Astrid's Updates

How To Raise Venture Capital

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Last Updated: 
June 22, 2022

In a twist on our normal discussion of transforming the grid for a distributed, zero-carbon future, our CEO, Astrid, joins the Foundersuite podcast to share her advice on raising venture capital as a cleantech startup.

A few excerpts:

“I think it's really important for founders to factor in that a lot of times the feedback that you get, even when it's consistent, is sort of spiritually true, but perhaps not specifically true.” [33:46]

“I knew that when you’re looking for investors, when you're finding your lead investor especially, you are choosing your bosses. They're going to be on your board. They're going to represent the interests of your investors. And it's helpful if those people really believe in your company and want to help it be successful. If you have to sell to them that things are actually good every time you have a conversation with them, it’s much harder to be successful.” [38:09]

“If I were to do it again, focusing earlier on finding those people who are independently excited about our space and building relationships with them well ahead of the raise. That's something that I definitely have carried with me.” [40:01]

Listen to the full episode:

Prefer to read the transcript?

[00:00:00] Nathan 

Hi guys. Welcome to the How I Raised It podcast, the show where you get an inside look at how real founders raise capital for their businesses. I'm your host, Nathan Becker. And today's episode is with Astrid Atkinson of Camus, a climate tech startup building software for the electrical grid. We talk about the unique challenges of raising money for a clean tech startup, how she brought investors along on her customer discovery journey, learnings from her long career at Google and much more. Today I have Astrid Atkinson of Camus coming to us from the Santa Cruz Mountains region. How are you? How's your day going? 

[00:01:32] Astrid 

It's going pretty well. 

[00:01:34] Nathan 

Good, good. Excellent. Well, let's go straight into it. What is Camus? 

[00:01:41] Astrid 

Camus is a software company that focuses on software for electric utilities, specifically with the intention of supporting utilities that are going through the process of changing how they manage their electric grid to support greater amounts of decarbonization. So we build software for utilities. 

[00:02:02] Nathan 

Building software for utilities sounds like a Herculean effort, right? I think of utilities as old, slow moving, stodgy, probably risk averse. So how did you get to this point? What's the back story? 

[00:02:21] Astrid 

My background is building extremely big systems. I started at Google. I was there for about 15 years and my role at Google early on was first in the team that launched Google's internal cloud platform that runs basically all of Google's business today, then in their site reliability engineering team for about seven years. That's the team that's kind of a hybrid engineering operations team, which really focuses on how you build distributed systems at scale. And I was an early lead in that team. I ran the on call team responsible for building and operating Google's global web serving layer. So I carried a pager for myself for about five years. I had a lot of experience at Google and building very, very large software infrastructure systems, particularly ones that had very high reliability requirements and which were effectively making a platform for everybody else to do business on.

The last team I led up there was Google's internal microservices frameworks team, and a lot of what we did there was build services that we then moved every public facing product at Google to use. So I had a lot of experience with both building very reliable distributed systems and also moving large, highly-sensitive multibillion dollar products onto them. And in parallel, I had a developing interest in transitioning into the energy and climate space and figuring out how do I use what I'm great at, which is building really big systems and software teams, to solve the problems I care about the most, which is decarbonization and helping us move to clean sources of clean energy.

[00:04:18] Nathan 

Excellent. Good. Good job on that. We need more people like you. So it's encouraging to see what you guys are doing. Try and describe in a simple way what the software actually does. I had a business school professor who said, "Explain it to me like you would explain it to my seven year old kid or my 85 year old grandma". I'm reading the website. I only get part of it, so maybe take a crack at dumbing it down for us. 

[00:04:51] Astrid 

It's really two main things that we do. One is to gather together all of the sources of data about how the grid works. So this is information from substations and smart meters and solar panels and things like that. And then on top of that, we provide some services which include a dashboard. So you can see it and see what it's up to you. And then the ability to control devices that can contribute to operating the grid. That's typically batteries, solar panels, EV charging, smart thermostats, all these kinds of things. 

[00:05:25] Nathan 

Okay. Got it. And with the, if I understand correctly, the ultimate intent, ultimate outcome is reducing carbon. How does it help utilities get to that outcome? 

