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Lissie Garvin

Foundation and Fellowship Program Director

776 Foundation

May 9, 2023
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Ep 89: Lissie Garvin - Foundation and Fellowship Program Director, 776 Foundation
00:00 / 01:04

John Chaplin [00:00:57] Hey, I'm John Chaplin. You're listening to the Energy Impact Podcast. Today, we're here with Lissie Garvin, the Foundation and Fellowship Director of the 776 Foundation. Lizzie, welcome, and thank you for hopping on.

Lissie Garvin [00:01:10] Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here and to chat today.

John Chaplin [00:01:15] Yeah. I'm looking forward to diving down into your background. Usually, where we like to start out is just talking about where you started and where you grew up.

Lissie Garvin [00:01:25] Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Not a lot of people grow up in Nebraska, but I really loved it there. All of my family is still there; Omaha is home. I started out my career, actually, working in private equity. I really wanted to live in San Francisco because that was like 10, 11, 12 years ago, when tech was really starting to boom and social media. And I was like, "I want to be in that city." Aside from the fact that it's beautiful and very liberal and amazing, I wanted to be there for work. I remember Reddit was hiring for an executive assistant role, and I was like, "I'm just going to interview and then I'm going to make my way onto the event team or marketing team. This is just going to be my in to the social media, Silicon Valley world.".

Lissie Garvin [00:02:25] I remember interviewing with Alexis Ohanian, and at the time I think there were 45 employees. He and Steve had just returned after stepping away from the company for 10 years. And so, this was their first time back and first time being back together. And I was one of the first hires that they made. I remember a few months into the job, Alexis gave me a Chief of Staff job description, and he was like, "Do you mind reading through this? I'm going to start interviewing for a Chief of Staff." And I was like, "Can I interview for this job? Can I also put my hat in the ring?" And he was like, "Absolutely. Job is yours." So, that was eight years ago. I was his Chief of Staff at, I guess, three different companies, which ultimately led to this Foundation Director role.

John Chaplin [00:03:23] Yeah, that's awesome. What drew you into seeking private equity at first and then really targeting Reddit after that?

Lissie Garvin [00:03:34] The company that I worked at, it was called Thoma Bravo, and I didn't really know that much about that world, to be totally honest. But I remember when I was going through the interview rounds and when I met with Orlando Bravo, whose firm it is, he was just so compassionate and charismatic and wanted to also do a lot of good, which I feel like is rare in the finance world. He's from Puerto Rico and he's done so much for Puerto Rico and has this nonprofit. And I was just very motivated and excited by that kind of leader. And ultimately, that's the same type of leadership that I see in Alexis. So, I think I was more drawn to the leader than the actual business itself.

John Chaplin [00:04:23] Okay. So yeah, looking more for someone who's mission driven to kind of join onto the mission and propel it forward. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Tell me more about 776 Foundation. And I guess you're also part of the 776 Venture Fund, which I guess the foundation is a spinoff of that. But give us a little bit more background about that.

Lissie Garvin [00:04:43] So, the fund started almost three years ago. So Alexis, very publicly, when George Floyd was murdered, Alexis very publicly stepped away from Reddit, the Board, and had asked to be replaced with a black board member and ultimately left this company that he had started when he was 20 and 21 years old. And at that same time, we were talking a lot about building companies from first principles, what it looks like, who you're making money for in terms of LPs, all of these things. And he ultimately decided to leave his first venture fund, Initialized Capital, which he had founded, and start this new venture fund, 776. And myself and Katelin Holloway, who had been the VP of People and Culture at Reddit, we left Initialized with him to launch the fund. So it's now three years old.

Lissie Garvin [00:05:39] And all the while, we'll call it the last six years, Alexis and I have always talked about what would be next in my career after I was a Chief of Staff, because the reality is you can't be a Chief of Staff forever. And the thing that always motivated me was everything that he was doing that was good in the world. I think it's very rare to have someone who has not only the means, the dollars to do good, but also has the platform to share and get people excited. So, I was always really motivated by that. And whether it was being on The Hill campaigning for paid family leave or now launching this Climate Fellowship, that was what I was really excited about. And when he approached me about the Foundation and that the mission of the Foundation is to fight inequity worldwide and start with this climate pledge, I was like, "Oh, 100%, yes." Like, no questions asked.

John Chaplin [00:06:43] Yeah, and it's awesome platform for the Fellowship, who you guys are targeting and the investments there. I'd love to dive into a little bit more detail around that because I'm pretty interested in, one, how you guys vet, I guess, the ideas or the companies that some of your Fellows plan to start. And then also, how you vet someone who's very early on and young, really, in their career and whether they have what it takes to become a Fellow.

