Episode 36 – Building Businesses: Roadmaps, risks and rates of change with Andy Shafer

Jun 27, 2024

In this episode, I had the opportunity to catch up with Andy Shafer, who’s been a leader in building businesses in the 21st century biobased economy. A Dow Chemical alumnus, he started his ‘bio-journey’ with NatureWorks, a Joint Venture between Dow Chemical and Cargill, where he had a leadership role in bringing PLA to market. He then moved to Elevance Renewable Sciences for 9 years, establishing their market facing partnerships including sales and marketing, corporate brand and communications. He then spent 7 years in private consulting, including the authoring of a book on strategy and ROADMAP development, before joining Gevo in late 2023 as their Chief Marketing, Customer and Brand Officer.

In our discussions, Andy reflects on his journey into the biobased economy and early involvement in the market development of PLA. It was striking that a reframing of the questions and potential benefits lead to a dramatic shift in strategy, leading to a focus of performance in use and less on the fact that it was a ‘bio’ product. His shares some observations on bringing a new joint venture together, with a team of different industrial backgrounds (and allegiances), and the process of bringing that team together around the JV’s mission. He also reflects on the resources and reputation that comes with a new JV entity in contrast to its (larger) parents.

One of the challenges we discuss is developing ‘proof of concept’ to customers with constrained resources and the need to look toward creative collaborations. Andy sees segmentation as critical to tech transfer as this involves identifying who is going to help you be successful. He also notes that this isn’t necessarily the obvious, discussing fast followers rather than incumbents as they may not have the reputational risk associated with trying new approaches. We touch on the role of laggards or, as per Episode 7 with Paul Bryan, the role of the desperate customer.

Andy also reflects on the rate of change and introduces the notion of ‘stopwatches vs calendars’. We touched on the importance of timing in Episodes 10 and 13 and how these impact tech transfer outcomes. Here, Andy notes that clients can move at different rates to new ventures. He also notes that capital intensity and downstream supply chain partners, all need time to adjust and adopt new approaches. We touch on how ownership and the introduction of new investors through fundraising rounds can also be subject to asynchronous timing outcomes. The need for synchronicity between investors throughout the life of a venture is critical to sustainable success. Andy discusses how investor misalignment can drive different operational behaviours and outcomes.

We close by discussing his new role at Gevo, and team members Pat Gruber, Chris Ryan and Bill Baum, acting as a gravitational force to bring Andy back into corporate life from his consulting activities. Andy sees Gevo as an opportunity to “help transform another industry on a mission that matters”. In taking on the challenge of bringing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to market, we again reflect on rates of change and risk.

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