Impact at Scale went on the road to talk to Mathias Boissonot, a co-Founder of Handprint, a sustainable software company that helps businesses be involved in regenerative projects. Mathias is passionate about the power of mangroves and other natural resources to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and created Handprint as a way to connect businesses with these projects.
Some of the topics Mathias covered:
  • Getting small NGOs access to institutional money
  • The power of mangroves for decarbonization
  • What is regenerative software?
  • How large companies are incorporating regeneration
  • Man-made carbon reduction systems and carbon P/Ls
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
  1. Mangroves Are a Miracle Technology
  2. We Did the Opposite of What Should Be Done in a Normal Startup
  3. The World Is Moving Towards a New Paradigm
  4. Do We Live in a World With a Carbon Tunnel
  5. Carbon Is Not the Only Currency of Sustainability 

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Zal Dastur 0:00
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Social Innovation podcast. My name is Zal Dastur and I’m your host. I’m here with Mathias Boissonot who is the CEO and founder of Handprint, which is a regenerative software company. And I’m gonna let Mathias explain a little bit more about what that means.

Mathias Boissonot 0:17
Hey Zal…Yeah, absolutely. Pleasure to be here. So Handprint is developing the infrastructure layer of the internet for the regenerative economy. What it means is that we’re developing a technology that enables any company to integrate within their platform, within their customer experiences are regenerative events, like the absorption of carbon, or cleaning up one kg of plastic from the ocean, or planting one coral n on a coral reef. So it started or was about to tell about our funding story. But he was not even in the question. So

Zal Dastur 0:58
I mean, feel free, you can feel free to talk about that, if that’s what you’d like to

Mathias Boissonot 1:04
help bring started as a as a spin off of a research project. So my two co founders were academics are researching on how efficient carbon credit markets were. They wrote a paper a few years ago, that was commissioned by the United Nations, and discussed at Davos, about how much money actually reaches the ground, when it comes to the funding of regenerative projects. And they discovered that up to 80% of those funds, did not reach the ground 80% systematically were absorbed by intermediaries, it doesn’t mean that it was a system that was illegal, or they weren’t corruption in that as a lot of people might think it’s just been that this system is very cost inefficient. So we started from that to develop a technology to make that market transparent and cost effective, using technologies that automate most of the manual procedures that exist in that industry, because it’s an older legacy industry with a lot of stakeholders that are not digitized, right, typically, NGOs that are doing the work on the ground on a digitized two, we are developing a technology that enables two levels of transparency. Number one, financial transparency, you can see how the money is being used on the ground, right, instead of like making a contribution to a blackbox, you don’t have access to the data. And number two is impact transparency, you can have access to verification reports. But most importantly, you know, how much exactly every contribution benefits the planet, in terms of SDG aligned metrics like carbon absorption, support to biodiversity, social impact, etc.

Zal Dastur 3:09
It sounds like you’re providing a lot to these companies. Because as you said, 80% being absorbed by other things other than the organizations on the ground, there’s going to be a serious impact in terms of what you can do. Right? So how is it that Handprint is different in terms of the their operating model to be able to get so much more impact out to the projects?

Mathias Boissonot 3:30
Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So and I would enlarge the question to the supply side as well, because that’s also very interesting. So on the demand side, the problem that we solve for companies is the transparency problem and the cost efficiency problem. How do we do that we use new technologies that were not available just a few years ago, right, because the technology was not ready technologies like remote sensing, verifying that the project has actually been executed. And that the forest, for example, actually absorbs carbon over time using satellite images, instead of like a certification body verification agency that will like send consultants on the ground to do sampling and all of that, which is also a very accurate methodology, but it’s way less cost efficient. Right. So on the demand side, that’s about this. And on the supply side, the problem that we’re solving for NGOs, is that there are two problems fundamentally that we’re solving for them. Number one, historically, they have been excluded from institutional money, especially small NGOs, NGOs that have projects that you know, that are too small to generate carbon credits, for example, because they need to put money upfront to have a certification and none of that. So we give them access to institutional funding by enabling them to have a higher standard The reporting. So we provide them with digital tools with software that enables them in real time to report on their financials to report on their impact, to digitize their project, digitize their project management. So for them, it’s again, time and again of and they can better report what they are doing on the ground. So that’s what we do on both sides of the market.

