Sabin Stories introduce you to former finalists and winners of the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize as they share experiences and reflect on their time as student entrepreneurs at Yale.
“The Sabin Prize gave us a year to test our ideas” shares Max Webster, YC’ 12, co-founder of Weave and a winner of the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize in 2013.
A passionate environmentalist since his early childhood in Mississippi, Max knew he wanted to dedicate his life to building a world where all species thrive.
After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Max founded an NGO called Climate Voices to highlight the human rights impacts of climate change. Seeking solutions to environmental challenges, the political science major at Yale College took classes at the Law School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Disillusioned with the timeline of offered responses, Max found his calling as an entrepreneur. Clean energy was the viable, prompt solution he was looking for.
Together with Shwerin Wu, YC’ 12 Max co-founded Weave - referral campaign management software for residential energy efficiency and solar companies. The team aspired
to tackle the three biggest barriers to adoption of solar and efficiency in the fragmented residential markets: awareness, credibility, and complexity. The platform they built worked with solar installers and energy efficiency product vendors to incentivize existing customers to refer their friends to purchase the product or service.
Weave quickly grew from a concept to a working prototype. Support from a Sobotka Seed Stage grant was instrumental in getting the idea off the ground. The Sabin Prize was well deserved for their persistence and hard work, providing influential funding at such an early state of the venture.
Max is grateful for the wealth of resources he had at Yale. Upon graduation, the YEI fellowship allowed him and Shwerin to dedicate their full attention to the company.
Mentorship is a valuable intangible that Max wishes he used more rigorously. Yet he remembers the insightful chats he had with Andrew Sabin himself.
Along the journey, Max has grown professionally and personally. “Every startup is a great learning experience”. The biggest lesson- “All that really matters is to validate that you can solve a problem for someone. Spend as much time as possible understanding your customers’ problem.” Once you get to 10 paying customers, chances are you can scale.” Rather outside of the entrepreneur’s control lies one important detail: a growing market.
Looking back, the energy entrepreneur acknowledges that with Weave, the team was too concerned with the big picture, the different stages of fundraising, and along the way missed the essence of solving the problem. Positioning was a factor in Weave’s destiny- it did not quite manage to find the right market at the time.
In the face of difficulty, the entrepreneur must be resilient and flexible. “Don’t get too married to a specific idea or solution. Instead, focus on identifying and understanding a problem in a field that you’re passionate about. Realize that you may need to pivot several times before you find the right solution.” Inevitably, there are a lot of struggles along the path and “having a strong conviction to drive you forward is very important. In our case, we fundamentally believed (and sill do) that the world must transition to clean energy. ” Last, but not least, one must know where to apply their learnings, when to shift gears, and when to let go.
The entrepreneurial experience at Yale shaped Max’s career choices and future path. Committed to the cause of spreading renewable energy on a large scale, he was recognized in Forbes’ prestigious ranking of 30 under 30 leaders in energy. Building upon the lessons and experience from Weave, he is now the Head of Growth at Bright , a Y Combinator backed solar startup in Mexico, that provides affordable retail solar electricity to residential customers.