Founder Stories: Climate Corp’s David Friedberg On Why Leading A Company Is Like Playing Poker

For this week’s Founder Stories, I sat down with David Friedberg of The Climate Corporation to talk about building a business around big data and machine learning. The Climate Corporation collects data and tracks weather patterns on a field by field level to aid farmers in better planning agricultural operations. The company uses this data to offer insurance policies to individual farmers and agricultural businesses whose income is almost entirely dependent on weather.

According to Friedberg, “45 percent of the world’s labor force are farmers. So there is a massive opportunity.” He continues explaining how agriculture is a massive market with over $500 billion in U.S. revenue each year. “Farmers are just now coming online with mobile phones proliferating through third-world markets, as well as the United States.”

Building a company in an emerging industry is often rocky and requires strong leadership. Expanding on this idea, David and I discussed homing in on an unknown market, the process of iterative success (and failure), and how to make decisions with indefinite answers. “We made lots of mistakes,” said Friedberg. “The business nearly died multiple times trying to fix all the problems with the product and the customer.”

One of the things I learned playing a lot of poker was you can’t count the chips that you’ve already put in the pot. You just have to look at the hand that you have in front of you and make a determination about what the right bet is to make at that very moment.

Friedberg advises that “in building a business, you can’t let the fact that you spent a lot of time doing something drive the decision of what’s best” for your company.

A new card could flip over that could completely change your betting strategy, and you’ve got to be constantly willing to let go of the past and be willing to embrace what makes sense going forward.

Editor’s Note: Michael Abbott is a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously Twitter’s VP of Engineering, and a founder himself. Mike also writes a blog called uncapitalized. You can follow him on Twitter @mabb0tt.