Kai Marshland
Kai Marshland

Kai Marshland: California Provides the World’s Strongest Ecosystem of Engineers, Investors, and Innovation

Kai Marshland of WindBorne Systems.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve been working at climate startups since I was 13, when I would cut class to go to San Francisco and code for Carrotmob

. The climate crisis is the single biggest threat facing humanity, and it’s my goal in life to do something about it. Startups provide a remarkable opportunity to do so: they’re the single best tool on the planet to unlock massive resources to invent the revolutionary.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

People think that startups are driven by greed. To me, startups are defined by their mission. Though companies live and die by their bottom line, the compulsion to build a massive business is driven by the chance to have a massive impact.

Tesla never could have driven electric vehicle adoption had it not harnessed the power of consumer demand. That’s the beauty of a startup: it’s a chance to solve humanity’s problems.

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?

Being an entrepreneur has taught me the value of telling a good story. I’m an introverted engineer at heart, but from day one it was clear that I’d have to share my passion with the world.

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Raise more money in each round. When your business is growing fast, you want to have the resources to support that, and you absolutely don’t want to have to spend time fundraising when you could be building your company further.

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

Passion about your company goes a long way, but I’ve found it crucial to listen to my body about what it needs. Sometimes when I’m low energy, it’s a sign to take a break rather than to push through it.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

WindBorne Systems started when, as students at Stanford, we became baffled by the brevity of traditional weather balloon flights: they typically burst after less than two hours.

We thought this was ridiculous, and set out to design a system that could fly far longer at a comparable cost. A year and a half later, we had set a world record. As our team graduated, we realized that this technology was far too powerful to die in a lab, and founded WindBorne Systems.

Our mission is to use the vast quantities of new data collected by our global sounding balloons – which can today fly more than 200x longer than traditional balloons – to improve weather forecasting and mitigate the effects of climate change.

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

We have converted a hardware problem – measuring the atmosphere – into a software problem.

By redesigning balloon hardware to be simple and low cost, then stuffing it full of cutting edge software, we’re able to dynamically control our balloons around the world and radically improve performance at the push of a button.

Our software also lets us scale: we can fly hundreds of our long-endurance balloons around the world precisely because their control is so heavily automated.

WindBorne now has a capability possessed by no one else on the planet: to cost effectively fly hundreds of balloons around the world for weeks at a time each, collecting unprecedented quantities of data.

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?

You’ll find a lot of people in Silicon Valley are afraid of a government-based revenue model, and if you’re the type to follow the fears of the flock, you probably shouldn’t sell to the government.

But if you’re willing to learn about the functioning of an apparatus that allocates trillions of dollars each year, you’ll find plenty of money waiting to be spent on innovative tech that solves real problems.

WindBorne has had tremendous success getting the government to put down money by identifying core needs and building a product that can actually deliver.

What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?

California provides the world’s strongest ecosystem of engineers, investors, and innovation.

With offices near Stanford, we can pull talent from one of the best schools in the world, and our placement near Sand Hill Road makes it easy to meet with investors. Even the real estate market is a plus: our landlords are already used to working with startups.

What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?

The biggest weakness is, unsurprisingly, a higher cost base for real estate and personnel.

We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?

The cost of living crisis has increased our costs, but on the whole, our margins are high enough that it hasn’t been a significant concern.

It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?

Competition spurs innovation. We see competition, be that for talent or funding, as a positive: it encourages the ecosystem to develop, and we’re confident in WindBorne’s ability to succeed.

Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?

We have no plans to move our headquarters. No one will be surprised to hear that California, and Silicon Valley in particular, is expensive.

Yet because California wages set the wages for the best engineers out there, I can’t say that we’d save significantly by moving elsewhere. Match that with its benefits for innovators, and there’s no reason why we’d move.

Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?

In five years, WindBorne Systems is going to be the dominant force in weather data. We’re on track to collect 10,000x more data per dollar than competitors, and the vast quantities of data we’ll collect will power the world’s forecasting.

With better weather forecasts, private industry will be able more swiftly adopt renewables, and governments will be better able to predict and react to extreme weather like hurricanes and wildfires.

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

Go to https://windbornesystems.com/. We’re always on the lookout for talented engineers and meteorologists who want to use real hardware to adapt to the ongoing climate crisis.

Follow WindBorne Systems on Twitter or Linkedin.

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