Meet a CEO: Joanna Auburn, Trace – The Big Smoke Australia


We spoke with Trace Co-Founder, Joanna Auburn, about bringing people together for the greater good, and how you blend tech, finance and altruism.

 

 

In early 2020, Joanna Auburn joined forces with her business partner Cat Long and founded Trace. It’s a ‘social entrepreneurship’, which pools members’ funds to plant trees and invest in projects to reduce or remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere, aligned with the aims of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 

What was the process that led to your involvement in Trace (and your partnership with Cat)?

Cat and I have known each other for five years and already launched a sustainable handbag brand est2026. We absolutely loved this experience and wanted to launch a company that had the potential to scale globally.

In January, we took the plunge and left our full-time jobs to join a start-up generator programme, Antler. The programme involved doing a series of design sprints to validate business ideas. We launched Trace in March this year. We wanted to solve a problem that we felt personally connected to and it was hard not to feel connected to climate change after experiencing the bushfires in Sydney.

We call ourselves ‘climate conscious hypocrites’ and offsets felt like the perfect solution for us. 

 

What are the inherent difficulties you face in bridging tech, finance and positive social impacts? 

I’d previously associated doing good with NGOs and charities, but the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ really helps explain what we do. It’s the pursuit of a business with purpose where success is measured in terms more than just financial outcomes. There is a big groundswell around this category of business which is exciting, and it feels good. You no longer need to choose between doing good or doing well, one bolsters the other and it has been proven that sustainable and ethical businesses outperform those that aren’t.

We’ve seen this with the recent crash due to COVID-19. Fidelity analysed the performance of 2600 companies and found that market performance and ESG ratings (designed to measure a company’s resilience to long-term, industry material environmental, social and governance risks) are positively correlated!

So, it was really exciting for us to build a company that delivers environmental and social benefits and can attract external capital so that we can grow our movement and impact faster.

 

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This is a competitive marketplace. How do you know which notes to strike to cut through?

It sure is! Our differentiator is that we stand for the consumer. One of the most important things we do is a lot of talking to our customers. I talk to a new customer a few times every week to understand how they found us, what was their motivation, and what they expect next. This has been very insightful and fed much of the consumer product roadmap. 

 

Take us through a day in your life. What does the typical day look like?

I start every day with a cycle into the office then coffee and stand up. Start-up days are never the same or very predictable, so we take each day as it comes. Within one day in a start-up you can be head of legal, then tech then marketing. It’s all go!

Managing this is important for your sanity otherwise the switching cost of moving from one thing to another is draining. We bring structure with hypothesis-based testing, so we are constantly learning and iterating to optimise our product in a methodical way.

Cat and I have been friends for many years and believe strongly in enjoying the journey. Every day we have fun and have been known for our 3 pm laughing sessions!

 

We all have a role to play to reverse the effects of climate change and choosing climate-friendly products is a good place to start. By making it easier for brands to offset their footprint, we provide more choice for consumers.

 

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How would you describe your leadership style?

Cat and I are both ‘integrators’, which means we value connection. We enjoy exploring different perspectives, we’re optimistic and we’re empathetic – traits which serve us well when creating a consumer business.

 

What are the short- and long-term goals for the company?

Very soon we are going live with subscription plans in lots of other countries which is very exciting. In the longer term we are working on building trace through two main channels: one, working with corporates to engage, educate and offset their employees, and two, working with consumer brands to help them become climate positive.

We all have a role to play to reverse the effects of climate change and choosing climate-friendly products is a good place to start. By making it easier for brands to offset their footprint, we provide more choice for consumers.

Eventually, sustainable products and services will be the norm and unsuitable brands will be forced to follow suit or they won’t survive. The more we grow the bigger the dent we make on the climate crisis!

 

What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on the company’s bottom line?

We launched as COVID struck, so we can’t be sure what the bottom line would have looked like before. But every cloud has a silver lining – quarantining and much less travel has allowed everyone to see firsthand how our actions affect pollution and CO2 levels. This is an amazing breakthrough and new perspective for many that we can make use of to drive positive change.

 

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What’s the next big move for Trace?

Trace is just getting started and we are so excited for the year ahead. Ultimately our goal is to help consumers do the right thing by the environment and save money. This is something we are working towards so watch this space.  

 

Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.

Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.

 

 

Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.

Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.

 

 

 

 





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