CleanTechies Podcast

#143 The Future of Carbon Markets: Transparency, Local Impact, & Retail Investors | Sudhu Arumugam, CYNK

December 23, 2023 Silas Mähner (CT Headhunter) & Somil Aggarwal (CT PM & Investor) Season 1 Episode 143
CleanTechies Podcast
#143 The Future of Carbon Markets: Transparency, Local Impact, & Retail Investors | Sudhu Arumugam, CYNK
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this enlightening episode, Silas and Somil delve into an engaging conversation with a visionary in the realm of carbon markets, Sudhu Arumugam, the CEO and Co-Founder of CYNK.

CYNK is an early-stage company based out of Nairobi and Singapore, and they are building a block-chained tied marketplace specifically for the African voluntary carbon markets. 

Many debate the need for another carbon marketplace, but one thing is certain: trust in this space has been hard to find, and what CYNK is doing should help fix this.

Sudhu Arumugam and his co-founder, Nils Razmilovic, bring a unique blend of Finance, Blockchain, and Sustainability expertise. Their collective experience and insight have culminated in the creation of CYNK. The driving force behind their venture is the imperative need to ensure that financial benefits reach local African communities, fostering a more inclusive and sustainable environmental impact.

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Topics:

**1:40 Intro to Sudhu
**5:00 Importance of blockchain in the carbon markets and how it works
**6:05 The Data Behind Carbon Credits and How That Affects the Price
**7:45 Technology: Carbon → Blockchain 
**8:40 Who their Customers are
**10:00 Growing the TAM Requires Transparency
**13:00 Pricing Carbon
**14:20 Attitude Towards Buying Carbon in Your Geography
**17:45 Retail Investors Will Catalyze the Carbon Markets
**20:30 How They Got Their First Customer
**22:10 Merging Carbon and Blockchain Cultures
**24:30 Interacting with Scientists 
**27:00 Their Next Challenges 
**27:50 Advice on Building in Carbon Markets Space
**30:00 Closing Thoughts


Links: 

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SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

If you look at the carbon markets somewhere about 20 years ago, the pricing of a carbon credit was purely around the carbon component.

How much carbon is it taking out?

What does it cost to do that?

If you look at the price of a carbon credit today, social impact is probably more than 60% of the value of a carbon credit.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Welcome back to the CleanTechies Podcast, where we interview the top climate founders and investors to share their stories, advice, and lessons on building and investing in climate.

Today, Somel and I had the opportunity to speak with Sudhu Arumugam, CEO and co-founder of CYNK.

They are an early-stage company based out of Nairobi in Singapore, and they are building a blockchain-tied marketplace specifically for the African voluntary markets.

Many debate the need for another carbon marketplace, but one thing is certain, trust in this space can be hard to find, and what CYNK is doing should help fix this.

Without getting fully into it, Sudhu and his co-founder Niles took their backgrounds in finance, blockchain, and sustainability respectively, and decided now was the time to build this specific marketplace because of the need to ensure money is getting into the local communities.

So with that, we'll get right into the show after we hear from our sponsors.

Hey there!

Are you building a climate tech business and looking for very specialized talent?

Consider reaching out to our sponsors, NextWave Partners.

NextWave are experts in talent acquisition, recruitment, and retention across the climate tech, renewables, and ESG spaces globally.

So if your team is growing or you're looking to make a career change yourself, feel free to reach out to NextWave at next-wavepartners.com or reach out to one of their consultants directly via their LinkedIn page.

Nice to meet you today, Sudhu.

How are you doing?

I'm good.

Nice to meet you folks too.

Yeah, absolutely.

We're pretty excited to have this conversation.

I think, you know, based on our understanding in the research, this is going to be something of interest to both of us.

We're both pretty interested in the future growth of Africa.

I think Somil can talk about it maybe a little bit, but he built a startup in ag tech in the space and my wife's from Uganda.

So we're kind of interested in this space.

But let's give us a quick background on who you are and what you're doing today.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Absolutely, yeah.

So I actually come from a financial derivatives background in London.

