My talk at Hello Tomorrow: The Future of Energy

In November 2016 I had the privilege of being invited to speak an event in Turkey on The Future of Energy.

It was run by Hello Tomorrow, an NGO that aims to empower early-stage science startups, and coordinated by my ex-IEA colleague, Timur Topalgoekceli, at the Sabanci Centre in Istanbul.

It was very exciting to see such a high-level panel of speakers from the Turkish public and private sector, showing that the clean energy revolution has a dynamic future in Turkey.

I was one of a group of innovative energy technology startups that were invited to present to the conference to spark debate about what the future of the energy system could look like, and how could Turkey position itself to capitalise on this and influence the upcoming change.

My talk starts from 59:00 minutes into this video. To be honest, I’m not happy with my performance as it was quite a different stage to the ones I’m used to presenting on!

It was very much a TED-style podium with no lecture to hide behind, so my nerves get the better of me during the talk.

No matter: it was a great learning experience and it was a fantastic event to meet the movers and shakers of the Istanbul clean energy scene.

Sale of Green Investment Bank

In my opinion, one of the great Liberal Democrat achievements of the Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition UK Government of 2010-2015 was the establishment of the Green Investment Bank (GIB).

The GIB was set up with UK public money to “back green projects on commercial terms and mobilise other private sector capital into the UK’s green economy”. It invests in a variety of green UK projects such as energy efficiency, waste/bioenergy, and offshore wind. By June 2017 it had invested into 99 projects, committing £3.4bn into the UK’s green economy (much of that from private co-investors).

As a Brit who is dedicated to greening the global economy, I was proud to see this excellent development and excited to think about the huge potential impact that it would have.

I envisaged a British version of KfW, the German Government-owned bank with over €489.1bn of total assets and annual revenues of over €74.1bn (in 2014). KfW has had a transformation impact on the German green economy and wider economy. It is 90% financed by the capital markets, issuing bonds that are guaranteed by the Federal Government (and therefore have an interest rate that is extremely low).

I was therefore shocked to hear that the Conservative government (2015-2017) had agreed on the £2.3bn sale of the GIB to Macquarie, an Australian infrastructure investment bank. Many have criticised the sale, saying it has been sold off on the cheap and that the bank will not stick to the green investment mantra after the obligatory 3 year period.

Apparently, the GIB chair was in favour of the sale as they believed it was important to get new investment to grow the bank’s impact and secure its long-term future. How true that is (or how much it is someone protecting their job/position) I can’t tell, but I can somewhat see the logic.

What I find odd is the fact that the GIB would surely be a key channel that the Government could use to deploy capital to support their flagship Industrial Strategy policy. This Strategy was formulated to stimulate technology and green businesses so that the UK economy is well positioned to grow and be globally competitive for years to come. Selling the GIB removes a crucial funding dispersal mechanism that could have addressed barriers to green economic development and buttressed the Government’s efforts.

Additionally, I would have thought that leaving the GIB in public hands would be ideal for the UK Government’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid. Having a bank focused on clean energy projects would have been an ideal channel to deploy capital into projects aligned with these commitments.

This year, there were rumours that the sale could be abandoned in favour of an IPO. That appeared to be the preferred option of the second favourite bidder, Sustainable Development Capital. Whether the recent election miscalculation of Theresa May has interfered with it remains to be seen.

PowerSensr, the smart voltage logger

Back in 2014, I worked on one idea that had been in my mind since my first graduate job at powerPerfector.

Problem

powerPerfector was (before its pre-pack administration) a voltage optimisation technology company that helped buildings to become more energy efficient. By optimising the voltage supply to a building, you can minimise the amount of energy wasted by the building’s electrical devices.

One of the main stages in the sales process was the collection of voltage data at the site. powerPerfector used to post the client a voltage recorder such as a Fluke VR1710* data logger (“logger”). However, this process was very slow as it would take a few days for the logger to arrive, a week to collect the data, then a few days to post the logger back, before downloading the data back at pP HQ.

This was a best case scenario: frequently loggers would go missing at client sites, or they would be forgotten about or even sent back with no data on them. In addition, they required quite a lot of up-front investment to procure, meaning that the number of loggers powerPerfector could send out was limited and therefore delays were even greater.

Solution

I wanted to build a cheaper data logger with the ability to upload the data recorded directly into the cloud. This would allow much faster data collection and due diligence of sites, but also they could even be left in situ to help building managers ensure that their sites are compliant with power quality regulations.

Finally, leaving a logger in situ that can broadcast the current voltage level (of the lowest voltage part of the site) could have even been used in tandem with a dynamic powerPerfector (previously known as a pP+). The logger could have been used to provide a continuous signal to the control unit of the pP+ so that the voltage level would be best optimised for the whole building.

Product concept 

The working title for my product concept was “PowerSensr”.

I essentially wanted to build a single phase voltage and power quality logger similar to the Fluke VR1710* that had the ability to upload data into the cloud in near real-time.

