054: The connection between entrepreneurship, academia, and environment; Balint Horvath , Part 1 (transcript)
We’re now several dozen episodes into the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This conversation with Balint Horvath is actually my very first recording for the podcast. I did Balint’s podcast when I was promoting my book Leadership: Step by Step. We became friends and he was a big guide for me and helped me mentor into getting start with a podcast. And I hope you can hear the chemistry that he and I share. He is also a physicist who went into business. I think you can hear the scientific perspective and we’re a little bit geeky. It being early I had not yet gotten into a rhythm. I probably talked too much but what I talked about was sharing what prompted the podcast and my acting on the environment to do more than just things for myself but to involve other people which was prompted by how well things went for me before and you can hear that I’m looking for him to share his passions so that he can act on them and do things for himself not just to comply for others. So let’s listen to the conversation and hear two scientists talking about the environment and acting on it.
Joshua: Iâ€™m here with Balint Horvath and this is the very first recording of my Leadership and the Environment podcast. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while and I’ve picked Balint, sorry about the pronunciation, to be the first one partly because you’re another physicist, partly because youâ€™re a podcaster, partly because I did your podcast as I think was your first repeat guest and the second one was because we connected on the environment and caring about this and coming both from people who studied nature and science.
Balint: I feel humbled of course and I very much appreciate that I could be featured as your first guest, first recording on your podcast series.
Joshua: Yeah, please tell us about yourself.
Balint: So I started my podcast in December, officially that was the launch but even before of course I had some preparation. Ever since then I’ve been enjoying it having guests on my podcast, itâ€™s called The Hardware Entrepreneur. This means to bring on the show people from the hardware entrepreneurship scene so people who create physical product and actually even in the first episode that I’ve done, that I’ve recorded where I introduce myself I talk about also sustainability because you know to produce physical goods, products you need to use resources. Therefore, it’s also very important to talk about and take into account the environmental impact aspects of your production.
I’m excited now to further explore this topic. So as you referred to it, Josh, you’ve been on my podcast twice and the second time you came onto the show was about sustainability. We discussed some topics regarding that so I encourage the listeners to check out that episode as well. It’s easy to search for it on Google, The Hardware Entrepreneur.
Joshua: One thing I want to come out of this podcast is I think everybody thinks about theâ€¦I think everybody cares and everybody thinks about it and I don’t think people realize the wealth and variety and differences of different views on the environment. I think I quickly realized how many different people see it in different ways. And so I really want to catch your views. I want to get a little bit more about you also. I should have mentioned this the beginning. I note that you have an accent relative to mine, it doesn’t sound American. So where are you right now and where are you from?
Balint: I’m trying to do my best to have a bit of American accent. But originally, I come from Hungary and I live now in Switzerland since 2009. I have some more connection let’s say with the U.S. apart from just you know striving for the American accent because actually I spent there one year during my exchange student time at the university and I even did an internship there. And yeah, even now for my podcast I have mostly or many times American entrepreneurs on the show.
Joshua: Now if I remember right you have a Ph.D. in physics like I do. And how did you decide to study physics and how did you decide to stop studying physics?
Balint: Good question. Of course, I don’t regret now that I’ve changed somewhat the field, at least my narrow focus. So first how I started it. I’ve always been interested since I was a child in physics and how things work. And actually, when I was a child I even had to Einstein his profile, his picture on my wall framed because he was my idol. For other people maybe I don’t know at that time who the music idol was. Today is Justin Bieber for example or Justin Timberlake but for me it was Einstein and even at that time I wanted to be a physicist. But it was not a straight path because I actually studied first computer science. I didn’t like it. Then I changed to electrical engineering. I finished it, I got masterâ€™s and then I wanted to do a Ph.D. in optics, photonics. And it happened that in Europe such a program was offered by the physics department. So in the end I got my Ph.D. in physics.
Joshua: So you’re like a big time nerd because you had a picture of Einstein. It wasn’t like Michael Jordan or what you know American kids would have up or pictures of girls or something like that. When I was a kid I was good at math and science and I tried to hide it because it was socially you know I was already socially maladroit enough as I was to throw and getting an interest in science would like push it over the edge and I tried to hide it. Was your culture different that it was more looked up to or did you not care or was itâ€¦ How did that affect you? I’m just curious.
Balint: Let’s say in high school where I was in this sense different they looked at me differently but it was not like malicious the looks. So it was like neutral. And it was not disturbing me and I helped out sometimes solving problems for them like math or physics problems during the breaks. My other classmates were glad about that of course.
Joshua: So it wasn’t like a social negative for you?