So I graduated from economics at City University in London, joined the city and was a options trader for many years.

So just from banks like Merrill Lynch to kind of prop shops and hedge funds, like DRW and other other firms like that.

And about so that's about 20 years of that.

And about seven years ago, I left trading and got into crypto.

Moved out to Hong Kong and co-founded a crypto exchange called CoinFlex.

And that kind of got caught in the whole crypto meltdown.

But what we've done over the last sort of seven years is build a incredible set of products, us particularly, but also crypto in general around blockchains and tokenization, which you can apply to other assets.

And about seven months ago, my co founder at CYNK, Nils Rasmusovich, kind of contacted me and said, listen, you know, I've been building a carbon business out in Africa, his background is very similar to mine, 20 years in finance, and then down to Kenya, Nairobi, because he's married to a Kenyan.

Yeah, and he said, Look, you know, I've done a much about blockchains and tokenization.

But from what I'm reading, it might be a great fit for carbon markets.

And I said, Listen, right back at you, because I know absolutely nothing about carbon.

But, but I know, blockchains.

and Digital Assets

It's very, very speculative now.

All the kind of ingenious tech innovations in it are just starting to get used, but really the primary play is trading and speculation, right?

Whereas all the technology that's been built really fits multiple asset classes.

It could be equities, it could be fixed income, and this example, it fits carbon like a glove.

And so I came on board four months ago as CEO, and that's how CYNK was born.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Hey there, thanks for listening to this episode.

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Okay, very good.

So I guess there's a lot of things we can go to from here.

But I think before we lose, there's some climate people who absolutely despise anything that has to do with, you know, crypto or blockchain, right?

So before we lose them, can you just give us like a really, really high level overview of the purpose and why it's important to have blockchain technology involved in the carbon markets, and also just how it works very, very briefly, like you're explaining it to

Crypto has been a pretty bashed on dirty word going on the last 18 months or so, in fact so has carbon.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

And really, the reason why carbon's in a place where it's not trusted is because basically it's around the lack of transparency and trust in data.

And where blockchains come to solve that is that the blockchains allow us to create an immutable database of carbon data.

So no matter where the project is in the world, whether it be Africa or South Asia or South America, if we can start putting the data on chain like CYNK has started doing, well, it creates trust.

So you mentioned carbon data, what is carbon data in this context?

So in this context, carbon data is really twofold.

It's one is around the project specifically, like, you know, what are the metrics?

How much carbon is it taking in sequestering?

You know, what are the sort of, you know, let's call it carbon specific data around it to verify the quality of the carbon credit.

But then alongside this, and increasingly importantly, is social impact.

And social impact is, you know, this carbon financing or biodiversity financing, you know, how is it impacting on the ground?

What is it changing?

Employment, youth and women, average wages, schooling, water, you know, all those very, very important metrics.

You know, how is this project kind of impacting on that?

And if you look at the carbon markets, something about 20 years ago,

The pricing of a carbon credit was purely around the carbon component.

You know, how much carbon is it taking out?

What does it cost to do that?

If you look at the carbon price of a carbon credit today, social impact is probably more than 60% of the value of a carbon credit.

So it's what people are saying is end users and corporate buyers in the global north in Europe and the US and elsewhere are saying, look, yeah, you know, we want to be, we want you to tell us not only how much carbon you're removing out, but how much of this money is going to the indigenous folks and communities on the ground.

Could you walk us through, just as a high level, the technology, so how you go from blockchain to marketplace?

Sure, you mean in terms of CYNK itself?

Yeah, in terms of the flow of everything.

Yeah, so from it, let's see, let's start from the data perspective.

So from a data perspective, essentially, the two sources of data that we put up on the blockchain, one is from a satellite downwards, and, you know, satellite technologies just improve incredibly well, we formed a partnership with one of the largest satellite providers in the climate space called Space Intelligence out of Edinburgh, Scotland, and they can come down to sort of three meter by three meter squares and look at carbon above the canopy, they can look at, you know, number of trees and other metrics, right.

