I was able to travel and chase my dreams and my passions and whatever job I wanted to do. You know I was just I was doing it and then having a kid, all of a sudden, or having two, all of a sudden, you’re not just thinking about you and the moment. You start to think about what needs to happen for their future and then you can really start to think about, well, if they’re going to have kids, that extends on to many, many generations, and we’ve all seen how rapidly the world has changed in the last 20 years. On the one hand, that’s exciting. We’ve got this exponential growth in technology and we’re solving all of these problems but at the same time, that exponential scale is leading to significant environmental degradation. So yeah, I think it’s just a tangibility of that reality of this is not just about you anymore, it’s about others who you deeply care about. - Simon Baldwin
As the Global Head of Circularity at SecondMuse, Simon leads programs focused on strengthening circular and regenerative economic systems and processes. This work currently includes The Incubation Network in South and Southeast Asia, and the Ocean Plastic Pollution Accelerator (OPPA) in Indonesia, both of which are built around addressing ocean plastic pollution.
Simon is a systems architect, researcher, and entrepreneur who is committed to foregrounding communities in developing solutions that tackle today's most complex and pressing social and environmental challenges. His experience extends through the private, government, non-government and UN sectors in more than a dozen countries. His insights and research has been published widely and across multiple platforms.
Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi, Simon, I’m so excited to have you on the show.
Simon Baldwin: (00:32)
Hi, Jeremy, great to be here. Thanks for the opportunity.
Jeremy Au: (00:35)
Well, I’m excited to have you because you’ve made a really great leadership position and advancement of sustainability and you’re doing that from Southeast Asia. So, I’m just interested in profiling your story about what we can all do better and how your professional journey led you to here.
Simon Baldwin: (00:51)
Great, I look forward to the conversation.
Jeremy Au: (00:53)
So, how would you introduce yourself professionally?
Simon Baldwin: (00:56)
I’d like to say that I was a bad psychologist and initially I trained as a psychologist 20 years ago and quickly my career moved into public health and human rights. I worked in Southeast Asia on issues involving marginalized groups and giving them access to healthcare and did that for about 10 years and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet a really diverse range of people and work from as wide as Burma to China, Indonesia, Vietnam. My career pivoted then and I founded a start-up, a digital tech startup and through running that company in Australia, the UK and North America, was really introduced to this idea of entrepreneurship. Once we saw that company five or six years ago, and the idea really came to collide, those two chapters of my career together where I wanted to think about how could we use entrepreneurship, innovation, lean startup methodology to tackle some of the big complex issues that I was trying to tackle in the first part of my career? So yeah, that’s sort of how I find myself here today.
Jeremy Au: (02:00)
Amazing. So, how did you first have your passion for sustainability and society?
Simon Baldwin: (02:07)
Yeah, I think looking back one of the things that I really when I look back on my career and think about that question. I grew up in Tasmania, for those of your listeners who aren’t unfamiliar with Tasmania is the small island South of Australia and we were extremely privileged. We lived in a really beautiful community, a beautiful environment. We’re very connected. But we’re also very far away from the world. And then when I was in university, I started to travel. And it really opened my eyes up to the fact that people were living in poverty. The environment was starting to be really damaging and that was going to affect us all. And I often talk now about working with ocean plastics and the fact that when we were young kids surfing in Tasmania we would be lucky to see another footprint on the beach let alone plastics and just a couple of years ago when I was in Indonesia's about to go for a surf with my daughter it was during the wet season then the first rains come and they wash all those the rivers out, first rains of the wet season and we really couldn’t actually even access the beach. There was a big physical barrier preventing us from getting into the water and just realizing this look on my daughter’s face of just how unnatural it was and this kind of responsibility that we had as consumers and actors in this world to not only recognize the problem but actually do something about it. So yeah, it was from this place that kind of isolation in Tasmania to being in these big cities in Asia that I realized that this was this was a problem that was facing all of us.
Jeremy Au: (03:39)
How has becoming a parent changed your view on sustainability and community?
