Schalk Kearney – AKA Captain Planet – is Positive Earth’s fearless founder and a zealous entrepreneur who eats, sleeps and breathes making a difference in the world. He is passionate about starting businesses and co-founded Pet Heaven in 2013. With Schalk at the helm, the business quickly grew to become what is now the largest and most loved online pet store in South Africa. Starting out with just R200k, his team raised two rounds of venture capital funding for Pet Heaven before Schalk exited the company in 2020 and started Positive Earth.
His experience and love for tech, finance, and sustainable solutions to real world problems puts Schalk in the perfect position to fund and advise other entrepreneurs and businesses that want to operate in an international market and make a lasting global impact.
When not captaining the Positive Earth ship and trying to save the world, Schalk is the proud father of two rescue cats, Mango and Morty, and his beloved rescue dog, Pea. He is also the proud godfather to Ally (Pea’s best friend).
When did you know entrepreneurial life was one you were destined to follow?
When I was nine years old, my mom came home late one afternoon after work, only to be cornered by my nanny Annah and I. My hand was stretched out, bulging with silver and copper coins, and I demanded to be taken to the shop – to go and buy sweets, of course.
Annah busted me, pointing with dismay at the mango tree in our backyard. I had been secretly robbing the tree of all its ripe mangos and selling them to passers-by in the street.
I loved the idea of selling things for money! Things that people really love and enjoy. The show of appreciation for fulfilling a need got me hooked.
What was your lightbulb moment that catapulted you into sustainability and making the world a better place?
I really enjoyed working at Pet Heaven. We had a great team (and they still do). Dynamic, fast moving, energetic and efficient. I loved what we achieved and what we stood for: getting involved with charities and broadening our stakeholder consideration to include the entire pet community – not only people who could afford our product and services. We were making a real difference, and I soon realised that I needed to do more.
I love entrepreneurship and knew I wanted to be integral to the success of startups. I wanted to explore ways to make money while doing good so that more people would be able to find and live their Ikigai*. I became obsessed with understanding how people perceive the issues we are facing in the world and started asking the question, “If you could do something to save the world, what would you do?”
The responses varied from solving world hunger to alleviating poverty and inequality. I soon realised that there is no simple way to solve one issue. There needs to be a rising tide.
* A Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living.
What does sustainability mean to you?
It’s hard for me, as it might be for others, to explain why sustainability matters so much. I initially thought I was doing it for the planet, but soon realised that the planet’s longevity will far surpass that of humankind. Our earth is so inconceivable, so unique, resilient and so beautiful. It is our only home (for now) and we are destroying it. Our habitat is deteriorating at an unprecedented rate, yet destructive methods and industries are flourishing.
I don’t know where our values became so misaligned with what is best for us, our communities and our planet. It is not us, or them. It is I. I want to live a better life, one where people and the planet matter as much as we matter to ourselves. I want to live in a world where accountability is a given, where the laws are fair and upheld by the community. In order for us to survive we have to extend our support networks to those who have lost hope. For our society to be whole we need to realise a new future where every life is considered valuable, including the life of our fauna and flora.
The time to talk and think is over, it’s time to be different.
What does the world in 2050 look like to you?
A utopian beauty with thriving plant and animal life. People who are united and who love and respect life. A world where no differences – not race, religion, governments or organisations – stops or excuses us from taking accountability for our impact on our planet. Life is not all about our conveniences!
If you could host a dinner party and invite three guests – dead or alive – who would they be and why?
Tim Ferriss – his work started me on this journey.
Yvon Chouinard – the pioneer of sustainability and founder of Patagonia.
Jeff Bezos – I would love to have the Amazon founder as a mentor and investor (I’m always selling!).