37. Balance IT. on #RacetoZero and CO2 offsetting with Yook's co-founder, Antoine Verger

"Antoine has a great energy, and is full of knowledge that he is also happy to share. It's so uplifting to see professionals who become successful founders out of a genuine, heartfelt need. Yook is a simple solution, that is able to bring huge results, and is convenient for eCommerce platforms to implement, but also for consumers to include into their purchasing habits. Companies like Yook are the future!" Agata, Host.

Topics discussed:

What led you to business and sustainability? When did you realize we have a problem and you want to be a part of the solution?

Your co-founder is Varena Junge, can you tell us how you two met and what made you decide to open up this business?/Can you tell us how Yook started?

What is Yook in a nutshell?

Why did you decide to focus on online shops in particular?

How does CO2 compensation work?

What are the current statistics about CO2 and its negative impact on our climate?

Your main product is The Yook Plugin: can you tell us more about how it works?

Who can install the Yook Plugin on their online store?

What is the cost for the online business to start their partnership with Yook?

How does this cost translate into climate action?

How is your project connected to reforestation?

Transcript:

Agata Solecka: [00:00:00] Hi, Antoine. Welcome to the CTO to CTO podcast,so glad to have you here. 

Antoine Verger: [00:01:04] Thanks for the invitation. Very glad to be part of it. Very curious. What are we going to discuss? 

Agata Solecka: [00:01:10] You are the co-founder and CTO of yolk. A startup that provides sustainable business solutions for eCommerce companies, is that right? 

\Antoine Verger: [00:01:34] that's correct. I can elaborate a bit. 

Agata Solecka: [00:01:38] Yes, please do. 

Antoine Verger: [00:01:40] So we are in Hamburg, German-based, a pretty new company. We funded last year, April 20, 20. So at the very beginning of COVID time, maybe we're going to discuss that as well.

And yeah, our vision is to bring climate action on the consumer side. And we are going to have multiple products. We started with one specific product, but the idea is to enable customers to, to actively do something for climate in their daily actions and in their purchasing actions, which we think is a nice place to be active.

That's a large topic, a very large topic. I can narrow down to a few things there. But that's what we're doing. As I said, a very young company we have a few employees that help us there. We're studying, addressing the problem from the e-commerce perspective. And yea, we'll get into the details in a moment.

Agata Solecka: [00:02:30] so before we, we start talking about why you'll happen in 2020 and everything. Let's talk a little bit about you and your career and what led you up to this point of becoming the co-founder of Yook. Sure. 

Antoine Verger: [00:02:51] Also in a nutshell, I guess. So I'm going to have to wrap it up. The last 37 years, it’s not going to be an easy game.

Maybe i’ll go back to what brought me to be a CTO and a software developer in general. So I studied in France. I grew up in a very small village in the middle of France. Very, really, really village size. So I think 2,003,000 inhabitants moved to Bordeaux, the wine city after my to study computer science and mathematics.

And back in the days, I was pretty much very enthusiastic about doing fundamental research, like read the hardcore mathematics and computer science research. But at the same time I wanted to make money or to earn money and Yeah, self-financed my study. So at one point, you know, you want to earn something and that sometimes pushes you to make decisions that are very short term.

Not that I'm not happy with my career, but at the time I had to make a hard code between fundamental research, which in France is not the best paid area or going into the industry. And yeah, I picked up industry back then starting as a consultant working for a big telecom company in France, orange to com.

And after a few years, I moved to Germany for many reasons. As I said before, this started. I have a wife and a kid and their wife is German. Keel is half French, half German. And that's what pushed me to Germany. And in Germany I worked for an e-commerce giant, not Amazon. But the German, the German e-commerce giant, did a whole lot of different positions there. A lot around software development, but also on the side, like other functions in equity, be called product product team, you know, product manager or scrum master. I moved back and forth in these areas. And yeah, that's your 2020 COVID.

I was working at growing FitFox, which is a sport booking platform. So you can see it as a booking.com for sport activities. Also, also belonging to the auto group. Like the e-commerce giant. And I was on my way out of fit folks. For civil reasons, I was there for four years, building the company, growing the team, and wanted to see something else.

And I was about to sign a contract in a nice digital agency from Hamburg to go back to hands-on coding. When I met Varena, maybe we're going to discuss that afterwards. 

Agata Solecka: [00:05:38] So I, I was going to say at which point in this career, and in this journey of yours, did you stop and realize, actually I want to make my business about doing something good for the climate.And I'm guessing Varena is one of the reasons why you went into that direction?

