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OceanSummit: Lessons from Portfolio Leadership Day

S2G and Builders Vision had an incredible time at the inaugural OceanSummit.

We caught up with our entrepreneurs, co-investors, and peers, and we learned from innovators about exciting solutions for transforming the health of our oceans and our climate future. On Day One, we brought together our entrepreneurs for an afternoon of networking and programming focused on leadership development.

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Culture and Leadership: Building an Enduring Purpose-Driven Business

A well-conceived and communicated company culture is not just an asset but a foundational necessity that can help companies navigate the ups and downs successfully. Chuck Templeton, Managing Director at S2G Ventures, spoke with Kit Crawford, Founder and Co-Creator of Clif Bar, about how the energy food company created a culture that supports its five aspirations: to sustain people, brand, business, community and the planet. According to Crawford, a company’s culture has to start at the top. By acting on creativity and bringing the things they loved such as baking and music, Crawford and her husband, Clif Bar Co-Founder Gary Erickson, created an environment where their colleagues also rallied around the five aspirations. By grounding the company in these principles and encouraging employees to activate the company’s ethos, Clif Bar was able to build cultural buy-in and consistency over its 30-year history.

From the beginning, Clif Bar was forward-thinking and made decisions, such as going organic in 2002, that were initially difficult but enabled them to stay authentic. The company also put the product at the forefront, which continues to guide its marketing efforts. For example, providing free samples at major running and biking events helped build the loyal customer base they have had for decades. Crawford also spoke about the recent sale of the company to Mondelez and how it highlighted the importance of having a well-defined company culture as well as running a really clean business prior to the transaction.

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Building Infrastructure: Laying a Strong Foundation in Uncharted Territories

When people say they were busy “putting out fires,” they’re usually speaking metaphorically – unless they are Jeanine Nicholson, Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department. Chief Nicholson spoke with Larsen Mettler, Managing Director at S2G Ventures, about the lessons learned from decades spent structuring organizations and developing policies, programs and procedures that can handle emergencies and natural disasters. As the head of an organization that constantly engages with its community, Chief Nicholson spoke about the importance of getting to know the public outside of emergencies, with initiatives like building local programming, training community members to take part in relief efforts, and ensuring that her teams are diverse and representative of the people they serve: “If you can’t see it, you won’t think you can be it.”

One can’t venture into uncharted territories and adversity without grit and resilience, qualities Chief Nicholson possesses on a personal level. She spoke about her breast cancer diagnosis and her unwavering resolve that it would not end her career. When she came back to full duty 18 months after her treatment, she not only passed the skills test but broke the record for all women coming back to full duty.

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How to Nail Your Product-Market Fit

Finding product-market fit may sound simple, but in truth, it can be very elusive and has led to the downfall of countless companies and products. Sachin Rekhi, Founder and CEO of Notejoy, shared his methodology, called the deliberate startup method, which companies can use to more rigorously increase their chances of finding product-market fit. Rekhi developed his methods over the course of five journeys, where he embarked on to find product market-fit at different companies. From this, he was able to trace a pattern of best practices.

His process begins with defining a product strategy – or what you believe your key hypotheses are – then leveraging a variety of validation techniques to derisk the riskiest hypothesis. The next step includes measuring product-market fit and updating the product strategy map. The idea is to keep iterating on this process to derisk as much as possible before scaling the company. Rekhi also spoke about how customer retention and a healthy growth curve are the key indicators that a company has found product-market fit, marking its moment to grow.

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Measuring Impact: Impact Management for Business Growth

At Builders Vision, ESG and impact are more than just a checkbox but a core element of our businesses’ strategies. Joanna Cohen, Director of Impact Measurement and Management at Builders Vision, spoke about what we mean by impact and how companies in the oceans space can start to build out opportunities around measurement. She emphasized the importance of identifying simple and achievable impact goals upfront. Cohen also called for patience: Impact management is a muscle that grows over time.

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Fundraising: Raising Capital While Navigating Choppy Waters

Aaron Rudberg, Managing Director at S2G Ventures, spoke with Maggie Fried, Vice President of Corporate Development at S2G, about how companies should approach raising capital during an economic downturn. Rudberg spoke to the need for companies to use this opportunity to cut burn, focus on the core elements of their businesses, and execute on product market fit. We are seeing a reckoning when it comes to valuations, and Rudberg emphasized the importance of focusing less on big valuations and more on understanding what type of investor works for your business. He encouraged folks to let fundraising be a check on the product they’re building and if it resonates.

At the end of the day, companies need to have a strong grasp on and be able to communicate what they are building and why. Entrepreneurs tend to get caught up in buzzwords and try to do too many things for too many audiences. According to Rudberg, entrepreneurs need to understand their businesses and not let investors and trends drive their marketing and messaging. Staying true to your company mission and values will be key to weathering these tougher conditions.

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Leadership for the Future

Not only was this our first Ocean Summit, but it was the first time the S2G and Builders Vision portfolios came together to build community and reflect on important leadership principles. It was a pleasure to spend this time with these incredible entrepreneurs, and we look forward to our continuing partnerships with them.