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Nathaniel Manning, CEO of Kettle

Nathaniel Manning, CEO of Kettle
Nathaniel is the co-founder and COO of Kettle, a machine-learning-powered reinsurer that protects people from increasing climate change crises. Nathaniel previously led Ushahidi, the world’s largest open source data platform for crisis response

Nathaniel is the co-founder and COO of Kettle, a machine-learning-powered reinsurer that protects people from increasing climate change crises. Nathaniel previously led Ushahidi, the world’s largest open source data platform for crisis response. There he helped scale the Ushahidi platform to over 200 countries gathering over 10M first hand reports. Previous to that he was a Presidential Innovation Fellow for Open Data, and then the first Chief Data Officer of the US Agency for International Development, where he helped open up and analyze large data sets for humanitarian response. He has been part of the founding teams of technology startups like BRCK and FellowAI and is on the board of Project Wayfinder.

Nathaniel joins me today to discuss his path from Ushahidi to forming his own company, Kettle. We learn more about crowdsourcing information and why Ushahidi’s timing was fruitful. Nathaniel shares with us the types of funding that Usahidi looked into and the benefits and pitfalls of each. I ask him for his input on how would he change the funding system for tech nonprofits. Nathaniel speaks to how his time with the government at USAID prepared him for the CEO role at Ushahidi. We also learn about Nathaniel’s passion for insurance and the beauty of insurance in its purest form.

“That's the impact you're really making is that sort of financial safety net there to let people who get hurt from these, acts of God, whether it's a hurricane or a fire, which, like I said, sadly, or there's only more and more of that they're protected, and that our communities are protected.”

- Nathaniel Manning

Today on Startups for Good we cover:

  • How Ushahidi fostered creativity amongst the employees
  • The challenges of running a big tech non-profit
  • Building business development teams
  • Dealing with misconduct in leadership as a CEO

Connect with Nathaniel on Twitter or Kettle’s website and his own personal website

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Miles

Welcome to startups for good. So glad to have you on the show.

Nat

Thanks for having me, Miles.

Miles

I'm really excited to dive in you have such an interesting and varied background, working across government, NGO, and now for profit startups. I'm so curious about the themes that you see between those, the differences, and how you have walked this journey of so many mission driven organizations. So I'm almost overwhelmed of where to start? I think I think what would be most interesting given that we have a strong connection around mapping for social good, you with Ushahidi me with SeeClickFix, perhaps that's where we start, I'd love to hear how you got involved a little bit more about the organization? And then I'll have some questions for you.

Nat

Yeah, absolutely. And thanks again, for having me. Psyched to be here. So it was Ushahidi, it was late 2011. And I was just moved to the Bay Area, and was in one of these programs all about how our technology was gonna solve all the problems in the world, you know, all the all the big problems, like water, and energy, and all these kind of things. And, and a lot of these problems were facing sort of the developing world, particularly, and there were a lot of great speakers at this event, at this program. But, you know, one of them really struck me it was, it was Giuliana Rhotich to one of the co founders of Ushahidi. As someone who really, you know, in that classic design, thinking type mentality of, you know, you gotta you want to know your user know, the problem. This was someone who actually was, was from the developing world from Kenya, and had developed a technology company, organization that was that was solving problems there. And that was, you know, breaking ground and doing something that nobody else had had done in the rest of the world. And I just, I thought that was really inspiring. At the intersection of things that I was working on, and wanted to work on such these technologies, they were solving big problems in the world. And, and so instead of, you know, going off and trying to create my own thing at that time I, I said, Hey, Giuliana, what could I do to help you and being that I was in an open source software company in an organization, I started volunteering and doing work, and then was asked to come join Ushahidi to lead the business development Business Strategy Team, and really think about a monetization process for this tool that was not ad based, was open source, and predominantly served, you know, those in need. So that was a very challenging and really exciting challenge, you know, how do you do this when you're not going to sell licenses, and you're not going to sell ads, which is 99.9% of technology is finance. So I thought that seemed like an exciting prospect, and so joined the team at the end of 2011. And was was more or less involved with Ushahidi until until 2019, with a couple other stops along the way. But that was really powerful was just drawn by the mission to help you know, marginalized people raise their voice and get the help they need.

Miles

And it started out of a disputed presidential election, right?

Nat

That's exactly right. It started you know, Ushahidi is a is a tool to essentially let you understand what's happening on the ground. It's it's a, it's a crowdsourcing software platform model architecturally similar to sort of WordPress every, every deployment is a word, we use deployment instead of blog or website and everyone's its own instance. And what you're essentially doing is crowdsourcing information from people as well as trying to find the signal through the noise of social media. So you're originally you know, looking at RSS feeds, SMS, email, Twitter, etc. And then geo locating and timestamping to understand what happened when and where. And it's now been used over 200,000 times and predominantly for sort of many different ways. The way a blog can be written about many different things. But the three most well known ones are election monitoring, crisis response, and and human rights reporting. And, and that's partly because that very first instance, that very first use by Giuliana, by Eric by David by Ori the founders was in 2008, in Kenya, and Ushahidi, by the way, means witness or testimony in Swahili. And they, they were all bloggers. And the the election is very close, extremely close, it was a disputed election. And so then the two sides begin to end the fight. And essentially, there was a bunch of human rights abuses during that time. 1000s of people killed and I think about 600,000 people displaced, and in what was a very, sort of a shining star of democracy on the African continent had this this really troubled election. And so the citizens took it upon themselves to say, what what's happening on the ground? How do we keep people safe and, and be able to create a transparent record of what's happening here?

