Neal Dikeman, Partner at Energy Transition Ventures, joins the pod to talk about how he got into cleantech investing and where we’re headed as we bridge the gap between fossil fuels and the future. Working between Silicon Valley and Houston, Neal is tackling the tough questions in clean tech, such as: How can software and energy investors work together? Talking points include work-life balance, Silicon Valley vs Texas startups, and the daily grind vs the hardcore sprints for investors and entrepreneurs.
[00:00] Podcast begins - Discovering in the Next Energy Transition Solution
[03:05] First experiences in venture in Silicon Valley
[11:40] Finding a work-life balance in a high-paced startup world
[16:59] Investing in Texas & what’s holding us back
[21:08] Silicon Valley perspective vs Houston startup culture
[25:14] Finding the sweet spot for software startups in energy tech
You’ve been on both sides as a VC and an entrepreneur. Which do you prefer?
Between his varied experiences with venture funds and numerous successful startups, Neal has his favorite aspects of each role— and his least favorite. For Neal, venture offers him the unique opportunity to scale his skills, impact, and expertise without risking burnout as much as being an entrepreneur. Work-life balance is extremely important to Neal, and he’s happy that being in venture still allows him to spend valuable time with his family.
“I really enjoyed being in startups. It's fun. What I found is when I was running companies, it burned me out. I could do it, but the anxiety and the stress of just trying to get everything done, I was much more comfortable on this side, I can scale myself better on this side of the fence.”
Are you finding more deal flow here in Houston right now?
Although Neal cut his teeth in the venture world in Silicon Valley, coming back to Houston has brought him a new perspective on investment deals here. Deals are picking up across the state of Texas, and Neal is happy to see Texas continue to work towards better startup opportunities. However, a limitation for Houston (and for the state of Texas as a whole) is the lack of startup-experienced talent staying here to pave the way for more startup success.
“One of the challenges Texas has seen over the years is you have a lot of great management talent, but you don't necessarily have a lot of experienced startup executive or startup talent. Finding teams and putting them together here is quite challenging.”
Why is the startup culture so different in Silicon Valley compared to here?
Neal is very transparent that Silicon Valley has a startup culture that is extremely difficult to replicate due to its rich history of venture capital success. However, Neal wants to encourage Texas entrepreneurs to consider the Valley approach of a strong group of individuals working together to find the best idea. While it is admirable to want your idea to be the one leading your startup, Valley startups are much more collaborative in their efforts to build a fundable company.
“In Texas, entrepreneurs tend to have their startup idea, but the Valley startup launch culture is a much healthier culture because we don't care which one. I used to tell people, if I have any silly little idea and three resumes, I've got a fundable company, doesn't matter what the idea is.”
How do we bridge the gaps in energy tech?
There are gaps in energy tech that Neal has noticed throughout his time as a VC, and one is the lack of good software startups. Neal is hopeful that collaborating with studios like Softeq can help this issue, but there are many problems to solve in energy tech that the software world is not working towards. Even with a fellow Partner on his team being involved in software and SaaS, the lack of deals in this area is a genuine problem for Energy Transition Ventures.
“We have a problem, we cannot find good software startups in energy. It's a challenge, they all look like not good enough SaaS companies. What's missing to bring the software business model hard and heavy to energy transition?”