Image: UNSW.

Camille Goldstone-Henry on building the Canva of biodiversity

Xylo Systems is a first of its kind software tool for tracking biodiversity. Here, Xylo founder Camille drops some hard-won wisdom four years into her entrepreneurial journey.

She's won the Women's Weekly Woman of the Future Award, graduated from one of Australia's most intense tech start-up accelerators (Startmate), and is building a software platform that makes the time-consuming job of tracking the biodiversity of a region a whole lot easier.

Missing Perspectives readers, meet Camille Goldstone-Henry.

This is a woman to have on your radar.

Not only is Camille smart, funny, and kind, she's setting out to create something fairly unique in the market with Xylo Systems. Her company combines a deep love and reverence for preserving and promoting biodiversity in nature with a very forward-thinking 21st Century solution (did someone say SaaS...?).

From learning to work with the "bad guys" (ie property developers and miners who increasingly comprise Xylo Systems' actual customers), to dropping her ego after spending one year of work headed in the wrong direction, Camille generously took the time to chat for the latest instalment of MP's Female Founder series.

Let's dive in.

Natasha Gillezeau: Hey Camille, thank you for making the time to chat today. First up, give me three words that paint a picture of how your week is going?

Camille Goldstone-Henry: That’s a big question. For context, we’re currently in the middle of a capital raise. It’s been up, it’s been down, but progress. 

Going out on a limb here - but I’m assuming as the founder of a biodiversity startup - that living systems and nature are really important to you. What’s your relationship with nature? What role does it play in your life?

I grew up in nature, my parents really encouraged my siblings and I to not only be in nature, but connect in nature. Essentially I grew up as a little bushrat kid in Newcastle on the beach, camping. I’ve always had that really strong connection to the place in which I’m living, and understanding those living systems there. Of course it’s evolved. These days I live in Bondi, but I chose to live in Bondi because I have such a strong connection, particularly to the coast. I find it very relaxing, very calming – my favourite thing to do, particularly at the moment, is to do the coastal walk and watch the whales. It’s having the sense that you’re part of something bigger in this world, and realising that although we’ve got these cities, and we’ve got these jobs - there are natural livings systems all around us that we contribute to. So it’s a really good reminder that everything that we do in our lives needs to be taken in that bigger context - it’s not just humans, it’s not just us individuals, it’s us as a living system. I like to think of us as nature. 

I love that. 

The way we’ve evolved is we think that it’s humans at the top, and nature is at the bottom. In fact, it’s more like a circle, and humans are like one dot within that circle. And that’s essentially the change we’re trying to create at Xylo Systems.

And where did you get that idea? Apart from your upbringing in Newcastle, are there other thinkers who’ve informed that view?

David Attenborough is the big one, and also Steve Irwin and Jane Goodall.

Camille Goldstone-Henry out in the field with a Tasmanian Devil.

Those are three really awesome people. What first inspired you to start Xylo Systems? What were you noticing?

My background is as a wildlife scientist. I spent a good chunk of my career trying to save endangered species. I spent a lot of time out in the wild studying species like the Tasmanian Devil, the Koala, trying to understand why they’re going extinct, and what we need to do to save them. And it was a very manual process.

And when we’re being faced with extreme biodiversity loss - it’s essentially unprecedented, there are 1 million species that are being threatened with extinction - the processes in which we’re trying to understand what’s going on and how we can save them are too slow. We’ve essentially got five years to try and turn this ship around. As a wildlife scientist, that didn’t give me a lot of time to say, okay, I’ll give myself a year to study this animal, and try and understand what was going on.

So, the spark for me was around how can we speed this up? How can we understand these species in a much quicker way so we can make quicker decisions so we can stop this extinction crisis around the world, because if we continue to lose biodiversity we are going to be in extreme trouble ourselves as a species.

I decided to look into technology, I was sick of waiting for governments, and we’d seen huge technological advances happening in society. But in wildlife conservation, we were chronically underfunded and underfunded, so no one had the capacity to find those innovations that could make our jobs easier and save species faster. So that was the seed for me to start Xylo Systems - how can we use data and technology to better understand our ecosystems and therefore understand what we need to do to save them?

So there was a speed element here. Because I was wondering how you got to the tech. But it’s starting to make more sense. 

