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Climate Tech: The Greatest Game
By Art Lapinsch
This essay is my ode to the entrepreneurial opportunity that is climate tech.
In my life, I have never seen such an amazing market to enter.
The global demand for energy is going up and we just don’t have enough renewable energy (yet). Supply-constrained markets are a wet dream for entrepreneurs 👁👄👁
Take this graph from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which models a Net Zero pathway by 2050. All the colored elements (electricity and heat; industry; transport; buildings; other) are going to zero.
Do you know what this means? Our entire economy needs to be substituted with clean alternatives.
TL;DR: The world’s GDP is up for grabs 🤯
More importantly, it is not only the upcoming gold rush of our time but it is the greatest game of all times.
This essay will explain why.
As a teenager, I was a peculiar kid.
My hobbies were:
Playing football (the European kind) ⚽️
Playing the Football Manager simulation game 🏟
Playing the German version of Dungeons & Dragons 🐲
Football came into my life because I grew up in Europe. Pretty much every kid was playing whether they liked it or not. Lucky for me I did. It started with my first kickabouts in Vienna’s football cages. You learn about the sport, you learn about respect, and you learn pretty quickly that kids with skills can destroy you.
Slowly, I graduated from the street to the grass. Structured training, practices, and competitive games. But there was one thing I ported from the cage onto the pitch: the skill moves. I watched the iconic Nike Football ads for hours and tried to replicate every single move. Half of the furniture in our apartment didn’t survive that phase 🙄
Another fascination was the Football Manager simulation game called Anstoss 2. A masterpiece of game design. You don’t control any players. You only control the finances. You literally just work the back office. I still remember explaining this type of game concept to an American. They didn’t understand why a 13-year-old would voluntarily negotiate contracts and expand facilities.
To be honest, I would have loved to play first-person shooters but my Pentium X computer was just too damn slow. This was the least resource-intensive game I found and it still took 10 minutes to simulate a week when it should have taken ~30 seconds. Patience is an acquired skill 🥱
My third passion was fantasy role-player games - the pen & paper kind like Dungeons & Dragons. In the German-speaking world, the game was called “Das Schwarze Auge” (it literally translates into “The Black Eye”). Remember, my computer was ultra slow 😅
These games usually require a good amount of preparation and learning. You have a rule book, you need to create a character, and the dungeon master (i.e. narrator of the game) needs to acquaint themselves with the map and the lore of the world. We would spend more time preparing for the game than actually playing.
⚠️ Warning: I’ll be coming back to the Dungeons & Dragons analogy.
More play meant more experience. More experience meant more skills. More skills meant access to more difficult games.
Great Games Are Perfectly-Balanced
I googled ‘games’ and this paragraph from the Wikipedia entry describes it perfectly:
Key components of games are goals, rules, challenges, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational, or psychological role.
I think the aspect that makes a game great is having a perfectly balanced difficulty level. The challenge of the game has to be just right. Game designers call this “Balancing” and psychologists call it “Flow State”.
People enjoy challenges if they are not too easy and not too hard.
My favorite games always had two things in common:
All of those games gave me a clear skill progression that was challenging enough and attainable enough at the same time.
All of those games were shared and played with my friends. We had a great time together.
Maybe I wasn’t so peculiar after all and I just found the games that were just right for me. I’m sure that if you think back to your favorite games you can identify a similar sweet spot.
Entrepreneurship Is Like a Game of Dungeons & Dragons 🐉
Work in general and entrepreneurship specifically are games:
Later in my life, when discovering entrepreneurship I wouldn’t have believed how similar it was to Dungeons & Dragons.
Each Venture Is a New Game 🕹
Each startup is a blank slate.
The context is always different and you start from zero:
Goals: What is the mission of the startup?
Rules: What are the rules at that point in time? New regulatory changes? New tactics and strategies?
Interaction: Who is your journey group?
Challenges: What are the economical and technical challenges of the time?
Economics aside, great entrepreneurial games follow the same laws as all the other games: A great game is a perfectly-balanced one.
Each Market Is a New World 🗾
My entrepreneurial area of expertise was advertising (adtech) and financial technology (fintech). Each new venture would require preparation and it was very similar to the prep work I would do for a game of Dungeons & Dragons.
Alex Danco phrased this well in his essay World Building. To play a game well, a player must understand the world:
Geography: Where does my map begin? Where does it end? Where do the various groups live?
Trade: How do the different cultures and regions trade with each other?
Regional Contrasts: Which groups are alike? Which groups are different from each other?
Currency: What is the common unit of trade?
Arrow of Time: Where are we in time? What causes time to advance?
In Dungeons & Dragons, a world looks like this:
In my companies, my job description was “ABC” - “all but code”. Part of my responsibility was to understand the worlds we were playing in.
When I would do prep work for adtech businesses, I would analyze markets along similar parameters:
Geography: What are the different types of businesses in this market?
Trade: How are those businesses organized in the context of the value chain?
Regional Contrasts: Who is on the supply/publisher side and who is on the demand/advertiser side?
Currency: Are we talking about brand marketing or performance marketing?
Arrow of Time: How long are campaign durations and attribution windows?
In AdTech, our world looked like this:
The world is what defines the boundaries of a game. A larger world makes for more possibilities.
