Dave Finocchio, co-founder and CEO of popular sports outlet Bleacher Report, and ABC and Yahoo News executive Anna Robertson were concerned about climate change.
But when the California fires repeatedly engulfed their communities in smoke and triggered an emergency evacuation for Robertson, it ignited the proverbial fire beneath them both. Drawing on their media backgrounds, Finocchio and Robertson launched The Cool Down, a media channel that aims to be “America’s first mainstream climate brand.”
The platform went live this month and the team recently announced a $5.7 million seed round. The site features climate-friendly product recommendations, stories about climate technology innovation, and other solution-oriented environmental news. His Instagram and TikTok channels are arguably the most entertaining way to access content, with recent posts including a video called “Explain to Me Like I’m 5” about composting and a variety of hacks of the environmental life.
The Cool Down is based in Bend, Oregon and has 10 employees. Finocchio is CEO and Robertson is chief content officer. Its third co-founder and chief operating officer is Ryan Alberti.
The investment round was led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Jetstream, Swingbridge and Niche Capital. Angel investors include Dawn Dobras, former CEO of Credo Beauty, The Ringer founder Bill Simmons, and Rick Farman and Richard Goodstone of events company Superfly.
Finocchio draws on his experience with Bleacher Report, which launched in 2005 and has nearly 20 million Instagram followers. He started the company because in mainstream media, it often felt like sportswriters wrote for their peers and not the public, he said, and neglected young fans in particular.
How you package and organize the content and tone of the message is really important, Finocchio said, and that’s what Bleacher Report focused on. “We try to make the same work [sports] climate playbook,” he said, “where we’re going to see if we can hold a lot of information and then find ways to ultimately package it for people, making it easier to understand and to share.
We caught up with Finocchio and Robertson for a Q&A, which has been edited for clarity and length.
GeekWire: Why this approach to elevate the climate conversation?
Finochio: We come to the bend. We are currently going through heat waves in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. And there are more people who are becoming very aware of extreme weather, and others who are more aware of it through the lens of climate change, and I think they need resources to help them navigate that world so they can make good decisions for themselves and their families.
But I don’t think it works unless you’re creating content and information in the places where they spend the most time – so to some extent obviously it’s social platforms. Returning to the sport, I bought a [Instagram] account called House of Highlights in its early days. And the reason we bought it, we saw that the House of Highlights would consistently post the same video as ESPN, and they would beat ESPN in engagement five to 10 times just because of the how this highlight was packaged, [how] the caption was written, how we made the video accessible to a wider group of people.
Robertson: A missing element to the climate solutions discussion is communication and public engagement. Every time we had to do something difficult in the story, we needed the audience to be engaged. We know that more people than ever are concerned about what’s happening in the climate, but they don’t know what to do, they don’t know where to turn. Much of the content is very problem and misfortune focused, and it feels overwhelming with everything going on in the world.
Dave and I sense there’s a tremendous amount of excitement, enthusiasm and innovation that people don’t hear enough about. If they could connect to a more optimistic view of what our future could be – if we make real change in all aspects of our lives – we felt people might be more likely to be engaged on a large scale. , which is what we need to solve this problem.
Finoccio: I’ll give you a quick example. Yesterday we published a few articles on electric lawn mowers. It’s summer, California is banning gas mowers at the end of 2023. We were able to round up the amount of emissions from gas mowers with a fun clip from the movie “Zoolander”.
And it allowed me to send a clip to my group of college friends, many of whom are a bit right wing, from the Midwest. Usually they wouldn’t have committed to it, but because it was packaged in a fun way, it sparked a discussion where a few friends said, “Yeah, I’ve bought electric lawn mowers over the past last two years and they’re actually awesome.” And then three more friends chimed in. Basically the conclusion was, “OK I got it, next time my gas mower breaks down I’ll replace it with an electric lawn mower.
GW: There is an acknowledgment that the fossil fuel companies have really tried to put on people to solve climate change, and have deflected their own responsibility. And the site focuses on those kinds of individual choices. So how do you make the impact bigger and more meaningful?
Finochio: We believe there are many better products and better ways to do things. And I think if you’re measuring a climate impact based on someone recycling, or using better deodorant, or whatever, for us right now, what’s most important is is someone taking this kind of action. [It’s] a sign of awareness, and they’re trying to do something.
For much of the American public, there are plenty of people who are way beyond that. [level of action]. But we have hundreds of millions of people in this country who haven’t even begun to take action. So we try to be more “upmarket”. We need to get more people moving on this so that they can actually engage in one way or another.
Robertson: We are not an advocacy or policy organization. We are not political. We are a place where we can represent many different viewpoints and many different ways to get involved, whether it’s changing lifestyles, understanding why composting is valuable, being inspired to make a different investment or commit, or change their careers like Dave and I did.
GW: So the next six months to about a year, what are you doing? What is happening? How do you spread the word?
Finochio: One of our goals in 18 months is to have as much, if not more, data than anyone else in the digital space, specifically about what messages resonate, what products resonate, and to really have a proprietary understanding of how we deliver content and product. recommendations on a demographic basis, whether by age, gender, regions of the country or belief systems.
There will be groups of climatologists who will have very different points of view, who will talk about climate differently, they will talk about pollution differently, but they can all live in a big tent. So we’re going to have to mine a lot of data to figure out which voices are actually going to relate to a certain type of audience in Texas versus an audience in Massachusetts. We don’t necessarily think there is a single message.
GW: It’s fascinating. I have been immersed in the traditional space for a very long time. It gave me a lot to think about.
Finochio: We’ll see in 12 months if it works. But Anna and I have come together around this and we feel very, very strongly that it’s necessary. The climate space must become more accessible to the general American public. The climate community is doing a great job creating content for a more intellectual community, but I don’t think the communication with the country is as strong as it could be.