[00:05:41] Astrid 

The model for managing grids up until now is very one way. On one side are all the consumers using energy. And then on the other side are a few big power plants where you turn it up and down based on how much demand there is out there on the customer side. Customers are very dumb in that model. They don't do anything. But as we move towards sources of generation that we can't control as directly they generate, when the wind blows or the sun shines, we need more tools to control demand, and we need more tools to get power from the time and place where it's produced to the time and place where it's needed. A lot of that is about the customer side. And a lot of that is also just about using our existing grid, our network, differently. So equipping grid operators with the tools that they need to understand how to use that network differently. And this new, more two-way model, that is kind of the core problem that we're tackling. But a lot of that looks like a distributed systems problem. It's basically like, "what's it doing?"

That's not actually something that grid operators had a really good handle on, at least at the consumer edges of the grid, until very recently, and some still don't. That's why when your power goes out, you call up the utility. A lot of times they're like, "Oh, thank you for letting us know". Instead of like, "Oh, we already knew about that, and we are fixing it now." That's because they actually have, up until quite recently and for many utilities even now, very, very, very little visibility into what's actually happening on their grid at any given moment. It's coming in from the software and internet side. Having a real-time monitoring system that tells you what's the state of service, what's the state of your endpoints, what tools do I have available to solve problems? That's a foundational requirement in the internet system space. 

[00:07:42] Nathan 

All right. A couple more questions about the business and we'll get into fundraising for it. You came from Google. You had this deep software development, enterprise scale, software development background. How do you go to customer discovery and figure out what utilities need? How do you do that customer learning and research? That seems like that would be daunting. 

[00:08:07] Astrid 

I was interested in moving generally into the energy and climate space, and so I started a fairly systematic investigation probably six or seven years before leaving Google. I started to initially ask that question of "where are my skills useful in energy and climate?" And once I got interested in grid management as a core problem in that space, I then spent about five years researching it. I talked to people. I reached out through my professional and personal networks. Basically, anyone I could find who had ever worked in the space, I was like, "Who should I talk to? Can you introduce me to them?" I probably had hundreds of conversations with people during that time, as well as, of course, reading books and papers and the internet and listening to podcasts and all of those sorts of helpful things. But that process of reaching out and talking to people was really important. It helped me understand the fit between the technical skills that I and my team could bring in versus what was really needed. 

[00:09:12] Nathan 

And then the last question on the business, how about selling to utilities? How do you crack in and get your foot in the door with utilities and sell something like this? 

[00:09:23] Astrid 

Utilities are a legendarily difficult customer segment. They're very conservative. Their job is to keep the lights on and care about that the most. In general, their business model is also not very friendly to the kinds of work that we do. Most investor-owned utilities make money on a regulated rate of return on capital investment, which means that when they build new equipment, they get basically 10% of the cost of that back in profit. They're not natively set up to benefit from things like using less energy or even building less grid. And so it's hard to sell not because of culture, but because of business model reasons.

That was a known factor going in. And part of what we had to do even before starting the company was to think about ways to engage in the utility space that could be commercially viable, perhaps do better than some of the companies that had come before us. That was actually a really big part of the research process for us: thinking about business models that could be successful in the utility space. I can talk about that a little bit if you'd like. 

[00:10:31] Nathan 

Yeah. What is the business model?

[00:10:33] Astrid 

We're a software as a service (SaaS) provider. That in and of itself is a bit unusual in the utility space because up until about three or four years ago, utilities were very anti-cloud. But anyone who's working in the cloud and SaaS space knows that there are some things you can't do unless you can use computers to do them. And processing very large amounts of data in real-time, solving very complex problems in real-time; those are needed for managing the grid in the world we're moving into. Coming in as a cloud native company actually made a big difference to us.

