Weekend Briefing No. 213

Welcome to the weekend. This briefing focuses a little more on environmental sustainability than usual… just ‘cause. Also, check out the From the Community section below to see cool stuff my friends / clients are up to. They are awesome. That is all.

Prime Numbers

30 –The recently announced 30% tariff on imported solar cells and panels by the Trump administration may have less of an impact on residential solar than initially expected. Two-thirds of solar installers say they plan to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff, rather than pass those costs along to the consumer.

13 – Despite GDP growth, demand for energy is stagnant. TVA now expects to sell 13 percent less power in 2027 than it did two decades earlier — the first sustained reversal in the growth of electricity usage in the 85-year history of TVA. TVA will sell less electricity in 10 years than it did 10 years ago. That is bonkers.

0.15 – The cost for residential solar declined from $0.52/kWh to $0.15/kWh from 2010 to 2017. Effective partnerships between solar installers and roofers, now only beginning to emerge, could, at scale, bring that cost to $0.05/kWh by 2030.

The Patagonia Way

Incited by Trump’s agenda, Patagonia – a benefit corporation and #6 on Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies 0f 2018 –  has upped its commitment to environmental activism, making an unprecedented bet on corporate social responsibility. This has served not only to energize product innovation and marketing but to grow the company’s brand awareness and sales. Rose Marcario, CEO, has overseen a quadrupling of Patagonia’s revenue in her decade-long tenure with the company, pursuing investments in sustain­able design and manufacturing and in startups allied with Patagonia’s mission. The company has built a righteous flywheel, like an Amazon for do-gooders: The more it invests in its beliefs and its products, the better Patagonia performs, develops creative solutions, and maps out a blueprint for other businesses, big and small, to follow. “Doing good work for the planet,” Marcario says, “creates new markets and makes [us] more money.” That’s the Patagonia way. Fast Company (7 minutes)


How do you entrench environmental sustainability into your company? Try this framework: incubate, launch, and entrench. 1) Incubation is the process of, first, defining the contours of your sustainability domain by reflecting on the purpose of your business and its specific role in the world. 2) Launching. To entice employees and relevant stakeholders to own sustainability, sell it as an opportunity to contribute to the future well-being of both the company and society.  Sometimes you have to appeal to the head (monetary incentives, cost savings, career advancement), other times to the heart (look at the difference we make), and very often, both. 3) Entrenching. Having measurements of success and providing ongoing feedback on sustainability targets will demystify stakeholders’ contributions and gradually move them to own sustainability as indivisible from their jobs. Managers can use sustainability goals to evaluate their direct reports and compare employees, departments, divisions, and business units. Harvard Business Review (7 minutes).


For years, Eric Lundgren has fought to cut down on e-waste, or the millions of electronic devices that are discarded every day. Now, his obsession may send him to prison: The 33-year-old is facing criminal copyright infringement charges for dispersing 28,000 Microsoft restore discs that would help older computers last longer. Lundgren maintains that he merely intended to do a good thing for the planet (and owners of old computers), but happened to get in the way of “planned obsolescence” — or the act of corporations giving their products artificially short lifespans to bolster sales. In February 2017, he pleaded guilty to 2 of the 21 counts, and he was handed a 15-month prison sentence and a $50k fine. “My actions helped consumers, protected our environment, and resulted in zero revenue loss to Microsoft,” Lundgren told Forbes last year. “I believe that consumers should have the right to repair their property and I [may be] going to prison because of this belief.” The Hustle (4 minutes)

Fixing Capitalism

Social Capital – an innovative VC firm and #19 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company of 2018 –  believes the first step to fixing capitalism is rebuilding venture capital, capitalism’s money engine. While much of the rest of finance has become rigorously analytical, early-stage investing remains fueled by privileged networks and gut-instinct decision-making. In Chamath Palihapitiya’s view, that approach reinforces biases that disadvantage founders who exist outside of Silicon Valley’s (white, male) norms. It also handicaps startups addressing some of the thorniest issues in industries like education, healthcare, and space, which are often perceived as too risky. Last spring, he unveiled the centerpiece of that effort: Capital-as-a-Service, or CAAS, a software tool that automates early-stage investment decisions, effectively allowing Social Capital to back founders, sight unseen. So far, the program has received applications from more than 3,000 startups and invested in 30, with an average check size of $70,000. Half the funded CEOs are non-white and 40% are women. (Compare that to Silicon Valley at large, where less than 5% of venture deals in 2016 involved women-led startups.) Fast Company (14 minutes)  

Common Sense & AI

To make real progress in A.I., we have to overcome the big challenges in the area of common sense. In order to achieve that end, Paul Allen just pumped an additional $125 million into his nonprofit computer research lab. Today, machines can recognize nearby objects, identify spoken words, translate one language into another and mimic other human tasks with an accuracy that was not possible just a few years ago. These talents are readily apparent in the new wave of autonomous vehicles, warehouse robotics, smartphones and digital assistants. But these machines struggle with other basic tasks. Though Amazon’s Alexa does a good job of recognizing what you say, it cannot respond to anything more than basic commands and questions. When confronted with heavy traffic or unexpected situations, driverless cars just sit there. New York Times (5 minutes)

Startups & Gatekeepers

How can startups work with effectively with gatekeepers – Legal, IT, HR and Finance – to scale innovation as you scale your company? As a gatekeeper myself, two ideas really resonated with me. 1) Don’t neglect gatekeepers until the 11th hour, rather bring them in as a thought partner earlier in the process. 2) Seek out gatekeepers that have entrepreneurial virtues, who’ve got a tolerance — even comfort with — uncertainty and ambiguity and understand why entrepreneurship is challenging. They should have learning-first mentality. You want a gatekeeper who’s informed, but not always coming in with all the answers. First Round Review (18 minutes)

Average Speed

Anyone can feel a burst of inspiration, head to the gym, and push themselves for a single workout. That’s maximum speed. But what if you were to average all of your days in the last month? How many of those days included a workout? How about the last three months? Or the last year? That’s your average speed. From what I can tell, this principle holds true for your work habits, your eating habits, your relationship habits, and virtually every other area of your life. We all have an average speed when it comes to our habits. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, that average speed might be much slower than we’d like. The important thing is to be aware of what’s actually going on, realize that it’s within your control, and then embrace the fact that a small, but consistent change in your daily habits can lead to a remarkable increase in your average speed. In your health, your work, and your life, it doesn’t require a massive effort to achieve incredible results — just a consistent one. James Clear (8 minutes)

From the Community

My friends and client Warby Parker were featured in First Round Review about how to make the entire employee lifecycle extraordinary.

My friends and client General Assembly just launched a new initiative that allows Veterans can to use their GI Bill benefit to learn web development, user experience design, and data science.

My friend Desire Buchanan just launched an line of women’s shirting that’s ethically produced in downtown LA.

My friend Erica Berger, just launched a podcast called TBD  – conversations with artists, activists and entrepreneurs to discover how they lived through uncertainty and created a life that’s always “to be determined.”

Weekend Wisdom

“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. We’re all biased to our own personal history.” – Morgan Housel

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.

Photo by Moja Msanii