Discover more from MCJ Collective Newsletter
Episode 191: Three Years of MCJ with Jason Jacobs
This week we flipped the script and put me (Jason) in the guest seat. I was interviewed by our very own, Cody Simms, who most recently served as Senior Vice President of Climate & Sustainability at Techstars before joining the MCJ team as a Partner in late 2021. Cody and I have a lively conversation about my evolution from Runkeeper to MCJ and where my optimism comes from. We also talk about the biggest surprises thus far on my climate journey, how to scale climatetech investing, and the importance of inspiring folks to focus on climate. It was exciting to reflect on how far MCJ has come and what the future might bring for us.
As always, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review. We heard that helps spread the word about our little show and engages more folks in the climate fight!
Cody Simms: I think with the Runkeeper journey we've heard flashes of that story from you, but not really the details. Could you spend a few minutes unpacking the Runkeeper story with us?
Jason Jacobs: Well, so there have been three main chapters to my career. The first was I kind of fell into startup tech, right outta college. I was a liberal arts undergrad. And so the first decade of my career was in functional roles of increasing responsibility on the people side of largely infrastructure software companies, like selling data storage software into big banks and health systems and stuff like that. And I was in recruiting and sales and business development functions, I got an MBA. And during that time I loved the sport of business and I loved the people I was working with and competition and stuff like that. But the widget really wasn't that personally relatable selling essentially digital plumbing to big banks, just wasn't something that was personally relatable as a liberal arts undergrad without a computer science background.
And I had always wanted to start a company and I thought that the widget didn't matter because I knew it was gonna be a technology company. And didn't think there was an area of technology that I could be passionate about and was very frustrated, trying to fit figured out. And like years went by to the point that I was starting to have self-doubt about whether I was really cut out to be an entrepreneur. Finally, I was running in the red zone trying to figure it out and not knowing what was holding me back, and signed up for my first marathon as a way to clear my head because I was driving myself freaking crazy. And during that training, a couple of things happened, one, I was using the existing tools and realized that, that there were both gaps and opportunities there. And then two realize that like I was passionate about something other than startups, which was fitness and it was like, "Oh, I could combine my two loves and build a digital fitness company." Hooray. Like that's amazing.
And I had a hypothesis for where to start, which was "even if I'm wrong I wanna do something at the intersection of fitness and technology and I can pivot into something else at this intersection. And even if I fail, I'll learn so much from that journey that like it will have been, been worth it." And then fast forward 10 years, that was a bumpy ride and a lot of lessons learned and a lot of exciting things. But ultimately it was kind of gory but had a really good outcome in the end. We were acquired by Asics, the big Japanese shoe company. And every class of investors did well and it was great for the team. And it was life-changing for me and my family, but that was kind of a lot. So that's at least kind of the high level on the Runkeeper journey, psychologically, if not from a product standpoint.
Cody Simms: So after Runkeeper and after you decided to pivot to climate, you started having many conversations with folks in the climate space. At what point did you realize, "Hey, this should become a podcast"? What were the elements of going from, "I'm just gonna learn, take meetings, and engage with people” to “this is something other people want to hear as well”?
Jason Jacobs: Well, one thing was that these conversations were filling me up with knowledge and energy and optimism and it was addictive. So that was just one thing as I kind of looked within myself. I knew these [conversations] were too valuable to just be going in my ears and not going out into anything that other people could benefit from. And another thing was more and more people were picking their heads up and coming to me, asking me what they should do or where they should start. So there was an obvious disconnect between all the great knowledge I was getting and all the great knowledge that these people were seeking. And then a third thing was that just talking to people all day without building anything feels pretty academic and unfulfilling.
Also, the company I tried in between had this on-air component, it was like live interactive TV. It was like live TV meets native mobile applications kind of thing. And when we were looking at shows, we were talking to LA types and looking at who could host (think Scott Rogowski but for categories beyond prize-based entertainment), I kind of had host envy. I wanted to be the host. I wanted to try that and build that skill set. I had never done that before. So I kind of had the itch. Podcasting is a thing and I wanna learn more about it, feels emergence in itself. And it would give me something to build. I'm not an engineer and therefore I can do podcasting without writing any code. That's another benefit is that I don't need to pay some shop a hundred grand to like get a first product that no one's gonna use, you know, I can just start recording.
Then the other thing was that one of the people who was reading the newsletter was this guy locally in Boston at the time named Evan Mula. And he was just like, "I'm really inspired by what you're doing. I wanna help." And I was like, "Well, I don't know what you like. This isn't even a business. I don't know what you should do." And he just started doing stuff. I don't know why you should ask him. But that was right as I started to think about this podcast and he essentially just stepped in and started making that happen and I didn't pay him. I mean, we didn't have a business. We didn't have, you know like I wasn't getting paid. It was just a project. I don't even know what you could call it.