The other thing that was really helpful to us was identifying that there are different segments within the utility space and most of the traditional hurdles apply to the very large investor-owned utilities that are the top 150 or so. If you just look at the US market, it's actually about 3,000 utilities in the US though the other 2850 are all publicly owned nonprofits that are typically owned by communities or cities. And selling to them is actually rather different and in some ways a lot easier than selling to the traditional utility market. Part of this was about thinking about our business model and what we could bring that was differentiated. And part of that is kind of the cloud and source model. The other part of it was identifying a go to market segment that was potentially viable, and that is in fact, where we started. 

[00:11:57] Nathan 

Okay. Where you started. Is that the locally-owned utility? 

[00:12:02] Astrid 

That's right. We work primarily with public sector utilities today. 

[00:12:05] Nathan 

Got it. Interesting. Cool. When did you guys start? How long have you been working on this? I know you did a lot of research, but when was the actual company formed? 

[00:12:13] Astrid 

We formed the company in early 2019. It's about five years of research for me. And then the company is just over three years old now. 

[00:12:24] Nathan 

Okay, great. Let's talk about raising money for this. You're at Google, and you decide, all right, I'm going to go do this. Was it hard to leave Google? I mean, 15 years? That's a long time. 

[00:12:35] Astrid 

It was very hard to leave Google. I actually loved working for Google. And while it had its complexities and its struggles as any job in any large company. Well, I was really happy there. And also I was really well paid. Walking away from that was really difficult. 

[00:12:52] Nathan 

But I mean, free food. 

[00:12:56] Astrid 

You know, I worked at Google for so long that I had come to take the free lunch for granted. And for a while actually going out and paying for lunch was kind of a fun novelty, but I liked the work a lot and I was very successful there. It was, you know, it was a big decision to leave some things that kind of tipped the balance for me. The climate problem is very urgent, and I had come to believe that it was really important that we have technical solutions that were viable in a grid decarbonization space within the next ten years. I have a son who's nine now and it's going to sound like a cliche, but for me at least that kind of changed my sense of responsibility towards getting involved in the problems I cared about the most. That was a motivating factor for me.

The other was that I'd gotten increasingly excited about working in the grid space and had connected with some people who are interested in co-founding with me, including one long time Google colleague, Cody, our CTO. He was actually my first officemate at Google. I'd known him a very long time and by the time he left, he was one of Google's most senior systems engineers. He was one of the three people who was kind of overseeing their entire site related practice and technical work. He became very well qualified as well. Our other co-founder, Michael, was actually my husband's favorite ex-boss. He's got more of an enterprise IT background, and he was the person who, when I was kind of asking myself: “Look, I'm thinking about starting a company, who do I know who has an MBA and what might be ok answering dumb questions?” I thought, Michael. Michael will not mind me asking some questions. And that was actually really important for me and going through the process of understanding what it would actually take to start a company. 

[00:14:46] Nathan 

Good. Let's talk about fundraising. How did you get it off the ground? Did you go raise money from Google Angels? There's a lot of those out there. Self-finance. What?

[00:14:59] Astrid 

When I was thinking about starting the company, I started talking with investors. They were among my research groups, and what I heard from basically all the friendly investors that I talked to was, “Wow, it's really hard to start a company that's utility-facing. Are you sure that you want to do that?” Even all the way up to, “Astrid, do literally anything else! I would write you a $3 million check today for any other company”. That was, you know, something that I factored in. But the conversation I started to have with those potential investors was “let's talk about what a viable company could look like”. And that was very helpful because it helped us to think about the details of our business model, our go to market strategy, all of these things.

One of the people that I had an early conversation with was Abe Yokell at Congruent. Congruent later ended up joining our friends and family round and then co-leading our seed and following us through the A. They've been really good partners. That early process of enlisting investors to help us think about how to build a company that is fundable and potentially viable, I couldn't recommend more. It worked very well for us. 

[00:16:16] Nathan 

Let's dig into that a little bit. Unpack that a little bit. You're going to strangers. Are you going to investors in the cleantech space saying, “here I have this thesis. Can I kind of run it by you?” 