Antoine Verger: [00:05:57] absolutely. I think there, I think everyone has a wake-up call. At one point I had mine. Maybe four years ago before the birth of my daughter, my daughter is three and a half and it was slightly before that.

And it went through different stages. I think it's not like that, it's not something that happens one day. It's a slow awareness that comes to you. Climate change. It's hard to avoid that. I mean, there are maybe countries or, or places where it's easier to look in another direction because you have other things to think about.

But in Europe, at least I think it's, it's quite in our mind every month. Mine for different reasons. And yeah, that was my journey. Realizing climate change is there then being angry at that anger for many reasons that it's not moving forward, that there is not enough awareness. I could almost say like, there was also some, some part of me that was depressed about that at one point.

And then. Then you say, okay, I want you to do something. I want to use not only my voice, not only my, my, the act of voting or my personal behavior. I want to do that into my professional life. And it's not easy to do that because that's, that was like probably two years ago that I. Decided to look into that.

And there were not that many options, my opinion to go into like what I would call the climate tech sphere, because I wouldn't want to do something for climate in another area, then take it because that's where I'm coming from. And it doesn't make much sense that I go somewhere else. I looked into many companies in Germany or that were in this area.

There are. Cool companies in the climate tech and it's a large scope, right? In Berlin, for example, there is this in farms, vertical farms are trying to see how we're going to be able to plant salads and use less energy for doing that in this space. So there are some companies, but it's still a very small market.

I think it's been growing a lot, the last six to 12 months. Maybe COVID helped. But anyways, I looked into that and didn't find much, and I decided, okay, in the meantime, I will just do something else and maybe on my way by chance the opportunity will come. I'm not even sure I wasn't expecting that. That was, I was just saying I didn't find something and move on with other things.

Maybe I will get back to that later on. And that's what brought me to Varena, was a bit by chance was Lester. That's your April. So a few weeks after the German, the German lock down. 

Agata Solecka: [00:08:23] was going to say that's right after COVID really broke out in Europe right?

Antoine Verger: [00:08:27] So I think a German loved one was probably mid-March last year. Same for all European countries had to stay home with my daughter because the school closed still be working as active C2 at fit folks. And by the time there is something interesting in Germany, there is a CTO Community called Alpha List got created by the guys from online marketing rockstar.

Tobias Schlottke is the guy leading that and it's a very active community, a lot of good things happening. There are lots of exchanges and there is also a part of course, or like you you can find people that fits your business. And by the time I think one of the bonus friends posted something about Varena and are looking for a co-founder in the climate tech area.

And and even though I had on my desk, by the time a contract for a new job, I said, okay, fuck it. I will, I will contact her. It sounds like once in a lifetime opportunity. And I thought, okay, then I will contact her. And then we had to deal with the fact that COVID was very restrictive, but by chance, we were both in Hamburg.

So we were able to just meet outside and take a walk as you can do at the beginning of the pandemic. And I think there was pretty pretty quickly a match on both sides about the fact that we want to work together. I liked a lot of RNs visions but of course I had to bring my partner to that because you know, if your co-founders are the most important at the beginning, when you have no nothing else, the most important part, the idea is great.

But you have to have people that are able to work together on the idea and execute. And as I say, I thought it was pretty good, a pretty good match. Joining a company in Germany post first investment is not an easy game European in general, Europe. Let's do something about that. There is not an easy way to join as a co-founder down the road being also becoming also a shareholder.

So a lot of discussions and background checks, whether it's possible. But I finally worked starting officially in September though, just to clean up stuff in my previous job. And then yeah, we started the building EUC. 

Agata Solecka: [00:10:30] Okay. I don't know how much we want to go into that, you know, brainstorming that you did in April may et cetera. But can you tell me just a little bit about what ideas did Varina bring and what ideas you brought and how you merged it together? And then we'll talk about you and how it is now. 

Antoine Verger: [00:10:47] Yeah. So by the time Varena had the idea of this vision of enabling customers to be able to, to have climate action at the point of sales that was translating in short term to mid term, into integrating climate, or let's say carbon emissions information towards the customer journey. You know, you purchase everything online, but you don't really know the climate impact of what you are purchasing. You can do that outside. There are many applications that are popping up these days to calculate so-called carbon calculators to estimate your or your individual emissions. But it's really outside of your shopping path, It happens afterwards and it does not help you in sending what your impact is on a daily basis. And therefore it doesn't help you react based on that. So the first small thing was to bring carbon offsetting at the checkouts. So everything people purchase has a carbon impact coming from manufacturing. 