Then between the two of us, we just started kicking out two shows a week. And then it just kind of went from there. As I started recording and kicking out two episodes a week, I was meeting all these awesome guests and then the audience was growing and then my inbox started filling up. It was addictive because the people showing up in my inbox were binging on the show. They were very grateful it existed. It wasn't a big audience, but the audience that was there was so engaged and they were such interesting people. That was another thing that was a really interesting signal. They were strategic, well-placed, high-octane people that came from really diverse backgrounds as well. It wasn't just tech. I mean, it was like philanthropy world. It was investing, it was government.
And then these people were longing for a peer group across the diverse set of topics that I was covering and that peer group didn't exist and they didn't know each other. So we set up a Slack community. Right. So it's like everything at least thus far has been unscripted and organic. Although as you know, Cody, given the fact that you're here on the squad and we're growing the team we're starting to embrace planning and long term thinking and budgeting and things like that because that's what you need to do if you want to build something big and enduring, but it didn't start out that way.
Cody Simms: At what point did you feel like it could be bigger than a podcast? Was there a moment in time or was it just an evolution for you?
Jason Jacobs: At every point, it's hard to explain it. It actually felt very similar to Runkeeper's early days where, whether it was true or not, we just kind of knew the karma was on our side. We felt in our element, we felt self-assured. We would get kicked in the teeth time and time again and get right back up and just keep marching and just like so stoic about it. Two labs wasn't like that, the company in between, like it felt more forced. And why should it feel forced? It's a fertile market. It's an area where half of it, I know super well. And the other half of it, I'm really excited to learn. I'm working with two people, I've known forever who I would go to war with. Like, why does it feel forced? Well, it feels forced because the purpose is lacking. The purpose was so strong here that I just felt self-assured every step of the way, but even with so much ambiguity, and even now there's still a ton of ambiguity, but there's less ambiguity over time. It’s like judo, it's like piece by piece, just meticulously kind of nudging everything towards the middle versus some light switch moment.
Cody Simms: What are some lessons you learned at Runkeeper that are now helping you better build MCJ?
Jason Jacobs: I think at Runkeeper, I aspired to build a generational firm and felt very in my element early on and lost that along the way, because it felt like, "Whoa, now that we grow up, you know, we need to be less human and act more corporate." And “Now that we grow up, the CEO should act this way and the CEO should not like mingle with the people." And, you know, that's all BS. You need to do what feels right for you and surround yourself with people who aspire to build the things that you do in the ways that you aspire to. You want diversity of opinions and thought and people to keep you honest and call your BS and stuff like that. But you shouldn't play someone else's game. So, that's one.
Another big lesson is just we distributed equity, for example, at Runkeeper, I think it aligned probably pretty well to what the spreadsheets say that you should do. It's like entry-level gets this and midlevel gets that. But I'm much more interested in growing the pie than I am in growing my piece of the pie. So what I'm trying to do is really instill that ownership mindset across the team as we grow, but not just a mindset, to also make sure that's reflected in incentives all the way through. We didn't do a terrible job at Runkeeper, but I think we were just stingier there than I would be next time around.
Another one is just if you're towing a boulder up a mountain and it feels forced and you're doing it because of duty, you don't wanna let others down, it's not a recipe for success.
Cody Simms: So who or what inspires your optimistic mindset, which is so central to MCJ?
Jason Jacobs: That's not a climate mindset, that's just a life mindset. Cause if you think about it, is it too late? Like everyone wants to know, is it too late? So, let's say it was too late. What are the alternatives to getting up and doing our best to think about the people that get the terminal medical diagnosis and they fight through and they keep an optimistic mindset and they explore alternatives treatments, and they explore emergent treatments and, they pray and they do whatever it is they do. And then miraculously they get better. Or like the athlete that gets in a car accident, they're told that they'll never walk again. And then they not only end up walking again, but they end up back on the field to follow all the experts who said it wasn't possible. And yet they did it.
So when people say it's not possible, one, even if it's not possible, you should still believe it's possible and do your best and get up every day to try. And two, a lot of times they don't know what the F they're talking about. So that's just a life philosophy that whether they're right or they're wrong, I'm gonna get up every day and fight like hell to prove them wrong. Because that's just better than the alternative. You'll live a more fulfilling life anyways. So that's one piece of it.
Another piece of it is, I guess it's related that when I wasn't focused on it, I was dwelling on the headlines, cause the headlines are all about the science and how screwed we are and how it's gonna get worse for decades to come. Our children will be the first generation that has a life worse than ours. It's like depressing, depressing, depressing, depressing. I don't have time to [dwell on climate change] because I'm too busy doing action and that's actually healthy. And two, like my action is actually pointed at things that could potentially help. Maybe they never help, but at least I'm trying.
Ever since I've been focused on pointing in the right direction and doing my best to try, not only am I busier, which is a good thing, but I'm busier doing my best and leaving it all in the field. And like I'm way less anxious and way more optimistic just by the fact that I'm leaving it all in the field and doing my best.
