top of page
  • Writer's pictureZach Servideo

102: Boston Speaks Up with Mike Farber of GreenStory

Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs.



Mike Farber has played many roles throughout his career, serving as a brand builder, mentor, advisor, partner, and now, co-founder. In his latest career move, Farber has the world’s best interests in mind by co-founding GreenStory, an agency focused entirely on elevating the stories of organizations addressing the climate crisis. Farber is also an advisor at Greentown Labs, the country’s biggest climate tech accelerator based in Somerville, Massachusetts. 


Before launching GreenStory, Farber began his career at Schwartz Communications, where he launched scores of companies, guided four clients through successful IPOs and helped many others become acquired. His experience spanned across multiple types of technologies, ranging from consumer to enterprise software to clean energy (which he has always magnetized towards). 


Farber helped lead the growth of Schwartz’s San Francisco office in the late 1990s, before moving back to Boston in 1999. At Schwartz, he worked alongside peers who became the founders of LaunchSquad, which was the next stop on Farber’s journey. In 2010, he joined LaunchSquad as a partner where he founded LaunchSquad’s Boston office and helped high-growth companies tell their stories to the world.

Following LaunchSquad, Farber took a sabbatical, de-accelerated, spent time with family and friends, guest lectured at Middlebury College and ideated on the next innovative step he might take. During that time, he wrote on LinkedIn, “One through line I keep re-visiting – as governments become increasingly dysfunctional, businesses and NGOs must take a bigger role in driving positive change. I’m not exactly sure what that means for my next step, but… I’ll be working that out.” 


In this episode, we explore how Farber worked it all out, why he believes every part of the economy is changing for the better because of climate, how Massachusetts rocks in climate, the legacy he wants to leave on this planet, and so much more. You can listen to our podcast discussion embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer: (YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play): 



Before we dive into the written Q&A, here’s a teaser clip of Mike Farber discussing the lessons learned from the late '90s e-commerce boom and how timing is everything in business success:




Written Q&A: 


Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?


I grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My brother and I were raised by the most amazing single mom (our dad was also present in our lives). I spent loads of time playing all kinds of outdoor games and sports. I was a classic latchkey kid who came home when the street lights came on. 

I knew both that I wanted to get out of Central PA for college and that I would be on the hook for paying for it. I was pretty scrappy, holding down jobs ranging from delivering newspapers to working at a Roy Rogers fast food restaurant. An early entrepreneurial moment happened around my paper route – the newspaper had college scholarships they awarded to four carriers each year but you had to be a senior to qualify. When I hit high school it was impossible to do the route in the afternoon because of after-school activities, so I sub-contracted Monday - Friday delivery to a younger kid and kept delivering on the weekends. I got the scholarship.


Can you tell us about your time at Boston College? What made you want to go to law school at Penn? Why didn’t you practice?


I loved my time at Boston College. I learned so much about life, learning and work. I’m a big fan of liberal arts education, as it teaches you how to think and then you can apply that thinking to anything you want. That’s a super critical skill in a fast-changing world. 

After BC I went to the University of Pennsylvania Law School with an open mind about not practicing. Figured the degree would set me up for success if I positioned it correctly. That’s what happened – the more I learned about what a lawyer’s work life is like, the more I knew it wasn’t a fit. But I was able to gain a new level of critical thinking (specially, the ability to distill loads of information into a couple relevant facts) that has helped me tremendously in my career.





Can you talk about your post-graduate journey to Schwartz? How were things when you first started? How was the big move to the Bay area?


My brother and I took a cross-country camping trip when I graduated law school. It was my first time out west and first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Magical. During that trip I interviewed at a couple TV stations to be a reporter. When I realized how little a reporter makes in comparison to the size of my student loans, I pivoted quickly. The internet was just starting to become a thing and I was really bullish on its potential, unlike many of the firms I interviewed with to join as a communications specialist. Most saw it as a fad. 


At the end of every informational interview I made a point to ask if there’s anyone else I should be speaking to – one firm gave me a vague lead of a “new shop called Schwartz somewhere in MetroWest.” I literally called directory assistance and two days later was interviewing at Schwartz. They made an offer on the spot and after a bit of negotiation I joined as employee #17. The firm eventually grew to hundreds of people.


As an early employee, even a more junior one, I helped grow the office and create the culture. When Schwartz opened their San Francisco office they asked if I’d be willing to go out there and help do so in a more senior fashion. I jumped at the chance. I’d just gotten married; my wife and I had what we still refer to as our “extended honeymoon” - two years in one of the world’s most beautiful places, working hard but also spending every weekend playing outside.


How was your experience being a Judge + Mentor at MassChallenge?


MassChallenge is one of those organizations that feels uniquely Boston. It has a global focus, a non-profit structure that favors the entrepreneur and a slamming track record. I’ve had a great experience as a judge and mentor – it’s a wonderful way to make a real impact with numerous founders in a pretty efficient way.


