Interview: Co-Founders of Trace, Cat Long and Joanna Auburn
Trace helps businesses to measure their emissions and reach net zero by funding essential climate projects around the world. We’re proud partners of the initiative and continue to be impressed with the team’s innovative approach to the impossibly large issue at hand – saving the planet.
Founders Cat and Joanna have combined tech and a whole lot of passion. It’s easy to see why they’re making waves in their industry (and why they were such a great match for us).
What did your careers look like prior to Trace?
Cat: My first job was on the ‘entrepreneur development programme’ at a scaleup in London! Since then I spent 10 years in management consulting across the financial services and energy sectors. At Macquarie my work focussed on human-centred design – a skillset that shapes my insight-first ethos as a founder.
Joanna: Technology and sustainability have underpinned my career since I first completed my engineering degree. Building products that drive sustainable business is the common theme linking my work at Ovo Energy, Finder and then finally co-founding Trace with Cat.
What sparked the idea for Trace?
Cat: Before we founded Trace, Joanna and I launched a leather-goods consumer brand. Listening to our customers, we knew that sustainability was an emerging consideration when buying a handbag but we really struggled to find a solution for SMEs with a climate conscience. We didn’t have the budget for a consultant, and we couldn’t invest our time in researching the emissions intensity of our brand.
Joanna: Rather than solving this dilemma for our consumer brand alone, we decided that this gap in the market could be filled with a fit-for-purpose tech platform. From here, the journey to founding Trace was fast. We set out to build an intuitive software solution with easy-to-use accounting tools and engaging sustainability resources for businesses and their teams. We never expected our fashion label to evolve into a global carbon accounting software platform… but here we are!
Start ups are a whole other ball game… what do you wish you knew before you launched?
Cat: I honestly don’t believe there’s any specific knowledge required – it’s all about resilience and a hunger to learn. There’s no doubt I would do things differently if we were to start again, but that’s a function of experience. Everything takes time the first time because you’re learning on the job, and that’s part of the fun!
What’s been the hardest, and most rewarding part of business ownership so far?
Cat: Our Carbon Accounting Fellowship has been one of the most rewarding experiences as a founder. We had the opportunity to empower and onboard more than 15 accounting firms with our technology, making it easier and more accessible for small businesses to start the journey to net zero with their trusted adviser: the accountant. Working with the likes of Future Advisory and KPMG, we were so proud to have innovative leaders in accounting share our vision for climate risk as a business risk to be managed.
The hardest part is prioritisation. As I always say, startups are more likely to drown than starve.
Joanna: Building an awesome team to help us achieve our goals. We’ve moved into a phase of business where we have an extremely capable and unique team who I feel really confident with. It’s so rewarding to see that team grow, develop and kick goals together.
How have you managed your dynamic as co founders?
Joanna: We’ve been friends for years and building a previous business together made this quite organic. It just works! We’ve both had to grow a lot professionally to take on the roles we have and we’ve been so transparent with each other along the way with where we are struggling. We just help each other through the tougher times. If we feel out of depth we lean on our networks and advisors for help then discuss things together to find a way forward.
Our motto is that we don’t work for trace, trace works for us.
Cat: Jo has said it perfectly – it just works. We lean on each other for support and a second opinion, but we also manage distinct areas of the business and we trust the other to own them because we can’t be across everything. That said, there have been times when we have to lean into doing things we’re not usually responsible for, like when I took parental leave and Joanna moved to the UK. We’re lucky to have fairly generalist skill sets so that we can flex our attention based on what the business requires.
So what does Trace do?
Cat: Trace is an all-in-one software solution for SMEs and their accountants to measure and manage carbon emissions, and bring their employees on the journey to net zero. With Trace, anyone in a business can be a sustainability specialist – you don’t need to hire an expert or a consultant to take meaningful action.
Joanna: With our industry-leading tech platform and expert sustainability team, we are designed for SMEs and their accountants who need time, and a cost-effective solution to taking climate action.
What are three easy-to-implement practices for businesses looking to go greener?
Cat: You can only manage what’s been measured, so the first step is working with your accountant, Future Advisory, to measure your carbon footprint. Using the Trace software, you can connect to your Xero account and measure carbon emissions based on business expenditure. If you need support, your accountant at Future Advisory can help you with this process – they have been through our Carbon Accounting Fellowship programme so they are uniquely positioned to help you kick off your sustainability journey.
Joanna: Once you’ve mapped and measured your data on the Trace platform, you can visualise the main sources of your business emissions. From there, you can make data-driven decisions on how you want to go greener – these are called your decarbonisation or reduction initiatives. Some of the easiest actions to take include switching your energy provider, implementing sustainable travel and procurement policies, launching employee engagement campaigns for greener WFH arrangements and so much more.
Any other great start ups you’d like to shout out?
Cake Equity is an amazing platform to help startups manage their cap table and stock option plans. They’ve built an amazing community to educate founders like us about best practice, because this area is such a minefield!
In the climate space, we’re closely watching the biodiversity focus of Xylo Systems – a tech platform powering businesses to understand the impact of their operations on the natural environment.
If you’re interested in learning more about Trace, or signing your business up to start the process of achieving net zero, head to the website here.
You can find our Future Advisory X Trace page here, where the details around the projects we have funded are housed.