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Max Nova, Co-Founder of SilviaTerra

Max Nova, Co-Founder of SilviaTerra
Max Nova is the co-founder and COO of SilviaTerra. He has spent the last decade designing, building, and deploying precision forestry tools for some of the largest landowners in the US.

Max Nova is the co-founder and COO of SilviaTerra.  He has spent the last decade designing, building, and deploying precision forestry tools for some of the largest landowners in the US.  Using satellites, cloud computing, and mobile technology, SilviaTerra collaborated with Microsoft to develop the first high-resolution forest inventory of the United States.  This data is now informing markets for natural capital like carbon, wildlife habitat, and fire risk.  Born and raised in Louisville, KY, Max earned a degree in computer science from Yale University.

Max joins me today to discuss his early start to becoming a founder. He shares the core technology that is the center of the company. We talk about which came first, the mission or the technology. Max counters the criticism of some that don’t value a carbon exchange program. He also speaks to his reluctance of taking on outside investments and the benefits of not being too quick to fundraise. He shares his vision for the company in the years to come. Max shares some controversial advice in the startup community.

“I think it's much more important to say, Well, what are the types of problems I want to be working on, and to really focus on that. And so the reason I tell people not to do startups necessarily, is because I think you gain so much by being able to specialize and having an institutional overhead in place for you” - Max Nova

Today on Startups for Good we cover:

  • How to find the right co-founder
  • The benefits of having a co-founder
  • A carbon exchange program
  • What motivates major corporations to choose a carbon exchange program
  • The use of the technology to reduce wildfire risk
  • Building the team of a mission driven company
  • The increasing workforce in mission driven companies

Connect with Max on Twitter  and his company SilviaTerra or Max’s book recommendation website, books.max-nova.com

The books that Max recommended: The Power Broker by Robert Caro

The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

Getting Things Done by David Allen

More From Less by Andrew McAfee

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Transcript

Miles

Welcome to Startups for Good. Thank you so much for coming on.

Max

Absolutely, man. Happy to be here.

Miles

Yeah, I'm excited to dive in on SilviaTerra. But maybe the place to start is why did you decide to become a founder?

Max

Well, that is a good question. It's a tale that begins long ago in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up and actually started my first company in high school doing school administration software, which is a classic business people start in high school, but had learned how to write computer programs from a really incredible teacher. I was lucky to have grown up and Yeah, kind of kind of got the bug, you know, just building stuff that people were using out in the real world and haven't haven't really looked back since.

Miles

What happened with that company?

Max

Well, it died in the desert as as many companies do. But that was a good lesson, you know, sort of, fizzled out once we we all graduated from high school and went off to college. But at that point, you know, I, yeah, I mean, it's once you've sort of had a taste of doing that, it's it's hard to hard to go back. So that kind of gave me the confidence, though, to to start SilviaTerra when I was at Yale.

Miles

Any lessons that you took forward, aside from confidence?

Max

I, you know, I think actually, for that one, it was, we really worked unbelievably hard at that one, you know, especially because we were doing it around, you know, are already like pretty packed High School schedules. And, you know, everybody had a lot of things going on. But we were up until, you know, like, two o'clock in the morning, every, every night. Yeah, building that and sort of trying to get our first customers and call and you know, other schools in the district and stuff. You know, and it's just like, you have to work really hard, I think, for these things to even have a chance, even even a hope of taken off. So that was that. I mean, that's kind of stuck with me. We've been working working real hard at SilviaTerra now for 11 years. And it's just, yeah, it's a lot of work over a long period of time.

Miles

Yeah, take me back to the beginning of SilviaTerra. How did you meet your co founder?

Max

Yeah. So I, you know, I went to Yale, thought I was going to be pre med, and almost immediately had that beaten out of me by organic chemistry. And so suddenly, I had, I had my whole life ahead of me, and had to figure out, well, what was I going to do? And I was pretty mathematically oriented guy growing up. And I asked myself, I said, Well, you know, I'm not the smartest math guy. I know. But I'm pretty good. But there's just people that are in another league. So you know, probably not going to go into high frequency trading or anything, but where can I go and work on problems where there should probably be a fair bit of quantitative sophistication. But for whatever reason, there, there just isn't. And forestry is actually kind of towards the top of the list for those things. Because forests are, they're big, they're complicated. There's a lot of things going on in forests. And they're, they just tend to be very, very data poor, you know, no one really has great data about forests. And so it's kind of a natural place to end up at the School of Forestry, where I met my co founder who had invented the sort of core technology that we that we use. And so it was kind of random that I ended up you know, I wouldn't have never told you that I was going to spend the rest of my life counting trees. But here, here we are.

