John Ridd is the Co-Founder and CEO of Greenpixie, which is building solutions to reveal and reduce cloud emissions.
Chad and Will talk to John about giving a clearer view of AWS emissions down to the service level, why cloud emissions are a much bigger sustainability issue than most people realize, and how this will be the next big issue of the climate crisis.
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CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel.
WILL: And I'm your other host, Will Larry. And with us today is John Ridd, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Greenpixie, which is building solutions to reveal and reduce the emissions of the cloud.
CHAD: John, thank you so much for joining us. I have to admit that as a developer, this is something that I've been thinking a lot about recently. We practice test-driven development. We run continuous integration, even the things that we have running in the cloud in terms of the websites that we run and that kind of thing.
I'm also just really becoming aware of when I make a new branch in everything that I run, and I'm making a code change and pushing that up to GitHub; it then kicks off a build every single time any team member is doing that. And I can just see the impact that even just a single software product can have potentially on our environment. And I've started to become more and more guilty about that. So I'm excited to talk to you about how [laughs] we might be able to fix that problem.
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the big reasons that we've really seen the opportunity in the cloud emissions space is this disconnect really between how developers are incentivized to think, and rightfully so. They need to build and innovate at all costs; that's what drives the innovation in any tech company or any company. But the sustainability way of thinking and thinking, what am I building? What servers am I using and turning on? Just hasn't been in the conversation with developers. And they're the ones who are making these decisions using cloud providers to build out the products that the company needs. So it's great to hear that you're now aware of this impending issue from development.
CHAD: So I'm excited to dig more into the product. But I'm curious, you were doing digital marketing before starting Greenpixie, right?
JOHN: Yeah, I ran my own marketing consultancy, worked with a number of companies, big and small. And where I found my knack was sort of demand generation; really, starting off projects from nothing is what I've always done. It's clear now that...so Greenpixie was a bootstrap startup. Really using that ability to at least come up with an idea and take it from zero to one, bring demand to an issue, that's how Greenpixie started.
And it actually started with the head of engineering, Chris, who I met at my co-working space, and really we traded ideas through a hackathon on the weekend. And I had this idea when it came to website emissions and just knew that there was a software and a product play there. And what we do is connect into Google Analytics, put it through some carbon algorithms, and give them the ability to see how much digital carbon the website is producing. And from my marketing background, we've developed our own marketing, internal marketing software, which is a combination of we've built our own email servers with a high inbox. And we do semantic web scraping to find relevant prospects in the sustainability space.
So we built the MVP and put this idea for Greenpixie out to the world, and the overwhelming response that we got was people being shocked at the idea of digital carbon and how their digital operations do have a sustainability impact. It really gave us the confidence to think there's demand for this idea of emissions. And since then, we've now moved into carbon emissions down the carbon rabbit hole. But my marketing experience explains how it started in the first place.
CHAD: So how does...sometimes when faced with, I think, all kinds of climate issues, people can feel overwhelmed or helpless or feeling like what do I do as an individual to have an impact? So what does Greenpixie and Cloud NetZero enable an individual, team, or company, or developer to actually see and do?
JOHN: Cloud NetZero connects into the leading cloud providers. So at this stage, we can give a clearer view of your AWS emissions down to the service level. And this is a key first step. So we take a you can't affect what you can't measure philosophy. And that was a big, big step for us. And by cutting into the cost and usage reports and putting it through our carbon algorithms, we can then get visibility to engineers.
So everything you're building up in the cloud, we then give a full transparent view of the associated emissions that are being created from that by using our algorithms and methodology to convert the electricity used from the computation and storage and take into account the geographic location of the data centers of which you're using. As you can imagine, there are different carbon intensities in different countries during different times of the day.
So we actually hook up into an API that gives us this carbon intensity data down to the hour. So we give a really comprehensive view of your carbon emissions footprint, which is what we consider the gold standard in sustainability. Because what makes the digital vertical so unique within sustainability is we've got data coming out of our ears. [chuckles] The data is there to connect into the software, so we can give this crystal clear picture.
Whereas in other branches of sustainability, if you're into supply chains, et cetera, you've got real-world problems that you have to put real-time into. So that's the first step that we do is giving you this clear picture of your emissions. And from that, we then proceed to suggest reduction strategies to reduce those emissions.
WILL: John, I'll be honest. Before getting on the podcast with you, I never thought about my cloud emissions as a developer. Now I'm seeing, wow, there is a lot there with that. On your Twitter, I saw this stat: imagine driving 1.3 billion miles all the way to Saturn. The carbon you would release would be about the same as the amount from all of these streams of Netflix's top 10 shows in the month that were released, 6 billion hours of viewing. I'm just mind-blown just thinking about that. For someone who is just now thinking about my cloud emissions, what would you tell me as a developer or any CEO that's listening to the podcast?