But they can't come down below the canopy.

And so and then so as combination with that from the ground, we have smart devices, IoT, that, that pump data back up in real time as well.

So it's a combination of those two sets of data, kind of gives you the summary of around the project, and we merge those together and put it up onto a blockchain.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Okay, and just to clarify then, so that's right away the very clear description.

I appreciate that a lot of people are not so clear.

Who are your customers?

Can you talk about who you serve and why this benefits them?

Again, you talked about the impact and more money going to the community, but who are the people that would use your product?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

So really, it's the customers on both sides, right?

A marketplace needs two people.

And so you've got the producers on the ground,

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

What one question I have is around the total market for crypto, sorry, is a blockchain, you know, kind of verified carbon credits.

In my mind, like I understand the technology enough to know that it doesn't make any sense why people wouldn't want this.

So do you have any viewpoint on the current TAM versus what it should be?

And do you think at some point, it'll become mandated that everything has to be tied to the blockchain because it doesn't make sense to not have some some sort of like really, really good verification?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Yeah, I mean, look, it makes no sense to not have it, you know, even if it's in parallel to some other system, right?

And so who knows how the system will evolve right now.

But the market for carbon data right now is very, very opaque.

And where you can get data, you know, through the main registries, it's a very manual process.

So you could go to to Vera, for example, and look for carbon data, but it's on PDF.

So you have to scrape their website, there's no APIs.

for example.

So, you know, it's very difficult to build automated and kind of AI and machine learning tech around carbon data without it being in a very usable, user-friendly format, right?

Now, why that's important in whichever format it goes through, and we obviously believe in blockchains for this, and I think blockchains have a central part to play, but they may not be the only ones over time.

The reason it's needed is to grow talent, as you mentioned it.

So,

If you look at the compliance market, which is sort of completely trusted, it's about, it's well over a trillion dollars a year right now.

But if you look at the voluntary carbon market, which is completely untrusted, it's a two billion.

And those two has to converge because the because the corporates in the whole world, no one can go to net zero, you know, there is going to be remaining emissions that need to be abated, that that's going to come to have to come from the voluntary segment.

Silas Mähner, CYNK

This year is probably less because the prices have gone lower and there's less confidence in volume, but we'll wait to see what the data is early next year.

But really, you know, if you look at the banks, they're forecasting anywhere from 100 to 200 billion in the next seven years.

And Bloomberg has even been calling it out like a trillion dollars a year in 10 years.

So, you know, that is not going to happen unless there are significant advancements in trust and data retention and verification.

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about another Climatech podcast.

Well, literally.

Ryan Grant Little hosts a podcast called Another Climatech Podcast where he interviews Climatech founders and VCs, which, as I'm sure if you're listening to this podcast, you will love.

So we highly recommend checking him out.

The link will be in the description to this episode.

Now back to the show.

Speaking about the price of carbon,

How is the price of carbon on your platform relative to the price of carbon in other carbon markets in the US or other regions?

Is there a discount or are they relatively standard?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

They're not standard at all.

And the reason why I can't give you an exact answer, I know it's a great question, is that the carbon markets are completely opaque.

So the majority of the carbon markets happens OTC.

And so it happens between, you know, between the producer and the middleman and the middleman and the end buyer.

And so us, us folks, you know, individuals, as you know, people in the world, or even other corporates have absolutely no idea as to what's going on.

And that's why exchanges like ourselves are coming in because we want what we call connectivity, we want to connect the two end users directly on the platform.

So there's transparency around pricing, you know, so now we're talking about transparency around data,

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

I just wonder what the attitude towards buying carbon in a region that's not your home region.

So for example, you said the demand side is from, you know, US corporates or global north corporates that aren't in a lot of these places.

So is there any complex relationship where you have to take that into account?

Or does putting everything on the blockchain alleviate all of that and just say, hey, if you want to buy it, buy it?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

I think it does.

It's a combination of two things.

One is that because everybody knows that the South is the largest sink for carbon, right?

Africa is the largest carbon sink in the world.

