Co-founder & CEO at Wildsense
Thibault Sorret is the CEO and co-founder of Wildsense. After studying business at McGill University in Montreal, he joined the University of Edinburgh in 2018 where he completed a Master of Science in Ecosystem health and Biodiversity. Thibault also worked for 5 years as a Chief of Staff at Lufa Farms, an urban agriculture scale-up which grew from 50 to 750 employees during his time there. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, he returned to France to co-found Wildsense.
Work and impact
How is sustainability/social impact integrated in your work?
Wildsense is on a mission to build a wilder world. We use satellite imagery to verify and certify carbon projects. In that sense sustainability is our core business and so it is a big part of my job.
What are your past and current areas of focus in a few words?
I previously worked at Lufa Farms and they were a fantastic organization to learn from in terms of how to use a private business to create common good. I think Lufa Farms is one of the best examples I can think of for a mission driven company that has the environmental components right. I worked directly with the founders and was able to see first hand how the quality of their thinking and the impact that they had. I had a great experience and learned a lot from them.
How did you enter this space?
When I was 16 I wrote a book on study skills because at the time, my two biggest interests were ed-tech and nutrition. Once I came to McGill, I had my first entrepreneurial experience and discovered Lufa Farms. I learned about hydroponics which was very connected to one of my original passions which is nutrition. After seeing that I went to an open house to learn more and asked if they would take me on as a volunteer. They let me know that they didn’t take volunteers but offered me a summer internship position. I began working in sales and subsequently moved on to roles in marketing and operations with increasing levels of responsibility. Ultimately I ended up working as the chief of staff where I focused on helping to scale the different departments in the company.
Did you always want to work in the impact space?
As an entrepreneur you always have tons of ideas in your head and this was true for me when I was a kid as well. I wanted to do a lot of weird things including wanting to design perfumes and sports shoes.
What are you most excited about that has been happening in your industry/field for the past few years?
I think there’s an explosion in demand currently and that is the part I am most interested in. For a long time, you had very complex value chains with companies and so it took two to five years to certify and finance new projects. At the time this was ok because demand was very stable and not Increasing much. Since 2019, the volume of demand has increased so much that it’s put price pressure on carbon credit markets. The prices have gone up 2x to 3x, in the last year alone, and so you’re seeing inventory shrink massively and traditional actors and traditional value chains as a limiting factor. So it’s a really exciting time to come in as a certification actor to try to solve that problem.
Are there any misconceptions about your profession or industry?
The two biggest misconceptions in my mind are that carbon credits solve climate changes and on the flip side, that carbon credits are useless. For the first one it’s important to note the difference between long term carbon cycles and short term carbon cycles. If you take fossil fuels out of the ground, you’re taking carbon from a long term carbon cycle, that would have stayed there for 1000s of years. A tree or nature based solution typically stores carbon for anywhere from 30 to 100 years but a good chunk of that gets released back into the atmosphere. Due to this, if we say we’re offsetting we really aren’t offsetting, or making carbon contributions, climate contributions, whatever you want to call them, offsetting isn’t really the right terms, because it’s not one for one. Specifically, it’s not one for one in the long run and so I think there’s a misconception on one side that carbon credits can solve climate change. The second misconception is just as important because people have the opinion that if a company’s buying carbon credits, they’re greenwashing and it’s just helping companies pay their way out of reducing emissions. In reality that is not at all what it does. Looking at it from an economics perspective, you have a negative externality that has never been priced, which is the cost of releasing carbon through one’s operations. Today, for the first time in history, we’re pricing that. It will be important to eventually get to the point where the price is optimal but we need to start by at least pricing carbon and that is what we are seeing today. Carbon credits are imperfect but it is a start. Let’s start there and then if we can use that money to finance more solutions that are going to fix a broader environmental crisis, and help with climate change adaptation, especially if it’s done with and by local communities, with biodiversity in mind, say restoring mangrove for for storm surge protection, you have a whole bunch of ways that financing these projects is going to help the broader ecological crisis that we’re in, and specifically climate mitigation and adaptation over time. Saying that, I think it’s important to be wary of both misconceptions, carbon credits are a panacea and carbon credits are useless, I think, on both sides of the argument there’s a lack of both nuance and, and sort of critical thinking, to be honest.
Life and aspirations
What does a typical workday look like for you? What’s your work-life balance like?
As an entrepreneur, work life balance is not a particularly useful concept. Work Life integration, I think, is a better concept. Specifically, because work life balance implies that there is a trade off and specifically implies that if work takes a big part of that equation, there’s less room for life. And I don’t particularly agree. I think that I’ve been most fulfilled at times where I’ve been deeply involved in my work, and coming home at 11pm and I think that’s fine as well. There are also times where that balance has been the other way around and so I think it’s more about having a healthy baseline. So for me, I do triathlons. I have a morning routine where I wake up, I meditate, I work out, and i’ll have breakfast with my girlfriend. On top of that, I make sure that once I am home from work I am making time during the week and on weekend for things like date nights and spending time with my friends and family. With that, if on Sunday I have to work a good chunk of the day to prepare for the week, that’s totally fine. It’s just about finding something you’re comfortable with where you can feel energetic, engaged and excited about life.
