I recall when my co-founder and I decided to start EnergyX, all we had was an idea and a firm belief that we would be the ones that would be able to solve an industry-wide problem in a manner that had never been envisioned before.
Let’s start with defining what that problem actually was: We knew that homes across North America were facing high energy bills and did not have the necessary information readily available to take action towards reducing those bills. We also knew that utilities had a number of energy efficiency programs that could help home-owners reduce their energy consumption, save money and lower their carbon footprint. What was missing was a technological link between the two. We knew that if we could build it, we would have a real impact by improving people’s homes, reducing energy usage and fighting climate change.
All of that being said, we had no capital, no team and to top it all, I had two little kids at that time and my business partner also had two little ones with a third baby on the way. Everyone we spoke to told us that now was not the time and the idea was not validated or proven out. The truth, though, is that it is never the right time to leave the security of a full time job and start your own business. You just need to commit to making it happen and that is exactly what we did.
The two biggest components of sales success are likeability and trust, and armed with that knowledge we formalized our business plan in 2016 and I dedicated myself to building relationships. I focused on speaking with utilities so that we could validate the idea with investors and prove why we were the right team to build and commercialize a product that would be scalable and have real impact. And sometimes, when you are on the right path, things happen. And they did for us. Within two months, we successfully closed our pre-seed round of $400K, quit our jobs and started EnergyX. And we have not looked back since!
Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve won 2 MIT awards for our technology, raised $2.2M to date, grown our team to 25 co-workers across two offices (Toronto and Halifax) and licensed our platform to 15 utilities across the US and Canada which allows us to empower 5M homes to become energy efficient.
Where did you meet your cofounder?
My co-founder Alex and I had the opportunity to work together when we were living in the Netherlands, and I believe that this prior working relationship is key when you decide to start a company with someone. I liken it to marriage - you want to have the opportunity to date before tying the knot.
Alex comes from an engineering background and his skill sets are highly analytical and technical. My background is in commercial sales, marketing and business development. These varied skill sets are very complementary when it comes to running our start-up.
We decided to go down the investor route right off the bat instead of bootstrapping our business. We did this for two reasons: 1) we knew we were solving a scalable problem and 2) we had verified this with potential clients. Given that Alex and I had domain expertise within the utility sector and had already secured commitments from clients who had agreed to pilot our platform once it was built, securing outside investment made the most sense for us. It was the fastest way for us to get to market, secure revenue and build our team. We successfully closed our pre-seed round of $400K within two months of formally starting EnergyX.
The first co-workers we hired were software engineers whose focus was to build our platform. There is a certain risk profile and hunger that you look for when hiring your first few co-workers. Generally, we were hiring for potential as opposed to experience and in the same token, these co-workers decided to come on board because of EnergyX’s potential, our story, our impact and our mission to empower every building in North America and beyond to achieve energy efficiency.
Did you run any companies prior to EnergyX?
Even though I am a first time founder, I have always had an entrepreneur mindset which I have nurtured in all of my previous jobs and roles. In fact, I was exposed to the entrepreneurial world at a very early age. My dad and my grandparents were entrepreneurs and I learned the value of hard work and the importance of taking risks from them. In particular, I experienced the highs and lows of entrepreneurship through my dad and it prepared me for the roller coaster of emotions one feels when they run their own company.
I moved, on my own, from Dubai to Canada when I was a teenager to go to university and built my life here from ground up. I did not have any networks in place that I could leverage. I lived and worked in Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and then Amsterdam – starting from scratch and building up my connections and relationships in each place. This allowed me to understand the importance of believing in myself, my own ability to create something from nothing and to hone my skill in attracting people who are smarter than me – a very important skill as it constantly allows me to learn and grow and push myself to be better. All of this embodies entrepreneurship and paved the way for me to start my own business.
I would venture that all entrepreneurs, at some point in their lives, have been advised that they should not be embarking on their own. In being true entrepreneurs, it is in their nature to not listen to that advice and do it anyways. In the same vein, there are always people along the way that help shape and support us. For me, it’s not been one particular person but a number of people who have been instrumental in my journey thus far. I would not have been able to start EnergyX without my co-founder and business partner, who is a fantastic complement to my skill set and embodies the same values and commitment to growth as I do. My wife has and continues to be instrumental in our success.
Our initial investors believed in us and gave us capital at a time where we were still proving out our business model and for that, we will always be very grateful. Our initial utility clients trusted us and we had so many internal champions along the way that took a risk on us and licensed our platform. Our current investors provided us with the capital and the advice to scale our business and continue our growth. And of course, our co-workers who could choose to work anywhere else, choose us and that is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. All of these people that have played their own role in helping me get to where I am.
What motivates you on a daily basis?
At EnergyX, we license our enterprise software solution to utilities across North America in order to help them automate their energy efficiency programs and achieve their program participation targets. In doing so, we live our mission which is to ensure that every building in North America and beyond has access to a relevant and personalized energy savings plan that can empower them to take action.