So you can't be a corporate in the US or Europe and not interact with a firm in Africa.

You just have to, right?

You've got no option going forward.

So that's number one.

But secondly, a lot of the corporates are much more sophisticated now because they're building out their climate teams from sustainability officers all the way to scientists.

And so they know what kind of climate tech

They prefer and they trust, they do their own due diligence on it.

So for example, you know, if it's blue carbon, we know that Salesforce and Microsoft are very, very keen on it.

If it's enhanced rock weathering, we know Microsoft is a large buyer of it.

You know, Volkswagen might be looking for other types of tech.

So, you know, it's the whole market is gaining in knowledge.

And with that, they kind of keep becoming more and more confident around the types of removal technology that they will buy.

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

I know I've been hogging this space, but there's one other question that I have, and this is actually a bit of a pivot.

I spent some time in Kenya, again, like Silas mentioned, huge fan of a lot of the entrepreneurial ecosystem there.

A lot of great energy and enthusiasm, especially a lot of young people and talent.

And FESA is a big thing in Kenya.

And so they already have this very easy way of transacting digitally.

Honestly, pretty advanced from compared to a lot of global North economies and financial transaction systems.

Does that change how people look at crypto in your experience?

Crypto or carbon?

I would I was saying crypto from the financial side of having this sort of digital transaction base.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

No, I don't think so.

If you look at some of the large payments companies, like you mentioned, I'm not sure about M-Pesa in terms of crypto and blockchains, but some of the other ones are embracing blockchains as well.

So what they're doing is creating a dual platform.

So you can deposit and withdraw in fiat or stablecoins, for example, and they will swap it out into their local currency.

And they do that because of the cheap cost of transactions on blockchains and the speed, the fact that they can do it 24-7.

So I don't think it does.

I think I think it's something that will sit side by side.

Now, which one ultimately, you know, becomes dominant, obviously, you know, we can argue for the next two, three months on this podcast.

So, you know, who knows, right?

But but they're not, I don't think they're making their bed one way or the other, because they realize that this tech is good, and it's here to stay.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Hey there.

Quick break to remind any founders or VCs listening.

If you are looking for deal flow, seeking to raise funding, looking for partners to help service your needs, or perhaps you're looking for corporate investment partners, feel free to reach out to us through our Slack channel, which can be found in the description.

Because we meet a lot of people in this space, we set aside time each week to make introductions to the various people that we encounter.

This is something we do free of charge in order to help these incredible companies solving climate change to scale.

Looking forward to hearing from you in the Slack channel.

Yeah, this is quite interesting.

I guess there's a lot of different things.

I'm really curious about what's going to be the catalyst to see if people really start to kind of widely adopt blockchain technologies and other things like that.

I think there's a lot of people who are very bullish on it.

And then like, hey, you know, Bitcoin is going to a million, all these things like, generally speaking, adoption of this new technology and Web3 came and went, but nobody really did it.

So do you have in your mind any particular events or things that will really catalyze

The majority of the carbon market space adopting this type of technology.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

I think the catalyst for this is when retail comes into this market.

And this is one of the big plays we're making.

So if you look at the carbon market right now, it's very B2B.

You know, there's a business somewhere on the ground, it could be a 5-10 man business on the ground, but the buyer absolutely is a corporate.

Right, you've got all the large corporates buying it.

Retail is, you know, stayed well away from the space right now.

And you can ask all your friends at the next dinner party this evening in New York, you know, how many of those guys have bought a carbon credit?

Compliance or voluntary and, you know, I'll be shocked if anyone puts their hands up, right?

One, because it's an educational, you know, misunderstanding or they need more educational knowledge.

And two, there's just execution, like, where do I do it?

How do I do it?

Like, nobody knows, right?

And

By platforms like CYNK coming on here and tokenizing carbon and allowing for trading, whether it be a centralized or a DeFi methodology, and we're going with DeFi right now, it will bring retail into the market.

And if retail comes into the market and starts buying it, I think that will be the verification that corporates and everyone needs that this is the way the market's going.