In terms of my typical workday, it all depends on priorities. On a weekly basis I am going to have one on ones with everybody who’s on my team to determine the biggest issues that have surfaced through their one on ones with their teams. As a CEO your role essentially shifts based on where the biggest problems are, and that’s what you go fix. So there are times where we need to hire people on the team and so a good chunk of my work is going to be focused on hiring. In a few months, we’ll be doing a fundraising round and so a lot of my time is currently spent preparing for that fundraising round. So my focus really shifts based on where I am needed most so in that sense my typical work day will change based on those priorities. There is however, a steady routine of a daily sync with any team that I have, and then a longer one on one session with each team member where we can go through their performance from the last week.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
The aspect that I find most challenging is the fact that the burden of responsibility tends to rise as you take on leadership roles. When you’re an individual contributor, you’ve got your problems throughout the day, you bring them to your manager, and then your manager accumulates all the problems they can’t solve and brings them to their manager, and you keep going up the chain. Once you are in a leadership position, you end up with all the issues that couldn’t be solved along the way up the chain but there is no where else to go with them and so you end up with everybody’s anxieties and problems on top of your own which in my case is looking at things like, we have x amount of cash in the bank account, which means we have X amount of runway, which means we have to hit these milestones, before we run out of cash and fail. If I share my worries and fears with the team, as much as they do with me, we’re gonna have a bunch of people who are operating with fear in the back of their mind which is not what you want. You need to build a team that has a sense of security and stability and so you accumulate everybody’s problems, but you don’t really have necessarily as much of a place to decompress. That is why I rely on the baseline routine I outlined previously because that can help you de stress and take the load off. It’s important to have intensity in other areas of your life which is why I do triathlons. It requires me to train several hours a day which forces me to decompress.
What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals (if you have any)?
Ultimately it is to build a wilder world.The idea is to restore 1% of the planet by 2030 by financing and certifying projects, to restore land all over the world.
Advice for the next generations
What are 3 key skills required in your position?
The three key skills would be courage, the ability to manage, and ensuring you understand your why. Courage is important because there’s a perception that entrepreneurs take risks and are more careless, or naive. I think part of that’s true, but I think a big part of it is the ability to take fear, to look at it and just be like, okay, I understand that there’s fear there and I will move past it anyways. It’s important to balance that with self awareness about the business and the situation it’s in. That way you can determine what’s feasible and what you’re going to be able to do but also have the courage to take risks, to do things that might not work while being conscious that they might not work. You can’t be successful in business if you are detached from reality so that last part is important. Secondly, the ability to manage teams is critical. Sometimes that means tough love and not being able to be friends with everyone while also recognizing the importance of building healthy working relationships with everyone on your team. You need to take on a mentorship role so that you can help your team develop as humans beyond just just the actual work they do.Thirdly, you need to know your why. You need to have a strong set of reasons as to why you’re doing what you’re doing. You need that because there are times where it does get tough, and you have to understand why you’re doing this in the first place.
Whether it’s from your own path or the ones from your colleagues and friends who have a similar profession, how important is it to have a specific degree to be able to work in your industry/profession?
I don’t think a specific degree is particularly important because there are so many things that you need to do when running a business that you will not be taught in school. School is important however because it will open doors and you will meet a lot of people that could be a part of your journey. In my case I met my co-founders at McGill and have subsequently hired many people who have come from McGill that I know through staying in touch with professors and the career center. The educational component of university is possibly one of the least important ones. The caveat there is technical fields. I went and did a master’s in biodiversity and ecosystem health afterwards and I thought that was super useful and so I would actually recommend most people not to do a business degree, but to do a degree in a technical field that is of their interest. I think it helps create rigor, and allows you to start to understand the scientific process at the start and to understand nuance. When you learn about science in the world through classes, and start reading the literature, you see that everybody disagrees with each other and that almost nothing is established. I think that that process of understanding things and just testing things out is a very enriching experience that gives you a very broad scope of what subjects you might like.
What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone you’re interviewing/working with?
I think that the energy that an applicant brings is one thing that is often underestimated by the applicant when they are going through the interview process. Often the person conducting the interviews is very busy and could be close to burnout so it’s refreshing to have somebody who’s bright eyed and brings that let’s go make this happen attitude. This is especially true in sustainability related fields. The next item seems really simple but it is super important. Make sure you read the job description and tailor your application. This includes all your correspondence, your CV, and your cover letter. Stop sending 400 CVS out and instead take 10 that you actually care about, and personalize them. I want to know who has actually taken the time to understand the job and what it entails so I will include things like asking them to include the square root of 81 at the end of their application because it is an easy way to determine who actually took the time to see if this job was for them by reading the job description. If I don’t see the answer at the bottom, I won’t even look at the application even if you are super qualified. If you cannot follow a very simple instruction for something as important as your entire career than it is unlikely that you really want to be here and make an impact.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career? If not, why and what is your best life or career advice for youth?
The thing I would do differently is take a different approach to how I am as a manager. Early on in my career I wanted to please people too much and then I overcorrected and became too focused on the work. I became focused on results in almost a robotic way. With time I have learned the importance of removing roadblocks that are stopping your team from doing their best work. That is your role as the manager. You set the direction, lay out the outcome that you are looking for in a clear and concise manner and then let them figure it out while you aim to remove the roadblocks in front of them that could hinder their work. That roadblock can sometimes be themselves and so your job becomes demonstrating that you believe in them and giving them the tools they need to succeed.