Miles

Right. And I think we started SeeClickFix, about the same time that Ushahidi got started. And I wonder what it was that caused these kinds of mapping with a open, crowd sourced feel to them these sort of mapping tools to get going, and I wonder if it was something about the availability of GIS tools opening up being better API's? Do? You know?

Nat

It's a great question. I mean, I think that's part of it. You know, I think I think you're right, like the ability to suddenly put data onto a map was, was a little bit now it's incredibly easy, but you know, it's just a little bit easier than that compared to time before. I mean, I think the other thing, you know, even that was still kind of early days of, you know, mapping being something was much more of an academic product, like as we write  to, to becoming something that was, you know, you started, you know, like having Google maps out there. And, but you know, that I think the other thing that was happening at that time, too, right? is me, it was just, it's it's all sort of changed now. But it was that those very early days of social media and, and, and social media, I think, at the time was really being seen as this, you know, this force for good. And, you know, getting voices that were traditionally unheard. And the ability to kind of find that signal through the noise there and get up, raise those new voices was was really inspiring. So I think that was part of part of the Zeitgeist moment as well.

Miles

Mm hmm. And what were some of the biggest challenges of running a tech nonprofit?

Nat

Yeah, I think, you know, I think one of the challenges, I mean, certainly, certainly one of the hardest things, I think, is, is what what happens kind of in any of these organizations that are trying to be impact driven, but also be able to keep the lights on. Right. And there's, there's different pathways to achieve that into your first question. It's something that I've spent a career sort of looking at and thinking about from different perspectives. But you know, being structured as a nonprofit, but but being essentially a tech company ran with 30 people that were, you know, two thirds engineers, and that the challenges were often, you know, how are we doing, and making more impact but struggling with being able to make enough money and saying, hey, I want to be able to give this product away for free, or, but I don't want to, I don't want to cook like we can't collect data on on this community of people to be able to serve the mats, that's not going to work or it's open source. So we're not going to be able to license the product. So how are we going to be able to essentially fund ourselves enough to keep the product working and updated? And, you know, folks, no technology goes stale, goes stale very quickly. So you have to constantly be keeping it up to date and working. So how do you just fund that and finance that core work to be able to grow and make make more impact and then but also do that in a in a sustainable way that is fair and equitable?

Miles

What were the methods that you considered aside from straight donation? Did you look at dual licensing?

Nat

Yeah, we looked at we looked at everything and and played with a lot of a lot of stuff. And learned a lot, a lot. So I, I think so one of the main ways we were funded over time, and I kind of graph this differently over time. So the beginning it was predominantly foundation based funding, particularly, you know, foundations that were excited by innovation by technology being used in the traditional kind of humanitarian and development fields. So that was sort of the main one. And then but those grants, right, they, they, they, they disappear over time, even, you know, you might have a six year grant, we, you know, kind of six years of funding from some of these fun foundations. But foundations are, typically don't want to fund over, you know, decades. That's not their goal. And so they kind of get you there, and then, and then you hit a cliff. And so, you know, we were early on this, this path of kind of social innovation, social entrepreneurship. And we were always going to driving to how to build a sustainable business model. And I think there's a couple of different ways to go about this, you either stay on the nonprofit path, and where essentially, what you really need to do is work on, I think, your impact metrics. And so you become into the business of, for lack of a better word selling impact metrics to foundations, which is what they're in the business of funding. And to do that, you need to have like, really irrefutable evidence like randomized controlled trials, etc. Or you go the more social impact path, where you basically build out a business development team, and try to sell your product or a version of your product and build a revenue model. And that is possible. But there's a handful of different things that can be challenging around that. So we built a new Ushahidi, a, essentially what's called a value added services model, modeled off of WordPress, really, or automatic. And you can imagine there, what we were doing was, you'd have, you know, the hosted version of the platform with extra features and functionality and support. Or you could have, you know, an entire contract, where you're doing essentially all of the work to host it, manage it, customized features, and even programmatic work in partnership. And those those deals is what we kind of was the next phase of the organization, which was doing a lot of the sort of technological cross product development in the sort of traditional development sector or humanitarian sector. So we would be doing doing projects or selling software, essentially, to the Red Cross, to the UN, to, to USA ID projects. And some of those could be huge contracts over periods of time, where we were actually doing the work itself, like maybe running an election monitoring project or, or something like that. Or we'd be selling the software and all of its value added services to, to, like, an NGO. And and I think the hard thing in that sector was that the the service providing system, you know, you worked at SeeClickFix, and you were focused on sort of municipalities, we did venture a little into that area had a couple of contracts and deals one with Pierce County outside of Seattle, but um, but we just didn't, that wasn't our sweet spot, right, you know, people see, I think, see the word Ushahidi you know, the instances in the in the versions of the tool often used kind of more globally. And so it was just not not the right product market fit for us necessarily, even though no, we maybe could have gotten in there, although I think we would have been maybe in a lot more competition. But if that was the case, but we we kind of learned how to serve this, this development sector and essentially, you know, became what is his service providers to the sector, the way that most SASS companies are service providers to some sector. And I think one of the biggest challenges and something that I kind of spent a lot of time trying to get loud about is that the ability for the development sector, the traditional NGO, humanitarian development sector, to procure software, and procure technologies is very broken in the same way and that I think it is in in government as well. And that was that was really challenging, long term, even though we were I think, serving a great product often it was just the the challenges to be able to, to buy SASS and get over what I call kind of the the technology for good sort of valley of death, which is taken from you know, often people talk about it in kind of the clean tech space, you know, how do you fund something enough to get over to the point where, where solar is as cheap as coal, for instance, or something which we're almost there, or perhaps there in many parts othe world. But in Yeah, and same thing in this this kind of nonprofit technology world you got to be able to get to the point where you're you're having a sustainable business. that's running and confined to the core operations.

