Impact Innovators in the Zinc Ecosystem: Carter Davidson, CEO of Switch
Carter Davidson is the co-founder and CEO of Switch, a platform to accelerate the clean energy transition by matching renewable energy companies with skilled trades workers. Carter was part of Zinc’s fifth Venture Builder, focussed on transforming the industries that have the most damaging impact on the environment, where she met her co-founder, CTO Jon Wang.
What did your career path look like prior to joining Zinc?
I have spent the last 22 years in software, primarily software as a service, and have been responsible for the commercial side of launching new SaaS products in a variety of industries. I really love working in nascent industries, creating products and services for people and businesses that don’t know they have a problem or need a solution yet. I spent eight years in the cannabis industry in the USA, then most recently worked with an agricultural software company, which allowed me to get into sustainability for the first time.
What motivated you to join this Zinc mission?
Since I was a child, I’ve always had a personal interest in sustainability. Then about 15 years ago I tried to get into the renewables space, but the timing wasn’t quite right and I ended up taking a course in Sustainable Business Practices at the University of San Diego in parallel with continuing working in software. I loved my time in the cannabis industry because we were disrupting the status quo and there was a real societal movement behind it. When I was considering my next move, I was excited at the prospect of an even bigger mission, and for me that was climate and sustainability. I was also ready to see if I could wear the founder hat myself. I had spent so many years being a successful number two to startup and scale-up CEOs, it felt like my time to build something from scratch.
What excited you about the Zinc venture builder?
I loved the fact Zinc is mission-driven at its core. There are other venture building programmes out there, but they are all much more generic. For me I wanted to do good at scale, and that is what Zinc is all about. I loved that Zinc has a very rigorous selection process. We had to go through multiple rounds of interviews and speak to a lot of people on the Zinc team. During the process, every single person I met at Zinc challenged me and had me thinking about the questions they were asking for days after the interviews. I also really valued their commitment to the whole person, like the fact that they offered coaching. It was an incredible indicator that they cared about you as a person and understood the importance of supporting you mentally and emotionally during an experience like this.
How have you used the Zinc network of fellows, advisors, experts and coaches?
Two of the Zinc Fellows we met during the Venture Builder have now become more regular advisors for us, which has been incredible. And honestly, every time we’ve pinged a Fellow or someone from the network, they have been immediately responsive and super helpful. The Fellows network is huge, almost an overwhelming amount of resources, so you have to organically figure out how to make the best use of that to support what you’re building.
What has surprised you most on your founder journey so far?
I think for me historically I’ve always gone into new things focussed on the destination, on hitting a specific goal or outcome. It’s why I love sales so much, the goal is to reach or exceed a number. And despite being told many times to “slow down, it’s about the journey, not the destination”, I never really felt that. I think Zinc is the first thing I’ve gone into with a different mindset. I decided to be very intentional about being present on the journey and have no expectation for how this is going to end. And I credit that to Zinc here, the whole process felt perfectly constructed to give you enough structure and support, but also let things unfold in the way they need to. It has been awesome. I’m learning and growing and that’s all I care about.
Did this path feel risky to you? If so, how did you manage that risk?
We had recently moved to London from the US with my previous job, and the role wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped. When I stumbled on the Zinc platform and had my first interview I remember thinking “this is it, this is what I want to do”. It was a huge decision and there was a transition period that was intense. It did feel risky, but I knew in my core it was the right thing to do. I decided to just be completely transparent with both sides from day one and that honesty meant I could manage the workload and expectations through the transition.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a founder so far?
I have definitely had moments of impostor syndrome. Can I do this? Is being a founder for me? Can I hack it? It is definitely so much easier being a CEO’s number two, knowing that someone else is ultimately responsible, and I could walk away at any time if I wanted to. That said, my founder journey so far has been great and I have a newfound appreciation and admiration for CEOs and founders and the tough calls they have to make on a daily basis. It’s actually been really humbling getting comfortable with not having all the answers.
What keeps you motivated through the really hard days?
