We caught up with Matt Davies, a Co-Founder of Mossy Earth as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Mossy Earth aim to restore and rewild native habitats in an effort to fight climate change. By partnering with likeminded individuals and businesses, Mossy Earth provide an opportunity to see exactly how your money is being used within rewilding projects.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Matt: I am Matt Davies, and I am one of two co-founders at Mossy Earth. Our company will be 6 years old in September. We are a social enterprise, and it is our mission to restore nature and fight climate change. We do this through our reforestation and rewilding projects. In terms of a revenue stream, we have the Mossy Earth Membership; this is a monthly subscription similar to your Netflix or a gym subscription. On a simple level, an individual or business can pay £10 a month and those £10 plants four native trees each month and also funds one or more rewilding projects. Our members are updated via a dashboard, email and app, which allows them to see videos, updates, images, maps, and total transparency on what we are doing. Through this, members can also contact the team and also be part of the wider Mossy Earth community. We also have a YouTube channel.
Matt: Duarte (de Zoeten), is the other co-founder. He and I at the time were both at stages in our respective careers where we had had enough of what we were doing and wanted to do something that would have a positive effect on the environment. We did a lot of brainstorming and the key things we wanted to include was the concept of rewilding, something we are both passionate about, and we felt would help combat the climate crisis. We also wanted transparency; Duarte and I were already giving money to conservation organisations, but we felt we didn’t know exactly where that money was going. Also, nature is really engaging, and we wanted to give that over to the end client.
Matt: Yes, that is another really important part of Mossy Earth, particularly with what our biologist’s do, which is look for projects that won’t only have a positive impact but also offering members the highest environmental return on their investments possible. To maximise the environmental impact on the monthly subscription, you need to do things such as planting native trees in the right place at the right time. In addition to this, trees may not be the answer for some ecosystems. There has been an increasing demand for tree planting in recent years but an example of where this can have a detrimental effect on the environment, is within peat bogs in Scotland. To plant trees on a peat bog, you have to drain it and you are actually draining millions of tonnes of carbon and then planting small saplings that will never sequester the carbon that was already there in the ground.
Matt: In terms of reforestation, we are working in six countries and in terms of rewilding we are working in 4-5 core places and a number of satellite projects. Ultimately, the total number of rewilding locations is 10-15.
Matt: This goes back to the biologist team as there are a number of things that each project must adhere to, and one of these is underfunded species. We have a project in Croatia within cave systems, where people have been dumping rubbish and polluting the waterways. Within these cave systems, there is a small dragon like species called the Olm (a species of aquatic salamander) which is blind and can go without eating for ten years. If we don’t protect species like this, because they are so unique in their DNA, we lose them and we lose that whole brand of the tree of life. Incidentally, the Olm is one of ten species that David Attenborough would choose to have on his Noah’s Ark!
Matt: In a nutshell, human resources has been our challenge. Funnily enough, during my studies gave little respect to HR modules and dedicated myself to other modules of my business degree. Now, owning a business, I have learnt the hard way just how important human resources is in terms of recruiting the right person at the right time and for the right position. We have made mistakes up until now so my advice would be outsourcing to a recruitment agency, as I think this would have stopped us making the mistakes that we did.
However, I appreciate that money isn’t often readily available for start-ups to hire external recruiters. I also would say that hiring too early is also a mistake; don’t hire to quickly to offload one’s workload to a person that doesn’t match the job specification and skillset that you need.
Also, about two years ago, we had a really positive experience with pro-bono. We had two people, on a sabbatical, really help us in numerous aspects of the business and it was really beneficial. However, since this first positive experience, a number of pro-bonos have lost motivation or realise they don’t have the time, within a few weeks of starting. As such a lot of valuable time is lost onboarding and checking in with little in return. To overcome this, we are in the process of creating an agreement/expectations document for pro-bono employees so that people sign up for a certain number of hours and so that this agreement provides a little more ‘professionalism’. We are also looking for ways to motivate pro bono employees in return for their time. One way of doing this is having this indirect impact on the environment but also quarterly team meet-ups and Mossy Earth merchandise.
Matt: Product is key to our mission and our growth strategy. Our product is this natural experience that we create for our members. What we are trying to do is really connect people to nature in a way that they are likely to use. The product is centred around the user, and we hope that it is unique in its’ design and that we are continuously improving it. Any changes we make are driven by data and feedback from our users. we hope that producing a product that delights will be a growth channel in itself.
Matt: This relates to product and the recruitment. Because our product is an online dashboard, it requires development. However, we only have one developer so retrospectively, it would have made more sense to hire more developers instead of other roles.
In terms of design and thinking of product ideas, we don’t have the manpower to have dedicated roles and so often, members of our team have to wear multiple hats such as a little bit of design, and little bit of product. This relates back to recruitment and manpower.
Matt: Duarte and I fell into the trap early on that start-up equals rocket ship growth and that these are synonymous. My wisdom would be to reflect on your organisation and determine what rate of growth you want and seek investment accordingly. We had one experience of investment and unfortunately it didn’t go very well as part of our investment agreement was that we would get assistance with web development and programming work alongside the investment. Unfortunately, we weren’t happy with the service and what they built for us, and it ended a little sour. Also, our goals were not aligned with the investors, as they wanted rocket ship growth. We have since taken a step back and thought that for our team, we don’t want them working 80-90 hours a week just to grow at that level. We wanted to maintain our control and keep Mossy Earth in line with what we believe Mossy Earth is. This wouldn’t stop us seeking investment again in the future, but my advice would be taking time to reflect and plan your growth, and what this would mean for the business.
Thank you for your time, Matt!