[00:16:30] Astrid 

Yeah. I had a network in the investor community. In particular, one of my former mentors at Google is a partner at Sequoia, someone I respect highly and have been consulting for advice for many years well in advance of starting a company. Sequoia at the time didn't invest in cleantech at all, and they were basically like, “No, like, I love you. But no”. But I also was sort of reaching out through my network to let people know I'm thinking about starting a company in this space. Do you know anyone? And someone that I knew through Google's venture, their growth venture arm, Capital G, introduced me to two people that he knew who were cleantech investors and had been for a long time. One of them didn't answer my email. The other was Abe. 

[00:17:24] Nathan 


[00:17:24] Astrid 

Yeah. That loose network connection that I was proactively looking for was very helpful in getting warm interest to people who would have those conversations with me. 

[00:17:43] Nathan 

Okay, let's talk about turning that research process into actually getting the people to write a check. Did you just one day say, “alright, I've completed my research, now it's time to actually cut me a check?” 

[00:17:55] Astrid 

No, absolutely not. What we started doing was chatting with potential investors and that theme of “I'm not going to fund a company sight unseen in this space at all, but if you come back with a customer, I would consider it” was very, very clear early on. I heard that many times from venture investors and was like, “okay, I'll come back with a customer, but I need money to get started so we can go get a customer”. At that point, I had friends and family who had been offering to invest, including like, honestly, when I was leaving Google, some of my ex reports were like, “Hey, can I invest in your company?” And at first I was like, “No. I'm going to go to venture investors who have lots of money and make them give it to me”.

But after having that set of initial venture conversations, I thought about what our options were and also who I wanted on the team. And having those ex-colleagues and other key people from Google on the team, as well as people who were very supportive of what we were trying to do, was very appealing at that point. These were people that I was interested in pulling into the company later and who would be really good sources of engineers with particular sets that we would later want to bring into the company. 

[00:19:22] Astrid 

And also, frankly, I really had reached a point where I had reasonable conviction in the business model, and I was willing to take that on the road with people that I knew. We sort of reached out on my cell phone. My co-founders, through our network, basically went back to people who had offered in the past and told them, yes, actually we'd be willing to potentially take money. So we raised a little bit over a million on a friends and family round in check sizes ranging between 25,000 and 100,000. And that was mostly from either former coworkers or folks through that network. 

[00:20:03] Nathan 

Yeah, interesting. That's interesting that you were kind of viewing them as a 25K check, but also potential engineering recruiting help down the road. I think that's strategic. 

[00:20:15] Astrid 

Of those people, I think to work for the company now, one is on our board that did end up creating an extended team that was really helpful later.

[00:20:27] Nathan 

Cool. That friends and family round we haven't actually talked about on this show very much. So I'm going to dig into that just a tiny bit more. Were these people angel investors already or was this their first investment? And how do you manage or message that “hey, you're probably going to lose money or, you know, that risk level with friends and family?”

[00:20:50] Astrid 

Some of them were angel investors already. Most were not. And that was originally why I told them no. Actually, I was like, Look, you're a friend, I don't want to take your money and potentially just lose it. Most companies fail. And, you know, I'd rather honestly work with people who have experience at losing money or at least putting it into startups that might. When I went back to them, I was pretty firm about trying to make sure that I had informed consent and talking them through sort of the normal life cycle of startups. You know what the risk profile looked like, those kinds of things. But in general, they were pretty excited about potentially funding companies and in the space that we were in; companies doing work in climate but also companies that were taking this specific big system software approach that we were taking and the team that we had put together. So it was a bit of team and a bit of mission that was really driving that group. 

[00:22:00] Nathan 

So you take that million dollars, you go out, I'm assuming get a customer or two and then go back to VCs. Let's, let's kind of fast forward. 

[00:22:09] Astrid 

We actually only got about $850,000 through that before Congruent came back. And we're like, hey, actually, we would be interested in joining the round. Do you guys have room? Prior to that, early in the friends and family process, we had actually had a conversation with another seed investor who did offer us a $650,000 check. That was an AI-focused fund. And after really thinking about it and kind of looking at what they were looking for in terms of their engagement and their thesis, we actually kind of made the difficult decision to say no to that, primarily because we weren't going to be doing any A.I. very short term, although it is part of our focus going forward. We're doing a fair bit of ML now, but I'm kind of picky about the usage of AI and ML as a technology basis and we really were years away from doing any of that.