Miles

Here we are. And that core technology that Zack invented, was counting trees from space.

Max

Yeah, more or less is that Zach is my co founder. He grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, and went to Mississippi State and then off to Yale for grad school and Forestry. And his his dad actually is a rocket scientist at NASA. So is that Zach's kind of an odd combination of skills in one guy. And as part of his his research, he had basically developed a way to combine a big stack of satellite imagery from a bunch of different sensors from a bunch of different dates, and combine that with us a small amount of field measurements, to generate these really high resolution forest maps that you could use for helping inform forest management decisions in the communities he was working in. So like, you know, how does this village in Armenia balance the need for firewood in the wintertime with hillside stabilization and endangered species habitat and sort of all these complex questions, that that really should be informed by data? But yeah, right now, the status quo is just sending sending guys out into the woods with paper and pencil.

Miles

And how does this technology fit in? was it was it mission first, or was it technology first and then figure out the mission?

Max

It was it was definitely mission first. I mean, you know, for that, yeah, Armenian village, I was I was talking about Zack literally showed up out there and they had assured him that they had great data that he could use to you know, help. These these communities develop sustainable forest management plants. And he showed up and it was a, you know, they handed him the inventory. And it was a couple handwritten pages from, you know, Soviet foresters from the 70s. That said things like went on walk today, many pine few beach, you know, and stuff like that. It just you can't you can't start from that. And so for him, it was, you know, he was out there. And he's like, Oh, man. Now I got to figure out how how to get good data about forests across an enormous area, with almost no budget. And, you know, a couple, a couple local foresters that can help me out. And anything I can cobble together on my laptop. And so it really was a Yeah, being confronted with a pretty hairy, difficult problem and having to just, yeah, figure out some path forward.

Miles

And you worked on this for 11 years so far. And tell us a little bit about the twists and turns along the way?

Max

Sure, well, so when we started off, it was really about commercializing the core technology that Zach had, had developed to, like set count trees from space where, you know, for any any acre of forests, we could tell you the number and size and species of trees on that acre, and, you know, timber companies in the US use this to figure out, you know, sort of tactical decision making of, you know, where do I cut? Where do I plant? Where do I fertilize? Where do I build roads, all of these questions, that, that kind of pertain to day to day forest management. And so in the early years of our company was really about serving, serving those big landowners in the United States, you know, some some state and federal agencies, conservation groups, we worked with a lot, anybody that was using data to try to inform their forest management, so it's really just about selling the data. But when we, when we started the company, the dream was never to spend the rest of our lives counting trees, it was always how do we use this data to change the way forests are valued and managed, and really go beyond only valuing forests for timber production, you know, and having timber production, of course, is valuable, you know, like, we like to build houses out of timber, we'd like to have toilet paper, all of these things that come from forests. But forests are valuable for so much more than just the timber, their, you know, their habitat for wildlife, there's, you know, we want less wildfires going on, we want more water, filtration from forests, there's all of these values that we want more of or less of, on the forest. And we just don't have any great, any great lever to use to change what the landscape looks like. And so it's been really exciting for us over the last couple years has been to sort of close the loop, and use this data that we have to change the decisions people are making and the dollars that they get paid for making those decisions. And so that's initially manifested itself in using our data to drive forest carbon projects, you know, to help companies like Microsoft meet their net zero pledges, and Yep, so that's, that's kind of a new, a new direction for us. And it's exciting because that's, that's ultimately what we wanted to kind of build towards all along.

Miles

So say more about that you've had some big announcement recently about carbon exchange about Microsoft, maybe we'll start with what is a carbon exchange?