Miles

If you had a magic wand, how would you change that procurement system or the overall funding system for tech nonprofits?

Nat

So for tech driven nonprofits, that are, you know, think of themselves in that kind of innovative social innovation, social entrepreneurship space, two things so for for foundations funding into this space, the truth is, the foundations have to look at it a lot more. Like, like venture capital. And essentially, I think, unfortunately, this isn't always the case, by any means. I think there's a lot of a lot of exceptions to this rule, but but I do, I do hear this a lot and see it a lot. Too often, triple bottom line can mean three times the work for one third the amount of money, and that, and I think often it's because of the way money flows, right. And so, you know, folks, in foundations or, or procurement areas, they might look at and say, This isn't a, this isn't really our money, it's the foundation's money, it's someone else's money, I'm grant manager, and until there's just a lot of, I can't afford to screw this up. Whereas obviously, you know, in the VC world, like, everyone knows that nine out of 10, things are gonna fail. Totally fine. That's expected. And so people are just make faster decisions. And I just kind of will get it, we raised a for profit round recently. And I mean, the due diligence processes on those, not that they were just so much faster, and and allowed kind of the people to just get to work so much more quickly than, you know, times where I would spend nine months doing grant applications and due diligence for, for funds. And in, you know, procurement as well, often when it comes back to, you know, taxpayer money, if it's through USA ID or state, any sort of state budget, I mean, there's just the amount of amount of amount of hurdles, you have to jump there. And it's, it really does slow progress. The other thing that gets really hard there, right is like this, this split, where you're, you're your customer, are the people you're serving, but they're not paying you. Whereas your your client is the foundation, and that's who's giving you the money. And, and it's really hard sometimes sometimes that works fine. But sometimes those incentives are misaligned. And so the job, I think, for the social entrepreneur, in this case, is to work really hard to keep those incentives aligned. And then like one of the last things I would say is I think there's there's a ton of money for sort of new ideas, and very little money for sort of scaling, proven ideas, that generally what I found in this space, at least comparatively, right, and the expectations are just much different. So a lot of folks to look at a scaling grant will be a 500 k grant. I mean, in as folks know, most most of the time, companies have to raise, I think the number is like 20 for profit companies, you know, serving the richest people in the world with the most dispensable income, you know, or raising $22 million before they get anything close to being in the black. The idea that you could be doing something that's working on poverty alleviation, you know, some of the hardest problems in the world and get to scale and be financially sustainable with you know, 500 k, even $2 million. It's just not it's just not feasible. I mean, the the reality is you really some of these scaling grants need to be considerably larger.

Miles

When you think about where their massive budgets, I think about government, and you worked at USA idea, if I understand correctly, so what did that experience do to inform your perspective here?

