Ewan Jones, Co-founder and CTO of Carbon Removed, shares his story and gives advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Carbon Removed is a carbon removal company that physically removes carbon dioxide emissions through various methods rather than trading carbon credits.
Can you share a little about your story and how you got to where you are today?
I have an interesting background. I grew up on a farm where there was no mobile signal so I would spend my evenings on MSN messenger and the computer. It turns out I learned a few things and became a professional software engineer. While I was very grateful to get jobs at medium (~40 people) IT companies I quickly found that small teams and companies provided the largest opportunity to learn and improve my skills. I worked for smaller and smaller companies - constantly learning and picking up new skills - before deciding to take the plunge and start my own!
What do you wish you knew before you first started Carbon Removed?
I wish I had known how to sell better. Building products (especially as a software engineer) is the easy part; getting people to use them is a lot harder! You need to be able to identify a market and find just what attracts your customers.
Can you describe your average day?
The days are always exceptionally varied! I always try to find some time to work on development of the product but as a co-founder I am also responsible for marketing, sales and making sure we have a rough roadmap to achieve our bigger vision. Some priorities change over time however it's important to never forget anything and always prioritise your customers (no matter how late at night or exhausted you are).
What has been the largest obstacle you have had to overcome, and how did you overcome it?
Unfortunately - like in interviews - I don't have a good answer to this question. I think life is constantly a growth cycle and with the right attitude you can naturally overcome almost anything.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I genuinely think the highlight of my career was choosing to start my own company. It is something I had dreamed and talked about for years but always put-off with an excuse. Not enough experience, money, or time were the main ones. Personally I think I should have tried building and selling far earlier in my career but when I finally took the plunge I never looked back. It is hard, there is no sugar coating that fact, but I love it.
What has been the hardest part of adjusting to Covid-19?
Okay, as an introvert and a software engineer Covid-19 has been a slight blessing. Putting aside the tragic deaths and injuries it is responsible for, it has also widened the perspective of the world who are now more accustomed to working from home and spending more time reflecting about themselves rather than constantly commuting, socialising and giving no thoughts to anything outside their bubble. This has been the case in my life and I have really enjoyed working from home, having more time for myself and not worrying that I'm missing out.
What do you think has been the “key” to your success this far?
I have always been willing to learn and take on larger tasks. This has meant that I have worked long hours because I may be out of my depth but I have also progressed throughout my career and taken opportunities my peers may have passed on. This diversity and attitude I truly believe to be a strength.
How has failure helped you later in life? Can you share any specific lessons you have learned?
Failure can be tough and you should always learn not only from your own failures, but from others too. I'm sure I could think of specific examples but generally I would advise not to be afraid of failure. Sometimes it can be stressful and to worry that friends or loved ones may laugh or gossip about your failure but the harsh reality is that if you're not failing, you're not trying. I would much rather continue to try and fail than to never try at all.
What is some of the best advice you ever received? Some of the worst?
"Talk to your users" would undoubtedly fit into both categories. It is a common piece of advice for the "lean startup" methodology yet counteracts other entrepreneurial geniuses like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs creating unique, game changing products. I have personally found that it is okay to try building and prototyping something you think people want, get it into people's hands and use a combination of their feedback and your gut to shape the future of the product.
How do you know when you have the "right" idea, and when you should start on that specific idea?
Very good question and unfortunately there is no right answer.
If you want to see if an idea has potential then put in a little effort: talk to people, create a prototype and see if you can get users. I would recommend reading The Mom test by Rob Fitzpatrick which also addresses how you can get feedback from friends and family without them all telling you your idea is wonderful (when really they aren’t the target users and would never see value in it themselves).
Ultimately I would say it’s always a bit of a gamble but you should see the time and money spent experimenting with your ideas as an investment in yourself. You will either leave with a successful idea for you to grow or a series of experience and learnings from the failure - both are wins in my book!
What is some advice you can give to an aspiring high school entrepreneur?
It's never too early to start. I waited and delayed and really I should have been shipping code, trying to sell products, and building a network. If you are in high-school you may not realise you are an entrepreneur yet but if you look around you and see an opportunity to build something or sell something, please chase that opportunity. You should always be able to find support in this very interconnected world.
It’s vital to also remain focused on what is important to you in your life. There will always be more work but making time for personal fitness & well-being, friends and family is very important - especially when you inevitably feel stressed and that you have no time. Healthy eating, healthy mind and strong body with a close, supportive group of friends and family will get you through anything.
It’s great if you can build a network (a term that can seem daunting but really just means talking to people around you, asking questions and sharing contact information for later if you find each other friendly and interesting) of people who can challenge you. They may be intellectually superior or more motivated, a better athlete, etc. but having these people will hopefully provide more motivation to you every day to constantly improve.
Also find a work schedule that is optimised for you. I’m at my most productive in the mornings so I use that time to tackle difficult problems or tasks I don’t enjoy from my to-do list. As my energy falls in the afternoon I switch to more “mindless” tasks that have to be done.
One more bonus thing, check out The Great CEO Within by Matt Mochary - it’s available as a Google Doc for everyone to read (with an updated version on Amazon if you want a paper copy). There are some great tips for company and time management. While not necessarily relevant to you at this stage I hope it can help lay some foundations for the exciting future to come!