It's like, wow, I don't know if I'll never ever see another check like this, but I don't think I can take your money. It's a pretty difficult decision. But when we got the offer to join our friends and family round from Congruent, that was a better fit in terms of thesis. They look to back companies like ours. They were now excited about working with us, and we basically were joking that you guys are family now, and they kind of have been in practice. They've been very supportive and they closed out the round. 

[00:23:42] Nathan 

Got it. I like the importance of fit with their thesis. I think that's important just to avoid sort of that misalignment down the road, right? 

[00:23:51] Astrid 


[00:23:53] Nathan 

Good, good. And then what else? You've raised another one or two rounds. 

[00:24:01] Astrid 

After closing the friends and family round, we had closed our first two customers and we went out to raise a Seed round. Congruent's friends and family check came with a side letter that basically stated, we would like to have the option to lead your seed round when the time comes, which is the sort of side letter that you're excited to accept. Frankly, I was like, oh, no, twist my arm. And this is kind of what I meant by them being very supportive. At the point where we had closed our second customer, we decided we were ready to go out and raise our seed round to the team and at that point Congruent co-led that with another investment group, Wave Capital, mostly backed by ex-Airbnb people.

[00:24:49] Nathan 

What's it called again? 

[00:24:50] Astrid 


[00:24:50] Nathan 

Wave Capital, ok. 

[00:24:55] Astrid 

Wave invests in companies with a market component to their business model. And we do have a volumetric pricing and markets component to our business model, somewhat in a forward looking way. But that is where we want to get to in terms of managing flows of energy. 

[00:25:15] Nathan 

Did you only talk to a handful of investors? It sounds like this was fairly linear or from from Congruent to Wave or did you get out and shop it around a little?

[00:25:29] Astrid 

We shopped it around a little. You know, throughout this period of time, I was getting interest from other investors through friends and family, through Congruent and others, and I was having background conversations with potential investors at the point where we decided that we were going to start the seed round. We started to work actually with Congruent on putting together a plan for raising that. But almost immediately I had several offers for potential leads and we stopped that formal process almost before we started because we knew we wanted to be involved with Wave and they also wanted to lead. They ended up leading and that was our seed round. So that was very straightforward. 

[00:26:13] Nathan 

Got it. And does that bring us up to…I believe there's also a Series A?

[00:26:18] Astrid 

We went through our Series A last year, so I can talk about that. That was a very different story. If you want to hear it. 

[00:26:23] Nathan 

Yes. Yeah, tell us that story. 

[00:26:24] Astrid 

Last year we raised our Series A. We started that process early in the year. That kicked off in the January / February timeframe. It was very different from our seed round and quite a bit harder. We were a bit over a year past closing our seed. And the A was a lot more rigorous in terms of process. I can talk a little bit about that. 

[00:26:55] Nathan 

Yes, please. 

[00:26:57] Astrid 

As we had done with our seed, we sat down and did some planning with our existing investors to figure out who we wanted to approach, what kind of round we wanted to raise, what composition we were looking for, etc. We knew we wanted a mix of cleantech and tech investors, and we went through and put together a list of potential candidates. I think it started at probably 40 and ended up over 80 for folks that either Congruent or Wave recommended or otherwise fit our investor profile through research that we had also done.

That included folks that we had spoken to in the past, people like Sequoia and Union Square, as well as people who Congruent often work with as follow-ons because Congruent, especially at that time, was primarily seed focused and didn't go through to doing lead at the Series A level. Typically they would feed onto other funds. So we put that list together and started the process, and this is the point at which we had to decide if we were going to go fast or slow. And there's basically sort of two paths for us. One would be to try with a few funds and sort of see how that did and refine our pitch. 

[00:28:22] Astrid 

The other was to go ahead and try to do a more traditional raise in which we talked to potentially dozens of funds within a short period of time and look to kind of find enough excitement amongst that larger group to get to a term sheet and get it to have multiple candidates interested. At that point, we had a couple of big name firms, including Sequoia and Union Square pretty interested. We decided to go ahead with the talk-to-everybody-at-once plan. In hindsight, I regret that. It wasn't the right strategy for us. I think it was a perfectly valid path to take at the time.