I spoke with an electrical engineer to scope out the most appropriate technologies for what I wanted to do and to get a rough cost per unit. We came up with the following product specs:

  • WiFi for connectivity (3G to be investigated during market research but unlikely to be viable due to costs).
  • Amazon Web Services for the cloud platform.
  • Low internal memory requirements.
  • USB connection to be explored for backup purposes.
  • Low price point (£25-£125) to compete against £650 for the Fluke VR1710*.
  • Simple dashboard at first.
  • 1 second resolution on the measurements.

We discussed building a prototype, but the guy was too busy to help. However, he suggested that I could build the initial prototype based on Raspberry Pi with some guidance from him. Once the concept was tested I could contract the design from organisations such as Cambridge Consultants if I raised enough funding to pay their fees.

Sensr Initial Conceptual Design

PowerSensr Conceptual Design by Jack Raison, 2014

I was very lucky in getting the initial form concept designed by the award-winning graduate design engineer, Jack Raison.

Jack took the high-level design brief to produce the render of the device in the inset picture (left).

Reviewing the idea

I then used this information to review the suitability of the idea using the New Business Road Map.

First, I scanned the marketplace to assess the competitive landscape. The main competitor was Fluke with their Fluke VR1710*. It has many features (except cloud-upload functionality), is very robust but is quite pricey at around £650 at the time for bulk orders. Also, Fluke have a dominant market position as they are a well-known brand in the sector.

Having spoken to several distributors and resellers of this sort of equipment, I realised that buyers have a major focus on brand and quality for reliability. Building this trust for PowerSensr would be one major obstacle if I decided to move forward. Additionally, Fluke were in the process of launching Fluke Connect to bring cloud connection and monitoring features to some devices. The VR1710 was not one of them at the time, however.

I also spoke to 38 Zeros about their CloudLogger device. This was very interesting, as they operate the devices over the phone network and charge $199 for the devices with a 1 year contract of $15 per month (presumably the “Nespresso” business model of making a loss on the hardware to lower the sticker shock of the purchase price).

CloudLogger is focussed on energy consumption for Building Managers rather than voltage or power quality. Intriguingly, they only emailed the data to the customer rather than providing a dashboard solution as customers often have significant dashboard facilities already for their sites.

Once satisfied that there was nothing on the market that could provide what I wanted, I tested the concept for my product with target customers and organisations that would potentially partner with me to sell it.

The first ones were the distributions and sales organisations for this sort of kit. I was shocked to hear that they would only ever sell about 1 or 2 a month as this was quite a niche bit of kit. He also stated that people only really trust one or two brands in the marketplace, as building services engineers are very particular about their bit of kit.

I also spoke to a Director at a built environment consultancy who I knew from a previous role. He was surprised that I was spending any time on a product in this area, as he thought that “nobody really cares about power quality of voltage”.

Indeed, Ilian Iliev at EcoMachines Ventures asked me a great question during a conversation at one of his Office Hours that really stuck with me: “What is the value of the “cake” here and how much of a slice will you charge?“.

It occurred to me that, although voltage problems will only get worse as RE and switch-mode IT loads get added to the grid, the reality is that most people don’t really care about measuring this too much. Therefore, the size of the “cake” (i.e. the value provided to customers by this solution) was small.

The only real customers I had in mind for this technology were powerPerfector and the rival Voltage Optimisation/Management companies. However, pP went into a pre-pack administration in 201X and EMS Powerstar went through tough times after a massive collapse in the market.

Additionally, the risk that Fluke’s Fluke Connect project could encroach on this space seemed like a major risk even if I could build a device that could work at the accepted price point. Their brand awareness would blow me out the water.

I therefore came to the conclusion that this was not a big enough market to chase. In fact, I would even go so far as to state that I had a solution and was looking for a problem. So in late 2014 I decided to bin the project.

Borough Market Forever

Let us not give in to the hate or anger
Shown by those who try to wound us.
Let us not forget those we have lost
Nor forget who we are in ourselves.

Let us not succumb to the temptation
To lose our compassion and tolerance.
A city built on openness and curiosity
Where live and let live reigns supreme.

Though the whispers may echo
Til the point they almost deafen.
Let us not forget our old wisdom:
Keep calm and carry on.

Let us not lose our empathy
Nor be deaf to cries of pain.
What can we do better
To be sure of: “never again”?

The world lands on the banks of our Thames
And we can travel the globe in a street.
The rain may fall and the skies may grey
But they must never take our London away.

Borough Market, London

Photo source: Condé Nast

 

Startupbootcamp IoT Demo Day and mentoring CityCrop

In September 2016, I was matched with my first startup to mentor as part of the Startupbootcamp IoT|Connected Devices Accelerator,.

I was delighted to get the opportunity to spend 3 months working with the Greek home-hydroponics pioneers, CityCrop.

CEO Christos presenting CityCropLed by CEO Christos Raftogiannis, CityCrop is a mini vertical farm for your home or small business. It’s a connected intelligent indoor garden that can produce pesticide-free fruit and vegetables 24/7, all year-round.

CityCrop: available now!

I’m impressed by the speed at which you can grow the plants (a whole lettuce in just a week!!) and the reduction in water usage compared to normal farming (a whopping 98%!).

The LED lights, water supply and nutrient provision are regulated by their custom-built algorithms and can be controlled remotely via a smartphone or web app.