Simon Baldwin: (03:44)
Yeah, massively. I’ve seen in many different ways. I grew up quite hedonistically and individually. I was able to travel and chase my dreams and my passions and whatever job I wanted to do. You know I was just I was doing it and then having a kid, all of a sudden, or having two, all of a sudden, you’re not just thinking about you and the moment. You start to think about what needs to happen for their future and then you can really start to think about, well, if they’re going to have kids, that extends on to many, many generations, and we’ve all seen how rapidly the world has changed in the last 20 years. On the one hand, that’s exciting. We’ve got this exponential growth in technology and we’re solving all of these problems but at the same time, that exponential scale is leading to significant environmental degradation. So yeah, I think it’s just a tangibility of that reality of this is not just about you anymore, it’s about others who you deeply care about.
Jeremy Au: (04:43)
When you think about caring more as a result about a future like what’s the flavor of the change here? Because you said you grew up fun and partying and then your kid may grow up fun and partying as well, so why bother with this community sustainability in between. Let someone else figure it out.
Simon Baldwin: (05:04)
Yeah, I think we all have a responsibility and we all know more about it now. It’s amazing watching, my daughter’s name is Amalia and, watching Amalia even at her school and talking with the kids. They’re aware it’s becoming part of their vocabulary. It’s becoming part of their conversation. I compare myself growing up in Tasmania, a long way away from anything. To Amalia growing up here where there’s multiple cultures, multiple languages, this bubbling pot and her friends actually have got a little thing that they do where they swap clothes with each other, because that’s a way for them not to have to buy new things and throw things away. This isn’t something that my wife or I taught them about or told them about. This is just something that they came up with themselves, because it’s part of the zeitgeist. It’s part of their conversation, their narratives, the way that they see themselves and the world around them.
Jeremy Au: (05:57)
Why is there a difference between the next generation and our generation? Because we didn’t really grow with that stuff…I think Greenpeace was always in the news for like assaulting whalers’ ships, and everyone’s like, oh those guys always makes for some good TV, right, ‘cause, you see little boats going after that. And then I remember, obviously, reading about acid rain, I think acid rain just disappeared as a problem; the ozone hole, that was a big one that seems to have disappeared as well as a big topic, but you just feel like a big difference between our generation in terms of like awareness or focus on these issues versus the next generation. Why do you think that is?
Simon Baldwin: (06:34)
We’re more connected, I think. I'm grateful for the fact that you dated yourself with a similar point in life to me, you look a bit younger, but I think they were just more connected. We're more aware of these issues. Even watching some of the cartoons and some of the books that Amalia is reading, these stories just have become part of our cultural and social fabric. They're around it as well. They're around it so much more. We have family and friends spread all around the world, so they're connected to forest fires in North America. They're connected to floods in Jakarta. They're connected to ocean rise. We've got some friends who live in the Pacific, and so there’s this. Just because we’re much more connected, the world is a bit smaller for them, I think, than it was for, certainly, for me when I was growing up.
Jeremy Au: (07:24)
That’s interesting because you’re really talking about the Internet as a global empathy machine where someone who cares about global warming one place, can find community with someone else somewhere across the world who cares about it, but they may just be a very small minority in their town who cares about this issue, but they can feel like they have a strong enough community globally. How do you feel about that?
Simon Baldwin: (07:48)
Yeah, I’m actually more optimistic than that. I think that there are tribes that are forming. There are definitely groups of people who are coming together and we’re really starting to see changes in behavior and shifts in the public conversation. Singapore's government talking about their food initiatives desire to have 30% of the calories produced in Singapore for us to be eating in seven or eight years. And yeah, so talking about the global empathy machine and I really recognize that there's a shift in people's interest in this topic. There’s a shift in consumer awareness around and you’re starting to see consumers driving brands. We’re starting to see storytelling really taking over and having this major ramp up of peoples interest. New cell based meats, which you have spoken about on your show before. At the Incubation Network, we are also working with some of the world’s biggest fast moving consumer goods companies who recognize ocean plastics as a really, really significant issue and sustainability is a really significant issue that they want to address, and I’m really quite bullish about leaning into this space. I don’t think it’s greenwashing. I think that they really care about they really care about wanting to create products that their consumers want. I mean, at the end of the day, they are in the business of selling things that their consumers want, so as their consumers behaviors change, they also need to change. It's also really bad for business when a soft drink bottle washes up on the beach right next to you when you're on holidays. Back in the times where we could go to the beach for holidays and so it’s great. We’re working in partnership with these fast moving consumer goods companies. And not only are they providing the resources for us to do the work and paying for the work that we need to be done. They also create the sort of the demand pull for some of the innovations that we’re starting to work with as well. So if they can say we need technology X and we can go out and help and find these types of entrepreneurs that are solving that problem for them. One of the biggest parts of being a startup is to find your product market fit. But if the if the market is there screaming for what they need, we really can help derisk the entrepreneur moving into some of those opportunities.