Balint: No, not so much. And actually, I always in retrospect now I considered myself like in a way an outlier because at the same time at the university I was hanging out with the cool kids so weâ€™re going to parties to it during the night and you know going to class the next day trying to stay awake. So I didn’t consider myself a full 100-percent geek but I think I did pretty well, relatively well at the university. So this is why I wanted to continue doing my studies, the Ph.D. So some people might have looked at me as a geek but myself I didn’t consider myself a 100-percent geek.
Joshua: Ok, cool. And you’re about to say something that I interrupted to askâ€¦
Balint: So what I wanted to say is that you know the second part of your question was about why the change. So even after the Ph.D. I wanted to do more science so I was a senior member or member of research staff at the industrial research center here in Switzerland of a big company. And I enjoyed it but even then it became even more and more obvious that I have other aspirations or other skills as well just apart from the execution in science or in engineering. And this is why I was shifting towards project management and actually I moved to another position in other company, a similar company where I was a program manager. I enjoyed working very much with people and this side became stronger and stronger overshadowing my physics background and my skills.
Joshua: I look at the world and I think a lot of people want to change their behavior with respect to the environment to pollute less but it’s really difficult because we you know we grew up, we were born in a world with all these systems in place that were designed in a world when no one guessed that tiny little humans compared to the size of the Earth could actually warm up the whole globe and do what now it seems like the evidence is overwhelmingly saying that we’re doing.
And so these systems are really, really hard to change and people are trying to change laws, they’re trying to educate, they’re trying to give you lots of little tips. All these things that I think are not particularly effective. I mean in this country in the United States, it looks different in Europe, but in the United States like people pass laws or try to pass laws but without getting popular support and people push back on it. And I love that we have Elon Musk and Al Gore and people doing what they’re doing to try to change things. But if you look at the carbon dioxide levels they keep going up so everything we’ve done so far is not working. It’s having some effect but limited and I think as much as we need entrepreneurs. as much as we need scientists, as much as we need politicians to do what they do I think we need leaders. I think a leader helps people do what they want to do when they don’t know how.
So when people go to your podcast I guess if someone is thinking about being an entrepreneur or someone is thinking about being a leader or someone is thinking about transitioning from being scientific or technical to being more social is that what they get from listening to your podcasts?
Balint: Yes. So one of my target audience is students so people who leave academia and they want to start a company because many timesâ€¦ I just had this conversation with one of my guests, his name is Milton Chang, he’s from the U.S., originally from Hong Kong. He’s a very, very successful entrepreneur. He has four decades of a track record in entrepreneurship, two companies IPO and several companies that he supported, like six companies acquired and then other few had an IPO.
And now we discussed this that so people who leave academia they lack some skills that are necessary for successfully starting a company which is business skills. He encouraged listeners that day go to classes during the university studies where they talk about entrepreneurship, at going to trade fairs or going to networking events talking to other entrepreneurs or salespeople asking them why their product is a good product, what their uniqueness is to learn about entrepreneurship and also he’s a big proponent of reading magazines, books. He’s been reading Forbes, Wall Street Journal and a couple of these quite well-known magazines in different industries where talk about different industry stories to pick up knowledge and then went through an analogy he could think best practices to his own business. So this is how I see it.
Joshua: So is your podcast more for academics or more for scientists or itâ€™s for everybody?
Balint: It’s for everybody but I keep definitely the people in mind those as well who want to start out and because many times I ask the questions like â€œHow did you found the company?, What your motivation was?â€, so going back to the very beginning of how a company was founded.
Joshua: It sounds like it will be especially useful for people who are either just beginning or I bet even more so for people who are thinking about beginning but haven’t yet started and this will give them examples and people that they can learn from.
Balint: Yeah. Yeah. From stories because we all learn from stories. We are hardwired as human beings for stories. This is how we memorize things. So this is how I try to bring through stories told by well-respected entrepreneurs lessons from their entrepreneurial career.
Joshua: So now you have a podcast, you’re creating community and then you studied science. Between leadership and environment, do you feel more close to leadership, closer to the environment or both?
Balint: I love both. And I think it’s equally important. And I think it’s a great idea what you have with the podcast because they go hand in hand, they should go hand in hand leadership and environment. Because how I see it is that, one, regarding leadership the word â€œweâ€ comes into my mind almost immediately. So for example, Obama was using these words in his campaign when he said, â€œChange we can believe in.â€ So you know to address climate change, addressing climate change means that right now companies have social responsibility and sustainability on their agenda. There are very few companies which don’t have it. And apart from this, there are companies working on new technologies. So one notable example that you just mentioned Tesla. But there are other clean-tech companies but this is not enough because if we continue using the resources at the same rate as we are using, one example is the airplane travel, it’s been increasing 5 percent the number of kilometers, the miles people take per year since like I don’t know for like 10-15 years, 5 percent every year.
Joshua: Exponential growth.