Lissie Garvin [00:07:10] Yeah, there are so many different parts to this question. I mean, the reality is there is nothing else out there like this program. And that is what I have heard over the last year. I mean, we're only a year into the foundation. The Fellowship program is 10 months old, so we're still so early on. But the thing that I keep hearing is that it doesn't exist; we're the only ones doing it. And there is a massive need for it. I mean, the reality is these young people... So, just to give everyone some background, we write grants to 20 young people a year. They're 18 to 23 year olds all over the world, and they are working on projects to combat climate change. And Alexis pledged $20 million over the next 10 years, so this program will go on for 10 years, which is really amazing to think that we'll have 200 young people working on projects, whether they're climate tech companies or non-profits or doing research just to focus on fighting climate change.

Lissie Garvin [00:08:20] The thing that has been so amazing to watch is how different all of the projects are. We have a Fellow who's in California and she's working on wildfire technology. Or, we have a Fellow who's in Kenya and he's built these solar-powered refrigerated storage units for farmers to make their produce last. I think it's ending up being like 20 times longer than they normally would. He's got it deployed at 30,000 farms across Kenya. So, the impact that they're having with just $100,000 is amazing and incredible.

Lissie Garvin [00:08:57] And you asked about the process, which I get really excited to talk about. So like I said, we're only one cohort in, so a lot of learnings. But I copied this from the fund. We do a blind process, so we keep the application open for about three weeks. And it's just essay-based for the application plus a video submission. And I don't want to read a resume, I don't want to know where you went to university, I don't want to know any of that information. And the reality is some of them are like 18 or 19 years old, so they don't have much of a resume. But I just want to know what you're working on in climate and also, more importantly, what motivated you to get into this space? Because if the goal is that they're going to spend the next 10, 20, 30 years on these projects, I want them to be so motivated to stay in the space and keep building and not give up because it can be a lonely road to be a founder.

Lissie Garvin [00:10:05] So, I think it's more about why they are getting into the space, what happened in their life to motivate them to do that. We just opened applications, actually, for our second cohort, so they're open for another couple of weeks. I'm starting to read them and I'm very excited.

John Chaplin [00:10:32] That's great. You highlighted a few, but how many were in the first cohort and what are some of the companies that they started?

Lissie Garvin [00:10:40] Yeah, absolutely. So, each cohort will be 20 Fellows and they're with us for two years. The program itself is a two year program. And like I said, we have Valkyrie, who's in California doing fire technology. And we have a young woman, her name's Maya Penn. She's been a climate activist since she was eight years old. I think she did her first TED Talk at 11 or 12. Like, what was I doing at 12 years old? Absolutely not that.

John Chaplin [00:11:13] Not a TED Talk, yeah.

Lissie Garvin [00:11:15] But she's built this studio for animated programming for children to teach them about climate change at the earliest stage possible. She actually just announced that she is doing a short animated film that Viola Davis is producing, and Whoopi Goldberg is one of the voices. She just shared the trailer a few weeks ago. But they're all doing very different things.

Lissie Garvin [00:11:47] We have another one. His name is Rostam, and his company is called Hydrova. And basically... This is a little bit more technical. So, when you have an aluminum can, we all assume that can can be recycled. And the reality is the writing on the outside of the can or the droplets that are left in the can, that can't go to recycling. That actually ends up in landfill. That gets created into this thing called dross. And the dross is what goes to landfill. And it's a small percentage, I think like 8% of the can, but the reality is when that piles up and continues to go to landfill, that's actually taking up a lot of space. And so, he and his co-founder have made this technology that essentially takes that dross and puts it through a process to make low-carbon cement.

John Chaplin [00:12:48] Oh, awesome. Wow, that's such a great, unique problem to go out and solve, right?

Lissie Garvin [00:12:54] Totally. And the thing that Rostam said the other day that is so true and that I've heard from a lot of these Fellows, they can only solve one issue. They can't solve everything that's happening in the climate crisis, but they have to have the feeling that other people are working on the other issues so that they can focus on the one specific thing that they want to go out and fix. So, the reality is we need so many more people working on things.

John Chaplin [00:13:27] Well, yeah, it sounds like you guys are filtering for someone who's got a passion about a problem, and that's one of your main filtering criteria. It sounds like they've already kind of tarted developing it. This wouldn't be going from an idea stage. Some of them have already gotten some traction?

Lissie Garvin [00:13:42] Well, so some of them are definitely in idea phase. We have a few that are in research labs developing technology, and the grant money is funding that research that they're doing. It's not majority, but probably like five of the Fellows are doing that. And I don't think I can share what they're working on because it's confidential, but that is important to say. Like, definitely some of them are in the research phase and just came and pitched an idea that they had. And for most of them, the $100,000 is the first amount of cash that they've received.