Jeremy Au: (10:04)
It’s interesting because we see this rise of CEOs who are reacting to employee requests as well as customer requests for more green whatever that is in the form of sustainability. And we’ve seen, I think the rise of those CEOs. But we’ve also seen CEOs fail to achieve profitability or revenue goals. Even though they’re pushing hard on this, so what’s your point of view on that? What’s the right balance between shareholder expectations around growth both in profitability and revenue and market share versus that other sustainability goals.
Simon Baldwin: (10:39)
Yeah, so it's not either or and I think we've reached a time in the world now corporations recognize that we've gone past a conversation of growth at all costs because companies recognize if they continue to pursue that really linear extractive modality, there will be no business for them to do in 20 years. I love hearing about companies that are talking about their hundred year visions and companies that talk about their hundred year visions need to have a sustainability strategy, not just for their environment but also for their bottom line and also for communities and for people. So we’re really starting to see that definition of sustainability, of which we’re talking about economic sustainability, social sustainability and environmental sustainability. This is now commonplace in all of the boardroom tables and conversations that I participate in. This is the language of the day.
Jeremy Au: (11:34)
And I imagine this definitely true of the companies that you’re consulting for because these are FMCG. These are large. These are international. At the same point of time, there’s so many FMCG and other companies that are just part of the older economy and they are not hiring consultants and experts like yourself, are having much more difficult conversations at a boardroom about competitiveness and market share. So what's the thinking for that? 'cause it obviously has tier ones which is Unilever, PNG, FMCG level and every country has a couple…about five domestic tier two companies. And then there's maybe like a dozen Tier 3 FMCG manufacturers in every geography or region. So what’s the point of view for how they should be tackling sustainability in a secular economy?
Simon Baldwin: (12:20)
Yeah, it’s really hard and we’re not there. We’re not even there with the tier one companies yet, but we’re making we’re making leaps and bounds and the core of what we’re doing at the incubation network is trying to connect all of these multiple stakeholders together to find ways in which they can address these complex problems. And I think that’s what attracts me about this work that we’re doing now. It’s going to take multiple different actors to bring all of their resources to the table to solve these problems. We can’t expect the consumer alone to change their behavior. We can’t expect for a fast moving consumer goods company to change their packaging if it’s going to cost 10 times more to package in a sustainable way. But if we’re able to bring FMCG companies together with entrepreneurs and innovators, together with policymakers and find ways to address this at a systematic level. That’s where I see change happening. I think two that policy will just be will just simply prevent some of these other second and third tier companies from operating the way that they do. Many other examples exist in industry, of which the large companies have led and then they’ve led away for the smaller companies to fall into as the large companies adopt some of this new technology, the unit cost of that technology reduces to a point where it can reach market saturation as well. Consumers become educated, infrastructure becomes built and we will see the change that’s required that we want to see happen, happen across the market. I think, Jeremy, you and your listeners know that this isn’t going to be something that’s going to happen…be able to happen overnight. Change is going to be difficult, but I see a real groundswell of energy, particularly on this issue of plastics, because it affects all of us. It’s a really tangible thing to see when you’re walking down the beach - rubbish on the beach. It, I think, universally upsets people, so there’s this kind of emotional connection to the problem, which will also help drive the solution.