Zal Dastur 5:28
I know that Handprint has very specific projects that they’ve chosen. So can you talk to us a little bit about the projects that you’ve chosen and the reasons why you chose those ones in particular,

Mathias Boissonot 5:40
we have a rule of curator for our corporate clients that we automate. Basically, when we onboard a project, whether it’s a reforestation project, a coral reef restoration project, or habitat conservation project, what we do is, so we have an impact and data team in house that is crunching a lot of data about the project, specifically public data as well. And that is assessing so that they are giving a score to that project on how relevant that project is to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And if that score is high enough, we unbolt that project. If it’s not high enough, we formulate a series of recommendations to that NGO, on how they could score better.

Zal Dastur 6:38
Because I know that you specifically chose a mangrove project, rather than a tree planting project, particularly both in Indonesia, where, you know, we know there are a lot of forest fires and there are a lot of burning and for agricultural use, what made you go towards the mangrove instead of a traditional sort of tree project?

Mathias Boissonot 7:00
I would say two reasons. So number one is that there will be the emotional angle because my two co founders are PhDs. And they they wrote a research paper a few years ago about mangroves that was published on how about business review. So for them, it’s it’s the emotional angle of the mangroves. But beyond that, it’s because mangroves are a miracle technology. It’s absorbing more carbon than territorial terrestrial forests at a faster pace close to 100 times faster. It’s just like, imagine if humanity was given the perfect tool to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Today, there is no better tool, there is no machine that can absorb carbon, like a mangrove an ecosystem of coastal trees can do. We started with mangrove and the platform quickly expanded to different type of reforestation. And then two different impact categories. But it’s true that we started with mangroves, because it’s basically the most efficient, natural tool that humanity has access to, to fight climate change.

Zal Dastur 8:17
So I know that you recently moved your office to Bali and Indonesia, which we’re actually recording out of right now. It’s a beautiful villa here was the part of the reason for the move to be closer to the projects here on the ground.

Mathias Boissonot 8:32
No, absolutely. Yeah, so we have a lot of projects in Indonesia. So a few mangrove restoration projects in Java and Sumatra, as well. And coral reef restoration projects in, in value, an amazing project, by the way from leaving seas, and to impact partners that are doing plastic cleanup, reverse from reverse reverse plastic cleanup, in Bali, and Java, definitely, that was part of the decision of opening an office in Bali, we still have part of the team in Singapore. And the other part of that decision, I would say is to offer our team members a very nice environment to work from, right and they can relocate to valley to work full time here or come anytime they want and be able to work in a very from a very nice environment

Zal Dastur 9:28
is definitely nicer than most offices that I’ve seen. So, you know, congratulations on achieving that. It’s this beautiful villa here in Bali. I wanted to actually talk to you about the journey that you’ve gone on with Handprint because I know from our previous discussions, you started with a thesis, and then slowly maybe that thesis changed and I think that that’s a really natural progression for any business to go through. And so it’d be great if you could just talk us through a little bit about With the pivot that you’ve done, and the way that you came about understanding whether to pivot or not,

Mathias Boissonot 10:08
absolutely. So, in our case, and we say we started on a different route or from a different angle than most startups, we didn’t start from the angle of let’s solve a problem for a certain persona in a niche market, which is actually the sound way of doing it. Right. It’s the it’s the norm, it’s the way that works on our case, because it started as, as a spinoff of a research project. We started by developing a technology that makes financial transparency possible for those transactions. So worse and, and cost efficient. So we started by by solving a very abstract problem, right with like, with no roots with no users. So once we had that beautiful technology that sits somewhere on the cloud that no one is using, we then ask ourselves the question, okay, what is our go to market? Right, we completely did the opposite of what should be done in a normal startup setup. And we decided to start with ecommerce. So this was our first go to market for multiple reasons, because it was the beginning of COVID. So there were a lot of uncertainty about so many different industries, except ecommerce that was booming at the time. And our assumption was that small to medium brands, brands that generates less than 15 million per year. Those brands, they typically don’t have a CSL team, they don’t have a tech team. And they want a way, a self service way to become regenerative for the planet. That was our, our assumption. We started with ecommerce as a main go to market. And very quickly, we were proven wrong way to market because the incoming calls the guys that wanted to talk to us, were not brands at all right? We were chasing brands on a daily basis. And we were receiving incoming calls from much bigger companies that are not that are absolutely not in that industry. So we were completely wrong about our assumption. And we pivoted quite quickly. So we developed the SAS platform for those big, big companies together with an API to enable them to use our technology.

Zal Dastur 12:38
So so it was a market led pivot. So you, you you saw that the customers are coming for somewhere else? What is it specifically that these businesses were asking of you? That was not you? Maybe the e Commerce Guys were not asking?