Metrics and KPIs are a great indicator and a guiding light to determine whether we are continuing to grow and increase value for our shareholders and investors. That being said, growth and increased shareholder value will only be sustainable when they are built on a strong company vision. Our vision is to empower millions of homes around the world to lower their energy usage. save money and reduce their carbon footprint using our platform and technology. Success for us will only be achieved if we are able to realize this vision. This is our end goal and keeps us motivated and strong throughout our journey.
On that note, I have learned so much with respect to what it really takes to run and grow your own business. If I had to summarize it, my advice for anyone just starting out would be as follows:
- Understand risk and opportunity cost.
There is a Helen Keller quote that sums this up:‘Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
When my co-founder and I decided to start EnergyX, we clearly understood that it was riskier for us in the long run to keep our full-time jobs and remain unfulfilled as opposed to venture out on our own.
- Find the problem you want to solve.
- Determine and validate that the problem is indeed worth solving. And if it is, seek the right investors.
I have also incorporated 4 strategies into my daily life that help me stay driven, hungry and grateful for everything that I have:
- Be the first to rise – I do believe in the old adage that “the early bird, gets the worm”. I subscribe to the 5 am club and it has truly allowed me to find the time to kick start my day and be so much more effective and productive. I feel I have a head start and can really maximize the 24 hour time limit I have every day.
- Daily Exercise – One of my greatest investments has been to convert my 3 car garage into a full designer gym which allows me to have an amazing work-out every morning. I believe this is what keeps me balanced, focused and energized throughout the day.
- Continuous Learning – I subscribe to a Master Class every morning where I am able to learn a new skill set and this keeps me hungry and also helps me evaluate my business on various different fronts. One of the key challenges for every entrepreneur, especially as they grow their business, is to find the time to work ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ the business. It’s very hard to do as we are natural operators, however it is so important to take the time to look at your business with a helicopter view and continuous learning an exposure to different ideas and schools of thought allows one to do that.
- Meditation – Most recently, I started the practice of meditation for 30 minutes daily and this has provided me with an abundance of focus and clarity that I had never experienced prior to starting the practice. Once again, very essential given that, as entrepreneurs, we are balancing a multitude of activities and priorities at any given time. Meditation, at least for me, has allowed me to have a laser focus on solving one problem at a time as opposed to allowing myself to become distracted and pulled in different directions.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
If I have to look at what truly makes us unique when it comes to other competitors in the market today, I firmly believe it is our culture. I compare company culture to a person’s DNA – we are all unique as human beings because we have different DNA and so it is EnergyX’s company culture that helps us stay different and relevant.
The culture at EnergyX is centred around building relationships, developing ownership and an extremely strong focus on growth and innovation. We focus on pushing the dial and imagining what’s possible, both for the company and for the team. It’s a culture built on learning by doing, paired with the ambition to succeed. We’re constantly defining, achieving and then redefining success — constant iterative improvement informed by real experience. The team is full of industry professionals who know that better is possible in the energy efficiency space, and that EnergyX is the place to make it happen.
What books have inspired you?
The three books I would recommend for any entrepreneur would be as follows:
- Winners: And How They Succeedby Alastair Campbell
- Never Split the Differenceby Chris Voss
- Start with Noby Jim Camp
All of these three books embody the mindset an entrepreneur needs to have to persevere against all odds and keep finding ways to reinvent themselves so they can grow personally and professionally.
One of the quotes that currently resonates with me is ‘The definition of hell; on your last day on earth, the person you could have become will meet the person you became."
What I really like about it is that it helps one realize that our time on Earth is limited and we all have so much potential to be better, bolder, and we owe that to ourselves and those around us.
With respect to podcasts,Entrepreneur on Fireby John Lee Dumas andHow I Built Thisby Guy Raz , are my go-to’s given their focus on speaking to founders from all walks of life and mapping the trials and tribulations of their unique entrepreneurial journey. Through these podcasts, you get to live the journey with these remarkable individuals, share their successes and learn from their failures.
What’s next for EnergyX?
The beautiful and exciting aspect of running a start-up is that there is an abundance of projects that we work on that create real impact. It’s in the nature of what we do. Start-ups are built on tackling and solving problems that have not been solved before and so it is all new and exciting!
At EnergyX, we are very focused on living and breathing our mission – to provide every building in North America with a relevant and personalized energy savings plan that can empower them to take action. In a nutshell, to make energy decisions easy – and we are always pushing the dial on the technologies that enable that to happen.
We believe in the three basic truths:
- Energy efficiency and conservation is very important for us to achieve our climate change goals and sustain our quality of life for all future generations.
- When people are empowered with information about their homes and businesses, they can make smart choices about energy and prioritize the things that matter to them.
- Energy efficiency is the most effective means for utilities to engage with their customers, keep them sticky and add real, tangible value above and beyond providing them with commodities (i.e. electricity and gas).
One of our new products that we are bringing to life is our Virtual Audit technology which will enable us to conduct engineering-grade energy audits virtually without ever needing a certified energy auditor to walk through a building – this will truly disrupt the space as it will empower every building to gain access and opt for an energy audit at a fraction of the cost.
Our vision is to empower millions of homes around the world to lower their energy usage, save money and reduce their carbon footprint using our platform and technology. Success for us will only be achieved if we are able to realize this vision.