Jeremy Au: (14:25)
What’s interesting is that you mentioned two things, the first being that you expect technology at a cost of implementation of these changes to drop over time as time passes, and then the second thing you talk about is multiple stakeholders, including policy. When you see technology getting cheaper over time, I think that causes a lot of people and stakeholders and decision makers be like, well, we agree about that. So why don’t we just postpone these initiatives? We’re not saying no, we’re not saying we hate the environment, we’re not saying that we love plastic on the beach but wouldn’t it just be a simpler problem to do in 5 years or 10 years? So how should a decision maker be thinking about that trade off between now, but the technology is more expensive to mitigate versus later and letting someone else pioneer it, educate the market, work out the kinks of the technology, give us some benchmarks. How should that conversation be had?
Simon Baldwin: (15:19)
It’s happening and I think we’re seeing a lot of the brands really capturing the early adopters and the trend of early adopters to want to adopt these new technologies and they can put this new technology into some of the products that come in at a higher price point. It actually becomes a saleable asset. We work with some really cool companies that are changing the way that products are packaged now per unit cost for the good that are delivered, they’re higher, but they’ve been able to weave that into their storytelling in ways in which you, as a consumer, can be proud of the fact that you’re also contributing to a reduction in plastic. Your behavior is making something change and I think like we see in technology all across the board that then trickles down into the market. So we’re at a point where there are enough early adopters. There are enough people with higher disposable incomes to spur on and to fuel those technologies. Those technologies get better, they get cheaper, they get to scale, and then they do get absorbed into the rest of the market.
Jeremy Au: (16:25)
What’s interesting is that you’re talking about early adopters and technology, and historically we associate that with startup and, of course, the huge wave of director to consumer, for example, has been very much on the let’s replace plastic with something else, right, with recycled plastics, or to focus very much on more organic materials. For example, Allbirds is a great example of someone that’s worked very hard to position themselves as something that’s not your traditional sneaker or shoe, and I think there’s a whole wave of other companies that are doing that, so it’s really the locus of energy, really, with the startups, or is it with the large corporates that you’re connecting them with?
Simon Baldwin: (17:06)
Yeah, great question and I think where we differ from Allbirds, Allbirds also has a very disruptive business model, a direct to consumer business model. They’re able to sell a product straight into market. Whilst we do work with some direct consumer brands, particularly, there’s some interesting new films and flexible packaging, we’re still talking about the majority of flexible packaging being used by these big, fast moving consumer goods companies, so we need to absolutely include them in this conversation. And as I said, in my experience, they’re at the table with us. They’re really excited to be to be working on these things and innovating within their own companies. Because they do see it as an advantage as a competitive advantage in the market to be able to talk about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it with their products. It’s yeah, it’s really exciting. A few years ago, when we were living, my family was living in Indonesia. There was a big fast moving consumer goods company that produced the first fully recycled and recyclable water bottle. Now that same company is also investing heavily in research and development, looking at ways in which they can distribute water outside of the plastic bottle. So you know their research and development is 5-10 years ahead of where the market is, currently. They released that bottle. It was a big push. There was lots of conversation. But they’re already thinking about where they need to be in 5-10 years’ time.
Jeremy Au: (18:32)
What’s the partnership here right? Because a lot of startups that are doing R&D, really looking to really build something, and it’s a race to distribute before the incumbents innovate and so for them they’re very much like, isn’t it better for me that if the incumbents are not doing this? Not reacting to the customers desire, the Gen-Z’s desire for more, better positioning for the environment. Then it’s my customers to gain and for them to lose. So why should I enter partnership with a larger company? So how…what’s the partnership here that you’re looking at?
Simon Baldwin: (19:10)
Like I said, we work with most of the world’s biggest fast moving consumer goods companies and they have put money into an investment fund called Circulate Capital. Circulate Capital is capitalized over $100 million to invest in solutions that are stopping plastic from leaking into the ocean. Now those solutions range from alternative materials, alternative delivery models through to improving land based waste management collection and recycling. It’s in all of their best interest, particularly the end of that scale of which everybody’s products are intermingled in peoples rubbish and going into recycling to be able to work together on supporting those innovations. Yes, there’s some pre competition in terms of delivery models and alternative materials. But at the end of the day, that technology, in order for it to scale, will need to be adopted by the majority of the consumers, just like we see PET as the preferred polymer for water bottles. As we develop new polymers, it will be adopted across the entire technology, so there’s probably it’s not about having a first to market advantage, the disadvantage is of not coming to market at the same time as others. So, when we’re talking about this that the business dynamics, I think are quite different from, say, a startup coming in with a completely different business model or disrupting an incumbent like that. The incumbents within this sector are still very powerful. The profit per unit is still very small. So you know our approach very much is trying to find ways in which we can connect the startup into these established markets and link, as I said, the supply side, the innovation that you know the sourcing, supporting and scaling the innovators with the demand side being the fast moving consumer goods companies.
