By any account, Benjamin Stein has had a storied career in the software industry. In more than 20 years in the field, he has led R&D for Twilio’s social impact division and served as general manager of Twilio’s Developer Experience and Enterprise business units. He co-founded Mobile Commons, which was acquired by Upland Software, worked on Bloomberg LP’s trading system and search engine, and even wrote algorithms to detect lung cancer from CT scans.
But a trip to Alaska last year changed the trajectory of Stein’s career. What started as a personal mission to reduce his own carbon footprint turned into an interest in climate tech and a passion for giving software developers more ways to get involved in the climate fight. That took him straight to Arcadia.
Arcadia is the place where software developers should be going to make a difference.
As Arcadia’s new Chief Product Officer, Stein will oversee and shape the product vision for the Arc platform as well as Arcadia’s community solar program. We sat down to talk with him about why the climate tech sector is the most exciting space to work in right now.
Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Arcadia: What inspired you to make a move into climate tech?
Benjamin Stein: My “aha” moment was last summer in Alaska, standing on top of an actively melting glacier. Our guide pointed to a rocky hillside a couple miles away. “That’s where I used to give this speech,” he said stoically.
So my wife and I decided to try and decarbonize and transition to 100% renewable energy. We added rooftop solar and backup batteries to our house, began a multi-year journey to replace all our existing gas appliances and cars with electric, bought clean energy from East Bay Community Energy, and divested our investments from all fossil fuel companies. And we felt quite good about ourselves… for about five minutes.
But my second aha moment was that I was thinking on a scale that could be so much bigger. What I was doing for myself and my family — one roof — was not going to get us there. When I think about where I want to spend my time, I want to be doing the most leveraged things I can. To me, that is building platforms to enable others who have massive reach themselves to touch everyone on the planet. And a data layer is a really good place to invest because it is one of the biggest missing pieces needed to unlock the creativity of software developers who, in turn, can touch hundreds of millions of people each. Those are the types of massive bets that we need to be placing right now!
How do you see the Arc platform functioning as one of those large-scale bets?
Almost every industry has been disrupted by software and by developers and by APIs. Stripe did it for payments, Twilio did it for communications, Google did it for maps. They’ve all been disrupted by APIs that are now enabling the creativity of developers to stitch disparate things together and build innovation on top. Yet this has just absolutely not happened for energy. And given the size of the market, the urgency of the crisis, it’s shocking. That’s Arcadia’s bet: taking a regulated, byzantine, complicated industry and giving developers a new superpower, which is being able to innovate and build around energy.
Innovation in every industry has exploded when builders have reliable data that can then be leveraged, utilized, enhanced, analyzed. Arc provides APIs for the data layer for all innovation in the energy space. It is a prerequisite for building models, for designing great consumer experiences. Our vision is that Arc will power every innovative business or consumer product that has an energy footprint.
Come drive the renewable future with us.Check open positions
What have you learned coming from Twilio, working with distributed software, working with developers, that you’re excited to bring to Arcadia?
The creativity of software developers is just unparalleled. Their ability to go from idea to delivery just with a keyboard is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And given the right building blocks to create, they’ll unleash just amazing things in the world. We’ve seen that for decades.
But to be honest, in the climate space, it’s kind of hard to find software opportunities where you can make a difference. If you think about what’s needed, it’s policy, it’s financing, it’s science. And so me and my peers who have been building software for years don’t always know how to help. One of the reasons I was so excited about Arcadia was exactly that — Arcadia is the place where software developers should be going to make a difference.
Can you elaborate more on the role you see for developers in solving the climate crisis?
We need consumer demand for a renewable grid. A renewable grid will come because we’ve electrified everything and consumers are demanding different sources of energy; it’s not going to just come because utilities feel good about it. And governments aren’t going to pass laws and policies and tax incentives just because. Creating consumer demand is a fantastic way to pull the world forward. And the demand will come because consumers can have better experiences, whether it’s an EV that performs better, whether it’s a lower heating bill because you have an efficient heat pump or your Nest regulates your thermostat. Consumers are driving these things forward. The more innovation that can happen, the more consumers are going to get excited. And the people who will bring it about are technologists. That’s just what we’ve seen in industry after industry for forever.
What makes a platform like Arc interesting to developers?
The scale and complexity of the problem makes working in this sector pretty daunting. You can solve a problem for yourself, you can solve a problem for your family, or maybe even for a single utility or town. But solving problems and innovating at scale is near impossible in the climate space. And that is one of the real value props of Arc. We need to take away all of the local, regulatory, inconsistent perspectives that the energy sector has to enable software developers to work quickly and to be able to deploy across the US and globally. This is not an individual-scale problem, and it’s not a local-scale problem.
The ability for a software developer to write an app and distribute it globally to millions of devices is just incredible. But that type of global distribution absolutely falls apart when you start to deal with local, regulated environments. That is what’s really exciting about Arc. Arc’s vision is being able to do what developers take for granted, which is the ability to do software distribution globally, and enable them to do it for energy.
That’s Arcadia’s bet: taking a regulated, byzantine, complicated industry and giving developers a new superpower, which is being able to innovate and build around energy.
Thinking about the challenges you faced in electrifying and decarbonizing your own home, what are you hoping to do for other consumers trying to make the same choices?
It needs to be easier, it needs to be cheaper. Reducing the carbon footprint is just so difficult, and it needs to be a no-brainer. No one wants to think about it, right? It needs to happen in a way that is driven by economics — because things are cheaper or cooler — or you don’t even know you’re doing it because you want something else. I want a car that is sexy and goes really fast. Great — that will bring me to an EV. I want to not pay for $6-a-gallon gasoline. That will also bring me to an EV. I want my home heating bill to go down. That will drive me to heat pumps. But it’s hard. It’s just not something that’s easily accessible to most people.
My hope with both Arc and community solar is to make the value prop for consumers and businesses to switch to renewables multifaceted so it’s driven by all of those factors. A small fraction will be because people feel a social responsibility. But we have to assume that that’s going to be the minority. Innovation is what we need to bring everyone along. Arcadia’s vision is to empower innovative builders and companies to be some of the most influential adoption drivers to a world of clean, renewable energy.