Max

Sure, well, so ultimately, the way this all works is a lot of big corporations have said have stepped up and said, you know, we are going to be carbon negative or carbon neutral or net zero, you know, there's a lot of words kind of bouncing around out there. But it all it all comes down to this idea that they emit carbon into the atmosphere through the regular course of their business operations. And, you know, they try to reduce that as much as they can. And then what they can't reduce, they want to offset or remove through purchasing carbon credits. So you know, somebody like, let's say, JetBlue, who flies airplanes, right, like, Well, as you know, you can reduce a lot of your emissions by doing things, but at a certain point, you know, you burn jet fuel to get from point A to point B. And so they might say, Okay, well, you know, we we burned, you know, so and so many million tons of carbon. And now we want to pay other people to remove that carbon that we emitted from the atmosphere so that we have a net zero impact. And so one of the powerful ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere is by growing trees. And so there's this entire, you know, kind of cottage industry of people that run forest carbon projects where you pay landowners to either plant trees, or to, you know, grow their trees longer. And so that that is ultimately what a carbon exchange does is it connects people that want to buy carbon credits with the landowners that have the ability to generate carbon credits.

Miles

So myself finding it too much to say like, a company pays the landowner not to cut down their trees.

Max

Yeah, well, that's one way of doing it. And you know, that sounds very simple. But there's plenty of ways that this can go wrong, too. I mean, there's a couple Bloomberg articles that have come out lately that really get into the question of, well, where are those landowners going to cut down their trees? Were they really, you know, or is this just greenwashing where you're paying people to do what you promised not to cut down trees that they were never going to cut down in the first place? And there's a Yeah, that becomes a pretty complicated question. But but a question that you can answer with, with data?

Miles

And how do you help with that?

Max

Well, you know, so timber economics is a pretty well understood field at this point. And so, you know, if you go to University of Georgia, for example, you'll take a timber economics 101 class, that goes through all the economics of you know, when do you plant trees? When do you harvest those trees? You know, sort of how long do you let trees grow before you cut them down, if you're trying to optimize the amount of money you make from that. And so, you know, don't don't necessarily need to drag through all the details of like timber net present value calculations or anything. But the point is, is that if you if you know, the site that the tree is planted on, if you know how far it is, from a mill, if you know the growth rates of those trees, if you know the sizes and species of those trees, you can generally actually get a pretty good, a pretty good estimate of what you know, when a landowner is likely to harvest their timber. And so that's, that's what we do is we use our high resolution forest data to model out the harvesting behavior on every single acre of America. And we use that to assess Well, you know, was this landowner likely to harvest their timber or not?

Miles

And what do you say to people who question is this somehow continuing to do a bad thing in one place? And can you really make up for it by doing a good thing somewhere else?

Max

Sure, sure. Well, you know, I mean, that our society emits carbon, that's, that just kind of is is a fact of life. There's lots of things that we we want to have happen that have some environmental impact, whether it's its carbon or something else. And I think the the real question for us is, well, how do we get the the landscape that we want? How do we get the atmosphere that we want? And there's some things that that go in the wrong direction, and there's some things that go in the right direction? And the question is, how do we make the things that go in the right direction as, as cost effective and as easy to do as as possible? And that's really what we're, we were pretty heavily focused on.

Miles

And so a company like Microsoft, when they're buying these carbon credits, on your exchange? What motivates them?

Max

Yeah, well, sure. I mean, you know, I think there's a lot of reasons why why companies buy carbon offsets, you know, I mean, some of them like Microsoft, or have just taken really sort of visionary leadership positions on this. And they said, you know, we kind of see the way that this is going, and we we want to be leaders on this, and we want to do the right thing. Yeah, and I think actually, a company like Microsoft also sees that, you know, this is potentially a transformative, whole new category of business, really, in this kind of environmental, environmental markets, you know, one of the things that their chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa, talks about a lot is this idea of a planetary computer, you know, in the planetary computer, that that's kind of got Microsoft written all over it, you know, and so I think there's some companies that are just very visionary, that that are really leading into what they see as, as where the future of all this stuff is going. You know, and other other companies, you know, have shareholders that demand, you know, certain environmental performance, you know, some people have it as a really important part of their supply chain. You know, some people are very climate vulnerable supply chains. That, and then, you know, and some people are, are very under the public eye on on their environmental record. And, you know, you know, there's a lot of different reasons why why people choose to do carbon offsets? I don't think it would be. Yeah, there's not a simple answer to that one, because the world is a is a complicated place.

