Bill Gross: 'We Are Trashing the Earth' and How Venture Capital Can Save It
Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Bill Gross wants to save the world.
The inventor, entrepreneur and founder of Pasadena-based IdeaLab, an incubator that has birthed more than 150 companies, is on a mission to make the world carbon free and upend the reliance on fossil fuels.
Gross, speaking to a crowd at the opening day of the eighth-annual Upfront Summit, created a slew of startups to help make the next generation safer in the face of carbon emissions and global warming. And his companies are attracting investments that will help develop alternative power sources and cleaner manufacturing.
"We are trashing the earth," he said. "The world is completely ready (for clean energy). I am very passionate about making this a reality in my lifetime."
And Gross, who created CitySearch and is widely considered the father of the "paid click," thinks there's money to be made in solving the planet's ecological problems.
In 2017, he said solar and wind energy became cheaper to generate and he's now focused on how to store and capture energy. For instance, Energy Vault — a company he co-founded — is now building a unit in Switzerland because to meet demand. The venture has already attracted $110 million from Softbank's Vision Fund.
And he has other projects, including Carbon Capture, for mitigating carbon from the atmosphere for use as renewable energy in the manufacturing process. Heliogen, another company backed by Gross with partner Bill Gates, is looking to create clean energy through solar power.
These companies are hardly Gross' first foray into the sector. Gross, who was always captivated by inventors like Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci, created a solar company while in high school in the midst of the 1970s oil crisis. Long lines at gas pumps across the country inspired him to look for alternative energy sources and left a lasting impression on him.
But the amount of carbon dioxide released into the earth's atmosphere — which he says creates the equivalent amount of heat as three Hiroshima bombs every second — has created a new urgency. Dire predictions and protests inspired by Greta Thunberg have changed the tenor around climate. Gross said this was evident during his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this month. The event, usually filled with talks about economic growth and financial returns, has now taken an environmental undertone.
"The conversation is finally about climate change," he said.
The Upfront Summit is expected to attract more than 1,200 attendees flocking to the Rose Bowl Jan. 29-30. The invite-only event brings together a diverse mix of entrepreneurs networking with venture players armed with billions of dollars in capital, and headlined by presentations from business leaders including Steve Ballmer, Quibi Chief Executive Meg Whitman, and Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson.
Links to the conference agenda and the livestream can be found here.
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LA Venture: Plug and Play Founder Saeed Amidi on How His Real Estate Company Became One of Tech’s Most Prolific Investors
It started as a real estate company for startups. Today, Plug and Play operates what it calls an “innovation platform” that offers young companies office space, an accelerator program and — in some cases — invests in them.
On this episode of LA Venture, Plug and Play's CEO and founder Saeed Amidi talks about how he evolved the company into an accelerator and investment firm, and how he uses his platform to introduce many of the world’s largest corporations to startups that are re-envisioning their industries.
Amidi initially started Plug and Play as a space for startups to build the companies, providing them with office space, in-house servers and infrastructure that could help them expand. After talking to his startup clients, Amidi realized what they really needed was money. Amidi saw an opportunity to serve as an intermediary to help his real estate clients grow.
"When we find a great entrepreneur, team and technology, we generally show them to 10 VCs and 10 corporate partners, and we capture their thoughts" on where the startup could improve — and whether they might want to invest, said Amidi.
Plug and Play now has about 540 corporate partners, including Walmart, McDonald’s and Pepsi.
“They are some of the incredibly successful companies around the world that would like to use the [Plug and Play] platform to help them understand the future of commerce,” he adds.
Today, Plug and Play’s accelerator programs — there are 17 of them — host over a thousand startups in the United States alone, including one that recently launched in Downtown L.A. Internationally, that number is about double.
“We are really planning and hoping that with our location in L.A., we would have major content producers, major advertisers, join the platform,” he said.
Plug and Play invests in about 250 startups a year, many of them in the automotive industry.
"The whole world is going through digital transformation so fast, that all of these large companies may be Mercedes or Ford or Chrysler, they are all hunting startups that can help them electrify faster, you know, beat Tesla in their autonomous race," said Amidi.
Amidi said people always ask him whether he considers retiring.
"I tell them if I find something else to do that I will have more fun. I will do it. But, in general, what drives me is how many entrepreneurs or startups use the platform to build their dreams,” said Amidi.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.
Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.
The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concepts of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.
As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.
The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.
Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.
Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.
Bored Breakfast Club
One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.
Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.
BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.
Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get two free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.
Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.
Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of two NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship two bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.
A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.
That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.
Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”
Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.
Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.
Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.
Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.
“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”
Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.
Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.
Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.
The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.
Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.
In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.
Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.
Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Bored Breakfast Club would ship four bags of coffee to early NFT holders as sales thresholds were met. The company has since changed that number to two.
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