Jeremy Au: (21:04)
So what I’ve noticed from that is that I think there’s always that desire to team up and the tricky part is also the timescales. So for a startup, they’re living and dying within a year and a half, whereas for these FMCG like a product cycle may take 1 ½ years or even longer and so it’s not necessary that there isn’t a desire to team up, but the timing doesn’t work or the partnership doesn’t work on the same level, so I think that’s where someone like you really helped in terms of being that intermediary or support for both sides. What advice would you give to startups in terms of how the team effectively in a way that’s also self-aware of their funding lifecycle with these FMCG companies?
Simon Baldwin: (21:48)
Yeah, we talk about ourselves a lot as being translators and I think when you’re a founder of a startup, it’s hard to understand how people from the outside look at you or how they understand you. You’re so embedded in what you’re doing and you believe so passionately, you have to because it’s as you mentioned, it’s so hard. But often the person who you need to connect with. They might have been in the in the big FMCG for 15 years. They might not be as versed in minimal, viable products and rapid prototyping and product market fit. So, one of the things that we do is we operate as being a translator. So, we translate in a number of ways. We support and introduce some of the startups that are in the space operating and connecting them to the problems that we’ve helped understand and identify from the corporates. We’re also able to provide and reach into the corporates and many of them are really interested in volunteering and starting to mentor and support some of these early stage ventures as well, and over time, we’ve found that this is a really amazing way of just getting people to be at the same table and getting them to know each other. Imagine a chemical scientist from Dow sitting with a new startup trying to innovate a new material. This person from Dow brings so much experience, so much knowledge and just building those partnerships, building those relationships, sitting at the table, in our experience, is really a valuable way in translating and supporting. We also do a lot of sort of open innovation challenges and those we actually start with sitting down with the fast moving consumer goods companies and deeply understanding the problem that they’re trying to solve and then going out to market to identify the startups that are solving those problems for them. In a way, as I said earlier, we’re derisking the innovation cycle from the fast moving consumer goods company. We’re also derisking from the startups perspective because they know that they’re solving a problem that there’s a huge market demand for.
Jeremy Au: (23:54)
So, assuming that all works out, one of the tricky part that lots of startups face is also saying who’s the decision maker, because when you’re selling to consumer on a street, one person is one wallet. And obviously if you’re selling to small medium enterprises, normally the CEO is a easy decision maker who is still accessible, whereas FMCG companies, for example, are like two orders of magnitude larger in terms of not just number of folks, in terms of decision makers, but also in terms of geography as well, let alone product. So how would you advise startups be thinking about how to talk or work with the right folks or decisions to get to that point of view. Because that uncertainty bugs them a lot.
Simon Baldwin: (24:37)
I agree, and it’s really difficult, we’re working with these companies and often there are three or four people in the same company who are making the same or similar decisions or responsible for making the same or similar decisions. I think it’s patience. It’s patience to know that you need to ask multiple people. It’s patience to know that even if you get a different answer from different answers from different people, to just to continue to navigate through this. Big Asian families are a great analogue for this conversation because if you ask grandma one thing and grandfather something else, and they give you a different answer, you know how to go to auntie and get exactly what you want. And I think that’s what you just said. That’s the approach that you just have to take you. You need to be confident that you’re not going to get the one answer from someone, even if the CEO does say something. There are still people under the CEO that may not necessarily have heard that message or agree, and yeah, they are complex beasts, patience, and being humble. But knowing what you want to know what your product offering is and continuing to give that same message is something that I think that determination is really critical.
