course, some of the traditional techniques that you’re using to analyze and reduce risk at an early stage are pretty kind of synonymous with most investments. I’d love to, Liv, dig a little more into your actual business itself, so SeedTribe is a platform that is connecting investors entrepreneurs together. But inevitably, as the almost due diligence in between, you need to be able to market these businesses to the investors themselves. So, if you don’t think it’s a good investment, then it’s probably not going to be one for one of your network members. Could you talk to us a little bit about how you actually look at these businesses and how you sell them onto the companies or sell them to individual investors internally? You’ve already mentioned that you’re slightly earlier than perhaps the traditional VC model, which inevitably means it’s a certain type of investor that so the pre-seed our seed stage. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your theories for operating there and quite how you translate those, you know, so many ideas out there, how do you pick the right ones and market them in the right way? Or is that how it’s done? I mean, are you thinking of it like that, or, you know, please explain around that.
[15:44] Liv: Yeah, so it’s, well, it’s a gray area, in all, we’re treading a fine line. And because the way in which we operate is not regulated within the angel space, so we actually have to be really careful to make it clear that we’re not actually endorsing any of the businesses, even though of course, we’ll put forward our very favorite ones. So, part of the wording is actually really key. In a way, it’s quite a good exercise in being extremely neutral about any of your language, because we have to make it clear that we don’t actually do the full due diligence on edge, we’re just showcasing businesses that we find interesting. We do, of course, do our own sort of quality control in deciding which ones we think sound the most interesting. So, there’s all those elements that I sort of mentioned. So, we sit on a weekly basis as an investment committee and look at all the business pitches that have been put forward to us in that week and then we sort of choose the ones that we each prefer, and then pitch it to the rest of the committee. And essentially, you have to just defend that business idea to the rest of the committee and that sort of helps to decide–
[16:51] Jake: It works like an internal Dragon’s Den?
[16:53] Liv: Yeah, exactly. And I guess out of that comes, you know, three potential outcomes either a complete no, or a yes, that’s absolutely amazing, or what often happens is a, maybe let’s just check these 10 extra questions that have come up from the team and just make sure that we are on track with it. So, that’s how we sort of looked and choose the businesses. So really, what’s good about that is that, again, I guess it comes back to the idea of collaboration, this is an internal thing. But the five of us who sit in the Investment Committee have completely different angles, experience perspective, interests and it’s a really good sort of acid test, as it were to really make sure that it covers a wide range of angles. So, no one has any vested interest, we actually just genuinely care about putting the businesses that we get most excited about and to our network of investors.
[17:46] Liv: So, once those businesses have been shortlisted, I think the other thing is positioning it in very sort of simple, layman terms. So, coming back to this same plastics business, honestly, it took us quite a while to get for the line with accepting that business, because they are a bunch of scientists who are unbelievably technical. And we literally look to their pitch deck and could not understand a word of what was going on. And then it just makes us feel just a little bit, sort of, not very up to date, you know, or favor things. And then we realize we’re not plastic technology scientists, and neither is 99% of our database. So, actually, let’s just remember to be human about it. And in a way, it’s sort of helping, like asking those really basic dumb questions about what they actually do and how they make money and how scalable this is, in a way that is sort of simple, and is really helpful. Because at the end of the day, if you think of, everyone tends to sort of, people who are not involved in this space, sort of asked me, what do angel investors think, you know, what do they like, etc. And it’s like, an angel investor is just a normal human being like any other person, and there isn’t really a sort of one size fits all of how they think or how they operate, nor what their background or speciality is.
[18:59] Liv: So, you can take a hedge fund manager who just has a bunch of extra cash that they’re happy to invest in, and they can take part in the SCIS and in the IRS tax benefits, that is not going to make them a plastics expert. But they might have been scuba diving and realize that they want to help address this problem and want to be involved in it. So, actually, no matter how clever and experienced the angel investor is, they’re also not going to be an expert in absolutely everything. And sometimes there is also you need to understand that there’s that emotional pull as well. So, there’s another business we’re working on, it’s not environmentally focused, it’s on cancer research, really cool, sort of big data analysis to detect the early signs of cancer. Again, you don’t just have to be a healthcare expert, you might have had personal experience with cancer in your close circle, that you feel that this is how you want to spend the money, rather than just funding on a sort of charitable basis. So, I think there’s a number of different angles we can get to and we just need to remember to be human about how we present it in its simplicity.