Nat

That's right. Yeah. I was lucky enough to be part of the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows back in 2012-2013. It was a really exciting program about bringing technologists into into the US federal government. So we were out of the Office of Science Technology Policy. And I worked on open data for for USA ID and for the global development sector and and then stayed on to kind of be the the first interim chief data officer at USA ID. And I mean, some of my insights there. As far as you know, making an impact. So first, the first thing I would say is something that, at the time, the US CTO, a guy named Todd Park, who were, who was really in charge of this, this program helped, helped create it said, and it stuck with me, which is that impact, particularly looking at it in the government, or well, impact is a is a is a force equation. So impact is equal to the volume, the amount of the mass rather, the size of something times the velocity, and that the bigger something is the the harder it is to turn. But if you can, and so we talked about now in government, the federal government, right is, is one of the biggest things in the world, as you just say, it's like one of the largest budgets there is. So it's really hard to move, it's really unwieldly. But technology is one of the fastest things in the world. So if you can bring technology and that philosophy to that mass and use technology that just move it even a little bit, the potential impact is is huge, just huge. And that really stuck with me. Because and I think it's true. And my experience there is, is that it is true, it is a very, it's unwieldly, it's very hard to move. But, but when you do it, it can really change the lives of millions, if not billions, of people. So one, one example of that my focus with a guy said was on was on open data. And at the time, that did not mean that I was, you know, a brilliant engineer building anything. It meant entirely, you know, the acts of politics. And, you know, when I was running around saying open data at the time, you know, what that standard practice was, was that pretty much everything in was, was PDS and, you know, like, there what, when we said open data, people are like, oh, but we, you know, we publish our, our finances, we were very transparent about that it's required by Congress, it's here. So yeah, but you know, USAID, you guys $20 billion more than 30 $30 billion entity, you fund all these amazing programs around the world. They're predominantly contracted out to the, to these other organizations, who, who maintain all that, but then you get back a PDF report, you know, I would often say it's kind of like, kinda like a production house funding James Cameron to make Avatar, he gets to keep the movie, and he hands you a black and white flip book 1,000,000,002 billion dollars for it, you know, it's like, come on, like your, your the money, just, you know, and, and some of it was just even like, well, we don't even have the systems to take that data, like, we receive everything over email, there's a 25 megabyte cap on it. All right, well, we got to figure that out. So how do we build something that just allows you to take back a huge data set? You know, obviously, there's a lot of care around security of data and all that, and that's extremely important. But, but generally, you gotta, we got to be able to like that. You can see it, the tables are right there. Oh, my God, all this amazing research was done. But, but but where is it, I'm just reading this, this PDF, which is essentially modeled after, you know, at the time, it was essentially a model for like a Dewey Decimal System library, right, you'd search the title of PDFs. And that's what you could get online from, from this incredible data resource. I mean, just give me an idea. I mean, one of the programs was, was, was paying people to go to almost every market in Sub Saharan Africa and check on a weekly basis, the change in price of food, I mean, that that data set was so unbelievably powerful for understanding the potential for famine, the impact on poverty, right. And that was being done over like a 10 year period. And you just, you know, you had a PDF put out every year with the data was like, Oh, my gosh, this, this was an API that people could access and like, build stuff off of what, what what could be done. So that's what that's what we focused on was was trying to, you know, it was basically just a war on PDFs is what I said, but was building out, you know, data.gov and getting data sets up there and putting them into API formats and doing all the infrastructure and plumbing to get that done, as well as the you know, the policy work.

Miles

Right. Thank you for that. Now, going back to Ushahidi I'm curious how you became CEO there from volunteer all the way up.

Nat

Yeah, I started off as volunteer, as I said, came in and worked on the business side of stuff. had an incredible team. And I always then went, went to work in this program in the White House and really enjoy, it was actually a big decision making moment in my life at the end of that, because, you know, Ushahidi, the leadership there were so kind to kind of, I've been there for a year, they hired me, and then there was like, Hey, I got this job in the White House. I wasn't expecting it, like this fellowship, should I go for it? And said, Yeah, you know, go for it, you know, and we'll manage it and come on back. And that was just great leadership on their part. And another at the end of it, right, though, they asked if I wanted to stay on and be the chief data officer, USA ID and I said, I'll do it for six months. But they wanted me to stay on longer, and which was an honor, and had to kind of make this decision at the moment. And there were a few things that influenced me, obviously, went back to Ushahidi. But what, there are a few parts that that that influenced me to make that decision. One was the the fact that it's it's a trite, overused quote, but it was in my head, and it was so appropriate at the time, but you know, the Steve Jobs quote of "Wouldn't you rather be a pirate, than join the Navy", and like, literally being in meetings with with a bunch of ex Navy, and then the Ushahidi, his whole sort of branding was around pirates at the time, and it just kind of kept running through my head. And, and the but, but the real reason was that, you know, I often felt like, like, the work I was working on government was extremely important, the impact, there was incredible, I've kind of done what I, what I'd set out to first do. But you know, a lot of it felt like, I almost felt a little bit like an imposter, like, you know, that the government, like, you know, the best refs, and the best coaches were former players. And I felt like I hadn't really been a player enough, yet, I hadn't actually played the game well enough. And that, you know, I'd have time to kind of go back and, and do go back into government, if that's what called me again, later in my life, but I need to kind of go back into the startup world into the smaller company world, and, and, and be a little more of an operator again. And so. And then the last thing was, that was it was that Ushahidi was, was working on and brick at the time, and that product just just had gotten me so excited. So for all those reasons, decided to go back to Ushahidi. And then the last one was that was that Eric? was one of the co founders Ushahidi was, you know, working on on Brick and it said, you know, hey, now I'm, I'm going to go off and decided we're gonna roll roll Brick out, and I'm going to, I'm going to be the CEO, Brick. Would, would you want to come and take over my role here, do Ushahidi, which was, which was kind of COO at the time be the next, the next phase of leadership here. And and that was an offer, I couldn't, couldn't refuse. So did that. And then yeah, eventually was asked, you know, by the board to take over the CEO role, which I did for about three years. And so that, that was, that was kind of my journey over I guess, almost almost over eight years.

