With her climate-tech venture Sweep, Rachel Delacour has no time to lose
Rachel Delacour sold her first company, BIME Analytics, to Zendesk in 2015. She had launched it six years prior to that with her co-founder, Nicolas Raspal, as an analytics platform that helps businesses leverage data to optimise customer experiences. Perhaps unusually for a founder, she continued working under the new San Francisco-based ownership for over three more years. ‘It was fantastic,’ she says, ‘but I guess when you’re an entrepreneur, you need your own venture again.’
That next venture turned out to be Sweep, a soft-ware platform that allows companies to understand, manage and reduce their carbon footprint. For Rachel, the impetus behind this business was highly personal. ‘We wanted to address something that was incredibly worrying to us as parents of young kids,’ she explains. ‘By which I mean climate change.’ Realising that it was probably a little late to retrain as climate scientists, Rachel and Nicolas decided to instead put to good use their experiences of running a successful B2B software company: their expertise in big data, distributed infra-structure and SaaS businesses; their network of financial partners; and their large pool of international talent. ‘We said, “OK, let’s throw all of this in one direction and try to help solve climate change.”’
The first step was to tap into their network of C-suite executives at large corporates and to ask them where their largest challenges lay regarding emissions. There was almost unanimous agreement. All of these companies were committed to affecting change and had often gone as far as to commit publicly to reductions. ‘But once the commitment is made, you then need the action plan,’ says Rachel. ‘And this is where they were completely lost, because they just didn’t know where to start.’
For a large company, one whole-scale emissions audit, run by external consultants, might be possible. But the challenge arises when you need to continue monitoring and managing your emissions over time on a regular basis, which is the only way to truly prove impact. ‘It becomes incredibly difficult, incredibly expensive and incredibly time-consuming, unless you automate it,’ says Rachel. Companies are living, breathing organ-isms that morph and change over time, and the problem of emissions needs to be tackled at the scale of the organisation and its entire value chain. ‘For this,’ she says, ‘you need a technology stack.’
Together with Raphael Güller and Yannick Chaze, Rachel and Nicolas founded Sweep in June 2020 to fill this gap in the market and launched publicly in April 2021. So, it’s still a young company. However, Rachel has leant on all her experiences from launching and selling BIME Analytics and used her address book to gain the trust and confidence of investors and customers alike. As she puts it, ‘They understand where we come from.’ A big part of this is around data security and privacy. Often, after an initial exploratory call with a prospective client, whether that be a CEO or managing director, the next person on the phone to Sweep will be the CTO. Here, Rachel and Nicolas’ previous work in business intelligence is vital (alongside the fact that Sweep is SOC 2-compliant, a certification which attests the correct and secure management of customer data). ‘The company may be young, but not the team, and the level of data and carbon expertise we’re bringing in is incredibly reassuring,’ Rachel says.
While it is a young company, the founder is in no mood for ponderous growth. ‘We only have 10 years in front of us to try to change the way climate change is going,’ she says. So, she and her leadership team have directed all of Sweep’s efforts in this first year at the world’s ‘big emitters’. She refers to this as a ‘top-down approach’, as opposed to a strategy of starting with smaller clients and building up from there. Another benefit is that larger companies tend to be more highly regulated and therefore already have more thought-through climate policies and strategies. Hopefully, Rachel points out, you also influence plenty of SMEs through the value chains of these larger corporates.
Naturally, funding is playing an important role in Sweep’s fast-growth strategy. In December 2021, the company announced that it had raised USD22m in Series A funding, led by European tier-one venture capital firm Balderton Capital, which brought the company’s total funding to USD27m less than a year post-launch. How is Rachel planning on spending this extra cash? ‘It’s really about expanding our go-to-market sales team and enhancing our platform,’ she says. For now, while Sweep has a number of American customers and has just made its first hires in the US, Europe is the priority, ‘because this is where the demand is, and where companies are the most educated, because of the regulations here’.
Rachel’s dream in the next couple of years would be to see Sweep adopted by high-emission industries and showing its value on a global scale. ‘I would love to be able to say that an industry has been able to reduce its emissions and is ready to operate in a low-carbon economy because its companies used Sweep to map and connect their supply chains,’ she says.
When it comes to the future ownership structure of the company, Rachel is keen for Sweep to remain private for the time being. Traditionally, the main reason to take a company public was to get a large injection of cash all at once, but today ‘the game has completely changed,’ she notes. ‘You can have the same amounts of money now on the private markets.’ For her, losing overall control of the company is less of a worry – partly because she was able to carefully choose her financial partners right from the off, and partly because she has taken extra measures to protect against a change of direction. Sweep is a B Corp and société à mission, a French legal term meaning that its central mission as a company cannot ever be changed. ‘For me, it’s a way to hold ourselves account-able,’ she says. ‘To be sure that internally we’re on the right track, but also for the sake of transparency, so that our financial partners know the kind of company they are investing in.’
Having worked at Zendesk, which underwent an IPO in 2014, Rachel understands the stresses and strains of operating as a public company, from compliance to communication. Yet still she is keen to eventually take Sweep into an IPO, mainly because she still sees it as the best way to broadcast a company’s message. And for her, the message couldn’t be more important or more urgent. ‘It would be incredible,’ she says, ‘to have a climate-tech company showing to the world that you can create as much value as possible for your stakeholder investors, financial partners and employees, while being on a mission to reduce emissions.’