Balint: Exponential growth. And this is definitely even if you have you know near zero emission of CO2 from airplanes because it’s exploration increasing the demand you will still not make a big difference. So, this is what’s missing. I also share this view with you that controlling our desireâ€¦ So, for example if you go out for a drink, I think listeners know it, you decide at the beginning, â€œI just want to have a couple of beersâ€ but in the end many times we end up having more than just a couple of beers. Why? Because we have an insatiable thirst for beers or drinking the same way we have an insatiable desire for consumption of other things – clothes or travel using you know different transportation options and this is definitely not sustainable. So this is why the WE is important so that together each one of us has to, should contribute to this and there is then a cumulative effect, the community together will make a major impact.
Joshua: The environment and leadership mean something to you. It’s not like you’re just on here because we’ve done a podcast together and it’s only if you care about. Have you always cared about it or is it something that means something more to you recently?
Balint: Yes. Good question. So I’ve cared about it for years but not as much as I care about these, letâ€™s say, for the last two-three years. So I had this some defining moments in my life, the most recent one being that I had a world trip after I quit my job so I went away for six months. It was a half a world trip for half a year because I was concentrating on Asia and that part of the world. And then I had to sell my car and that resulted in you know that not even today I have a car. So that’s one effect. And the second is that I like, even if I am a guy, I like buying some clothes. This is also because of my upbringing.
Joshua: So you like shopping, you like going to the mall?
Balint: Yes. Yeah. Which is ridiculous. Especially even for me right now because after I went onto this trip since I was doing backpacking I couldn’t carry so many things, it didn’t make sense. So I was concentrating on the absolute minimum amount of clothes I was taking. I even took pride in you know having a minimalistic backpack and then because I couldn’t buy more things during the trip because then I would have to carry the weight basically I had to change radically my habit of buying clothes. And after I came back because it was six months in total even now I don’t go shopping. And this is great because you know I don’t have to spend money on it. I donâ€™t need space for more clothes.
Joshua: You don’t buy clothes or you don’t do like, â€œOh, I’m just going to go shopping without a reason.â€?
Balint: I need a strong reason. I almost to wait until an embarrassing moment comes almost likeâ€¦ Actually, my girlfriend is telling me that I should go finally buying some clothes because they are wearing off.
Joshua: So you do buy clothes, you just don’t like go on a gratuitous shopping trip just likeâ€¦ that’s not a thingâ€¦. And you know a lot of people, thereâ€™s a whole industry that people live their whole lives figuring out ways to make people go shopping just for the sake of shopping. So it’s not like for you to say I used to go shopping was you being weird. It’s you responding to a world that we live in in which people try to make it so that you want to go to the mall. Once in the mall, go in the store, once in the store to look at the clothes, once at the clothes like touch them and look at the price and once andâ€¦ We live in a world that was built that way. It wasn’t always that way, that we made it that way. Hundreds of years ago that didn’t happen. Everyone made their own clothes. So if I understand you right something led you to be more conscious of a behavior and you didn’t like the way you’re doing it and so you changed it. Is that right?
Balint: Yeah. because it was more for me. I was forced because I was traveling. I had to travel. I decided to travel. But it doesn’t mean that actually somebody, I was thinking about it of course later… It doesnâ€™t mean that somebody has to go and force himself to travel, anyway as we know it is not so good for the environment a lot of flights. So you don’t have to take that on but you can just do it as a challenge. So if you think that there is some impact, there is some action, some habit that you have which has a big impact on the environment, you could change on that by acting on it. Simple.
Joshua: It’s a big change, and one of the things that brought you, I mean the other stuff was like seeing parts of the world things like that but one thing was that it got you to change your behavior with respect to clothes to be more minimal. And by the way, it’s a great segue that what you said is that you made a behavioral change that you if I read you right it, led you to discover your values more, it led you to discover how you affect other people and you started taking responsibility and realizing that the dyes and the water and all these things that you are indirectlyâ€¦Well, I should say directly consuming and causing to be used up or causing to go into the environment in the case of the dyes and how it affects the labor relations in other places. Am I right that you felt responsible for these things?
Balint: Yeah, yeah. I felt responsible but I would think it’s important also to emphasize that I don’t think of only the losses that can come with it, so not the negative part but also the benefit which is that I gained more time. I don’t have to go into the city to look for clothes. I don’t have to look for things online but I can spend time, I can choose to spend time on other things which are more important for me. For example, reading a great book or working on my podcast connecting with other people. I love connecting with other people. And this definitely enhances my life.