The idea is that there are methods to avoid or reduce or remove carbon from the atmosphere. The most known one that maybe not everyone remembers from his high school time or school time is the trees. The trees are a carbon sink, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but there are many other options.

And What we wanted to do is to be there when people are closing their pitches and being able to say, okay, for a certain amount of money, you can offset your emissions. We take care of doing that. We work with partners and we've taken down. That was the original statement, how we want to start. On this big vision.

And we wanted to do that. Not for any online e-commerce store. We want you to do that for the stores that we're working with, the shop system that allows you to create apps on the shop system. You know, they're like Shopify or Magento. They have, so-called like usually a community store where people like us build apps that you install on your shop system and does things. And in our case, the thing we're doing is to integrate into the checkout and offer this option for upsetting. So that was the first step. And then through a lot of discussions, offsetting carbon emissions is a thing, but it should be happening after you try to reduce.

So how do you try to reduce your carbon emissions? And when I came in I brought other ideas among which probably educating both the merchants and the end consumers about the carbon emissions related to the product they are purchasing. Because I don't think shop like merchants are aware of the carbon emissions, they are producing through the products they are selling. Maybe sometimes they know about their own business. Like, you know, how many employees do we have what kind of energy we're using for offices? How many times are we traveling based on that? You can estimate the emissions, but the product are.

And we all remain the biggest part of the emissions. Whatever you do as an online merchant, you can begin to become carbon neutral on your own emissions, but at the end of the day, it comes from the product you are selling. And that's where I think we have a role to play, to potentially educate the end consumers about okay, between product A and product B, which one has the biggest carbon impact and also help online merchants to identify what they have in their catalog, which is probably bad for the climate. And they should think about it. Replacing it, for example, I'm just dropping for example, because we're in the phase of discovering what helps. I'm not a big fan of just doing what we think is the, what people want. You have to figure out what people with the North star of reducing carbon emissions.

Agata Solecka: [00:14:40] when we're talking about merchants and online shops, I think there are two scenarios. For example, we could have a company like Aldo. That sells, you know, on online stores, their own products. And I think that's where Aldo might have more information or transparency, right? Because they are selling their own products that they're producing. But what about, for example a marketplace like Zalando that has hundreds and hundreds of brands. I'm assuming you want to work with both types of clients in the sense that you want to work with marketplaces, like Solando right on helping them maybe position products that are more environment friendly at the top?

Antoine Verger: [00:15:21] That's the tricky part for retailers because they don't have, they don't have a grip upon the the manufacturing they're just purchasing from manufacturers, from Nike, from Adidas and and they cannot really change that and look at the supply chain and optimize that the only thing they can do is something toward the consumers to inform them. You see that many initiatives there about you that I know that you guys in Poland they start having some features that they're adding on the customer journey to help you pick up sustainable products. If you look at the most relevant one is Avocado Store where they have many filters, depending on what's kind of sustainable criteria as you want to search product for. So there are many initiatives and to answer a question, what can they do inform the customers. Looking into their catalog. I mean, they have a voice as well. The shops, right? You see retailers, they can tell manufacturers, sorry, we know you didn't push sustainability or, or more it's, let's take the positive past. I don't like the negative press blaming the one that are not doing it. Like they can push the one that are doing something right. They can say the shoes.

There are vegan shoes. They try to not use any mold. They try to reduce their footprint, like push the one that are having a positive impact. It's maybe better than blaming the other ones, because I think there are too many negative things about climate these days that makes everyone freak out and which to some extent you should be doing, but it's not, it's not a positive path.

I think it's, it's part of when I talked about the process of realizing climate change, it's maybe realizing you're doing this part of the process just then. Go beyond that and then say, okay, we have to find solutions. We're not dumb. There are solutions, humanity, humans are very capable of switching directions when times are dark.

And there is no reason that humanity can not make it. But on the climate side and on the shopping side, I think everyone has a role to play. The retailers have the role to pay the manufacturers, have a role to play. And in the end consumers, at the end, you are, you have a void through consuming.

I think people are, are, are not using that enough because they are not able to use that. That's the thing where there is, I think there was a study last year in Germany. I think 70% of  German consumers would like to be able to reduce their carbon emissions during the act of purchasing, which might seem contradictory because if you purchase, you produce carbon, but they would like to do something there.

And if you look at the under 25 I think it's even 80% of people want to do something, but they don't have any way to do that. And that's what want to help them with.


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