JOHN: So yeah, you're right. This is a much bigger sustainability issue than most people realize. Currently, it's estimated around 2% of global emissions are from the cloud and data centers use, which puts it near the level of the aviation industry. And because the cloud is so esoteric and it's called the cloud, you think it's light and fluffy, and you're like, okay, it's over there; it's fine.
But there's a hard infrastructure that makes up the digital world that we enjoy, and that's thousands of racks of servers. That's so much gallons, like, millions of gallons of water used to cool these data centers. And because of this, there are countries such as Ireland and Singapore that have now begun to ban further construction of data centers. Because in Ireland, over 10% of the grid is taken up by these, well, I believe there was an article in The Telegraph that referred to these data centers as vampires, [laughs] vampires on the grid sucking all this energy up.
And the reason that this exists is it comes down to a company level or to a developer level. You're renting these data centers in order to grow your operations. And this aggregate demand goes straight into why these data centers exist and how much electricity they're using. But what you can do for a certain output...because we're a tech company and we love tech. And that makes us different to maybe some sustainability, really hardline sustainability environmental point of view because we actually think you can achieve the same output for 40% less energy use.
So there's waste that is pretty rife across the cloud space, and that also comes with the amount of money spent on the cloud. There can be servers that have been left turned on that are no longer used. There can be non-essential computation that could be moved to low carbon intensity hours of the day. And there's so much that can be done and still basically enjoy and build the tech that we all aspire to build.
CHAD: I'm going to resist taking a tangent into What We Do in the Shadows and the energy vampire, or we can call them Colin, I guess, instead of vampires.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah.
CHAD: So I used the calculator that you have on the website on our website, thoughtbot.com. I was pleased to see that it produces less carbon than 95% of websites. What goes into that calculation, though?
JOHN: So what we do on the estimator, on the webpage, the calculator, so we take into account whether your server being used is green or standard based on requesting that homepage. And then, really, there's a lot of overlap with PageSpeed optimization, rightfully, so the heavier the web pages, the more images. And if it's been coded lazily and it's heavy, which it hasn't been in your case, which I'm sure you're really happy about, that basically does have an effect on the electricity used in order to serve the website. And we also provide a website carbon report, which goes a step further and takes into account your Google Analytics, which goes for all your pageviews and takes into account some other factors too.
CHAD: When you're looking at the carbon footprint of a website, am I understanding that you're also taking into account the carbon footprint of the people viewing what it takes to view the website on the client too?
JOHN: It's very interesting, and we are going into the client side of emissions. That is definitely something that we're looking into and continue to do so. But now we focus more on the cloud. We stuck with websites as our main priority, that would mean the next step was going into client side, and it can, and that logic does go up. And it shows the ability of measuring sustainability impact when it comes to digital because, of course, you can get device information from Google Analytics, and that can then be used to give an accurate prediction. But that is something that we would definitely consider doing in the future. But you see the potential. It can go in all these different directions.
CHAD: A little bit of a meta question, then, so the calculator is running on people's websites. What is the carbon footprint of running the calculator on the site? [laughs]
JOHN: Well, that's the thing; we do have transparency of our own operations. So we're a seed-stage startup, and our operations might get a lot bigger. But for now, and given the sustainable approach, we take with how we run our cloud and run these tools, around two tons of CO2 we produce in a month from operations. But looking into other tech companies, you can imagine how AWS can get when it comes to the bigger companies and everything in between. It can really be hundreds or tens of tons. That has been currently unaccounted for and not addressed, which put into perspective, it's acting on your carbon emissions as an individual.
And let's say you're a developer who has the power to do this. You can have the effect of like ten times going vegan or not using air travel. So it's just really we really love the idea of combating carbon emissions, and developers, particularly combating carbon emissions is, using your unique skills in order to fight the climate crisis in a way that a non-technical person couldn't.
CHAD: So what are some of the things that you're doing as a company to solve that for yourself? Are there particular cloud hosting providers that are actually better than others?
JOHN: Yes, it does vary. So there are the big cloud providers, and we are on AWS due to the startup credit scheme, which, as you can imagine, that's very beneficial when you're starting from a bootstrapped model. And within AWS, you can actually...so choosing the geographic location of where you're spinning up the servers is one way you can reduce that. So our servers are in Ireland. So we're part of that issue actually, now that I think about it, because they have a relatively low carbon intensity. And that's one way that we ensure the carbon we're using is minimized. But there's a whole spectrum.