To put it into perspective, counting how many koalas are in a tree, that comes down to data. And we can now use technology to collect that data.

And what’s at stake here? 

Huge amounts at stake - half of our global GDP is reliant on healthy ecosystems. That’s about 60 trillion dollars. The reason why our economy relies on healthy ecosystems is what we call ecosystem services - we need functioning ecosystems to help grow more trees to help harvest those trees and use that wood to build houses using wood. Or we need healthy functioning ecosystems with lots of pollinators like bees that therefore pollinate not only trees and flowers, but our crops so that we have a global food system. That’s all at risk here. If we don’t have healthy ecosystems, 60 trillion of the global economy is going to be lost, or we’ll have to pay for that. That’s economically speaking.

Then there’s the 1 million species at risk, in the next ten years. Looking away from the economic implications, culturally the koala is really important to Australians, it’s important to First Nations people. If we lose a species, that’s it, they’re gone. That’s what’s at stake here. On top of that, we’ve got the climate crisis. This is in essence a twin crisis - you’ve got climate change, and biodiversity loss. If we want to see greenhouse gas emissions capped or reduced, we’re going to have to address biodiversity loss. 

For someone working in this field, what does their day to day life look like under the status quo? And how does that look under Xylo Systems?

I started building out the platform for wildlife scientists like me, but we actually pivoted two years ago to focus on the private sector. We now help companies understand their impact on nature, and what to do to mitigate that impact.

There are two pieces to what the status quo was: how do we monitor ecosystems? And how do we understand the impact that businesses like property development, agriculture or mining are having on ecosystems? That traditionally meant sending out ecologists into the field, they’d go out with their pen and paper, throw their quadrant on the ground, and count how many grass species were in there, flower species, ants. Or you’d do a 100-metre walk down a bush, and count how many birds you saw. And if you’re trying to understand hundreds of hectares, you can see how long that would take for one ecologist, even a team of five, to collect that data, understand it, and analyse it in terms of health. The change now is we can put camera traps - like GoPros - and use computer vision to tell us what species flies past the camera. We can use satellite imaging to get a sense of what a habitat layout of an area land is, how many species of eucalypts are there, how healthy is it, so essentially 1000x one ecologist.

We need that info for big businesses - like a property developer - so they can get a quick understanding of what’s happening, where they’re having the most impact, and then where they need to mitigate or regenerate. 

And with the prediction element, what’s the strike right? I understand that the square you put down is a bit of a “best guess” so we have some information rather than no information. In the second scenario, how accurate is it? Is it more accurate than version 1? 

It depends on what technology you’re using to monitor the environment. Satellite imaging is highly scaleable, and it’s pretty accurate. Maybe not accurate enough to do a subspecies of certain eucalyptus trees for example. And this is the approach we’re taking at Xylo Systems – there are now multiple technologies under the umbrella term of conservation technologies that allow us to have scaleability that might not be as accurate, but also to deploy site specific technologies like camera traps or bioacoustics, so when you put a microphone out into the forest and you can quantify what bird species or bat species or frog species are calling. There are different technologies that we can then stack on top of each other to then provide us with more accuracy than sending out an ecologist in the field. That being said, we’re not here to replace ecologists. There’s always a very important role that ecologists play, particularly the history of particular ecosystems, and that knowledge, we can’t always use technology to quantify that, particularly pre-1970 when we don’t have satellite imaging for example. 

Makes total sense. I’m loving this by the way. 

I hope it’s all making sense - we are getting a bit technical. 

We are getting a bit technical, but it helps. Let’s move to the build of Xylo Systems. Were there any software companies that served as inspiration?  

Yes, what we’re doing is innovative in terms of the technology and data inputs, but we’re a SaaS (software as a service) platform. That’s not the most innovative thing in the world. So we were definitely looking to other SaaS platforms to draw inspiration for what we were building and bring in what SaaS has done for things like finance and team administration into biodiversity and sustainability.

We always draw on Canva for inspiration, not so much for what Canva is, but the fact it made design easy, and had a sleek user interface. That’s what we wanted to do for biodiversity. We wanted to make what is a very complex area and subject simple for anyone regardless of their biodiversity skillset. Also - another female-founded company.