But what I found as soon as we started doing the kind of talk-to-everybody-at-once process, was that especially in the tech space (where that is the recommended methodology, as opposed to clean tech which can be a little different), most firms really weren't ready to commit to funding anything that was utility-facing or cleantech, especially at the time. A lot of firms were ramping up their interest in the cleantech space, but they hadn't yet done a lot of research. 

[00:29:39] Astrid 

And what we started to hear over and over was, "Oh, I don't think we can commit on your time frame. We'd really need to do a lot more internal research before we could form our own thesis about this." And that kind of meant two things. It meant partly what it said, but it also meant this is a scary space where there hasn't been a good track record of success yet. We're not...we don't have enough independent conviction to be the first people into it. And this is not enough of a slam dunk that we're comfortable moving forward on a short time frame.

That [happened a few times] very quickly within a couple of weeks. And at that point, it was clear that we were going to need to potentially change our tactics a little bit. That was the point at which it was clear that that was going to be less of a quick "okay, we're going to go out and just raise a bunch of money" and more of a slow "we're going to need to be really thoughtful about this." 

[00:30:41] Nathan 

What did you change tactic wise? I mean, other than kind of slowing down.

[00:30:48] Astrid 

There were a couple of things that we changed. One was that we really came back to our story and did another round on our pitch deck, and we changed it pretty substantially to focus less on the formulaic kind of nuts and bolts. Here's your template Series A deck of the things that we've done so far and the things that we'll do next, and to focus a lot more on narrative and storytelling. That always would have been good advice, to be honest. But it was hard to tell what story was going to resonate the most with investors until we went through the process of pitching with a whole bunch of them. I was sort of rapidly refining that.

In retrospect, I would have done better by making it a little slower and doing that refinement process more deliberately. That was definitely one thing. The other was that we started to shift focus away from the more of the like enterprise SaaS-type funds, which is kind of what we were originally targeting and more towards the cleantech type funds that were interested in and experienced with funding in cleantech generally and grid businesses specifically. 

[00:32:04] Nathan 

Yeah, it's good. I don't know. I'm not an expert on this by any means. But didn't a lot of the larger funds kind of get burned in clean tech, like circa mid-2000s or early 2000s? 

[00:32:16] Astrid 

Absolutely. When I was first talking with Bill, who is my mentor over at Sequoia, that was part of the conversation and that was where he was sort of like, this is going to be a really hard because he sort of giving me the backstory on Kleiner and John Doerr's experience at Kleiner, which was very negative in the 2008 bust. And I heard that from a lot of other tech funds early on, including people we had really good network connections through. For example, Cody worked pretty closely with someone who's an investment partner at Kleiner when he worked on the rescue project. They knew each other very, very well. This was another one of those conversations where it was like, "look, if you guys were starting a different kind of business, we would be so excited to back you. But you're starting this one, so we're going to need a lot more proof." That was kind of the message there.

I think it really just came down to while many more companies were setting up funds to fund climate type ventures in the tech space, that was still very early days for them and they were not really ready to jump straight in yet. And they still aren't, honestly. 

[00:33:30] Nathan 

I know I was a little bit tempted by this when I was raising money. You get these different ideas from investors, like if you were this, we'd be interested. Did you ever get sort of almost lured away to building something else? 

[00:33:46] Astrid 

I mean, yeah, I got a lot of feedback from investors of various sorts. If you were this, we would be more interested, you know, like if you started a different sort of company, we'd be more interested. You know, if you change your focus in the following ways, we'd be more interested. You know, I think there's a really important balance between having an informed thesis for the company that you're trying to build, that you have conviction in, versus taking reasonable feedback from people who know what they're doing. And so what I try to do is focus on the big aligned themes, and one of the big aligned themes when we were raising our seed, for example, was "come back with one customer". Now, when we had one customer, what we started to hear was "come back with two customers". When we did come back with two customers, though, we raised our seed very quickly.