So if you wanted to go at all costs and convenience and costs are out the window, there are niche carbon fighters, which actually are off-grid renewable power data centers. If you have the means, that is the optimum you can go in terms of the carbon intensity. But in terms of how we build, so just the typical making sure that we're turning off products, features, and servers that we don't use and being mindful of that, putting non-essential compute to low-carbon intensity periods in the day and just minimizing costs and using computation for a certain output is how we take that philosophy.
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WILL: On your website, I see that 127 billion is wasted in idle cloud spend, so obviously, one of your goals is to reduce that amount. What other goals is your company looking forward to solving?
JOHN: I would say our main goal is to reduce millions of tons of needless cloud emissions using scalable software. That is our guiding light. But within that, it correlates largely with cost savings for companies. So we could actually save companies millions of pounds as well or millions of dollars. So I'm from the UK; [laughter] I went for pounds. Yeah, that's the big push; that's our guiding light.
And we really want to be the torchbearers for digital sustainability as an idea. So having the awareness, we take responsibility for driving awareness for the issue also. As a team, we have a great combination of technical minds but also creative and marketing, getting the message out there and demystifying carbon emissions. So it's a technical issue because there's a technical issue when you dig into it. But we want to put it in a way that a non-technical decision maker in the C-suite would understand the issue in terms of the effects that you can have as a company in a sustainability drive.
CHAD: So you mentioned you got started from that original hackathon idea. And how did things progress for you from there? You now have a team of people working. Did you end up taking some investment in order to continue on?
JOHN: We did. We actually started it...so we started it as a passion project from that hackathon, saw the potential. I saw a small business opportunity through the website measuring. And we saw there was demand out there, so we started there. Then we saw it as a side project and continued to see potential and made the call to basically...the initial team was three of us. We went full-time and said let's see what we can do with this.
Then I came from a marketing consultancy...I self-funded it to the means that I could for the first six months. It's an interesting experience when you get possessed by an idea, and it's just I need to see this through. I see the potential. It's for a great cause. I think there's a big business opportunity here. And then, really, it came to that point, and we did start going down the investment route.
We were part of an incubator associated with the University of Cambridge called Carbon13. It's a really interesting program where they put together experts in climate science, the developers. And you come together to try and come up with these big ideas to basically reduce millions of tons of emissions as a startup. And there was plenty. There was, for example, there was offsetting companies, there was carbon credit startups, everything you can imagine.
And it was there that we got put on the investment journey because at the end of the program, you get what was an £80,000 investment to then move on and then go down the VC route. Turns out we didn't get the investment despite us being one of the favorites. It didn't work out for various reasons. And then we were in a situation where I was like, okay, we need to get this investment in order to keep going and scaling the team.
And we ended up being VC-backed for our pre-seed from a company in London called Ascension. So we did a £250,000 pre-seed round to get things going. And that's why we have a team who is now working on this full-time. And it's been a bit of a journey, but the trials and tribulations of startups is just the game. And now we're looking to get our seed round. We're hoping to be closing by the end of the year.
CHAD: Congratulations on the progress so far. Why do you think Ascension was interested in investing in you?
JOHN: So, really, at pre-seed stage, I've talked to VCs and said market, founder, co-founders, anything else is just too early to really know with any certainty. So I think they saw that we were committed, enthusiastic about the idea. Will, the other co-founder, and CTO, is a full-stack developer. It's his second startup. And with my demand generation background, we thought we were a good fit.
But really, I think a lot of time and thinking, and commitment has gone into (blood, sweat, and tears) has gone into thinking how we can create a product or software company that addresses carbon emissions. And I think investors have a good radar of when people are really committed, and that's what we were.
WILL: You've recently done a soft launch of Cloud NetZero. Can you give me more information around that?
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. We did our soft launch, so this is after the pre-seed investment. We got the 250,000. And we built the product that we laid out in that pitch, which was a software that integrates to AWS and gives you this granular breakdown of your emissions by service. And that was what we presented on our soft launch. We did an in-person event, which we just got a small room and managed to...so around 50 people turned up, which we're pretty proud of. And people do seem to be attracted to this idea. We use my marketing background [laughs] to kind of bolster those numbers.
But it was a really great experience. So it was actually on the side of our co-working space where we did a hackathon originally. And it was a bit of an experience, quite a heartwarming experience that everyone has come together. I'm just like, oh, it was in that room that it started as an idea, and now 50 people coming from VC backgrounds, from sustainability, from tech are all coming together. And considering we started in COVID times, to have everyone in the room was just great. So it was great. Yeah, thanks for highlighting it. I really have good memories of that soft launch.
CHAD: So people can get a demo and sign up now.