Miles

And one of the previous CEOs had some controversy, right.

Nat

Yeah, that's right. One of the CEOs was the CEO previous to me, was like, go by the board for acts of gross misconduct, where he he said some unbelievably inappropriate things to one of the people working at Ushidi at the time. And there was an investigation and he was he was removed, and I really helped kind of then lead the organization through that really tough time. I mean, I think one of the toughest times in our in our history and there were definitely times where we had you know, weren't making payroll and you know, is like, Are we going to make out but this this was was definitely the hardest thing that Ushahid worked through. To see this kind of this is pain internally in the team. And this this gross misconduct conducted by someone in leadership to someone on the team.

Miles

So how did you heal and refocus the team and rebuild? How did you do that?

Nat

Yeah, well, I mean, I'll say like, I feel like I've had a really blessed career, I've done a lot of a lot of things. The thing I'm most proud of, and in my life is that through that time, no one on the Ushahidi team quit. Or, other than the person that was hurt the, which happened previously, but through the the time of trying to heal. And meeting over no one, no one quit. And that that meant the world that we stuck together by each other, and listened to each other. And that was really the main thing. How do we get through that? The other thing is, you know, found no funders dropped us either. No clients did either. And the biggest part of, how we did that, like, I mean, in for what it's worth, I mean, there, there was a very active online campaign, you know, against against the organization at the time pressuring people to do that. And the truth is, I was on the phone just for, you know, I don't know, 18 hours a day for like, three, three months, essentially, and listening, and letting people talk and, and telling them what was happening and how we were handling and as an organization, and a lot of this is out there, if you want to go read the blog posts and things, folks that, you know, of what we published and tried to be very transparent through the process, while also adhering to the laws. Now, honestly, we were balancing two different, like legal structures, both Kenya and the US. And, and no, you know, one our board have gone through a situation like this now, it's actually something that we all feel like we learned a lot. So the way I did that was, we had a lot of internal team, I called kind of listening sessions, let people speak their truth, did a lot of practices where, you know, we would go around a circle and let people just talk for as long as they wanted. And it was not a debate, it was not an argument, you could not interrupt this person, they had the mic, and they had the moment to say what they wanted. And we sat there and listened. And then we, as a leadership, I talked to everyone on that team, you know, probably for two to three hours, one on one, you know, every week. And I and it was hard, you know, I felt the hardest part was for honestly, for the women on the team who were being really attacked online for not quitting. And I just really felt for them, because that it's really unfair, I felt, because this is an organization that obviously does amazing work. And, you know, I think people get kind of riled up online. And the idea that, that the actions of one person, you know, should be that the rest of everyone should, you know, should have to suffer for that I felt was really unfair. So we worked really hard to just communicate over and over again, be as transparent as possible. And listen, predominantly. And then yeah, try to try to communicate the decisions and changes moving forward, and then got back to work, you know, building tools that, you know, help help people raise their voice, those that were those marginalized people raise their voice.

Miles

And the organization was really prolific and spinning off a number of other organizations, whether they were for profit or not. And I'm curious if you think that was something intentional, or something that happened, because you had creative people who are interested in starting things?