The Future of Carbon Markets

down upstream into Kenya and Uganda and all the places, you know, around the world.

And they could really, you know, if you can get retail traders to come behind a theme here and say, you know, millennials, or, you know, whatever the young folks come in and say, Look, this is our planet.

And we're going to jack prices and make it up to $1,000 from 10.

Nothing's going to stop them, right?

Because these are, you know, very liquid contracts with, with very little time in them.

Silas Mähner

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

Our generation sort of hates the early young work workforce.

We'd love to transition to hearing about how you built the company.

So could you tell us the story?

We love hearing founder stories.

Could you tell us the story about how you got your first customer?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Sure.

So, as I mentioned, I kind of went into crypto first and came into carbon.

My co-founder had the opposite route.

He went into carbon first and then went through the pain as a producer of carbon credits out of Kisumu, Kenya, of going through the whole pain point of raising pre-financing, certification, you know, getting a fair price.

And so CYNK really is a

emerged shall we say of his seven years in producing carbon credits and my seven years of blockchains and digital assets and so we came together and created CYNK and you know CYNK has been in the works for a while and we've been hard at work building it over the last four months the team is pretty distributed we have a chunk of the team in Kenya but we've also got folks in North America and China as well

which is really cool because it shows the planetary response to what needs to be done.

And we're super excited to build onwards and upwards from here.

CYNK's first customer was kind of the sister firm, which is Temua, which is Kenya's biomass producer.

But we will be announcing some very significant trades and partnerships during COP next week, which I think is going to really

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Very nice.

Yeah, I think storytelling is important and having the right... Obviously, we believe in that, right?

That's why we're here.

But you mentioned something, you have a team pretty distributed around the world.

And you're building at a time when blockchain and crypto is not sexy to people.

There's not as much talent who's like, oh, rushing to the space.

Unfortunately, people usually follow the funding dollars.

And that's all I think about.

But can you talk about building your team?

And how do you manage the kind of the

Very different cultures and different time zones and you have any just stories around team building and how you how you manage that?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Yeah, I do I do because Unless you're in crypto.

You don't you don't really understand 24-7, right?

and I'm so used to seven years of messaging all day seven days a week and If you cause you to realize that the you know outside of crypto the rest of the world's kind of values their weekend so you have to be a little bit careful about offending people because like on a

and I don't I don't think around you know what time zone anyone is in because you've got a telegram chat you're pinging hey listen I was thinking about XYZ what do you think and they may they may be up and they may respond they may not and obviously I think I've brushed a few people the wrong way by pinging them but you know you best me at 2am I was like well I didn't really think what time it was because the thought came into my head because that's what you do in crypto you're like hey what do you think of this and you know you carry on with your day right and they reply back and so

Getting the team ready for the sort of the seven days of weakness of carbon and going towards trading.

I think it's, you know, there's going to be a lot of resistance.

I don't just mean at CYNK, I mean the whole industry.

And so maybe we need to start with 24-5 and then nudge them into the weekends.

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

Yeah, fair play.

Do you think that this has anything to do with the talent source from where you're finding people?

Because obviously there's industry, like you said, crypto.

In climate in carbon, do you find that there's specific industries that people are coming from?

And maybe that's influencing their work style and work life balance?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Yeah, specifically scientists, I've never had to deal with scientists before.

And they are absolutely crucial and critical to carbon.

And though you ping a scientist typically outside of his working hours, and he's going to soon not respond to you, right?

So you have to be very mindful of how you interact with them.

SPEAKER 2: Somil Aggarwal

If you catch a PhD student, maybe they will, because they're fighting for their life, essentially.

But what's been sort of the biggest evolution for yourself in interacting with scientists?

