In an interview with The Local, Ingmar Rentzhog insisted that the climate crisis, not profit, was his driving motive and that he remained on good terms with Greta Thunberg and her parents.
Laika Consulting, the investment relations company he sold after launching the environmental startup, had brought in much more a month than the 60,000 kronor monthly salary he now earns from his startup, he said.
“If my interest were to earn money, I should have stayed in my old company, because this is much, much higher risk. It's not money which is driving me.”
Rentzhog said it was “unfortunate” that Saturday's article in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper had given the impression that he was in a dispute with Greta Thunberg, who formerly served on a youth advisory board for the foundation that is the main owner of the company.
“We didn't inform the Thunberg family that her role in the organization would mean that we would have to write her name in our business prospectus,” he admitted. (You can read the prospectus here).
“We've said that we're sorry for that and they have accepted that. It's not so dramatic at all actually.”
Thunberg did not leave the board because of any sort of clash, but because she no longer had time for it, he claimed.
“The reason why Greta has left the board is that she must focus 100 percent of the time on her own thing, because she's probably the most busy 16-year-old girl out there in the world.”
The company has written a Q&A in English clarifying its relationship with Thunberg, and also issued a press release in English.
The Svenska Dagbladet article criticized Rentzhog for the for-profit business model he is using to expand his network, as well as raising his background in banking and investor relations.
But Rentzhog told The Local that he had initially started the business not to chase a commercial opportunity, but because of his shock at the election of Donald Trump.
“It was surreal to see this leader holding up a sign saying 'we're going to build more coal', and I thought 'oh shit, what is happening to the world?',” he said. “I realized that there will never be a world leader who will solve the climate crisis for us: change must come from the people.”
He then realized that there was a need to build a climate-focused social media network, similar to Facebook and Twitter, which could help build public engagement.
“I thought as an entrepreneur 'what's missing here?' And my idea was to look at companies that have changed the world in a really short period… I thought why isn't someone building a platform for people as concerned as me?”
He decided to make the company profit-making partly because he felt that charitable organisations faced a constant struggle to pull in donations as they grew, but also because, as a business entrepreneur, he “knew no other way”.
“If you're an NGO, if you grow the organization, you have a much more costly organization,” he said. “If you're a business and you're growing, the value of your company is also growing. You don't need to focus on donations. You grow the business and you get more finance automatically.”
He has explained his thinking in a post on the Medium blog platform.
This means that if his network reaches its planned 100m users, his 500 investors can expect to start to make a good profit on the 23 million kronor ($2.5m) they have put into the company, he said.
“Our goal is to have 100 million users and if we achieve that we can. like Facebook, earn money from ads.”
But he said this was doing this at the same time as he was helping build a coalition of people committed to campaigning for urgent measures to limit damage caused by climate change.
“We started two years ago and it was very different how you talked about the climate crisis back then, and I think we have contributed to changing that, in a big way actually,” he said.
“If you say things about the 'climate breakdown' today, people don't think you're crazy. If you said that two years ago, people would think you're a doomsday crazy guy, and I think we've been a part of that.”
We Don't Have Time is planning to launch a new ratings platform, similar to Trip Advisor, on Earth Day, April 22nd, where campaigners can rate organizations and politicians for their environmental actions.
Ultimately, he added, the organization also hopes to work with the Nobel Foundation to create a Nobel Prize for the Environment.
It was wrong, he said, to suggest that he had brought Thunberg on board primarily to help him raise funds.
“When we asked Greta to be on our board she was famous, but she wasn't world-famous like she is today,” he said.
“We asked her to be on the board because we thought she was doing great stuff. It wasn't like, 'we have Greta in our prospectus, everyone's going to invest in our company'. It wasn't like that at all.”
We Don't have Time, he claimed, was the first media organization to cover Thunberg's school strike.
“It's frustrating to be accused of using Greta Thunberg's name,” he said. “We haven't used her, we have helped her.”