So that was eventually true. It just wasn't specifically true. Some things that I heard in the A round were: "come back with more commercial traction", "come back with an investor-owned utility deal that's much larger". During the process of raising that round, we actually did get to kind of verbal "yes" on some larger commercial deals. That wasn't actually enough to get the investors to yes, though. Part of that is the difference between a verbally-committed deal versus a signed contract. But part of it is also that it wasn't strictly about linear progress. It was more about coming back with the kind of proof points that would help get them over the hump towards really feeling like we could build a billion-dollar business in our space. And I think it's really important for founders to factor in that a lot of times the feedback that you get, even when it's consistent, is sort of spiritually true, but perhaps not specifically true. 

[00:35:37] Nathan 

That's really interesting. Explain that a little bit or maybe just clarify that a little bit. I think that's interesting. 

[00:35:43] Astrid 

The difference between feedback that's sort of spiritually true or thematically true versus specifically true is really that difference between what investors are willing to tell you would change their mind, such as more commercial traction or one more customer or a deal that's ten times larger or something like that versus what they're really asking for, which usually is more confidence in some risk dimension that they're not comfortable with. And what we were hearing was like, we love the team, we're interested in the product, we are really concerned about the market. What was spiritually true about that feedback was "we're really concerned about the market and we need more proof points to help us build conviction that there's a business there".

I understood that when we were getting that feedback and spent some time chatting with our advisors, our board members, our existing investors about both ways that we could tell our story better, but also ways that we could continue to build confidence in commercial proof points and reduce commercial risk. Some of that was coming back with more and bigger deals. Some of that was also finding investors that were bullish on the space that we were moving into, actually, because of the difference between, "I'm interested in what you're doing, but I feel kind of anxious about whether it could be successful" versus "I've independently researched this space; I'm really bullish on the space, and I think you guys are a good bet in it". And it was investors in the latter category that ended up being the right fit for us. That's also a reason why going a little slower helped us, because what we were looking for was investors that already were excited about the area that we were in so that we could come and fit into their story about it.

[00:37:37] Nathan 

Yeah, people who've listened to the show for have heard me say it before, but one of the quotes I learned from some other guest on the show that I just love is that fundraising is not about convincing people or winning them over, but it's the search for believers; finding the people who already have a belief in this space and this thesis that have done their research, like you said, and kind of have a belief that you're you're matching with. And I thought that was kind of an epiphany for me when I heard it. I love that. 

[00:38:09] Astrid 

I couldn't agree with that more. For me, this is an extension of some past lessons learned in my earlier phases in my career. You know, they say that you should always pick the boss that you work for sooner than the role that you're in. Or at least I've heard that advice and I wholeheartedly believe it. Having done the opposite a couple of times, I've certainly had roles in my past career where I was excited about the opportunity, but didn't necessarily click with the people I was working for. And that always was really difficult over time because I was always selling to my boss about my work, about me, about my team, the work we were doing. Whereas when I worked for bosses who were independently excited about me, my team, what we were doing, all of these things, it was a really positive experience.

I knew that when you’re looking for investors, when you're finding your lead investor especially, you are choosing your bosses. They're going to be on your board. They're going to represent the interests of your investors. And it's really helpful if the people who are going to be on your board really believe in your company and want to help it be successful. If you have to be selling to them that things are actually good and okay every time you have a conversation with them, that's just much harder to be successful. 

[00:39:35] Nathan 

Really good stuff. I won't keep you much longer. Kind of a two part question or same question asked two different ways. What advice would you give your younger self if you were fundraising all over again that we haven't covered? Just general advice for raising capital for a cleantech business? Any other specific tactics that you'd like to share with fellow cleantech founders? 

[00:40:01] Astrid 

You know, I think that advice about finding the investors who are going to be independently excited about the space that you're working in and focusing on building relationships with them was probably the most important thing I learned during the around. I would definitely, if I were going to do it again, focusing earlier on finding those people who are super excited about our space and building relationships with them well ahead of the raise. That's something that I definitely have carried with me. We're not raising our B yet. It's in a while, but it's definitely something that I've carried with me as I start to think about doing that. So that's one piece.

