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Mission Possible: Climate Tech with Kathy Hannun, Dandelion Energy


Welcome to ‘Mission Possible: Climate Tech’ with Xan Winterton, a Q&A focused on the Climate Technology Industry.

This Q&A Series will be led by our Managing Director & Head of Climate Tech, Xan Winterton. Xan will be speaking with the movers and shakers across the climate technology sector, the folks that are galvanizing change to make our planet greener, cleaner and dare I say it serener!

This week we have been in touch with Kathy Hannun, Founder and President of Dandelion Energy.

Dandelion Energy is the Northeast’s leading installer of geothermal heating and cooling systems. With a mission to liberate homes from fossil fuels, Dandelion has helped thousands of homeowners across New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to ditch fossil fuel heating and to make the switch to high-efficiency, low-emissions ground source heat pump systems.

What led you into Climate Tech? 

I love science, problem solving, and the natural world. Following these interests led me to Climate Tech.


What was the mission of Dandelion when you created it? And what is unique about your business VS competitors?

Dandelion’s mission was and has always been to make geothermal heat pumps simple and affordable so they become a mainstream option for home heating and cooling in the US.

Our business is unique because before Dandelion, there were a few companies doing drilling for geothermal, mostly on the side, a few contractors installing geothermal heat pumps, but almost none of them did drilling, a few loan providers that would create loans for geothermal etc. and because these were all different companies, a homeowner had to navigate a lot of complexity to get geothermal and there wasn’t really a uniform offering.

Dandelion owns the full process, as a one-stop shop. And this has allowed us to make the installation simpler, bring costs down, and improve the customer experience. 


What’s the overall benefit to the end consumer of using a geothermal pump?

  • Homeowners benefit from switching to geothermal for many reasons:
    • Geothermal costs less to use than any other method of heating and cooling the home;
    • A geothermal heat pump does both heating and cooling – you don’t need separate equipment for each of these functions;
    • Geothermal is zero emissions so there’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning;
    • Geothermal ground loops last for 50+ years, so you only need to get them installed once;
    • Geothermal systems don’t require any visible outdoor equipment, so you can get rid of any noisy, ugly outdoor compressors that may have been used with an air conditioner.


How has the industry changed or developed since you founded Dandelion? 

Awareness of heat pumps is much higher today than it was in 2017. The policy landscape is also much better: homeowners benefit from fantastic federal, state, and utility incentives for geothermal.


Growth plans for Dandelion: over the next 3 years (i.e: geographies, products, verticals, headcount, funding)

Over the next 3 years, Dandelion will expand to additional geographies, and we expect to see huge growth in our new construction vertical (where we work with home developers to put geothermal in new homes).


Tell us about your approach to talent acquisition and culture? Has it changed over the past few years? If so, how?

On talent acquisition, I’ve become much more comfortable approaching it as a sales process, with an acquisition funnel. I know now that because Dandelion offers a truly mission-driven job with great people, the right candidates will be interested in us. It is up to us to go on the hunt and track down the best people through our networks, on LinkedIn etc and teach them why they should want to work with us. Talent acquisition is a very proactive process – most of my best hires were people I actively sought out. I’ve certainly gotten lucky and had great people come to us, but it is less common and not something to rely on for key roles.

On culture, I think in any organization there is a subset of people who have an outsized influence on the culture. It’s important that these people’s values and behaviors reflect the desired culture, because otherwise you won’t get the desired culture. Identifying who these cultural influencers are and replacing people who are impacting the culture in the wrong ways is critical.


Who in particular within the Climate Technology space inspires you?

There are so many! Josh Goldman’s work at KoBold Metals inspires me – KoBold is working to use AI to find critical metals under the Earth’s surface. Ramya Swaminathan of Malta inspires me. Her team is working on using molten salt for grid-scale energy storage. In an earlier stage, Chris Graves’s startup Noon is creating a long duration storage battery that doesn’t require any rare or expensive materials, and Gurinder Nagra’s startup Furno is pioneering a much lower emissions and more flexible and efficient way to make cement. There is a ton of very exciting work going on.


What is the failure you have learnt most from?  

I’ve learned so much from so many failures; it’s difficult to identify the one failure I’ve learned the most from. However, one skill I’ve strengthened over the years that has helped me immensely in limiting a painful type of failure is the skill of delivering bad or unpleasant news quickly and directly. 

This has helped me become a much better manager. In the early years I’d avoid giving direct feedback or give it in a way that was less-than-clear because I was afraid of harming the relationship, I wasn’t always confident in myself and I didn’t want to upset people. Now I know how to give direct feedback and it strengthens my relationships and makes misunderstandings much less likely.

This has helped me become a much better leader. In the early years if there was a fact or situation that was bad or scary, I might try to fix it before pointing it out to defuse the situation. For example, in the early years we spent a lot of money on a particular type of drilling equipment that turned out not to be useful. As CEO, I didn’t give into that failure because I was afraid of making my colleague who championed that piece of equipment upset because he might look bad given he was wrong. Today I have the skill to dive right into that topic “Why did we think this was right at the time? What did we learn? How could we have approached this differently?” etc in a way that doesn’t unfairly shame someone but does create a culture of transparency and accountability.

We are all in control of the emotional content and valence of what we say. Building the skill of communicating direct, unpleasant truths in an emotionally healthy way has helped me immensely.


Dandelion have made a couple of acquisitions along the way, why did you decide to acquire a drilling company? 

One of the problems we’ve encountered in our mission to mainstream geothermal heat pump adoption is there is a severe lack of drilling companies that do geothermal work. From the very beginning of the company, we’ve always had way more customers interested in geothermal than drillers we could work with to install geothermal. It became clear fairly early on that we would have to in-source drilling in order to build the company.

In-sourcing has advantages for us beyond workforce availability. It has also allowed us to pioneer the use of smaller, residential-friendly drills for installing geothermal in the US. These types of rigs are commonly used for geothermal in Europe, but hadn’t been available for geothermal in the US. 

We decided to acquire a Connecticut-based drilling company as part of our efforts to in-source drilling because we knew it would give us a core set of highly experienced, talented drillers that we could use to set the culture, good habits and lead training of additional drillers we’d hire into the company. This has worked well for us.


What is your guilty pleasure? 

I recently stole and ate some of the Valentine’s day candy hearts my 5-year old daughter brought home from kindergarten because I love those candy hearts, I would never buy them for myself, and I knew she wouldn’t notice. If that’s not a guilty pleasure, then I don’t know what is!

LMRE are specialist PropTech recruiters, if you need help growing your business or making any key hires please get in touch via the form below!

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