Miles

Right. You've recently announced also raising a round from venture capitalists, and I'm curious how you've thought about fundraising through the history of the company. Sure.

Max

Yeah. Well, so that was that was really one of our first big outside capital raises when when we started the company, actually, I was I was pretty opposed to ever taken money from outside sources. And so as a result of that, we really grew pretty slowly over the first 10 years of the company, you know, adding about a person a year and I think actually that was the right thing. approach for us. I mean, it forced us to be very, very lean, very thoughtful and focused on doing things that provided real value that people would pay us real dollars for. And, and it allowed us to really prove out the technology in all these different areas of the country over the years and really develop relationships with a lot of the big land owning companies in the United States. And then what changed is, you know, it seems, it seems so long ago now, but it was literally only 12 months ago, that Microsoft made their carbon neutral commitment. And said, you know, that they were going to be carbon negative, over the lifetime of the company. And that kind of set off this parade of other corporate netzero commitments. And so suddenly, there was this enormous willingness to pay for these non timber forest values. And we had the ability to measure every acre every year and to begin to quantify and pay for that impact on the landscape for every landowner. And so suddenly, you know, we were in the right place at the right time with the right tools and technology. And, you know, just to keep up with demand, we had to grow a lot faster than we could organically. And, yes, that that's really what spurred us to start going out. And then we were really fortunate to get connected Albert, over at Union Square ventures and Angela Tran over at Version One, who both immediately got what we were trying to do, you know, and neither one of them actually is a sort of a conventional impact investor or anything, they're, they're a little bit more market driven. And for them, what really resonated was this, this narrative of planetary scale market failure, where we do a really terrible job of measuring and paying for all of the values that forests provide, you know, we do an okay job of paying for timber, because you know, you cut down a tree and roll it across the scale at a mill, and you can get paid by the ton. And it's easy for buyers and sellers to see what's being transacted. But all this carbon and wildlife habitat and all this other stuff that happens out in the woods, it's historically been much more difficult to measure and pay for value. And, you know, they both believe that measurements, make markets, we get the measurements, right, and now we can can build a market on top of that. And so yeah, it was just this confluence of timing and having the right technology and the market really being ready for this, that that led us to the decision to raise.

Miles

And I notice, it's called the natural capital exchange. So it seems like you've got room to grow into other areas. Do you have plans for that?

Max

Yeah, absolutely. So you know, we're starting with carbon because carbon is, it's easy, compared to things like wildfire risk, or things like wildlife habitat metrics. But carbon is really hot right now, there's a lot of people that want to buy carbon. But if we just focus on carbon, we're gonna have the same market failure that we had when we were just focusing on timber. You know, ultimately, the question is, how do we balance all of these values across the landscape, and they're not all mutually compatible? For example, carbon is actually opposed to wildfire mitigation in parts of California, because you want to actually reduce the fuel load on certain acres. And so to me, that's one of the the kind of fascinating data challenges of all this is to say, you know, how do we actually coordinate all this activity across the landscape in these complex real world systems? And we think that markets are a pretty reasonable technology for doing so.

Miles

Can you explain a little bit more, you're saying wildfires are a way to reduce the risk of future fires? Or sorry, oh, no.

Max

Yeah, sorry. So the, you know, you have trees out there in California. And it seems like every other year now, there's a catastrophic wildfire that burns up a ton of trees. And we want less wildfires, I think everybody would, would agree, or we certainly want fewer catastrophic wildfires, maybe, maybe more smaller fires is is okay. But you know, we want to reduce this catastrophic wildfire risk across the landscape. But to achieve that, you may actually have to cut down some trees, you may actually have to reduce the amount of carbon in certain places on the landscape to achieve this other value, which is wildfire risk reduction, you know, and so it's, it's not the case that there is never any conflict between these other non timber values out in the forest, you know, something that might be good for carbon might be bad for wildfire risk, might be bad for, you know, elk habitat, you know, there's all sorts of things that interplay and so there's a constant balance to be achieved out there.

Miles

Makes sense. So going back to the venture capitalists investing, what has changed and what needs to change in a company when you bring in that kind of outside investment?