So, I don't know, everyone's wired differently. Maybe that doesn't work for other people, but speaking from personal experience, it was the best decision I ever made. If I was focused on anything but climate I would be waking up anxious about it every day. I'm too busy hauling water out of the Titanic, I don't have time to dwell on the fact that the ship is sinking.
Cody Simms: I guess to that point, the next two questions are really related. What are the biggest surprises on your climate journey so far and what are beliefs you had at the beginning that you no longer hold and why?
Jason Jacobs: I don't know why I think about things in kind of waves or phases. The first phase was like, "Are we screwed?" I mean, that was like my first line of questioning. To anyone that was working in this area, I was like, "How anxious are you every day? Are you an optimist? Do you think we're gonna figure this out?" If you hear some of my early episodes, it’s a lot of those kinds of questions.
Then the next phase was, "Oh, it isn't too late?" But a lot of what people talk about is noise. You know, it's greenwash or it's like incremental stuff that's not gonna matter. It was almost like the VE coastal is, but like, "The big, bold bets are what we need. We need nuclear. We need long-duration storage. We need a price on carbon." There's certain levers that matter and everything else is noise. Right. That was kind of the next phase and you can see that in the episodes too. Like I did a nuclear tour and I did spend plenty of time on a carbon tax.
Then the third will phase, which is probably the one I'm kind of just emerging from now, is thinking of it much more like an interconnected rain forest, where big things, small things, everything in between, everything is getting nudged towards the middle, which is also a lot more similar to how I build companies too. It isn’t some light bulb moment. It's a clear north star and being so wed to the north star.
Then the tactics are gonna evolve and change over time. The approach, the resourcing, like that'll evolve over time. But they’re being led to the north star. Well, that's kind of how I feel.
It's like, look, that's our goal and look at how we're deploying capital and stuff too. It's policy, yes. We need more policy, federal, local, everything in between, you know, international relations. We need better messaging. Of course, we need better messaging, more inspirational, more clear, more compelling, more credible, more transparent, more trusted. Louder, bigger reach, right? More entertaining. We need all those things. More activism, yes. We need the general public to state their case. We need employees to state their case. We need voters to state their case. We need people to show up at the polls. Like we need all those things. We need more early-stage innovation. We need software innovation. We need hardware, innovation, we need robotics. We need AI, we need food and ag. We need transportation. We need carbon accounting and helping enterprises clean up their act. We need longer-term forecasting for resiliency planning and insurance. We also need breakthrough technology like should we be investing infusion? Of course, we should. But it doesn't work on a 10-year time scale.
So it's not either/or it's both, let's do both. Right. And so that's kind of the mode I'm in now, which is like interconnected rainforest and everything feeds each other. And the more success we have in one area, the more it feeds the others and, and kind of softens the tissue to get progress in those others too. The next wave though is more about MCJ's role and what we can do to level up our impact and how we can facilitate a bigger impact across the community and stakeholders that we interact with and serve.
Cody Simms: The last question is what's next? What areas do you wanna explore next on the podcast? So if people are listening, what are topics you wanna dive into both on the pod, but also more broadly, what's next for MCJ generally?
Jason Jacobs: I wish there was a formula, but it's kind of like you know it when you see it. But I think a couple of things that I look for and, of course, different people on the team, or the community, we get ideas from all places, but one thing is just people that are innovating and setting an example and doing so with some success so that their stories can both educate and inspire others to follow. So that's kind of one thing. So for example, on Twitter, I invited the Ford CEO to come on yesterday and he hasn't replied yet, maybe he never will, but Ford is setting the example for other auto manufacturers. They are stepping out and leaning hard into EVs and they have a model that people are celebrating to get their hands on, whether they care about climate or not. Like, that is fucking awesome, right?
So, more stories like that, transition stories, people that transitioned in effectively and have found their lane. The way you're asking me about all the MCJ stories, it's like, "What are the other MCJs out there? People that have kind of came in and didn't know, but found their footing, and then how can that help inspire and educate others who are trying to follow the same path?"
And then the last one is thorny topics where there's a lot of different opinions flying around to debate, where we try to put them front and center and just short them publicly. So crypto and climate, offsets, net-zero commitments, carbon tax, nuclear, like, what are the topics where you have people pounding the table saying things that contradict each other left and right. And they're all smart, you know, well-read, researched, respectable people, right. And yet they directly contradict each other. So what's the truth? Well, I don't know, but I'm gonna go in with an open mind and ask a lot of questions and bring on people with different perspectives and try to learn. And hopefully, rather than trying to advocate for any one position on the show, we can just help each listener have a more informed perspective when their own worldview continues to evolve.
Interested in coming on our show? Have a guest you’d like to hear from? Don’t hesitate to reach out! Email us at email@example.com.