Jeremy Au: (25:47)
Yeah, I like what you said about there being no one answer, especially at a large corporate like the top tier 1 FMCGs. And so I think the tricky part for a lot of founders then is, just like you said, patience is a virtue in this case. Again they don’t have much time because of their life cycle. What is do you think it’s something that’s realistic for someone to expect, say, within a year or six months from your perspective, what’s something that they should project or forecast? Should they be able to say like OK from a cold relationship reaching out within six months, I’m going to get X or yes or no or how would you forecast ‘cause I’m sure a lot of people ask all the time what can we get in six months? What would this partnership lead to in a year?
Simon Baldwin: (26:32)
I’ll answer the question in two ways. When you’re working on really complex issues like this one, the timescale is always longer, so one of the things that we try to do at the Incubation network is provide both technical but also financial support just to extend the runway. Because relationships take time. Product development takes time. COVID has been a handbrake for all of us in the region. Trying to set up new facilities, set up new relationships, just not being able to travel has been difficult. So one of our first approaches is to extend the runway, because everyone thinks they’re going to be. I want to do things quicker than what they really can. The second answer I think also is that. It depends on the type of product that you’re talking about. So if we’re talking about being able to collect more material from households, that’s not going to require a big change in a partner’s operations. So if you’re in control of your entire business model your entire destiny. If you’re a startup that’s working on improving say plastic collection, creating a marketplace for the informal sector to sell the different resin types that they’ve built, then you’re you’re largely in control of that, so you can set your own pace and you can be realistic. But if you’re requiring to sell your product into a larger corporation, my advice always, here is, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Always be looking at multiple options. Always factor slippage in, to tie slippage into those negotiations. It just takes someone in a big fast moving consumer goods company to be on holidays for a week or two and then their manager to be on holidays and all of a sudden you your timeline is just bumped out by a couple of months.
Jeremy Au: (28:19)
It sounds super scary. This can slip by three months because people are on holiday. Yeah, it’s a nightmare, and so I think what’s interesting is I think you see a lot of startups kind of really take both approaches, right? So, it normally sells to consumer and keep that engine going while also looking to build out that partnership with larger corporations as well. How do you think about that? Because it’s a weird thing because sometimes it feels like a distribution partnership and, but it can also feel a little bit like a competition as well. So how do you think about managing that set of conversation around the table? There’s awareness to some competition in the short term, but as a potential partnership in the medium to long term. So how do you think about that?
Simon Baldwin: (28:59)
Yeah, really hard. Really, really hard because if we think about power at the end of the day, it’s the big companies who have the power and they have the power in a number of ways. They have the power to stop an idea from happening. They have the power to cherry pick another idea and just choose that that’s going to be the darling and take it forward. So, when you’re a startup, I think you need to be flexible. You need to be able to iterate and have multiple, as you suggested, multiple pathways to market. Now, again, the types of companies that we’re working with are really, really broad and new packaging material actually end up selling to an intermediary. A company that supplies the fast moving consumer goods companies with their product. They also need to think about, we were sort of spoken about, one year or one and a half year product cycles. The reality of a packaging innovation, talking more like five years and we’re talking about food grade safety tests. We’re talking about shelf life tests, strength, maintenance, so much they need to go through to be accredited to be food grade. Yeah, I think depending on the type of startup that we’re working with, we give different advice and we give different support for the different sectors that they’re working that they’re moving into. But it’s really a challenging question, not one that I have a silver bullet for. One of the things that we do because we’re working with such a diverse range of stakeholders is we ensure that we’re matching ventures with the appropriate technical support and, like I said earlier, we rely often on the technical support from our partner companies, but also we have a network of over 300 mentors and technical advisors that we can give for free to the startups that we’re working with, and they’re great because they often have the answers to these tricky questions that myself or my team might not have also.
Jeremy Au: (30:52)
So, turning a chapter to yourself here, could you share with us a time when you were brave?