Max

Sure, well, things are certainly changing fast. I mean, I hired five people into our company of 10 last month. So that, you know, certainly feels like riding the tiger over here. But it's an exciting thing for us. I mean, we thought we were going to be where we are now, two years into starting the company, Zach and I have always been, I think, pretty aggressive. And, you know, Zach has certainly had this vision of what the future forestry could look like. And it it the the market just wasn't ready for that when we started. And so I think we did a good job of staying lean, over these last 10 years. But now that we've raised money, what's really exciting is it's allowed us to get out of the trenches a little bit, and stop chasing, you know, small contracts. And to say, Well, this is ultimately what we really want to build. And there's people that are ready to pay for that now that are in a completely different league, from the the size of contracts that we were thinking about before. And so it's, yeah, it's just a much, much faster pace. it's a little hard to pin down any one thing that's changing because everything is changing, which is, which is fine. I mean, the core technology remains the same. But we're investing a lot more now in building out sales and building out marketing, in thinking about, you know, OKRs, and you know, all of these things that you have to do when you start to have a more complicated and larger organization. So it's been, yeah, it's been fun. And we're only a couple months in. So here we go.

Miles

Yeah. And what do you now see as your vision, two years out five years out?

Max

Yeah. Well, you know, at the thing I find myself saying to this SylviaTerra team all the time these days is that ultimately, we want to be working with every landowner on every acre for every value every year, which is this this enormous, grand, beautiful vision, and we have several lifetimes of work in between us and victory on that. But that's kind of our North Star, where I think if we get that, right, you know, we'll be able to, you know, society will be able to get the landscape that they're willing to pay for, which is, I think, ultimately, what a big tool in the toolbox that we're missing right now. And so right now, we're starting with carbon in the US south. But ultimately, we want to add these other values like biodiversity, we want to expand geographically. And so there's some question of sequencing and prioritization for all that. But the overall vision is, is the same. Yeah, just that every landowner every acre, every value every year,

Miles

And you've mentioned the team a couple of times, I'm curious how being mission driven as a company has helped you, with your team?

Max

Yeah, well, you know, I think the it's actually kind of interesting now, because we certainly have the the original crew of SilviaTerras. Yeah, the 10 people that have been with us for a long, long time. And our team, our original team is very, very technical. You know, half the team is essentially, forest data scientists, more or less. And, and these are people for whom, SilviaTerra is the single greatest company on the face of planet Earth, they could work for, I think, you know, we really are leading a lot of innovation in the field of forest measurement and monitoring and forest economics around that. So that's been great. And then on all of our new hires, what's been really exciting is there are all these people in the tech world, or the finance world, that are at this point in their lives now, where they're saying, you know, I feel like I want to work on something that is more than just moving some bits around, you know, I feel like, what am I going to tell my grandkids, when, you know, 50 years from now, Florida is underwater, and they're like, Well, why did you know what what what did you do to stop that? And? Yeah, a lot of people will, I've actually been shocked at the the quality of people that have been coming in the door for some of these positions that we have open right now. Because there there's just a, a big shift, it feels like in a lot of people's mentality about what they want to spend their lives working on.

Miles

So where do you think that's coming from?

Max

You know, I think it's a combination of things. I mean, the climate stuff has been building for a while. You know, it's in it's in politics, it's in the media, it's a little bit hard to escape from, honestly. You know, and I think it's just a bit of a generational thing to where people are trying to figure out what they're, what they're, where they get meaning from, in life once they've sort of satisfied some of the basics. Yeah, I don't know. It's a little hard to put my finger on really

Miles

What have been some of the biggest challenges in building the company?

Max

Well, there have been many, there have been 11 years of challenges, I'd say, you know, not nothing individually really jumps out the thing that I find myself saying to other people thinking about starting a company, I actually often recommend that smart people don't start companies, which is a little bit of a controversial position within in the startup community. Because so it's not that anything is hard. It's that all the small things are hard, you know, you got to get all the small things right all the time, otherwise, things start to blow up. And, you know, I think back on the 11 years that we've been doing Silvia Tara, it's like, what what, what percentage of that time? Has have I really been using full brainpower solving really hard, creative problems, it's like, well, maybe a year or two, you know, that's like 10 or 20%, you know, out of 11 years, that's, that's really not much time. And all the rest of it has really just been basics of blocking and tackling getting the small things right. Getting the easy things, right, and that that's been the hard part. You know, and then also just sticking with it through the the rollercoaster of all this. I mean, this is where I think having a really strong co founder, helps out a lot. You know, I've been very fortunate to have Zack who's our CEO, and my co founder, you know, he and I, over the years, it's like, Zach's like a brother to me at this point, you know, and we've we've both looked into the abyss, we've each had our ups and downs, luckily, the downs have mostly avoided coming at the same time, so that that helps. And, yeah, it's just been a long journey, for sure.