Nat

You know, the answer to that is? Well, the answer is yes. It's had a great history of spinning off some pretty successful and cool things. And I think, the, the reason why is both. So on the one hand, absolutely, would hire and encourage people who were just excited by building things, and being creative and being innovative, and that was a huge part of our culture. And I mean, like our annual retreats, we would always have sort of a hacker type project that you know, and we'd have time built out away from sort of strategy sessions to just kind of go and work on the workbench and work on something, right, like, you know, it was a big part of what made us us, and it was like, hey, let's, let's see, you know, what are the problems that we're seeing, and then how do we go fix them? Thank you. When you see a problem, you go and fix it. And that that led to some some really neat things. So it's partly partly, partly that and then and then we built in over time, we built policies about like, what exactly counted as an incubation project? What exactly, you know, was wasn't your Ushahidi project? And what was, you know, other people just working on stuff on their own that was adjacent? and had to kind of clarify a lot of that. Yeah, and then, you know, and then I think the last part of it was, is a little back to this thing that we're talking about earlier, which I think, I don't know, I've I've mixed feelings on which is around sort of the, the incentive structures in the funding environment for for new ideas. And so, versus kind of continuing to, to bet on the the things that work. And now, it's very transparent. I mean, like, sometimes, you know, you'd, you'd be like, hey, this, this Ushahidi platform that's serving tons of people and helping tons of people, well just ask me for more money for it, it's not or, you know, done. funders will kind of be like, Oh, well, we have funded before, etc. So you'd be like, well, we're doing version three. And we're, and these are the cool new features that are going to be part of it, and like, Are we going to rebrand it, and it's going to do this, or, you know, and you kind of have to come up with new ways to make it seem exciting. And, and obviously, also technology moves forward. And a lot of those things got built, and were really impactful. And, and that is what you are, indeed doing. But But you know, that that that also created this incentive structure to always be kind of thinking about the new thing, or a new product? versus, you know, double bet, you know, like, when I took you know, as mentioned, one of the times I kind of came in and leadership, there was a point where I think we had, we'd, we were a team of 30 people with five products, each with like a budget of like, a quarter of a million dollars to a half a million dollars or something. And then the one who Ushahidi core product with like, a million dollar budget or something, I might not have that exactly right. But the point is, right, for anyone that's developed product is like, that's totally untenable. Like, that's not get build a product for a quarter million dollars and like, scale it globally. And so, you know, why don't we things we do, we just killed three of them. We're like, this is not, you can't do it, like, it's okay, done, we're consolidating, like, we're gonna bet on the thing that's a being used by 10s of 1000s of people right now. And then we're gonna have one new idea that we're gonna, that we think has the biggest legs. And that's what can go. Those are really hard decisions, you know, because some of the other ones were great ideas. And eventually, you know, we would go around and say, Oh, look, someone else built that. How cool. We had that idea four years ago, I can't believe that someone built that now. But you're like, Well, it's because it was a good idea. We just didn't have the resources to do it. But, but yeah, I it's one of the most fun parts about working there. And, you know, she's gone on, it's been out amazing things from like, you know, Brick being, I think one of the most successful and famous ones to the Standby Volunteer Task Force. The women that women on the engineering team who Ushahidi build a Curate Chicks, along with a bunch of other folks, the AI hubs spun out of Ushahidi. A lot of that was, yeah, just the team saying, Hey, we we need a place to bring people together and working in Nairobi. Hey, we need internet to work better. Let's let's try to solve that. And it was pretty inspiring.

Miles

Yeah, and Kettle to spin out, right?

Nat

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it wasn't technically a spin out. But it was definitely part of that what we were talking about in earlier in that disability for Ushahidi to really support the development and iterations of new ideas. And so no doubt, you know, this Oh, Kettle is is the the company I run today. And, and co founded and it was a, essentially, you know, obviously, it's very much born out of my experience to do Ushahidi. And the other work that I've done before and essentially I mean, kettle is a We are an AI powered reinsurance company, we use AI to do better actuarial modeling and understand crisis and risk and then write reinsurance, which is insurance for insurance companies, essentially insurance for big cataclysmic or cat catastrophic events. Not just kind of like, you know, your your roof leaking, or you get robbed, but we're talking giant wildfires, hurricanes. And what Kettle does is we we provide insurance and use AI to for for those big events. which as you can imagine, are are increasing, then our mission is really to help better protect people from the increasing risk caused by climate change. And what we've seen is a three x increase in in catastrophes over the last 10 years, billion dollar catastrophes over the last 10 years. And I've just witnessed that it is Ushahidi, you know, just over and over again, being building one of the largest open source software platforms for crisis response in the world, this increase in in hurricanes and fires and in these other climate change related catastrophes, and ends. So I set about trying to think of solutions for that. And what Ushahidi really allowed me to do is we innovate, you know, we iterated on lots of different ideas of how to solve for that. different concepts. We built a couple of different products in sort of early stages and alpha stages and tested them. And they weren't in the insurance space, they were sort of more in the direct, mutual aid kind of world. It was specifically to help people help each other in their in their neighborhoods and crisis ease. And then yeah, and then when I knew I was kind of ready to move on and start my own thing. I was able to, to support and do kind of a transition period where I trained, changing Angela to be the next CEO and executive director. And over that time period, and was able to kind of work on on this new idea. Kettle two, which eventually will at that point, eventually became Kettle at that time, it was, you know, as you know, all sorts of startup things and went through 300 bad ideas before, before we got to what i what i what i do believe in hope is a good one.

Miles

And when you say a good one, how did you judge whether it was good?