John Chaplin [00:14:23] Oh, awesome. Beyond cash, how does 776 really support these Fellows and take them through that two year Fellowship cohort phase?

Lissie Garvin [00:14:33] Yeah, my background, because while I was in the startup world I was working for a 10 year old startup, Reddit, but also because I was in the VC space for so long... I mean, the biggest thing is I've had a front row seat to watching one of the greatest founders and investors. I mean, I've sat in every single meeting with Alexis. I think a lot of people pay to go to business school to get that knowledge and information, and I'm really lucky in that I have eight years of it. And so, we do a lot of one-on-one mentoring with them, and then we bring them together in person from all around the world once a year. We just had our first summit in February and it was amazing. They all got to meet each other for the first time. They all flew together.

Lissie Garvin [00:15:25] And then on top of that, we have software called Cerebro, that I joke is Alexis's brainchild, but it's internal software that we built to run the fund so that the fund can always be remote, but the Foundation and the Fellows also have access to it. So for example, in Cerebro there are 45,000 to 50,000 contacts that Alexis, myself, Katelin, Cristina, whoever, at the firm has entered. And so, these Fellows... Say they're trying to launch sustainable products with Target, the company. This is very hypothetical. Like, "I want an introduction to someone on the marketing team." So, they can go into Cerebro, they can search "Target," the company, and then see the employees that any one of us have a connection to, and they can make an intro email and it'll go off as Alexis and the person that is receiving it can either opt in or opt out to take on the intro.

Lissie Garvin [00:16:34] That's something that usually people have to rack their brain, like, "Who do I know at Target? Who do I know at..." wherever. And this is software that does it and cheaper and faster for us. And then, also with Cerebro, it's kind of like there's a town hall. So, all the Fellows can post different things that come up. Like, if there's a grant or, for example, if XPRIZE is doing something, they can post about it. And then, it's also access to Alexis, 24/7.

John Chaplin [00:17:03] Okay. Yeah, I mean, those are of tremendous value. Just the network effects for some, especially as young as some of your guys' Fellowship participants are, being able to have access to that, I'm sure. And then also, like you said, being a founder is pretty lonely, right? And being in a cohort where you have 19 other founders that are working on similar problems who are at similar stages is good to lean on.

Lissie Garvin [00:17:25] Yeah. Then we do a monthly speaker series where we bring in, whether it's like a climate tech VC or a scientists. We try to rotate each month what different background they have based on who in the Fellowship can join. And I think that making this community network for the Fellows, like you said, at such a young age, is so important.

John Chaplin [00:17:52] Yeah, absolutely. So, I guess you've got one cohort down. How do you see this growing, especially as you guys are starting to review some of this next class?

Lissie Garvin [00:18:05] The Fellowship will go on for 10 years, so we will have 200 Fellows, which is amazing. I think that the cohorts will be very similar. I imagine there will be youth activists, there will be climate tech founders, there will be researchers, because all of those different genres are so important in this fight for climate change and making things better. So, I think the cohorts will stay the same. I think the size will probably stay the same because it's really important for me... And what I can see is happening in this group of Fellows to be really close with one another and be able to have a community where they can connect and relate.

Lissie Garvin [00:18:53] After we did the summit, I heard from so many of them and they were like, "How did you choose all of us? How did you know that we were all going to get along so well? These people are like family to me now." And I want to make sure that is the case for every cohort. I think the biggest thing will be, once we start to have classes that graduate, making sure there's still that community. And just... I don't know, we're going to have this massive Gen Z group of climate changers.

John Chaplin [00:19:25] Yeah. Through all the ones that you guys have reviewed, have you seen any kind of, I guess, themes with what people are trying to go after? It's obviously climate-focused, but do you see any subthemes below that everyone's focused on?

Lissie Garvin [00:19:42] We're still receiving applications, and actually, the Fellows are doing the first two rounds. So, the way that we have it built in Cerebro, of course, is that they are blind applications. So, the Fellows can only see the essays right now. And then, they vote and we have three Fellows per category. But I was looking at categories this morning, actually, to see what has like been the most... And it's actually sustainable fashion. Which makes sense because it is one of the most alarming things happening in the world right now. So, I definitely have seen a lot of sustainable fashion.

John Chaplin [00:20:30] Okay, so a lot of sustainable fashion. Has there been any energy-focused ventures or people who are trying to start anything in the energy space?