Joshua: That’s the big discovery that I hope that this podcast gives is that when you change your behavior to be according to your values you don’t just not do the thing that you’re not doing anymore. If you give something up, if you stop doing something, you don’t sit at home staring at the wall with the new time, you do something that you like more. Like I do a lot of things where I don’t do this, I don’t do that because I donâ€™t eat packaged food, I don’t fly and people think of what they’re missing but they don’t realize what I’m saying as a negative but in my heart because of my experience it’s positive. Like you said, you’re reading great books, you’re working on your podcast you like, I take it you like podcasting more than you like shopping for clothes. But it’s generally easier to go shopping for clothes. And so I think I made this phrase up: You have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life. Which is a statement about values and when you say no to something that you like but it’s not the big passion of your life it gives you time for the things that are the bigger passions. And so I’m sure that going shopping for clothes was like you don’t look back at it and say, â€œThat was a horrible thing to do.â€ So the environment to you and leadership and the environment, what is the passion there? What does it mean to you?
Balint: Yeah, for me here the passion is that if I have a more minimalistic lifestyle in terms of everything regarding you know using resources or even travel, I feel happier because even psychologically, I have less weight to carry. I don’t miss the car. If I really need a car, I would rent it and I do that when I really, really need it. Otherwise, I used to train most of the time and I try to fly less. Though sometimes it’s difficult especially if it’s some business-related trip but you can certainly, if you’re more conscious about your actions, you can act on them. So knowing you know the consequences of it helps me at least reduce it somewhat. So I think this is my approach to this topic, leadership and environment.
Joshua: Like in your heart, what looks to other people from the outside like not material things is for you happiness, freedom, less weight, resourcefulness, delicious. Did I read you right?
Joshua: So the big theme for this podcast is that everyone is going to be on twice and the first time one of the things we’re going to do I’m going to invite the guest, you, to commit to something new and these are the properties. It doesn’t have to solve all the world’s problems overnight but something meaningful to you and other people don’t have to care about it but for you it has to be meaningful. And the reason it doesn’t have to change everything overnight is because so many people say like, â€œOh, if I make some change, it doesn’t matter because a billion other people don’t.â€ All right. Maybe if a billion other people don’t, it won’t make a difference but it’ll be meaningful for you. And something that you choose, I’m not going to give it to you but that makes a measurable improvement, something that makes a change, it is not simply awareness.
Now I asked you about this. I told about this before and if you come up with something, that you would do and it could be for a week or for a month. But I ask you when you’re done doing it, like say you decided if you ate meat and you decided to go without meat for a week, if that was like a big change for you, I would say at the end of the week you can go back to eating meat if you want but in your mind think about taking it on long term and think about maybe you could keep doing it for [unintelligent] till it ends. It’s up to you if you choose to or not. At least for the time period where you choose to do it, really do it and then go back or not as you like after a bit. While you’re not doing it or while you’re making this change, thinking about keeping the change going. So did you think about something?
Balint: Yeah, that’s why partially why I also brought up this example the meat example because what I want to do is in the next three months eating beef just once a month maximum because beef even if you replace it with chicken, it already has an effect so beef is just the worst meat to choose. So I would like to concentrate on the one which has the biggest impact in my diet.
Joshua: OK, so between now and three months from now you’re going to have three servings of beef maximum. You may have less but you won’t have more. And what would you normally have if you weren’t doing this?
Balint: Well, I like burger very much. Even when I go on holiday especially when I went alone in the past I had burger even every day just like women and children they love ice cream I love a burger as much.
Joshua: So you’re potentially going from once a day to once a month that’s 30 times, almost [unintelligible] in your language.
Balint: Luckily, I don’t to eat beef every day even now except when I used to go on holiday. But now it’s maybe something like at least once a weekâ€¦
Joshua: Ok, so itâ€™s at least a factor of for change. So people at home who are thinking if they don’t eat meat… OK this is for you, it’s significant even if it’s not for them and for people who are eating meat they’re thinking, â€œOh, well, it’s not a big deal for him, it is a big deal for me. It is a big deal for you, especially if you did any traveling in this time because then it’s an everyday thing.
Balint: Yeah. Yeah. And I hope that after the three months it will have even more effect on my actions, future actions. And plus, what I hope with this change is that I will start exploring other sources of protein, of nutrients.
Joshua: And that’s what I predict that our next conversation is going to be about. I look forward to hearing how that goes. I’m really excited.
Balint: I liked it. And thank you for the invitation. I’m also looking very much forward to our conversation in three months.
I’m impressed with this challenge. I don’t eat meat but from the people I talk to going a month and only having a little bit is a pretty big deal. So if that’s something you’ve been thinking about doing, I think you’ll get a chance to learn from him. Now on a global scale, what he’s doing is small. It’s just one person. But I think you can hear that he likes the challenge. He is looking forward to doing this despite it being challenging. I look forward to hearing what he replaces it with because it’s not what you give up but it’s what you replace it with. He’s not going to not eat meat and not eat anything, instead he’s going to eat other things so we’ll get to hear. I happen to know what comes next for him which is that even knowing what to expect he learns and grows from the experience. And for more of that you’ll have to listen to conversation two, so listen to conversation two.
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