This Y Combinator-backed startup fights climate change with its Netflix-like subscription model

The brainchild of young graduates from California, Landon, Mimi, and Ben want individuals to make an impact on climate change by reducing the carbon footprint.

This Y Combinator-backed startup fights climate change with its Netflix-like subscription model

Tuesday January 14, 2020,

6 min Read

The narrative, “saving the environment”, is brought onto everyone. However, it catches no steam as ordinary people don't know how to be part of this global narrative. 

In a report published by the Global Climate Change - NASA, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the atmospheric temperature would rise 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

It also added that the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change. 

To solve this, three graduates from the University of Southern California – Landon Brand, Mimi Tran Zambetti, and Ben Stanfield – started up Project Wren in 2019


Project Wren founders

Saving the climate

The trio met in college and was in the same major – Technology and Business Innovation – and also worked together on a project on the side. During that time, in 2019, they decided to start a company instead of applying for normal internships. 

Starting any company is hard; the trio bounced a bunch of ideas but never saw any traction. "We realised that most startups fail and if they do succeed, we'll be working on it for a decade or more. So, we decided to make it count. We decided to focus on climate change," Landon Brand, Co-founder of Project Wren, says. 

The trio saw climate change as the biggest challenge the world is facing at present. Melting ice caps, forest fires raging in Australia and California, are fresh in every individual’s mind, but they do not know how to make an impact on the same. 

"As we did more research, we felt powerless. It's a huge problem that will require global action to fix. As three students, what could we do? We realised there are several people like us, who want to do something, but aren’t sure how. We decided we will encourage people to take the first step by making it as simple as possible – a monthly subscription that funds projects reversing climate change," Landon says. 

And, Wren is the easiest way to make an impact, as it helps in carbon offsetting. 

The carbon offset industry is relatively young and is growing fast. The ‘Gold Standard’ is perhaps, the best-known carbon offset marketplace where anyone can purchase credits, verifying that carbon dioxide has been removed or prevented. 

Wren is making this as simple and transparent as possible. One can go to the website and answer a few questions like, "how much do you drive?" or "how often do you eat meat?", to calculate the carbon footprint. Later, Wren shows the projects that can be funded by the individual, and help in preventing the emissions one’s lifestyle is responsible for.

Winning customers

"It was a sweet story actually. We were at a birthday party, and my Co-founder Mimi was talking to a friend of ours, updating him about how our progress was coming along. She told him we just pushed the site live and were almost ready to launch. He took his phone out immediately, found our site, and started signing up. The site was unusable on mobile, but he persevered and became our first subscriber," Landon says. 

The trio has not invested in their personal capacity in the startup since they didn't have the cash to spare. Instead, their idea was picked up by Y Combinator, which invests over $100,000 in a startup. 

Y Combinator was instrumental for the trio. Gustaf Alstromer, one of the partners at the seed-accelerator programme learned about the startup’s idea of carbon offsetting and told the founders that it could be huge, and he could see millions of people wanting to do something about their carbon footprint.

"YC is an intense experience for any company because you see everyone around you accomplishing so much and encouraging you to strive for more. Gustaf was our compass, guiding this intensity toward our biggest opportunities," Landon adds.

How does it work

For any startup, it is difficult for founders to prioritise. Luckily for Wren, it already had a user base that offered feedback constantly. This helped the founders decide what is worth to be working on when it comes to carbon offset projects.

These projects are funded by a monthly subscription taken up by users, where Wren takes a 20 percent cut to fund its platform. It also earns its revenue by working with businesses that want to offset the carbon footprint of their employees. 

Wren has built it's technology on the React frontend, Node backend, and Postgres as its server. It provides monthly subscription just like Netflix or Amazon Prime, and the prices are available on its website. 

At present, its biggest focus is on creating an easy tool to calculate the carbon footprint. 

"There are many carbon footprint calculators on the internet. But, we want to build one that has a perfect balance of simplicity, delight, and rigour. Something that feels fun, but still trustworthy and informative,” Landon adds. 

The plan ahead

Wren has about 1,000 subscribers, and its UVP is that it is the easiest way to take action on climate change. It had expected to process about $100,000 in 2019. And, about 80 percent of this would go straight to its partners who are making these projects work.

Among its competition, Wren competes with the like of Climate Seed and Climate Trade platforms

According to McKinsey, the climate change market is worth $200 billion. The problem, however, is that many countries have not priced carbon offsets, and the public at large does not want to participate in it. Wren has opened the platform to public and private parties to participate. 

Several companies are aiming to achieve ‘zero carbon’ and have also bought carbon offsets as well. These include General Motors that has offset more than five million tons of CO2, and Infosys, one of the few companies that has done it by working with partners. Other companies include Barclays, PG&E Corporation, Natura Cosmeticos, Marks & Spencer Group, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft

Globally, the climate change movement has caught on but, it's not enough to fight the menace. Wren, as a platform, will find more projects for companies and individuals to fund, to plant more trees and cull more livestock using less water and energy. 

(Edited by Suman Singh)