Mathias Boissonot 12:54
That’s a very good question. So on the E commerce side, our sales speech is really focusing on grow your business using regeneration, because your consumers are voting with their wallet, and they want you to be regenerative. Right. And first movers are leaving everyone behind. And there are lots of studies that show that lot of success stories around the regeneration with companies like Patagonia or even eco Xia, for platforms, etc. For the big guys, right companies like Lazada, like Teads idemia. What they see in us is an easy way to develop a service offer that is regenerated, right. So what they do is that they integrate Handprint technological capabilities within their service offer to themselves, be able to service regeneration to their clients. So for us from our perspective, it’s a pure channel cells setup, right where we don’t have to put dollars in the in those collaborations. And what they see specifically is we cracked the way to digitize everything that is happening on the ground. So that data is actually available and can be integrated in user experiences, right, we can display in real time how much carbon has been absorbed by this plot of land. We can tell this user you’ve been cleaning that much plastic from the ocean, it has supported that many species and the water. We have this data because we have an impact and data team that is working on on those models and these computations. And if you’re a big company, you have two options. Either you partner with an NGO or a big NGO, which restricts the window of possibilities. You have then one partner instead of a network of partners that is available to Handprints. It’s not really quantified in real time, and you already have digital tools to integrate that within your digital experiences. So that’s what the big guys were after, on top of like, you know, they have access to a dashboard where they can track absolutely everything that’s happening on the ground in terms of financials and verification. So for them, it’s, it’s a way to make sure that what they are purchasing is actually happening.

Zal Dastur 15:30
Can you give me an example? And you don’t have to use the name if you don’t want to? But can you give me an example of an industry or a company where this is being used and how that then engages with the customers on on the business side?

Mathias Boissonot 15:44
Absolutely. So I can give you a few examples that are live while working on. Many use cases Handprint for banking, and print for gaming and print for advertising is now live with our partner Teads. So Teads is the biggest advertising platform of the open web, right. So they, most of the publishers use their technology to match certain audience with a certain ad, write a certain announcer Teads has integrated Handprints within their platform, so that any announcer so any company that is paying for marketing for ad space, can redirect 5% of their marketing spend to a close. And if they do, automatically on that ad with will be displayed. A messaging that says these are the plant trees are this Adkins, the oceans. And when visitors, when the audience clicks on that, they arrive on a Handprint touchpoint that shows self updating real time metrics about that project, how many trees have been planted, what is the area that has been requested, how much carbon has been absorbed, how much carbon will be absorbed in the next 20 years, you can see a map of where the project is at, you can send a message to the project managers, you can see what SDG is this projects aligns with an why you can see a financial transparency table, you can see the verification report of that of that project. So it’s a way for brands to provide science based and evidence based touch points above the positive impact that they will enable.

Zal Dastur 17:45
So I’m curious when when I noticed industries develop I realized that people start asking better questions. And so I think the question that I have for you is, have you noticed your clients becoming more sophisticated? And businesses being more aware of specifically what they want versus maybe what it was even two or three years ago? When you guys were just first starting out?

Mathias Boissonot 18:12
Absolutely. I wouldn’t say sophisticated. But definitely you can like, what we see is that there is a frequency, an increase in frequency in wolves related to net zero carbon neutrality, things like this, for example. And I wouldn’t say sophisticated because most of the time, they don’t really understand this world. So I don’t really see an increment in understanding of that space. It’s an extremely complicated space. So that will be a lie. I’d say it’s a very, it’s a very complex space. Most of the words that are out there that describe strategies like net zero, science based targets, are very Buhler for a lot of people, especially professionals working in that space. And it’s, it’s also a problem of none of governance, but also of like, Who do you as a company, who do you hire at those positions? We have lots of clients. For which our main point of contact is this the head of sustainability or head of CSR? And some of them have a background in PR and marketing. Right and not an absolutely not in the science of the planet. So sometimes it’s the the learning curve is is quite steep. So I wouldn’t say more sophisticated. It’s just that people are more and more curious, especially within their teams about this topic. So that’s why we provide to our clients as well like talks and workshops to raise awareness around regeneration as opposed to the legacy sustainability that has been the norm for the past 20 years of like measuring your footprints reduce your footprint of central footprint, etc, which is changing at the very, the world is actually moving towards a new paradigm that is called regeneration and that we are trying to position ourselves into,

Zal Dastur 20:33
can you can you tell me something that has surprised you about regeneration that you’ve learned on your journey? So far,