[20:04] Jake: It’s something I think about a lot, in terms of the amount of money that is flowing out there that potentially could be in this space. And it’s, I mean, certainly from an environmental lens, you’re looking at the Paris agreements, and some of the targets that Western businesses or Western economies are setting for themselves, whether it’s no diesel by x, or in the UK, it’s in a climate emergency, or its net zero by 2050. These are all targets we want to try and meet. But it’s only businesses that are starting to be built today or around now that will actually achieve those with the technologies they’re creating. So, somehow, making it easier for people to put money into these early stage businesses without being experts is really part of what you’re doing, which is such an exciting business to be involved in. And it’s a nice point for me to ask me, if I was a founder trying to raise money, what is the best way to approach investors, do you think?
[20:50] Liv: So, just one on that point, which might be helpful or not, but the point about the Paris Agreement, I think it’s a really exciting time to be starting and growing a business, in particular in the environmental space. So–
[21:05] Jake: I totally agree, I think there’s a huge commercial opportunity alongside the purpose that we’ve touched already upon.
[21:11] Liv: Exactly. So, we could look at it, going, oh, my goodness, we’re all going to be flooded underwater and die of ocean acidification, or you could go, oh God, there’re amazing opportunities and, let’s just focus on being positive and constructive about it. So, I’m with you on that. And so, for example, just at the beginning of June, this year, a few weeks ago, the government enshrined into law, that we will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That is amazing. And for example, as an entrepreneur, working in the environmental space, that is something you could really latch on to, which is saying, there’s an opportunity here, which it’s going to be law, that we all have to reduce our carbon emissions. So, by coming in the early days, these are incredible opportunities and we’re not entirely sure what law is going mean, but we know that these things are going to change. And if you read some of the parliamentary debates, the only positive constructive ones I seem to read about at the moment, are people putting forward interesting motions to, you know, find ways to reduce carbon emissions. So that, for example, tying that into the bigger picture, I think, is really helpful argument for investors as a starting point, I would say you also just want to play for the second stage that we look at, which is pre-VC. And I would say you want to find that balance of absolutely, number one, I would keep it commercial. I just think you need to show you’re talking to people who come in with a hat of, I’m looking for an investment opportunity.
[22:43] Liv: And that same person might have a philanthropic heart, but in the current scenario that you’re speaking to them on, they are looking for an investment opportunity. And that is the language you need to speak to them, no matter what the other purpose is. So, first and foremost, this is a minute business model, I’m really serious about it, there’s a great opportunity here. But in addition to that, there is that additional bonus of that emotional tie of caring about the bigger purpose. And then that is suddenly, the mecca of all kinds of investments, which is, you are looking at a purely commercial opportunity, but you also get the amazing feel good factor thinking that you’re contributing to something bigger. And I think that we need to really embrace that. And there’s something that we call the golf club test t the Investment Committee table, sorry, I’m surrounded by men at the Investment Committee, the golf cup test.
[23:39] Liv: Generally, it is something that investors will be excited to talk about when they are on the golf course. And so, there is really that sort of excitement factor. And if you can tie that in to how someone feels about something, I think that is what the game changer will be. So, I’d really focus on both. I’d start with commercial first and foremost, because it’s a business, but I think that greater purpose is what helps give it the edge. I would like to go on a limb and assume that given two equal commercial opportunities, you’d assume everyone would choose the one that has the added bonus of some larger purpose to be the deciding factor.
[24:2] Jake: And certainly, fair interaction on the SeedTribe platform, that’s what they’re there for. So, if you’re looking at it from a kind of jewel, pillar of financial return impact and inevitably a funds got the same financial impact, you go for one with the higher social impact. And that leads me nicely to speak really around personal mission and passion and an overall impact of this project SeedTribe, so it’s very clear throughout your personal journey, Liv, this interview today, what drives you, in terms of taking your experiences and putting them together to focus around purpose and do that with a commercial mind? SeedTribe’s obviously growing as it stands, and sounds really exciting, your personal mission, you’ve already explained. But if some of these businesses do succeed, I mean, what kind of impact will they actually create? And it’s a very difficult area to quantify, is impact reporting but have you guys looked into that at all or what are your aspirations for that?