What has been the most fulfilling part of your journey co-founding GreenStory?


Meeting and helping so many talented people that are actualizing their passion for protecting the environment into a career.





You’ve mentioned before that every part of the economy is changing for the better because of climate. Can you dive a bit deeper on this belief?


Sure! Economies are always changing and growing. During eras of hypergrowth there are outside forces that spur this growth – the Internet is an obvious example. Think back to history class and the Industrial Revolution is another example. Today, obvious industries like energy are rapidly transforming because of our need to get off fossil fuels. But as we all – businesses, consumers, governments – start taking responsibility for helping stem the crisis, there’s massive economic opportunity. New companies are sprouting up in industries diverse as retail, banking and food to address this new market desire for climate forward products. It’s a way for businesses to differentiate while making a difference. And many times the product is simply better than the existing solution (one way to describe innovation).

Take banking. Most people don’t realize that the money they deposit in big banks is often used to fund fossil fuel projects. Plus those big banks usually have crappy savings account rates, even in these historically friendly times for savers. Enter Walden Mutual Bank. Walden is a FDIC-insured bank in New Hampshire that uses customer deposits to only finance local, sustainable agriculture and food. And their customers receive a much higher interest rate for savings and CDs than the big banks. A better product in every single way.


There's a broad conversation around the role of policy in climate. What is that role?


For real, sustainable progress to be made on climate, policy needs to be at the center of the solution. There’s a myriad of reasons – the global nature of the problem, the massive amounts of capital needed to get initially unprofitable technologies off the ground, the need to ensure environmental justice and so many countless more. All stakeholders need to play a part, and governments have a leading role as representatives for all of us and their unique ability to be accelerants in creating the conditions for change.  


Being two New Englanders, and this being a Boston-based podcast, let’s talk about home… How is Massachusetts doing in the climate space?


Massachusetts is crushing it. Much of the innovation on climate is happening at the state and private company level. Massachusetts and California are widely seen as the two states that have the most forward-thinking policy initiatives and most vibrant climate tech ecosystems. 

For example, on the policy front, Governor Maura Healy and Mayor Michelle Wu recently visited the Vatican for a global climate summit, having been invited to talk about the Commonwealth’s leadership status on climate policy and job creation. The Governor is really leaning into climate tech innovation, creating The Climatetech Initiative, a $1 billion, ten-year push to solidify Massachusetts's position as the climate lab for the world. Mayor Wu is doing phenomenal work in Boston, pushing hard on sustainability, resilience and environmental justice; she just named the city's first Chief Climate Officer, elevating these issues to the Cabinet level.


It's easy to get down on this topic and the way things have been in recent history, but are you a climate optimist or pessimist?


I’m a clear-eyed climate optimist. We’re going to turn this around, but it’s going to take a ton of work. The faster we accelerate the easier it becomes.





Fun one - Tesla or Rivian? And why? Or someone else? Or does it matter?


We have both! As early adopters looking for ways to reduce our own carbon impact, we got a Tesla Model 3 in 2018. I showed up at the Natick Mall in 2016 at 5am to wait in line and get a reservation – it was one of the first Model 3’s delivered in Massachusetts.

We loved the EV experience so much that when Rivian unveiled the R1T we put in a reservation. It’s a true adventure vehicle – our Rivian goes everywhere from Vermont to Acadia National Park to our town dump.

We’re now an all-electric family. EVs are a fantastic choice for many people. But for others a hybrid makes more sense. Or even the greenest option of all, no car!


In matters such as positively impacting the climate crisis, where are you most excited about in 2024 and beyond? 


The fact that millions of people around the globe are doing their part to help stem this crisis and more join the effort every day.


Tell us about a particularly challenging moment in your entrepreneurial career and how you overcame it.  What did you learn from that experience?


Early in my career I had a co-worker that would sometimes take credit for work I did in front of our managers. I was stunned. I was very direct with that person that I found the behavior unacceptable. I also then began creating direct relationships with all my managers so they could clearly get a sense of who I was and my talents. As I became a manager, I realized that a good manager should make an effort to really know each member of their team for a variety of reasons, including having the ability to clearly assess who is doing what on each project. This philosophy grew into my management style, which is very people driven.


Finally, can you share your vision for the legacy you hope to leave behind on planet earth?


I love helping people become the best versions of themselves. The best legacy I can leave is helping everyone I touch, especially my family, reach that goal.


FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the  listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from  a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners? 


Great question! My challenge is simple – don’t touch or read a screen for the first hour you are awake. I do this every day and find that it allows me to embrace the day on my terms, with no outside noise. I usually journal and do a bit of life planning. If I have a work project due where I need to take advantage of morning time (I’m an early thinker), I’ll write by hand for the first hour. 





### 


You can follow BSU on Twitter at @BostonSpeaksUp, and recommend BSU guests by contacting team@valuecreationlabs.co.


9 views0 comments

Comentarios


bottom of page