Murat Sonmez is founder and CEO of San Francisco-based PulseESG, a public service corporation dedicated to helping enterprises manage and improve their environmental, social and governance footprints. He was previously a Managing Director at the World Economic Forum in Geneva and co-founder of TIBCO Software.
I grew up in Turkey. In the capital, Ankara. It was an emerging economy–I was prepared for California's current power and internet outages since I was a child. I know how to respond when you don't have power for a couple of days.
My mom was a professor of English language and literature. At my school in Ankara, we started learning English in second grade.
In Turkey, we would have four months of summer holidays. After two weeks, my mom said, `OK, that's long enough. Why don't you work?' That wasn't common in Turkey. My friends would just hang around. So I started working when I was 14 at a hotel near Ephesus. I did reception, bartending, serving in the restaurant, and room cleaning. I really got to experience the impact of customer service. I did it for four summers.
Later, when I was in Istanbul as a boarding school student, I volunteered as a guide for the International Istanbul Festival during the summer months. We would meet special guests at the airport and stay with them until they departed, including helping with hotel check-ins, rehearsals, etc. I worked with Zubin Mehta, conductor of the New York Philharmonic. I hosted Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar player. I did that for four years. I got to attend all of the concerts. It was terrific.
For high school, I attended the first American college established outside of the U.S., Robert College in Istanbul. I wanted to be an engineer. This was in the 80s, and I wanted to come to the U.S. for graduate studies. My advisor had gotten his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and they had a good industrial engineering and operations research department. I applied and got in, and moved to the U.S. in 1985.
I had money only for one semester, so I started selling Turkish carpets. I found an importer in Maryland and convinced him to give me a whole bunch of top-quality brands on consignment. I would then sell them to my professors and stores on the main street. That was my first sales experience.
Blacksburg, Virginia, was a culture shock. I loved the town, but communicating with the locals took me a year. They didn't understand what I was saying, and I didn't understand what they were saying because the English I learned was British English, and I had never heard a Southern accent. But when I got a research assistant position at a research lab there, I met local people and appreciated their Southern hospitality.
At the research lab, I took on projects in Alabama and Nashville, Tennessee. I got to see a different part of the country than what we saw on TV.
We worked on the presidential transition for the Department of Energy when Reagan was coming in and also did a project for the Aluminum Company of America, Alcoa. I worked for Ingersoll Rand, which became the case study for my thesis. I wanted to see how they made management decisions on the factory floor. I realized a decision that may not seem critical at the moment might have huge repercussions downstream. I would take a step back and look at the systems' impact on every decision. Today, we're seeing some of that systemic thinking in finance and supply chains.
In 1989, I moved to Silicon Valley, which was like Florence, during the Renaissance. Not long after I got there, I was on University Avenue talking to someone, and I asked them, 'what do you do?' The person gave me a business card that said, "serial entrepreneur." I had never seen that title, so I asked what it meant. 'It means I've failed more often than everybody else' was the answer. Silicon Valley had this attitude of not celebrating failure but giving people a second, third, and fourth chance.
Then I met Vivek Ranadivé, who had started a software company in Palo Alto. He's now the owner of the Sacramento Kings. In 1997, we co-founded TIBCO Software with 18 employees. That grew to 4,000.
One of my mentors is Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. In 2014, he invited me to join his managing board. That meant leaving TIBCO and moving to Geneva, Switzerland. I was on the managing board for six-and-a-half years. One of the initiatives under the WEF umbrella was called stakeholder capitalism metrics.
A group of CEOs under the International Business Council approached us and said, 'These nonfinancial metrics are becoming material disclosure items for us, driven by the regulators of the world.' And yet there was no common standard for them to compare them against each other. They call these capitalism metrics People, Planet, and Purpose. I asked, 'How do you select and share all that information?' They said by email. And I said "No, you need full visibility into the custody chain of data.'
That's when I saw there may be an opportunity to create a purpose-built and forward-looking platform to help these companies define, capture, disclose, and improve their metrics.
I care about sustainability, but we're in a bubble here in Silicon Valley. It's all go, go, go, tech, tech, tech for good. But do we ever actually lift our heads and ask what impact we have? We talk about it, but it's all selling.
Three years ago, we started PulseESG. I conducted over 100 design workshops with 26 CEOs and sustainability teams, including banks, manufacturing companies, oil and gas companies, investors, portfolio companies, audit firms, law firms, and rating agencies. And then, in September of 2021, we went for funding. We were planning to raise $2 million. We raised $9.5 million.
We built our product and released it last July. We now have over 250 companies on our platform. And we have received investments from partnerships with Accenture and Workday. It's too early to see if we have moved the needle, but at least our clients have a platform now. They can see the data, whether it's their carbon, diversity, or social footprint, in a current, comprehensive, and correct fashion.
Murat Sonmez, founder and CEO of PulseESG