Mathias Boissonot 20:40
something that I find interesting is, a lot of people don’t, in that space, they don’t ask themselves the right questions. So I’ll give you an example. We have a client, it’s one of the biggest payment platforms in the world, they, they wanted us to offset the carbon associated with a transaction. A transaction is super low carbon, like it’s ridiculous, right? Even a billion transaction is super local. The effort and time that they’re putting to hire a consulting group to compute exactly with high accuracy, the carbon footprint associated with one transaction is insane, they spend maybe not millions, but hundreds of $1,000. For that, if they would have spent that in regenerating a plot of land that has been damaged, like whether it’s like mangroves, or corals, their impact would have been positive, just computing the footprint to then have a strategy that is based on compensating for that footprints. It doesn’t really make sense, right? And it’s not, it doesn’t make sense from a consumer perspective, from a planet perspective, and from the perspective of the growth of the company. So that’s, that’s still very surprising for me that, because it seems logical, people are taking that path. While when you just sit down and analyze that problem, you realize that it doesn’t make any sense. If you’re not a company that moves mine or manufacture things, your main focus should not be on reducing your footprint, because the leverage is too small. So the focus should be reducing as much as you can. And of course, switching to suppliers that are less carbon intensive, your energy supplier, and none of that, but the rest like it’s anecdotal compared to what you can do in terms of regeneration. So that’s something that keeps surprising me on a weekly basis, basically, when we dig into the, the sustainability strategy of our clients and prospects. But what we see as well is that companies that are that are applying regenerative principles to their sustainability strategy. Those are the ones that are winning, because it works for kids, for their consumers. It works for their growth, and it works for the planet. It’s just more impactful.

Zal Dastur 23:30
So there’s been a lot of talk recently about mechanized carbon reduction systems. So I know that Bill Gates his back to one, in terms of being able to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Now you were saying that mangroves are 100 times more effective than traditional land forests? Where do you stand on the idea of like manmade carbon capture?

Mathias Boissonot 23:57
I’m not against that. My My perspective on that is that only in a world where we live in a carbon tunnel? Well, we only see through the prism or through the end goal of Kava, these solutions can emerge. If you actually consider just like cup 20, like the Kyoto Protocol considers that countries that have carbon PNL is defined politically to those agreements. So it’s fine. It’s it is defined. What is not defined is that companies as well have a carbon p&l. It’s not like it’s not defined by science. There are emerging frameworks on that, but it’s like, there is no evidence that it’s a playable solution on the long run. If you consider that carbon is fungible, and that every company has a carbon p&l, then it’s a viable solution. You can build machines that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but you’re only looking at carbon As the single currency of sustainability, while it’s not, you’re not, you’re not including the problem of biodiversity loss in that equation, you’re not including acidification of the ocean, even though it’s a correlation of carbon in the atmosphere. But there are lots of problems that are not related to carbon that you’re just like, avoiding, because you’re doing this dimension reduction of everything comes down to carbon, when you plant a forest, when you plant a member of forest, not only you’re absorbing carbon, but you’re supporting biodiversity, you’re providing livelihoods to local communities that extract ink that extract die from from the mangrove roots, and that can sell it, you’re supporting biodiversity underwater, and on land, you’re protecting those coasts from effects of climate change, like rising sea levels, or cyclones, etc. So it’s a I feel like those solutions are really looking at the problem from a very, very, very simplistic way. I’m not saying that those are bad solutions, because ultimately, we will need those solutions. So we need to invest now in those solutions, actually, to to have a way of actually regulating the concentration of green greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. But today, we have extremely efficient solutions that are natural based, and that we can invest that we can invest in. Sorry.

Zal Dastur 26:45
So I’ve just got one last question for you, Matthias today. And that’s what I asked everybody, which is what is the advice you would give to somebody out there maybe either starting their career or even a few years in their career, and they want to make a difference? You know, do you have any suggestion on some of the steps that they can take about either joining somebody or doing something whether they can,

Mathias Boissonot 27:08
I would encourage anyone to contact us. Honestly, even competitors, or even like aspiring entrepreneurs, we are giving we have we are publishing a lot of content about climate change about a green tech entrepreneurship. So do not hesitate to check out our YouTube channel. That’s, that’s a that’s a start. And then I have a one advice that would be to be curious to read a lot about the space. More than that, I would say to read science, because you can read a lot about like, I don’t know, like people that are interested in the space and that give their opinion about X and Y on medium or on LinkedIn articles. But that’s their opinion, right? So read science, like go on Google Scholar and type the keywords that you’re interested in, like regeneration, read about regeneration, instead of reading about netzero on medium articles, that would be that would be my advice.

Zal Dastur 28:12
There Thank you. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you and thank you for inviting me here to your to your office in Bali.

Mathias Boissonot 28:20
Amazing. Thank you for having me in your podcasts.