Simon Baldwin: (30:58)
Yeah, it’s a great question, Jeremy, one I’ve given quite a lot of thought to. So, over my career, I’ve worked for large public health organizations. I’ve worked for government. I’ve worked for the UN. I’ve founded my own company and then I’m now working for a company of which I set up our practice in Indonesia and now practice in South and Southeast Asia. Going out and doing things by yourself, I think is the bravest and maybe the craziest thing that you can do. In when I was transitioning from my selling my digital startup before moving into this new chapter in my career, my strategy was a bridge in which I was going to do a PhD and my idea was that the PhD would be a really interesting bridge between my public health career and my entrepreneurial career and just before we were in Australia, had a first child and just before leaving, the funding for my PhD got pulled. And it wasn’t so much about me being brave, but it was actually about being brave to trust my wife, who was like, don’t worry, we can do this. Let’s go. Let’s just pack up. Let’s just we can do this together. For me, I think about that story because often we talk about brave as just you operating by yourself, just the start up operating by themselves. But really, what’s become central to my worldview and very much the work we’re doing here with the with the Incubation Network, is that the startup won’t survive by themselves. They can’t be brave just by themselves. They need a community around them. And it was that lesson in my life that it was my community with my nuclear family that we could go and do this together that it really shapes my view on what it is to be brave. What it has to be brave is to be vulnerable, is to accept support from others, is to ask for support when you need it and whilst I didn’t finish my PhD, certainly that step in this direction has led to a tremendously exciting career. Working with hundreds and hundreds of startups. Working with dozens of really exciting corporations, policymakers, mentors, investors to bring together that entrepreneurial ecosystem that we believe is core to the work that we’re trying to do.
Jeremy Au: (33:19)
Let’s talk about that family piece and your wife being a part of that bravery. For so many folks, it’s kind of like 50-50 or maybe, and I think you and I both have peers where it’s like our husbands or wives are not supportive with this versus they are very supportive, and I think at different axis altogether whether this is a good idea at all or whether it’s a bad idea, right? How do you think about how to have that conversation with your relationship partner? About this whatever act it is that requires that courage.
Simon Baldwin: (33:51)
Yeah, I think the first thing is knowing yourself, knowing what you’re getting yourself into. And there’s a culture of the entrepreneur. That’s the culture of the startup. And I think we often flick on Netflix or HBO and we’re like this is going to be easy, we’ll be fine. And it’s hard. It’s really, really hard work. And so recognizing that in yourself and being able to bring that conversation together and talking about it with your partner, then having an insight into it as well. My wife is very entrepreneurial also, so she has an understanding of what she was getting into. So I think that if your partner doesn’t know what you’re asking them to get into, you need to be really honest and you need to educate them along the way and sharing. And sharing along the way, the ups and the downs. So wonderful to celebrate your first client or your next big milestone. But it’s also equally important to share with them the frustrations and the fear and the anxiety because you really do need those around you to understand the ups and the downs so they’re supportive with you along the way.
Jeremy Au: (34:56)
That conversation is tough about the small wins and the small failures, whatever those are. How would you recommend people have that conversation with their partner?
Simon Baldwin: (35:06)
For those of you who enjoy drinking wine, a glass of wine always helps, I think. But seriously, do know when it’s happening, it’s easy to kind of like have the weight of the world on your shoulder and not let other people in, and then it becomes bigger than what it actually is. We try every night to sit at the dinner table and we ask all of us from my 3 year old through to my 6 year old, my wife and I, and we asked the question what was good about today, what was difficult. What are you looking forward to tomorrow? And this is just a little cultural practice that we have that helps us just take stock, check in with each other. It’s OK for things to not be good. It’s OK to celebrate what’s good and we’ve always got something to look forward to, so it’s OK if today wasn’t a great day. So yeah, we’ve really embedded those little cultural practices into our life to make sure the conversation that you need to have, there’s space to have it, rather than waiting for it to be bigger than what it needs to be.
Jeremy Au: (36:04)
How does the conversation change when kids are in the equation?
Simon Baldwin: (36:07)
Yeah, good question. They often inject a tonne of humour into the situation. What my 3 year old is looking forward to tomorrow or what he thought was good today is often very different to what I think it is. It also brings on a much higher level of responsibility for me. One of the reasons why I found the decision so difficult when we were leaving when the PhD funding got pulled was because I kind of felt like I had more of a responsibility now. It wasn’t just myself. It wasn’t just my wife and I. It was us and our 11 month old baby. So that changes things. But it also changes the opposite. This is the first time I’ve remembered this for a long time, but when we were making the decision what we were going to do if we were going to continue down this path and which we decided to, I also, in the back of my mind, was sort of thinking and I had this conversation with my wife. If I don’t chase my goals, if I don’t go after what I want to go after what we want to go after, to create a better world, to do what I do to be passionate, to work on things that I love. How on Earth, am I going to tell my kids when they’re 16, 17, 18 to chase their goals? To be brave? To be OK? If I wasn’t embodying that myself? So yeah, they’re part humor, they’re part inspiration, but, certainly, they’re also grounding and they also bring another level of fear to the decisions that you’re making.