[25:13] Liv: That is still a learning journey, if I’m honest, because I’ve realized that the impact that you have is very individual to each business. Again, when you’re looking at the environmental side, it’s a little bit more straightforward, because you can, you know, at the most basic level, reduce carbon emissions, if that is what you’re looking to address. So, there’s that side of it but I really tend to ask companies on an individual basis, what is the impact that you like to have and how will you go about measuring that, and really get that from each business. Because I started off trying to see if I can get some kind of capture tool on measuring everyone’s impact across the board, and I couldn’t get to it. And then the more research I did, the more I realized there were entire organizations trying to focus on that. So, that’s, I think, something that’s really important to work towards, something I realized, I don’t know how to actually change if I’m honest, which is why I asked people how they approach it. And then it’s really about whether I believe that that is a genuine focus of theirs, and that I believe in the way that they look to measure it. So, I’m more collecting other, people’s feedback on it. But I do think that it’s a really important question to ask because, you know, these environmental opportunities should really be addressing this wider concern. So, unless you’re measuring the impact in an environmental sense, then in a way, you’re not really properly focusing on how you’re going to address the problem.
[26:41] Jake: Yeah, I mean, it’s a really good point, for example, plastic, although it is a big problem, it’s not a huge creator of emissions. So, at the very start of our conversation, you touched on the supply chain of food. I mean, it’s a huge issue that we have to deal with, in terms of the wastage, in terms of the meat heavy diets that people are tending to move towards globally. Yeah, there’s all sorts of things you can actually measure that do make a difference when it comes to looking at this. Liv, we got time for one last question, so I’d love to understand, you know, if we take today, and we fast forward, to say 10 years, where do you hope to be? And how will SeedTribe look at that time crystal ball time?
[27:17] Liv: Good question. I’ve not really thought 10 years ahead. I would see, I really just coming back to the idea of collaboration. I think, for me, that is what the game changer is, I guess it requires having a strong identity. So, each person knows what their own purposes and what they’re focusing on. But I suppose in an ideal world, I believe that we all need to work together in order to address some of the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges. And no one in isolation can do that. And I’m talking at a local and a national level, I’m talking cross sector. So, I believe that small businesses need to partner with corporates, but also with governments and with civil society, I have a real sort of gripe, I get really upset when people always think sort of government’s issue to sort out and we’re just waiting for them to go and change it. Actually, government is voted by the people and we are the ones who have the power to change it and the duty to also take responsibility on making a change.
[28:12] Liv: So, I believe that there’s scope for collaboration on that side, but also between countries. So, if you continue on the plastic or the food analogy, actually, it’s all completely interlinked. And the food that we buy comes from all the different countries in the world, the plastic that we create, and get rid of, and the products that we sell that got plastic in them, have a global impact. And actually, it’s, unless we all work together, internationally, I don’t think that this can happen. So, with all of that in mind, the thing is really, business as a force for good. And I sort of take the angle of new businesses, because we don’t have the baggage of the sort of infrastructure legacy that large companies have. So, the focus will always be on supporting new businesses, to create systems or to create business models that are used as a force for good. But with that at its base, it’s about collaboration, it’s about bringing government into it, in order to be able to influence policy, in order to enable better creation of these companies. It’s about bringing citizens into this who can help support these missions. It’s about bringing corporate saying who can learn from the innovative startups, funds there, maybe look to sort of do more business with them, etc., so that that helps them work in a more impactful way. So, I’d say yeah, a global platform of collaboration, focused on using startups as a force for good.
[29:42] Jake: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for sharing your insights and your journey with us today, Liv, thank you.
[29:46] Liv: Thank you for having me.
[29:47] Jake: That was the Green Addventure, thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the show, then please help us out by sharing this episode with your networks and rating us on the platform, wherever you may listen in from. For any questions at all, we’d love to hear from you, so please reach out on social media or email. Whether you’re wondering about a technical term that’s being discussed, would like an intro to a guest from the show, or even perhaps feature yourselves, we’re here to help. My Twitter handle is @JakeWoodhous, spell as it sounds, but drop the final e, my email Jake@Greenaddventure.com. Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit www.greenaddventure.com. Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.