Miles

Yeah, I think this is a core part of having a co founder. And I want to underscore it, that you tend actually to cycle emotionally at different times, even though you'd think it would be well correlated. Sometimes things that are happening with a business can impact you, but you really do help each other sort of smooth out the, the ups and the downs by like having more of a you're not exactly happy, or sad. At the same time, I think it makes a big difference. Absolutely. Now, you you're saying you advise people not to start a company? What should they be doing instead?

Max

Well, I think, you know, I talk about this a lot with my siblings who are kind of trying to figure out, you know, what they do in their careers and lives, and I think there's a couple different approaches that people can take. And I think a mistake that a lot of people have is they say, I want to be a CEO, or I want to be, you know, some positional thing. And to me, the position that you you have is, you know, it feels good for a little while, and then you kind of got to get back to doing what you're supposed to be doing there in the first place. And, and so, to me, I think it's much more important to say, Well, what are the types of problems I want to be working on, and to really focus on on that. And so the reason I tell people not to do startups necessarily, is because I think you gain so much by being able to specialize and having an institutional overhead in place for you. So you don't have to worry about things like payroll, or like setting up the email system, or like, you know, any of that type of stuff, you can say, Well, what I really care about is, you know, education in Appalachia, or, you know, hunger in, you know, Sub Saharan Africa, or like, whatever it is, right? Like somebody, this is not a new idea, right? There are very few new ideas under the sun, it's like, go find somebody that's already doing this, and, and slot in there and like, just crush it, like do a great job. And you'll you'll probably actually have a much greater impact. And you'll probably be happier, because you don't have to incur all the brain damage to get everything set up and all that institutional stuff that's not actually pointed at that the subject matter that you care about.

Miles

That is unusual advice to get from an entrepreneur. I agree with you somewhat controversial. I'm glad you shared that. I also do agree that it's important to get really clear about what is the problem that you care about? And why exactly are you starting something new? Why not join or support or give your ideas away to someone else to execute? And I think the truth is, you know that a lot of people have other motivations besides just that problem at hand. They they want to learn about business, or they want to build something themselves. And and I think if you're honest about those motivations, I don't think there's anything wrong with them. But I do encourage people to at least be honest with themselves about it. I'm curious about your, your reading. you're someone who reads way more than the average person and is that kind of a hobby to the side or do you think that helps you in your work,

Max

It undoubtedly helps in the workout, I should maybe give a little bit of context here, you know, I read 100 books a year, I'm kind of a book maniac. And I tried to do a different theme every year, just to keep things, things fun and expose myself to new ideas and stuff. But for me, it actually really came down to how I grew up, you know, and this is one of the things that I probably need to give my mom a big hug next time I see her and thank her for this, but it's, you know, my mom is the one that really encouraged me and all my siblings to start reading a lot when we were very young. Not always by choice, perhaps. But you know, that's, that's part of being a parent, I suppose. And, you know, for me, books were just such an important part of growing up. And I really got hooked early on, on just new worlds out there in books and learning how the world works. I mean, to me, that's what really drives my reading of all this stuff, is I just love figuring out how the world works and how humans work. And, and it's an infinite amount of learning you can do about all that stuff. And so to me, when it's the decision is, Oh, do I go out to a party? Or do I watch something on on Netflix? Or, you know, whatever, my default is almost always read a book, because that's, that's where the answers are for, you know, for a lot of things, not for everything. But on a, on a time spent per knowledge game basis. I think it's, it's tough to do better than reading great books.

Miles

So do you have any to recommend?