The other thing is that cleantech right now, I feel, is in a similar situation to Medtech or Govtech from probably like five or ten years ago. There hadn't been sufficient standout successes of people building really great businesses in the space that it was easy to get investors who are excited about it. That has changed after some strong proof points came along. And so there were, for many of those spaces, a few companies that are really kind of showing that there can be success in that sector and showing what that might look like. 

[00:41:28] Nathan 

Seems like it's sort of heating up a little bit. 

[00:41:32] Astrid 

I think interest is heating up quite a lot more. I think that we still have yet to see this most recent round of companies generate those stand out successes that get investors really excited. 

[00:41:47] Nathan 

Yeah. Interesting. Anything else that we haven't covered? We've covered a lot, I think. 

[00:41:55] Astrid 

You know, the last thing that I just wanted to mention with regard to our A. We did end up with offers from a few different venture investors. The thing that actually really changed it for us, though, was that in the meantime, we had started to have a really, really great conversation with a potential customer who was so excited about working with us that they offered to invest. They were actually the first ones with a term sheet that made a huge difference to us. Both the fact that someone had come in wanting to be the lead and really kind of get over the over the hump of "Oh, I'm interested, but I don't want to lead", and also it was a really powerful proof point for us with other investors -- that we had a potential customer that was so excited about working with us.

That was really huge for us. And I don't know that it's something you can necessarily draw recommendations from, but I wanted to highlight and also acknowledge that because it really, really made a difference for us in getting the round closed in time. 

[00:42:58] Nathan 

Can you disclose who that was? 

[00:43:01] Astrid 

That was PPL -- I actually have their hard hat behind me. 

[00:43:05] Nathan 

Oh, sure. Yeah. 

[00:43:06] Astrid 

Pennsylvania Power and Light. They're an East Coast utility with a really solid track record of partnering in large scale tech deployment. And I'm very excited to be working with them.

[00:43:22] Nathan 

I'll let you go, I promise. I keep saying that. But does taking money from a strategic investor like Pennsylvania Power and Light make it easier to get into other utilities because it's like a validation? Or are they competitive? Do other utilities like, oh, you're you're aligned with PPL, we don't really want to work with you. 

[00:43:44] Astrid 

No, they're not competitive because there are regional monopolies. In general. So it does actually help us a lot. One of our considerations was trying to make sure that we had a balanced investor syndicate. PPL was really helpful in working with us and putting that together. Our eventual actual lead was a financial investor, Park West, who are primarily a hedge fund. Getting that group together that was excited to be working together as well as working with us was really the thing that pulled it together on the A for us. 

[00:44:18] Nathan 

Excellent. All right. If people want to learn more about Camus, it's spelled, correct? Or how should people find you? 

[00:44:29] Astrid 

The company's name is Camus. We're named for the French philosopher, and I'm happy to have a longer conversation about why, if folks want to hit me up, the web address is and that'll get you to us. 

[00:44:48] Nathan 

Cool. Great. Anything else you want to add? Sometimes I'd say anything you want to plug or give a shout out. I guess you're probably not going to find too many customers listening to this show, but anything else you want to promote or plug, open job rec or anything? 

[00:45:04] Astrid 

I mean, we're definitely hiring. We have actually hired most of our outstanding engineering recs, but we do have some roles that we're hiring for. They're on our website. If you're interested in working with us, please, please come drop us a line. 

[00:45:17] Nathan 

Excellent. All right. Well, Astrid, thank you so much. This is really interesting. Foundersuite has a little partnership with Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which is an accelerator for clean tech startups. I'm going to definitely send them this episode to circulate. So, you know, keep an eye out. 

[00:45:35] Astrid 

Yeah, we actually did go through LACI's program. 

[00:45:39] Nathan 

Oh, you did that? Oh, I didn't know that. 

[00:45:40] Astrid 

Just wonderful. Yeah. Even though we're not LA based. 

[00:45:43] Nathan 

Lovely. Great. All right. Thank you very much. Have a good day. Keep doing what you're doing. We need it for my kids as well as your kid. 

[00:45:53] Astrid 

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Have a great day yourself! 

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