Nat

So I mean, it gave me a we were, we were working on evacuation insurance. So again, it was kind of which is very similar, I essentially have a part of what happened when I were working on these things. And I, I just became obsessed with insurance. And I've actually been obsessed with insurance for the last like five years. And that's because when you work on big open data at the in the government, and then you're trying to, you're working with data scientists and getting data into the data scientists hands and then on the other hand, you're working on it for humanitarian response for crisis response, you're working on crisis, pawns day in and day out, when I was in the government, Sandy hit. And so I lived at FEMA for three days working on on supporting people. And in that response, and I and I just came to realize that that insurance is this, you know, really beautiful, elegant solution. And that to crisis, right? And that what is it? Is it essentially it's, it's all of us saying, hey, well, we'll, we'll put in a little bit of money, and whoever gets hurt, we got your back, you know, we'll make you whole. And if it's me this year, great. And, you know, and, well, not great, it's terrible, but like, Great that I get to be, you know, taken care of and, and, and made whole. And if it's one of you, I'll pay my little piece towards that. I thought it was just this really beautiful thing that's terribly run with incentives, kind of, in a lot of the wrong directions. And and then the other thing I noticed, right, was that, you know, these crisis these would hit and, and that first 48 hours is extremely important that first two weeks for saving lives. remeasuring saving lives saved, there's nothing more important than the work the first responders do. And that because that's that's really where it happens. And that that was a lot of what Ushahidi focused on was was those first couple weeks of response, making sense of the chaos and trying to, you know, help help save lives in the wake of a crisis. But then, you know, essentially, the, the news feed, moves on the news cycle moves on, the donations start to dry up, right after the first couple of weeks. And then what's left, right, what's left is essentially communities and people and their insurance companies for years. And, and I thought of it as a graph, right? It's sort of this, you know, there's, there's this spike, this graph of sort of suffering over time, and there's this real big spike at the beginning, but then it kind of goes down. But there's this long period of time where it's, you know, there's still suffering being being caused, you know, people lose their jobs, their homes aren't rebuilt. You know, I think it's like 40% of claims in from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico still haven't been paid out. And, and that the the, the area under the curve of the long tail of suffering The first couple of weeks, you know, might be just as big as the area under, you know, the big spike at the beginning. And so I, and that, that the only real solution out there is, is, is insurance for for this long tail. And so it's also just at the intersection of the kind of stuff that matters, me humanitarian work, climate change, and, and, and, and technology and data. So I got totally obsessed and people thought I was crazy. And I didn't have any background in insurance. So I was like, trying to figure out what I could do, I felt kind of like a fraud, but you know, kind of just kept learning more and more and eventually met some people and the industry and said, are now my co founders in this business who are brilliant, and ask them to teach me everything they knew. And they were advisors, and after about a year about a year ago now said, Hey, you guys want to quit your jobs and your big fancy public private sector company like jobs, high paying jobs in a startup with me? And to my I just feel very blessed that they said, Yes, and here we are. So that was that's what Kettle is. I know, your question was, how do I know is a good idea? So I have to give a little background on what it is to kind of be able to answer that question. But what we're essentially doing is, is I said using AI to try to understand risk, and particularly, we started working on wildfires in California. And the way that we got to understand it was a good idea is like, I think any kind of classic product market fit thing. We started having people come to us, you know, and and say that they wanted this. So one example of that is we hadn't launched, we kind of just started pitching investors a little bit. And one of the brokers in the space learn heard of us, I threw through somebody I don't even know, reached out on LinkedIn, and got on the phone with us and said, Hey, we have $100 million in premium that we need to place. We essentially, we have $100 million that we are trying to broker of insurers needing reinsurance for a wildfire in California, and we can't get anyone to cover it. How quickly can you get to market? What will work? As soon as you can get there, we got it for you. You're like, Oh my god, that that's product market fit dream. Right? Someone tracked you down and said, if you get market faster, I can write you $100 million check. So that was that was the beginning of you know, releasing a while we've got something here?

Miles

And how do you connect your big picture, mission and goals that you talked about? To the day to day work that you're doing? When you're talking with investors? And when you're talking with employees? Or, you know, trying to recruit people to join the team?

Nat

Yeah, I mean, that's right, right. It's like, who would have expected right, that reinsurance might be an impactful solution for climate change? I get it. Right. It's, uh, I mean, that's one of the things that got me so excited about working on this industry is that, you know, I was definitely one of those people that, you know, thought insurance companies were we're all we're all terrible. And but, you know, I think the key way that we do that, you know, is, is a few one is to remind people the mission over and over again, which is to balance risk in a changing climate. And, and then to, and then to really, you know, bring it back to that impact into that to that mission on the team. You know, I like to say that we're the safety net below the safety net. And so that's that that's what we do, you know, is I mean, that's the important part is to remind people that, yeah, while we're talking about whatever this quota share deal is, or dealing with this kind of big, you know, every industry right has its own acronyms and its own its own lingo, and reinsurance is absolutely no different. And so, when you're, you're stuck in the weeds, they're trying to figure out some sort of deal or structure, you know, reminding us like, what's this really for? And it's for when that, that, you know, lack of a better term act of God comes through and wildfires take out a whole town or, you know, 50,000 homes at once there's a pot of money that can really help people rebuild. Because if there isn't, well, then you know that what's going to happen to those folks, right? That's, that's the impact you're really making is making that sort of financial safety net there to let people who, who get hurt from these, these acts of God, whether it's a hurricane or a fire, which, like I said, sadly, or there's only more and more of that they're protected, and that our communities are protected.

Miles

Right, and how do you think about moral hazard insurance, particularly related to climate change?

Nat

And by that, you mean? Well, there's a couple different ways of looking at

Miles

living places where there's more threats or making other lifestyle choices?