Lissie Garvin [00:20:40] Yeah, definitely a lot of energy. I mean, it's really everything. I can pull it up and look right now. A lot of pollution and waste reduction and energy and food and agriculture, and then also a lot of climate activists.

John Chaplin [00:20:56] Awesome.

Lissie Garvin [00:20:57] Basically, all of the things that we need and want.

John Chaplin [00:21:01] Right. And like you were saying earlier, I think it's good to get more of a discrete problem and go after that and then just have confidence that there's other smart people working on all the rest of the problems and we're all marching to the same end goal, which is a net zero future.

Lissie Garvin [00:21:17] Yeah, absolutely. And I will say with this first cohort, there isn't that much overlap of what everyone is working on. I think we weren't like very strategic in that, but also wanted to make sure we had representation in different climate categories. And I think that's been really good for the Fellows because they're learning so much from one another, and they also get to be experts in their own fields and teach the other Fellows. Also, I feel like I'm learning so much from them. Every one-on-one I have, I'm like, "Wait, can you go back and explain that process again? Like, tell it to me like I'm five, because I've never heard of that before." So, I feel like it's been really good to make sure there's a wide range of different climate topics, which I imagine... We'll do the same for the second cohort.

John Chaplin [00:22:07] Awesome. And I think I did see that it was a global Fellowship, right? So, it's not just focused on the US. Are you guys seeing a lot of traction globally, as well?

Lissie Garvin [00:22:15] Yeah, absolutely. So in this first cohort, we have someone in Kenya, South Africa, Scotland. Let's see... France, Canada, India, Australia, and then definitely a handful in the US. And a lot of our Fellows in the US are first generation Americans.

John Chaplin [00:22:38] Okay, wow. Awesome. So, you guys are already seeing a full spread of different countries and areas that you go after.

Lissie Garvin [00:22:45] Yeah. I mean, the reality is it has to be an international program because climate change is a global issue. That was very important to us for the Fellowship program.

John Chaplin [00:22:57] Yeah. And you'll see in all parts of the world, they're going to have different problems that are the highest value to go after. So, people from those areas are going to know exactly what that is.

Lissie Garvin [00:23:06] Yeah, absolutely.

John Chaplin [00:23:08] Well, great. Beyond that, with 776, are you guys planning on backing some of these Fellowship participants after their two years? How do you guys see that brand assisting?

Lissie Garvin [00:23:24] Yeah, so I am now fully no longer in the Fund, just the Foundation. But Alexis and I, we've been talking about this one a lot. As of now, they're fully church and state, so like, no pitching. Because we wanted to make sure that it always felt fair and equal and didn't want to fund one and not the other, all of those things. So right now, it's fully church and state.

Lissie Garvin [00:23:52] I could see a world in which the Foundation is an investor for some of them. Where it's like, we give the $100,000 grant... Which is also really important to mention. So, it's just grant money. We don't take any ownership in any of these companies. But I could see a world in which maybe after that, then we as the Foundation, invest in the company. And so, that money goes back into the Foundation.

John Chaplin [00:24:21] Gotcha, gotcha. Okay. Yeah, I mean, I think that makes sense. I didn't realize it was a grant. For some reason, I thought it was an equity investment.

Lissie Garvin [00:24:29] Yeah, it's really important to make that clear because a lot of the Fellows have said to me, "It's so important that I didn't have to give up any of my ownership of my company that early on. And that I could just build and take the $100,000 and not have to think about giving up 8%, 12%, or whatever it is." Yeah, definitely a very important distinction between grant and investment money.

John Chaplin [00:24:58] Okay. Going forward as you guys scale this out and you're managing these young Fellows, what do you feel like are going to be some of the key areas they'll focus on in the future? And how do you see them expanding some of these companies?

Lissie Garvin [00:25:17] Yeah, absolutely. We have one Fellow, she is building these robotic synthetic biology labs. So basically, she has an amazing story. You should talk to her at some point. Her name is Roya and her company is called Trilobio. But she was 12 years old and living in Seattle and really became obsessed with biology and wanted to be in a lab. She saw a poster for a university in Seattle that was doing these synthetic biology labs, and so she pretended to be a college student and joined the lab. I think she was 13 or 14 and was in the lab for like six months.

Lissie Garvin [00:26:02] The were submitting their research for something and they had to fill out their birthdays, and it became very obvious that she was not a college student in that moment. And ever since that, she's worked started to work on this company. And they basically are trying to solve the issue of not having human error while you're doing research so that companies like Beyond, Impossible, whatever, can make these lab grown meats faster and cheaper and we can bring more people into not eating meat and things like that. And so, that's all to say that I think that world, the science world and moving faster and more affordable and bringing more people in, I think that will be a big push in the next 10 years. Cow 2.0.

