tl;dr —📣 I’ve joined Grok Ventures as an Operator-In-Residence to work hands-on with their portfolio companies, most of whom are focused on tech that helps with the challenge of climate change.
In June, I was approaching the anniversary of my re-entry into Australia after my worldwide sabbatical and decided to take stock of what I’d done in the last year and what I wanted to do next. I’d written An Update on Chapter 2 to help catalog what I’d been up to over the last year.
Working with a variety of entrepreneurs last year had been amazing — they’d taught me so much: They’d been great at helping me understand where I had helped them (and more importantly where I hadn’t!). And entrepreneurs are quirky and just a ton of fun to spend time with. What could be better?
But I deeply missed having a team — who I could learn from and who would hold me accountable. And who would ask me why I’ve spent an hour building a spreadsheet for ranking Bondi restaurants.
So, I wrote a job description and realised that venture firms were likely the best place to start. I didn’t want to be an investor, but I wanted to help companies be the best they could be and achieve the highest impact. So I made a short (okay, very short) list of venture firms with a high concentration of climate / sustainability focused companies in their portfolio, and started to talk to everyone I knew who might have great advice.
Long story short, Grok was the perfect fit — in Sydney, 75%+ focused on climate investments in energy and food, and a team I could learn from (and who are just plain fun).
“Back in the fold”
Grok is the venture arm of the family office of Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes. Mike, or MCB, for those of you who don’t know him, is one of the co-founders and co-CEOs of Atlassian, along with Scott Farquhar. I worked directly for MCB for 50% of my time, and indirectly for him the other 50% of my time at Atlassian, and he’s an ideal manager for me — directly challenging me on the most important things, but leaving me to obsess over the details.
MCB has been a force in the climate conversation in Australia for years. Far too few Australian leaders have made any kind of stand on any of the difficult issues we face(Alan Joyce’s stance on the marriage amendment being a notable exception). MCB has been a non-partisan voice who has challenged the Aussie government regardless of party affiliation. And he’s done it wearing a white t-shirt.
Not your usual VC
Grok is not a conventional investor in a number of ways. The website is basic (the portfolio can be found on a set of twitter lists). They don’t really market themselves. They are extremely focused on their mission — finding and investing in the best climate focused startups where they can have a unique impact in the company’s success. There isn’t a single formula or single pattern to the investments —there are early stage startups in Australia and the US, as well as game-changing, lighthouse projects like SunCable (powering Singapore and Indonesia from solar in Australia’s Northern Territory). This is one of the great benefits of not raising a fund or having to constrain yourself to any promises made to limited partners (who invest in the fund). To thine own self, be true, so to speak.
My main goal was to be a part of a team, and even after just one week I’m fired up to be working with Jeremy, Lucie, Arms, and Sam. I’m going to learn a ton about investing (even in the first week, my investor glossary of jargon expanded by leaps and bounds), but even more about energy markets, sustainable food, and other areas in climate that will help increase my impact.
So what in the world is an “Operator-in-Residence”?
The name is a derivative of “Entrepreneur-in-Residence,” which usually is someone who joins a venture fund with the intent to either start a new company from inside the VC, or to join an existing investment. Here, my role is not looking for any kind of exit into the portfolio, but instead is focused on serving the existing portfolio companies to provide hands-on help with whatever operational challenges they face.
The goal of my role is to make an impact — to substantially help entrepreneurs scale their company faster, better and with bigger impact. It’s easy to fall back into just “advising” and not actually make a difference.
My activities will look similar to what I’ve been doing over last year, but all within the Grok portfolio, and more of a “project” focus than periodic mentoring or advising. My daily work will be things that I love doing, like:
- Practical strategy (company and product strategy, product roadmapping)
- Operational goals and health (metrics, OKRs)
- Organisational health (org planning, hiring, growing a leadership team)
The exciting part for me is that while I can bring a lot of experience to every project, I’ll be constantly learning (keeping my brain swollen on a daily basis), and working with people in Grok and in the portfolio who are trying to make a massive difference in the world around me.
I’m currently writing this blog from a small house on the Potomac river in Virginia, after traveling to the US over the last 48 hours.
Another blog on what could possibly make me return to the US during the pandemic (and the election…) coming soon!