Dave Finocchio, co-founder and CEO of the popular sports media outlet Bleacher Report, and Anna Robertson, an ABC and Yahoo News executive, were concerned about climate change.
But when California blazes repeatedly engulfed their communities with smoke and triggered an emergency evacuation for Robertson, it lit the proverbial fire under them both. Tapping their media backgrounds, Finocchio and Robertson have 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 tech innovation, and other solutions-focused environmental news. Its Instagram and TikTok channels are arguably the most entertaining way to access content, with recent posts including a video headlined “Explain it to me like I’m 5” on composting and a variety of enviro life hacks.
The Cool Down is based in Bend, Ore. 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 the event company Superfly.
Finocchio is building off his experience with Bleacher Report, which launched in 2005 and has nearly 20 million Instagram followers. He created the company because at traditional media outlets it often felt like sports journalists were writing for their peers and not the public, he said, and were neglecting young fans in particular.
How you package and curate content and the tone of the message really matter, Finocchio said, and that’s what Bleacher Report focused on. “We’re taking a crack at running that same [sports] playbook for climate,” he said, “where we’re gonna see if we can curate a lot of information, and then find ways to ultimately package it for people that makes it relatable and more shareable.”
We caught up with Finocchio and Robertson for a Q&A, which has been edited for clarity and length.
GeekWire: Why this approach for elevating the climate conversation?
Finocchio: We are reaching the turning point. We’re going through heat waves in the United States and in Europe and other parts of the world right now. And there are more people who are becoming very conscious of extreme weather, and others who are more conscious of it through the lens of climate change, and I think they need resources to help them navigate this world so they can make good decisions for them and their families.
But I don’t think it works unless you create content and information in the places where they are spending the most time — so to some extent that’s obviously social platforms. Going back to sports, I bought an [Instagram] account called House of Highlights in its early nascency. And the reason we bought it, we saw that the House of Highlights would consistently post the same video that ESPN would, and they would beat ESPN from an engagement standpoint by five to 10x just because of how that highlight was packaged, [how] the caption was written, how we made the video relatable to a wider group of people.
Robertson: One missing component to the climate solutions discussion is communication and engagement of the public. Anytime we’ve had to do something hard in history, we’ve needed the public 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. A lot of the content is very focused on the problem and doom and gloom, and it just feels overwhelming with everything else we have going on in the world.
Dave and I felt there’s a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm and innovation that’s happening that people are not hearing enough about. If they could connect to a more hopeful view of what our future could be — if we make real changes across all aspects of our lives — we felt that people might be more likely to be engaged at a mass scale, which is what we need to address this issue.
Finoccio: I’ll give you a quick example. Yesterday, we had a couple of posts about about electric lawnmowers. It’s summertime, California is banning gas lawnmowers at the end of 2023. We were able to package the amount of emissions that come from gas lawnmowers with a funny clip from the movie “Zoolander.”
And that allowed me to send a clip to my group of friends from college, many of whom are a little bit right leaning, from the Midwest. Generally, they would not have engaged with it, but because it was packaged in a funny way, it started a discussion where a couple of my friends said, “Yeah, I bought electric lawnmowers in the last couple of years and they’re actually great.” And then three other friends chimed in. Basically, the conclusion was, “OK, I get it, the next time my gas lawnmower breaks, I will replace it with an electric lawnmower.”
GW: There’s a recognition that the fossil fuel companies have really tried to put it on individuals to solve climate change, and deflected their own responsibility. And the site is focused on those sorts of individual choices. So how do you make the impact bigger and more meaningful?
Finocchio: We do feel strongly that there are lots of better products and better ways of doing things. And I think whether you measure a climate impact based on somebody’s recycling, or using better deodorant, or whatever it is, for us right now, what’s more important is that somebody’s taking that sort of action. [It’s] a sign of consciousness, and that they are trying to do something.
For a large part of the American public, there are lots of people who are far beyond that [level of action]. But we’ve got hundreds of millions of people in this country who have not even started to take any action. So we’re trying to be more “top-of-funnel.” We’ve got to get more people moving on this in ways where they actually can engage somehow.
Robertson: We’re not an advocacy or a policy organization. We’re not political. We’re a place where we can represent a lot of different viewpoints and a lot of different ways to get involved, whether that’s making a lifestyle change, understanding why composting is valuable, or getting inspired to make a different investment, or be engaged, or change their career like Dave and I did.
GW: So the next six months to a year or so, what do you do? What’s happening? How do you get the word out?
Finocchio: One of our goals 18 months from now is to have as much data, if not more data, than anyone in the digital space specifically about messages that resonate, about products that resonate, and really have a proprietary understanding of how we deliver content and product recommendations on a demographic basis, whether that’s by age, sex, parts of the country, or belief systems.
There will be groups of climate folks that will have very different views, that will talk about climate differently, they will talk about pollution differently, but they can all live under a broad tent. So we’re going to need to leverage a lot of data to figure out who are the voices that are going to effectively relate to a certain type of audience in Texas versus an audience that’s in Massachusetts. We don’t necessarily think that there’s a one-size-fits-all message.
GW: That’s fascinating. I’ve been steeped in the traditional space for a really long time. This has given me a lot to think about.
Finocchio: We’ll see in 12 months if it works. But both Anna and I came together around this and feel very, very strongly that this is needed. The climate space needs to become more accessible to mainstream America. The climate community does a great job creating content for a more intellectual community of folks, but I don’t think communication to the country broadly is as strong as it could be.