Now let’s see how climate tech fits into this thesis 👇
Climate Tech: The Great Game 🌳
Great games are a result of proper challenges in an interesting world. The former keeps the player engaged. The latter expands the possibilities of play.
A Balanced Game 🎯
Climate tech is definitely not too easy ✅
Remaining in our status quo (i.e. carbon-based global economy) means game over ☠️ Please insert coin and try again.
Not everyone can participate and win right off the bat. There is a learning curve to participating in the climate tech game.
Computer games rely on tutorial levels. Luckily, in climate tech, we have a solid onboarding ramp:
Content: Great content creators who make it easier to get started with climate tech.
Community: Great online communities to connect with other players.
Climate tech is also not impossibly hard ❌
We know what success looks like: Net Zero Carbon Emissions. It is possible to win the game.
We have a progression of difficulty over time. The first gigatons (GTs) of carbon reduction are easier than the last GTs of carbon reduction. Reducing energy demand by isolating a building is easier than carbon removal from the atmosphere.
Players in climate tech ride the flow channel. There’s something for all levels of skill.
An Expansive World 🗺
The beautiful thing about climate tech is that the world is so god damn huge. I have been staring at the map for half a year and I’m still discovering new areas every single day.
Depending on preference, qualification, or appetite for difficulty, a player can enter in different areas of the world. Just look at the zoomed-in map of energy data connectivity👇
Courtesy of my friends at Climate Tech VC
Each of these zoomed-in maps is a representation of the larger climate tech world:
Geography: Energy Efficiency (Demand); Renewable Energy Sources (Supply); Climate Adaptation; Carbon Removal; Climate Policy; etc…
Trade: B2C; B2B; G2C (Government-to-Citizen); G2B (Government-to-Business); G2G (Government-to-Government); etc.
Regional Contrasts: Local context of climate; economic/social development; etc.
Currency: Energy; Commodities like minerals; Tax credits; etc.
Arrow of Time: Each day of carbon emissions is worsening the problem.
Long story short: There’s plenty to explore.
A perfectly-balanced challenge combined with an expansive world makes climate tech a great game.
What Makes Climate Tech the Greatest Game?
I believe that climate tech is not only a great game but the greatest one.
To explain it let’s have a look at the other 3 key components of games: Goals, Rules, and Interaction.
Goals: The Greatest Mission 🏔
Since 2020, most of us have learned that living through interesting times ain’t easy.
Pandemic. War. Climate Catastrophe.
On the flip side: The stakes have never been higher. Climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation. If we don’t win, no one will. This can be a great motivator.
The mission is noble: Save the planet before it is too late 🌍
Working on climate tech is working towards a Net Zero future. A future full of abundant energy and technological miracles.
When I announced that I want to write full-time about climate and energy, people responded in two ways:
Support: They found it really cool and told me that it’s good to see people working on this problem. Most offered their help if needed.
Curiosity: Some even go a step further and share that they have been looking to enter climate tech. Most of the time they ask where to start. 📚 In the coming days, I’ll create a resource library for easy onboarding (coming soon). If you have any questions, just ping me and I’ll make sure to include relevant resources.
I have experienced all of the above in my personal transition into climate tech.
Everyone gets what you’re doing. Everyone is supportive. Everyone wants you to succeed.
Let me tell you: The reactions towards my adtech venture were a bit more reserved 😅
Rules: The Greatest Rule Update ⚡️
Rules can change. And they just did.
The dungeon masters (aka regulators) in the US just passed a new rule set (aka law): the Inflation Reduction Act 🇺🇸⚡️
Sounds boring but it’s anything but. It is $369 billion going towards Energy Security and Climate Change. A massive step forward for the US and a nice precedent for other dungeon masters to follow.
My friend Deanna has written a comprehensive analysis of the new law and my friend Nicole illustrated this amazing infographic summarizing the most important points 👇
Our dungeon masters have been kind. Now let’s make use of this booster pack ⚡️
Interaction: The Greatest Journey Group 🙌
Let’s be real: We usually have the most fun when it’s shared with someone else.
Remember what I said about my favorite games? “All of those games were shared and played with my friends. We had a great time together.”
I feel the same way about climate tech. So far, this is the game where I found the smartest and most well-intentioned people. Smart because of the complexity of the game. Well-intentioned because up until recently it was a fringe topic where you had to be a nerd with a heart of gold to even try.
To enter the game in 2022 means you’ll get to work with a journey group that is inspiring as hell.
I bow to all the fellow climate buddies whom I have met so far (and whom I will meet in the future) 🙌
TL;DR: Climate Tech Is the Greatest Game
A perfectly-balanced challenge in an expansive world makes climate tech a great game. Yet a noble mission, an improved rule set, and an inspiring set of players make it the greatest.
It’s time to join the greatest game 🎮
🙏 Thanks, Sara, Chris, Andi, and Ray for discussing and editing.
As always, if you want to reach out to me, just reply via mail or ping me on Twitter.
Delphi Zero is getting more popular. Thanks to all the 129 kindred souls for your interest and support so far! It goes a really long way. I love you 💚
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider forwarding it to someone who is interested in climate tech and might want to join the greatest game of all time.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! 🙏
Great article mate! been lurking on "climate-twitter" recently and really enjoyed this read
Excited to jump into this game. Great article Art.