For me, it’s the connection to the people that we’re trying to help. I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of electrical workers at this point. When I call to screen them I hear their story, and when I tell them what we’re trying to do, I always get such an amazing and positive response. Every individual story we hear is a validation of the problem that we’re trying to solve. That’s what keeps me going. It’s probably the first company or idea that I’ve worked on where there’s a real, human problem to solve.
How do you look after your mental and physical well being?
Meditation and exercise are two things that keep me sane. Just continuing to do my daily meditation, daily affirmations and focusing on the journey. I trust that if I put my best foot forward, things are going to work out the way they need to. And I’m not going to get wrapped around the axle if things go sideways, because they will go sideways. That’s all just part of the process.
What are you currently excited about?
Right now I’m really excited to get back over to the US, our primary target market. Being in the same time zone as our customers will enable us to make even more progress very quickly. Generally I’m really excited about the potential for where this work can go and actually seeing it all come together. I’m not married to one specific outcome or route and the potential is enormous.
Looking 10 years ahead, what impact do you hope to have had?
If I could wave a magic wand it would be to radically change the US apprenticeship system when it comes to credentialing and bureaucracy. I want to get as many tradespeople licensed and fulfilling their potential as possible. Every single person we help is important. These micro impacts add up to us being able to achieve big things collectively.
Who or what inspires you on this journey?
Maybe it sounds a bit corny, but the collective Zinc community inspires me. It’s an amazing place to feel connected to something much bigger than yourself. The Zinc team all pour so much time and so many resources into each mission. They just want each individual and each team to thrive. My co-founder Jon also really inspires me. I hold him in such high regard and really look forward to working with him every day.
Do you have any favourite resources, tools or communities for support and advice as a founder?
From a commercial perspective I’ve been a member of Pavilion (formerly known as The Revenue Collective) for a few years. It’s an extremely helpful community, a great resource for asking questions and getting advice and recommendations from exceptional people.
What is your current top priority? And do you have any asks of the Zinc network?
The number one thing for us right now is continuing to prove the traction is there. Both Jon and I have worked at startups that looked like they had nailed product market fit, raised money, then realised the traction just wasn’t there to scale. So right now it’s really important for us to stay close to the customer, keep iterating and get to true product market fit as quickly as possible. We have already proven demand on the candidate side, so now we’re focussed on growing demand which is bringing on renewable energy companies who are in need of using a system like Switch.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone considering joining the next Zinc mission?
Go with your gut. If you are excited by the mission and you feel energised and passionate when you are talking to people from the Zinc team, go for it. And trust yourself! You will have incredible, unwavering support from the whole Zinc community through the process.
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Impact Report 2023
We started Zinc with the hypothesis that missions are an effective way to attract highly ambitious, talented and experienced groups of innovators, who might not recognise themselves as “classic entrepreneurs” but are ready and able to start a new commercial and successful venture to tackle some of our most pressing societal issues.
The world has overcome the sorts of challenges we face today when it has adopted a mission-based approach to the biggest problems and brought together world-class talent to invent and innovate, e.g: NASA and landing a man on the moon, the LSE blueprinting the British welfare state, or the Gates Foundation aiming to eradicate diseases.
On this basis and assumption, we designed Zinc as a new mission-based Venture Builder — a place where global talent, ‘impact makers’, can join to experiment and develop new solutions to our most pressing societal issues.
To Eliminate Environmental Threats to Our Health
Environmental health threats pose a grave danger to human health and well-being, causing suffering to individuals and communities worldwide. These threats, which include chemical pollution, climate change, and biological hazards, cause acute and chronic diseases and exacerbate existing health conditions.
To protect those we care about, we must tackle the causes of environmental degradation, shield people from the consequences of environmental harm, and, where protection fails, we must mitigate the health impacts they suffer.
This demands action to improve all aspects of our environment: soil, food, air, water, and the built environment. It requires us to focus on every aspect of human health to reduce suffering.
Entrepreneurship and technology are powerful means to tackle these challenges. That’s why we are backing 70 founders to build innovative companies addressing this mission.