Because I think that's really important in climate, given how much deep tech interaction there is and all of that.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Yeah, I think I think that the biggest lesson of learning and continue to learn is that how everything around climate is brand new, you know, even the science and the science is evolving so fast that, you know, you can get a guy or team that comes out of, you know, typically, they, at least what I've seen so far with some of our partners is that

Silas Mähner, CYNK

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

where it's here for the first time in climate all the universities out there because the the the learning curve and the playing field is so open that anyone who's good with good data and works hard can kind of spin off their own kind of science business and and get it funded and so so you know there are a lot of climate platforms and exchanges kind of coming it's a little bit like the

like the crypto model I fear there's a lot of platforms coming out need to be you know very kind of difficult and discerning and what you pick but from a science perspective you know there's still a massive shortage of science around climate and so anyone who's decent and good gets jumped on very very early and and you know and scientists who've been sort of

in the climate space for a long time, you know, just can't believe the attention they're getting, right?

Because they're so used to being like the, you know, unwanted person that no one wanted to speak to at a party to being like the first person that anyone jumps in and out.

So, you know, so so even those guys are benefiting as well.

Because, you know, right, they've always been starved of funds.

And now there's plenty of funds and you've got corporates, you know, Microsoft, for example, Amazon, you know, their funding projects and research, Google, you know, that they're right in the forefront here.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Silas Mähner, CYNK

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

I think it's a, yeah, I mean, for us, it's really around continuing to build products.

It's how do we get knowledge of carbon and carbon markets to retail individuals?

I think that's the hardest thing we've got from the buy side, because corporates know it.

A lot of corporates have to do it by law, by tax, they're forced to do it.

So they're learning and they're getting on with it.

But how do we get retail individuals, you know, you go on to a, you know,

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

And when it comes to, I guess, building anything in this kind of carbon market space, whether it's, you know, an exchange like this, that's kind of market things or, or other project developers, do you have any particular advice to entrepreneurs in this space on how to frame and how to think about things as they move into it?

Because it's, again, a lot of uncharted waters for many people.

And I'm assuming you've you've learned a lot.

So curious to see what your kind of important advice to those founders would be.

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

I think if you're attacking it from a digitization or digital assets perspective, I think my thoughts to them or my words to them would be to use sort of accelerator funds because there are a lot of platforms coming out there now that you can onboard yourself and

Transparency, Social Impact, Retail Investors

I think, I think are already becoming pretty commoditized.

So I wouldn't really rush out to create more exchanges, or more platforms until you kind of prove out your thesis.

And it's a very, it's a very cheap way to, you know, blockchains and crypto created a very cheap way to experiment, right?

So make the most of it, spin up, you know, spin something up, use a platform, and see how you get on without, you know, without having to, to break the bank or put the parents house on mortgage.

SPEAKER 3: Silas Mähner

Yeah.

Now there's a lot of talk about how people how there's a what's the typical joke that for every carbon project that there's like four exchanges being built or something like that but I do think it'll be interesting you know there was a lot of money that went into it but if it's a low if it's low lift to get things going maybe it wasn't too much of a waste because there will be certainly many of these who won't wait who won't make it but then the people who who are doing it well and kind of taking the market share will do a good job but

No, that's really helpful.

So I think any final thoughts for us or you know where people can reach you with the call to action is?

SPEAKER 1: Sudhu Arumugam

Yeah, no, you know, feel free to come on to CYNK.io.

Obviously, if you're American, unfortunately, you can't trade on the platform, but you can do you can use all the other educational pieces.

Thank you to the, you know, the folks over there.

But but yeah, and feel free to join our sort of telegram chats, our LinkedIn community as well.

If you know, there's a few 1000 on there with a lot of we publish a lot of material.

The Future of Carbon

Silas Mähner, CYNK


Intro to Sudhu
Importance of blockchain in the carbon markets and how it works
The Data Behind Carbon Credits and How That Affects the Price
Technology: Carbon → Blockchain 
Who their Customers are
Growing the TAM Requires Transparency
Pricing Carbon
Attitude Towards Buying Carbon in Your Geography
Retail Investors Will Catalyze the Carbon Markets
How They Got Their First Customer
Merging Carbon and Blockchain Cultures
Interacting with Scientists
Their Next Challenges
Advice on Building in Carbon Markets Space
Closing Thoughts