Max

Oh, absolutely. I mean, what what genre are we talking about? Well, that's maybe not a fair question to ask in a in a podcast format. But let me let me give maybe some of my all time favorites and maybe some oddballs. The Power Broker by Robert Moses or not by Robert Moses, it's about Robert Moses, it's by Robert A Caro is I think, hands down the single greatest book I've ever read. It is a doorstop of a book, but it is it is phenomenal about how things actually got done in New York in the early 1900s. from, you know, it's a biography of the guy that basically built modern New York. Unbelievable, a great book.

Miles

I enjoyed reading it, and somehow I made it through because it's just so captivating. I don't know how he makes the story of this one guy's life. So interesting. But part of what he weaves in is a talk about how you actually exercise power in a democracy. And it's not always pretty, but it's fascinating.

Max

Well, I believe the answer was ignore the democracy for Robert Moses, which is the same way it works in some other places right now to you know, and then maybe an oddball pick here is one of the books that has really stuck with me on an emotional level in the past couple years is this book called The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy, who's a Great Southern author, and it's about it's a semi autobiographical novel about his time at the Citadel, which is this sort of infamous Military Academy in South Carolina, in Charleston. And it's, that is great book. Yeah, so I could talk about books all day. But those are two, two good ones, a fiction and a nonfiction.

Miles

Any, any book that you would recommend on the topic of either climate or entrepreneurship?

Max

Yeah, well, I'll do reverse order on that one on entrepreneurship, probably the single most important book to read is this book called Getting Things Done by David Allen, which is, you know, he does, he does look kind of like an 80s banker, but the man is a productivity genius. that's a that's a book that I think has probably changed more lives, especially in the software engineering field than just about any other book out there is just a really great framework for thinking about breaking things down into manageable tasks and getting things done, which is an important thing for for startup founders.

Miles

We didn't coordinate on this, but that is a book that I've read three times, and there are many, right?

Max

Yeah, well, you know, you can probably get 80% of the value from the Wikipedia page. But the tough thing is to actually do it in real life. And then on climate, I've got another contrarian pick, just because I like being contrarian on all this stuff. There's a really smart MIT economist called Andrew McAfee, who wrote a book called More From Less, which is all about the dematerialization of the economy. And the dematerialization of production generally, like there's a ton of really surprising stats and they're like, we we are actually post peak timber in the United States like we we actually are consuming less every year on an aggregate basis, not on a per capita basis on an aggregate basis. we're consuming less timber and pulp than we were 10 years ago, which is which is kind of wild to think about. You know, even as As population and GDP continue to go up and to the right, and so, you know, I just love books like this where somebody sits down and they actually do the math. And they they say, like, well, what actually is happening out there, across the landscape. And it's a book that, I think is clear eyed about some of the risks of climate change, and, and the negative impacts there, but also offers a sort of unusually optimistic perspective on the ability of human beings to creatively solve problems and intelligently allocate resources if we get the price signals correct.

Miles

And are you optimistic about the direction of environmental impact in general?

Max

I think so. I mean, I think that I think that human beings are incredibly resilient. And, and we have the ability to adapt and change as, as the environment changes around us. I mean, that, you know, one of the things actually that I think it's McAfee or it might actually be in David Deutsch, Beginning of Infinity book points out is they said, Well, hey, like, we already are heavily modifying our environment and adapting our civilization to to live on this planet. You know, if you if you dropped me, stark naked in the Great Rift Valley, we're all human civilization started and left me on my own, I'd probably be dead inside of like, 10 days. The reality is, is that across the planet, we actually have that we have adapted and changed and built tools that allow us to cope with with the environment. And so I don't see any reason to expect that we, we won't be able to do that. Now. We do need a sort of keep our eye on things. Right. And it'll be more expensive in the future if we do a bad job now. But I actually don't think there's a probably an existential risk for all of humanity, I think. Yeah, I think we have an opportunity, though, to do a lot better than we're doing now.

Miles

Great. I think that's a wonderful big picture place to end. Except for I'd love to ask Where can people follow you online?

Max

Sure. Yeah, I've I think, yeah, I set up a Twitter I think I'm MaxNova90. But all the interesting stuff probably comes from our company handle it SilviaTerra, and then I'm a huge book nerd. So yeah, I've run a little book review site called books.max-nova.com. And, yeah, I'm always looking for a good book wreck. So if you got any, let me know.

Miles

All right. Thanks so much for coming on.

Max

Absolutely. Thanks, Miles.