John Chaplin [00:26:56] Okay. Yeah, it's just so interesting to hear the stories of someone so young taking just the initiative to really push that forward. I'm sure that's what you guys are seeing across all of these cohorts.

Lissie Garvin [00:27:11] Totally. I mean, and I feel like that's what I have said to each of them after. They're like, "How did you pick the 20 of us?" I'm like, "Because you all were so motivated. All of your stories were like, I want to spend the next 20 years building in this space, fixing this. I want this to be my life's work." And I think that if you're going to start a company, if you're going to be a founder, if you're going to have a nonprofit, I mean, you just have to have that energy and you have to have that mentality because you're about to pour so much time and effort into this thing.

John Chaplin [00:27:46] Absolutely. Yeah, and I mean, it's a huge commitment, but seeing someone that has such a passion for it so young, I'm sure that's basically the best indicator that they're going to be successful at it. But yeah, very, very interesting. I'd love to hear just even more stories. I'm sure every single one in the cohort has an interesting story just like that.

Lissie Garvin [00:28:06] Yeah, they are really amazing. So, a lot of them are definitely in like stealth mode. And then, we have another one. Her name is Ayaka. She's in South Africa and she's basically built out this programming for schools across South Africa, elementary schools. It's climate programing, because none of the schools were teaching about climate change. And so, she essentially built in this for their studies.

Lissie Garvin [00:28:42] And then, we have another Fellow who started a Climate Justice Youth Fund, because... I think, it's 0.76% of climate funding goes to these youth initiatives, which is an insanely small amount. When you're looking at who is leading the climate movement, it's all Gen Z. I mean, you have Greta. They are the ones that are putting this in the news. They're putting this at the forefront, and so the fact that only 0.76% goes to them is insane. So Nathan, he started this fund to start to deploy capital to different areas across the world that need it. So yeah, there's so many of them. There are 20 of them, and they're all so amazing.

John Chaplin [00:29:33] They all have great stories.

Lissie Garvin [00:29:35] Plenty more, soon.

John Chaplin [00:29:39] It's awesome to see people in the young Gen Z generation take this on and really try to solve these problems. I wish we could see as much enthusiasm in probably the older generations, but good to see them taking the initiative.

Lissie Garvin [00:29:53] Yeah, I feel like I always say that. I'm 34 years old, and I don't know about you, but I feel like a lot of people my age and older, it's very like doom and gloom about climate change. And then, I go and have a one-on-one with one of my Fellows and it's the exact opposite of that. They're like so motivated, so excited, and they're like, "Oh my God, my research works. I'm moving on to the next step. I'm going to fight this thing and we're going to win." And so, I think it's really important and good for my mind to be around this younger generation who is like, "We don't have a choice. This is the only option. We're going to have to fix it because no one else is."

John Chaplin [00:30:38] Right. I think it definitely can be invigorating. We have Fellows here and they're awesome to have around and bring that energy. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing as these guys get out of stealth mode, where they go. And as you guys onboard more cohorts and they develop their products and their companies, what change they affect in the world.

Lissie Garvin [00:30:58] Yeah, I know. I'm so curious to see, five years from now, the important work that they're all doing. I mean, the fact is they're already doing so much important work and they're already having a huge impact on their communities. And so, I'm just as excited to see, and then I'm going to take credit for all of their success.

John Chaplin [00:31:23] Of course. As a plug for the cohort, when are applications due for this latest one?

Lissie Garvin [00:31:30] Yes, so applications are due April 24th, so about two weeks left. And it probably takes about 20 minutes to do the application, so it's pretty quick. You just have to be somewhere where you can record a video. But yeah, if you're 18 to 23, please, please, please apply, especially if you're working on a climate change idea or project. It just has to be an idea, or it can be a company or a nonprofit.

John Chaplin [00:32:03] Well, awesome. Well, yeah, I hope you guys get even more awesome cohorts to evaluate. Like I said, I'm looking forward to seeing where it develops and the community that you guys develop. I think it'll be great?

Lissie Garvin [00:32:15] Yeah, amazing. You definitely need to talk to some of the Fellows. They absolutely should be guests on this. They're so amazing, so impressive.

John Chaplin [00:32:23] Yeah, I think we'd love to. Maybe we could talk about that after and get a few names that we could talk to.

Lissie Garvin [00:32:29] Yeah, amazing. I love that.

John Chaplin [00:32:31] Awesome. Well, thanks, Lissie, for hopping on. And yeah, we'll talk soon.

Lissie Garvin [00:32:36] Amazing, thank you. It was nice to meet you.

John Chaplin [00:32:37] Nice meeting you, too.

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