Jeremy Au: (37:33)
How does financial security factor, especially in that conversation, and with kids, because you’ve mentioned that once or twice, and even earlier as well, that was something that was in the back of your mind. How does that, because you talk about risk, talked about timeline, what advice would you give for other people who are transitioning as founders, as executives, but also having kids and a partner?
Simon Baldwin: (37:57)
You look at the evidence. The biggest single success for founders is their family wealth because it’s so damn hard to make money in a startup, especially in those early years where you’re getting product market fit. Now, not all of us come from that background. Not all of us come from that privilege. Part of the work that we’re trying to do it with the Incubation network is to smooth out that first year by providing non dilutive funding by providing grants and other mechanisms, so it’s hard and you need to be realistic. There’s a myth that a startup is just the next way to be a billionaire. We in the media have a responsibility to address that talk about the hardships and difficulties, but you also need to balance that and ask yourself. You’re going to be happy when you’re 40, 50, 60, if you’ve worked in that one company all of your life, doing something that you don’t believe in, so there are times in your life when you can take risks. Personally, I was extremely lucky I worked for the first ten years in my career, earning a salary, and I was able to save money, which I was then able to bootstrap myself for my startup, which I sold. Which then gave me another little bit of a nest egg to be able to go in to start my PhD or move into this chapter of my career as I am doing now. So, I’ve been really lucky. I think in my career I’ve had three, kind of, seven year chapters. Each of those chapters have been wealth, sort of generation saving. Then I take a year or two, sometimes just stop and think it’s ideal if the luxury of thought, we’re so busy being busy so often that we don’t actually get to stop and think. Stefan Sagmeister a great designer out of New York, graphic designer, speaks about this kind of pattern. He actually closes his design firm every seven years. Sacks all of his clients. Even all of his stuff, go on sabbatical for a year just so they can refresh. And so yeah, I’ve been lucky in my career to generate some savings to take a year off to sort of, start to whittle down those savings, invest those savings in the next chapter of my career and use that as a launching pad into the next thing that I’m doing. Increasingly, it becomes more of a conversation my wife and I are having too as we’ve got kids and kids in Singapore and Singapore is not cheap. They’ve got goals and aspirations as well. So yeah, I think it’s a really difficult one, Jeremy, and I think it’s what if? If you’re a young founder starting this conversation, really look at it because not only are you spending money on your idea. It’s also money that you’re not generating from a salary in a job that you may have had somewhere else. It’s a tough one.
Jeremy Au: (40:36)
Wow. Thank you so much, Simon, for sharing that as well. So, wrapping things up here, I’ll love to summarize the three big themes I heard from your sharing. I think the first was thank you so much for sharing about your personal journey as someone who cares about the earth and sustainability and how that journey has been different, from you as a younger person who is, as you said, hedonistic versus someone who has that point of view and also as a parent, and I think it’s interesting to see that transformation happen in parallel and in part also caused by the stewardship as a parent with children. The second thing I really appreciated was the conversation that we had around sustainability and the different roles and actors in the space and also what are the different incentives and ways for that collaboration to work out well and where misunderstandings can happen and so I think that was really strong advice really for startups but also for FMCG and other big company executives as they think about how to work and team effectively for society, community. And lastly, thank you so much for sharing about your time being brave about your transition and I think some very good advice about how they keep your spouse happy, as well as being mindful around some of those awkward realities of setting up or having a family as well as the actual operating costs of a household versus, I think, the pursuit of the brave life and being a role model for children as well. So, thank you so much Simon for coming on the show.
Simon Baldwin: (42:08)
Yeah, pleasure, it’s great to chat with you, Jeremy, and I look forward to your upcoming episodes with other speakers as well.