Nat

Yeah, absolutely. Well, there's a couple one is, there's a couple of answers to that. One is that

Unknown Speaker

it's hard to do this, but that you got to kind of let markets operate without, as sort of fluidly as possible. And so when you when you have, you know, huge subsidies, it's, it's good for the people there. But it also means that it's a, it's not a really fair reality. And so like, one example of that is like, the National Flood program is a really important way of helping people and it's government money, I'm all for government supporting, you know, in using insurance as a mechanism to support people, I think that is one of the key roles of government. However, it also dramatically reduces the the reality of the price. And the truth is that, you know, if home prices or home, home insurance should cost a lot more in areas that are just a whole lot higher risk, whether that's from hurricanes, or, you know, in Florida, or, you know, or where I live in, I live in, I live in Berkeley, and the truth is, my home church should be a lot more. And that's because in the last five years, the fundamental reality of fire has changed, it is now riskier, than it was five years ago. And, as such, like we're gonna need does have to regard to see some of these, some of these, these, these home insurance prices go up in areas that are riskier, and what's going to happen, if we don't otherwise, is that if if someone like Kettle doesn't come along, to kind of understand the risk, and what we're seeing right now is people are just just raising the price, you know, across everyone where they can, or they're only raising it, where policy will allow them, but now we're risk really is right. It's not, it's not a reality, it's just like, where, where they're able to based upon the regulators. And that's not fair, because what should happen is, if you're in a higher risk area, well, the price should be higher there. And what we'll see is just this kind of equal increase across everybody. And, and that's not really the way it's supposed to work. You know, if you're in a higher risk more, you should pay a little bit more, if you're in a lower risk area, you should pay less, but we all pay in. And then that's the job of the insurance, actuary, or in our case, our machine learning models to to understand where that risk is, and then balance that risk correctly.

Miles

Great, well tell us about Kettle as a much bigger scaled company. What do you see as the vision for impact? And how it how it helps people?

Nat

Yeah, I mean, really, what we're trying to build is the the best safety net, the most effective and largest safety net in the world for protecting people from increasing climate change risks. And so what that looks like over time, is essentially two things. One is obviously growing, if you're going to reinsure against huge catastrophic risks, you need to have huge balance sheets to be able to cover that and we will get deep into it, but doesn't mean that it's just our balance sheet. There's lots of ways that this is done, where folks are pulling money from different places, very much like you can imagine, a VC doesn't just invest all the partners monies, they have LPs, right, they invest that money as well as often some of their own and because they're the strategic, the best place folks to understand where where new opportunities are, and, and how to support entrepreneurs. Similar. We have a similar sort of model, right. And so and then from an impact perspective, I mean, the other thing we're trying to really do is bring technology to this industry, that you know, that hasn't had a lot of technological Innovation To be frank. I mean, the the reinsurance industry predominantly still uses, I guess, stochastic modeling, which is 100 year old toolset. And, and we've seen some some exciting innovation sort of in the primary markets are using satellite imagery and things to understand risks and rubes and things like this, but, but I haven't seen a lot kind of backed in, into the reinsurance area. And then and then the second part is that, you know, there's just classic kind of innovators dilemma, there's, there's a lot of bureaucracy and, and so what we're hoping to be able to really do is one make, make everything make the models more accurate, the more accurate you are, the better predictions you have the the lower your prices can be. Because you have lower loss ratios, they're more they're more precise, and then you don't need quite as much a buffer to be able to make sure you have enough funds to pay out if you were wrong, or if it was a bad year. And then the second is just to make to make the industry work more effectively and fluidly. You know, cutting out the fat essentially, or, and being able to place this risk where in the places where folks want it. And there's you can dive deeper into this. But essentially, being able to do that more intelligently and more quickly means that it's not changing hands, sometimes, you know, 10 times before it ends up somewhere. And each one of those folks are taking a cut, right? And so if you can, if you can do this effectively, it makes everyone it just it'll it can reduce prices, it can better protect people and and make the industry kind of return to its former days have a better return on capital. I mean, so essentially, because, you know, if you're if you're an industry, his job is to to underwrite and support. Under a catastrophic risk, while when you've had a three x increase, like I mentioned earlier, and billion dollar catastrophes over the last year, that's resulted in a 60% drop in return on equity for the reinsurance industry. But we know which was used to earning 10 to 15% returns for decades, right until really 1015 years ago. And so and so the only the only real answer there is you got to bring technology into it to make things more effective and more accurate. To be able to, to kind of return both those returns drop prices and better protect people over the long run.

Miles

Well, thank you so much for that. And thank you for coming on to the show. Where can people find out more about you and about Kettle?

Nat

Yeah, absolutely. Miles, thanks for having me. This has been a blast. I love I love talking about this stuff with you and appreciate your questions today. To find out more about me. You can you can find me in a couple different places my my Twitter is @NatpManning. You can find out more about Kettle at ourKettle as in all of us together, ourkettle.com and you can read a little more about me in my on my website natmanning.com

Miles

Awesome. Thank you so much.

Nat

Thanks