It’s really interesting this idea of the two worlds of biodiversity and software colliding. Biodiversity is so visceral, so wild, so natural, and software seems so 2D, techy, future-focused. They are two different worlds. How do you see these worlds informing one another or coming together? 

They very much juxtapose each other. Nature is very much in your feelings, software is data, it’s black and white. How we bring those two things together is interesting. As a company ourselves, we are building this 2D, nature data product. But as a team, we do quarterly nature offsite. So as a team, we’ll go out and spend a full day in nature. We’ve hiked in the Blue Mountains. We’ve snorkelled at Shelley Beach. We’re always embedding ourselves in nature so that we can not only understand the ecosystems of the data that we’re collecting and informing a lot of our clients on, but we’re also reminding ourselves of why we’re building what we’re building. How we bring that into the product itself - I mean the product itself has a lot of satellite imaging so you’re always viewing the data we have in a bird’s eye view sense, you can see the trees etc in real time. You can’t see the species themselves, they’re black dots, but we are bringing in images so when you click on a dot, you see the image. 

A screenshot of Xylo Systems' user interface.

You’ve been through Startmate. What drew you to Startmate, and what did you and the Xylo Systems team get out of the Startmate experience?

Prior to starting Xylo Systems, I had no idea about the startup ecosystem. And within six months of starting Xylo in 2020, I had learned about Startmate, and I think that speaks to Xylo’s ambitions for being the central place for startups to learn and grow. That’s what drew me to Startmate. Not only was it the premier accelerator in Australia, it had big ambitions to bring those unique ideas to light, and make them successful. I never thought we were Startmate material, I thought we too left of field, a bit too purpose or impact focused, I thought it was too profit driven, and returns driven. Yes, that’s important for us as a startup too, but we put as much emphasis on purpose as we do on profit. I put in an application, and was floored when we got it.

But retrospectively thinking about this, our mission was aligned with Startmate’s mission. We are very ambitious in how we want to tackle this huge, huge global crisis of biodiversity loss, and Startmate were so ambitious in what they wanted to create for the Australian startup ecosystem.

Getting into Startmate changed everything for us. That was around the time we pivoted into corporates from the wildlife scientists. We wouldn’t have been able to get into the rooms of the corporates we sold into without the mentors that come from Startmate. It also came with an injection of funding, which allowed me and my co-founder to take a salary. 

How did you keep your financial health in check in that first two years of Xylo? 

I was working a fulltime job, I started Xylo during lockdown, so I had a bit of extra time up my sleeve particularly on weekends, and that’s the time I’d spend working on Xylo Systems. From 2020-2021, that’s how I operated. In 2022, Xylo started taking off, and I thought - if I don’t put more time into this - it’s not going to achieve what we want it to achieve. So it was after winning the Women’s Weekly award, where we got a cash prize, and I was like, we’ve got a bit of cash, we’ve got a bit of traction, and I also have incredible support from my husband. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to take that leap.

Sometimes the family and support system can fall away from view in "founder stories", so I'm glad that you're shouting out your husband.

Well, the normal “tech founder” origin story we hear is “I started this in my parent’s garage”. I’m 32, I don’t live with my parents, I have a husband and we have home. But in terms of both Silicon Valley tech bros and myself, you do need people around you to support you to be successful definitely in the emotional capacity, but also in that financial capacity.

I’m privileged in that respect.

I think it’s sad that entrepreneurship and particularly being a founder is often only accessible to those who are more privileged financially. That’s not to say it’s impossible, it’s definitely possible, but I do think it favours those in privileged positions. 

As part of the research for this series, I’ve been looking into the predictive factors for entrepreneurship. One study found that receiving a gift, inheritance, or financial security is one of the strongest predictive factors, presumably because it opens up the space to move into the world of generating new ideas that could then generate new wealth and benefits. It’s good to acknowledge the privilege, but that said I do think that all entrepreneurs should work with whatever resources they have, as it’s still a lot of time and energy to throw at something. Okay. Next question. Who was the first person to use Xylo? 

The first person to use Xylo as a platform were a couple of conservation scientists at Taronga Zoo. Then we pivoted to corporates, which is never where I thought I was going to be as a conservation scientist as they were the ‘evil’ side, and now I’m working with them to regenerate biodiversity. But after the pivot, our first customer was Endeavour Energy. 