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. So the product is up and running. It went from idea to reality which we're very, very proud of the product team for hitting it on time as well. So we did a 100-day push, and on the 100th day, it was ready for us. And we actually got a big update Monday next week, which is going to be the V 1.1. I call it V2, and then my CTO says, "No, it's V 1.1." [laughter]
CHAD: Oh, you need to make your CTO understand that for marketing purposes, you need to make your version numbers bigger.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah, he's just like, "If you think that's V2, you don't know what you're saying." [laughter] You can contact us, and we can basically show you the onboarding to get you closer to your cloud provider. And you can have a crystal clear picture of your carbon emissions. And the companies we're talking to now so software companies, so pretty well-known brands. We're now in conversation with as well as just your heavy-duty tech companies. And they're really our ideal client we're looking to now because they have a large amount of carbon emissions, and they want to be really measuring them for their sustainability initiatives.
They are actually going to be required to...from the beginning of next year, there's regulation creeping in that's going to make companies measure their Scope 3 emissions, and we have the product to do that. And once we go over that first stage of measurement, then the next step is giving you recommendations to reduce it ultimately, and that will be both in cloud emissions and costs. So we actually are a cost-saving software ultimately because we can highlight wasted cloud spend, and there's a lot of it in these tech companies.
CHAD: So you've launched. It sounds like you're focused on getting customers and making sales. How does the pricing work for the product?
JOHN: At the moment, we are charging 10K a year to use the software. This is for...so it would be your mid-sized tech company is really who that's aimed for. Anything that goes into really heavy-duty cloud emissions analysis would be probably just down the road just because the complication gets considerably...there's a lot more computing that we need to do on our end, which there are costs associated with that. And there's a lot more, as you can imagine, a lot more hand-holding in order to get integrated and that type of thing. So the pricing would be larger for those more developed companies who have huge AWS accounts.
CHAD: A lot of companies' pricing is one of the things that they struggle with early on. I assume you'll learn, and your pricing model will change. But is there something that particularly you weren't sure about when it came to the pricing?
JOHN: So the pricing it's really what we're seeing from other parallel softwares on the market more towards the cost reduction side of the cloud. They don't focus on emissions. It's...we'll plug the right place for that. And I think given the opportunity cost, especially from the sustainability and measurement perspective, the alternative is companies are spending a lot of money on sustainability consultants to try and figure out these emissions for the reporting means, and our software does the heavy lifting for you, as any good product does. And with the cost savings on top of that, it's about right for now.
But as we improve the product and can accommodate these bigger enterprise clients, the price model will evolve and probably get more expensive. But not to overcomplicate; it is the logic at this point. And once we do have the ability to take on these more complex arrangements, the pricing would reflect that. Yeah, so that's the plan.
WILL: Well, John, I thank you for coming on the podcast and being a part of it. Is there anything else that you would like our audience to know?
JOHN: We're shouting from the rooftops about carbon emissions. This is going to be the next big issue of the climate crisis. So I truly believe that there are estimates that digital emissions will rise past 10% of global emissions by 2030. Our thirst for data isn't going anywhere. And there's a real chance that computing principles such as Moore's Law that have allowed these improvements in hardware to keep up with the demand for data won't necessarily last forever.
And from that, we need to really wake up to the fact that the digital world, despite it being, yeah, it seems like it happens by magic, there is real sustainability impact. But the good news is we think that using the scalability of software...because the scalability of software that has seen so much success for companies can be used to have an equally positive impact on the planet and prevent this issue of digital emissions by using the inherent scalability of digital and availability of data.
So that's really what I'm preaching at the moment. And we believe the best first step for that would be a product called NetZero because it gives transparency over these emissions. You can see it in front of your eyes, and then decisions can be made in order to reduce them. That's what I chose to be my soapbox moment.
CHAD: That's great. John, if folks want to find out more, see that demo, get in touch with you; where are all the different places that they can do that?
JOHN: greenpixie.com is where you can just contact us, and we'll be straight on the phone with you. Another place to see what we're really up to and get more ideas of digital sustainability the best place is probably our LinkedIn company page. We're quite active on there. If you want to take your first steps into digital sustainability, start there. And if you think your company is ready to act on their carbon emissions or you just want to find out a little bit more, then yeah, just contact us through our website, and we'll have a chat.
CHAD: Awesome. Everything that John just mentioned is going to be linked in the show notes, along with a complete transcript for this episode. You can subscribe to the show and find all of that at giantrobots.fm.
WILL: If you have any questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHAD: You can find me on Twitter @cpytel.
WILL: And you can find me on Twitter @will23larry. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
CHAD: Thanks for listening, and see you next time.
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