Kicking off the entrepreneurial journey, what do you know today that you wish you knew on Day 1? 

To take the leap on the entrepreneurial journey, you have to have a deep, deep passion and drive to solve the problem that you’re solving. Often that can be confused with the solution that you’re building. What I’d tell myself four years ago now is to focus on that problem, but firstly validate that problem with the ultimate users of the product or service you’re building, and build that solution with them. I was obviously obsessed with the problem, always have been, but I was also kind of very obsessed with the solution I’d come up with myself. And that isn’t necessarily the solution that is going to sell and is going to resonate with everyone else.

I probably spent a good year heading in the wrong direction and not incorporating as much feedback from users and customers because I was obsessed with it. I needed to let go of my own ego, and what I thought our solution was going to be, and actually listen to the others that also had this problem and what they actually needed.

You’re raising capital at the moment. You’ve also spoken publicly on the fairly widely reported fact that female-led companies receive only 2 to 4 per cent of overall venture capital funding. What’s been your approach when it comes to pitching for investment? What have you learned?  

The gender bias is real, and the numbers show us that. As a founder, when you’re pitching to investors, there are so many factors that come into play when you’re pitching for investment that sometimes it's hard to distinguish whether gender is coming into that. It’s not like I’m pitching alongside a male co-founder with the exact same business idea, and they say his idea is better. But what we know from the wider research is that definitely happens.

I have seen this come into play in more group settings where we have been pitching for investments and there were male co-founders alongside me, and the feedback I got was that I need to be more upfront with my qualifications - the reason why I’m the one to solve this problem. In that particular scenario I was the only person in this group of five startups that was qualified to be building a solution for the problem that I was solving. The only one with qualifications. And the only one who’d actually experienced the problem I was solving for. 

As in, there was some expertise assumed by these other people? 


I’m sorry that happened. 

How that’s changed my approach - we’ve raised our seed round, we got there, woohoo, but in terms of how that has changed our approach to raising capital particularly from venture capital funds that may be led by men - is to be very prepared. I have sources, models, and calculations for every single claim we have in the business. Particularly for the biodiversity market is a very new market so that in itself already works against us, but when you also have that gender lens on top of that in that men are sometimes taken more at face value than women, is that I need to have the numbers to have that backing.

The problem I think with investment, and I haven’t been on that side, is it essentially comes down to whether or not you believe in the founder to execute or not. That’s where gender bias and unconscious bias comes into play because we have a lot of men in charge of the money, so they want to invest in people that look like them - other young white men. So I truly believe if we want to see this gender gap closed, we need more women investing. 70 per cent of our cap table are women or deals led by women. So we are case in point that when women are investing, female founders get invested in. 

A 2024 Women’s Environmental Leadership Association report found evidence that when women are in critical decision making positions, they make more environment-led decisions. So that connects. 

Interestingly, on that, the majority of our customer base, those teams that purchased our platform were led by women. 

Some fun facts in there. Do you find you resonate more with a particular type of investor? 

Absolutely. We are careful with who we pitch to. We resonate most with investors who align with our purpose and profit motivation, particularly those with environmental missions themselves. You have to like them, and believe that
they believe in you.

True that. Thank you so much for your time and insights Camille, and good luck with the next phase!

Camille Goldstone-Henry on ... 3 software building principles

  1. Development team. In house or external?

    “In the early days for us, external was better because we could build things at a lower cost or a fixed cost whereas now as we grow, we’re prioritising speed over cost and internal knowledge and systems building over cost. So as you scale, internal for sure. Early stage, you can probably get away with external."

  2. Users. Focus on acquisition (i.e. getting Xylo in the hands of lots of people), or retention (i.e. getting Xylo in the hands of less people but they lurvve the platform)?

    “This is the founder’s dilemma. Now, we’re very much on the customer retention side. We’re B2B (MP readers: this refers to a business where its main customers are other businesses), so retention is really important for us because we go after enterprises. It’s much bigger per organisation revenue. I think more in the direct to consumer space, acquisition is more important.”

  3. New features. Ship first, find out if your users want it, and then keep or cut? Or find out if people want it, then ship?

    “Definitely number two. You’re always going to have more success building the things that people want and will pay for rather than wasting your time building things that you think people want.”