The first generation design was designed to be the size of a washing machine. However, after significant user testing, they found that it was better to redesign it to be a counter-top device of approximately the same size as a microwave. They have incorporated a stackable, modular element to the design should the owner wish to have more growing space. On the right hand side you can see two CityCrops stacked in this way.

I’ve pre-ordered my CityCrop and can’t wait to get my hands on it. Pre-order your own CityCrop by clicking here.

I was delighted to introduce their pitch at the SBC Demo Day on 25th January 2017. It was a fantastic day with all the startups doing a great job and meeting many impressed investors. CityCrop is looking for investment so feel free to contact me and I will put you in touch with Christos to discuss your appetite.

Well done to all the startups and to Startbootcamp IoT|Connected Devices for doing such a great job with the startups over the last 3 months!

SBC IoT |Connected Devices Demo Day 2016-2017

Best Mentor Questions to ask Startup Founders

I was recently invited to mentor a group of startups at the selection weekend of StartupBootcamp Internet of Things|Connected Devices, a new accelerator based in London.

At first, I wondered whether I’d have enough questions to ask in the 20 minute long 1-2-1 mentoring sessions with the founders. I decided to jot down some of the best questions I’ve heard over the years  at the various hackathons and startup events I’ve attended so I was prepared.

It was quite a handy little crib sheet so I’ve included it below as a resource. Feel free to print out and use it for your own events.

Let me know if it is useful and give me a shout out if you think it is worth more people hearing about!

Best Mentor Questions to ask Startup Founders

  1. Have you worked together before?
  2. Is this your first startup?
  3. What IP protection do you have?
  4. Do you have any pre-orders?
  5. Who will be your key clients?
  6. Have you ever worked with these clients before?
  7. What is the marketing plan?
  8. Who are your competitors?
  9. What are your USPs against these competitors?
  10. How are your clients solving this problem now?
  11. What is your exit strategy?
  12. What are your cyber security plans?
  13. What are the revenue streams?

You can download a copy of this list as a handy PDF here for your own use.

Startupbootcamp IoT|Connected Devices 2016: startups now selected!

It was a pleasure to be a Mentor at the recent selection event for the new Startupbootcamp IoT|Connected Devices Accelerator that is going to be based in the Rainmaking Loft from September 2016.

They’ve picked 10 awesome startups for the inaugural cohort:

We had such a great time at the event – see some of the best bits below!

19 Hard Things You Need To Do To Be Successful: written in the 1st person affirmative tense

Many of you will be familiar with the great list post: 19 Hard Things You Need To Do To Be Successful.

It did the rounds on the internet last year and I have to say I really like it as it identifies many common negative patterns. I posted it up on my wall and it has been very useful to read this as a daily reminder to push through these limiting patterns or beliefs.

However, the father of autosuggestion, Emilé Coué, and the proponents of NLP tell us that a more effective way to prime the subconscious would be to use the first person tense in an affirmative manner.

As such, I have rewritten this post in the first person affirmative tense. You can download the file as a PDF here or you can read it below:

19 Hard Things I Do To Be Successful

I do the hard things.

  1. I make the call I’m afraid to make.
  2. I get up earlier than I want to get up.
  3. I give more than I get in return right away.
  4. I care more about others than they care about me.
  5. I fight when I am already injured, bloody, and sore.
  6. I feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.
  7. I lead when no one else is following me yet.
  8. I invest in myself even though no one else is.
  9. I look like a fool while I’m looking for answers I don’t have.
  10. I grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.
  11. I deliver results when making excuses is an option.
  12. I search for my own explanations even when I’m told to accept the “facts.”
  13. I make mistakes and look like an idiot.
  14. I try and fail and try again.
  15. I run faster even though I’m out of breath.
  16. I am kind to people who have been cruel to me.
  17. I meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.
  18. I am accountable for my actions even when things go wrong.
  19. I keep moving towards where I want to be no matter what’s in front of me.

I do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare me. The things that make me wonder how much longer I can hold on.

Those are the things that define me. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

The hard things are the easiest things to avoid. To excuse away. To pretend like they don’t apply to me.

The simple truth about how ordinary people accomplish outrageous feats of success is that we do the hard things that smarter, wealthier, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do.

I do the hard things. I might be surprised at how amazing I really am.

To download the file as a PDF, click here.

Book review: New Business Road Test by John W. Mullins

My challenge: too many business ideas

One of my passions is creating new services, products, and organisations that add real value to people’s lives. But with so many ideas, how do I choose between the good ones and the bad ones? How do I prioritise which idea I should work on and invest time in?

In my previous roles at powerPerfector and Eco Ltd, I saw the importance of the Go/No-Go Matrix for making good business development decisions. Understanding which opportunities for new business should be pursued by the company is both a science and an art, and a good opportunity screening analysis is vital to ensure that a company’s scarce resources of time and money are well invested in the pursuit of projects that will ultimately be profitable.

In an existing business, the boundary conditions for new projects are usually well known and provide a natural element of constraint. However, when thinking of a totally new product, service, or organisation, these parameters can be almost non-existent and the abundance of possibility can lead to a paralysing effect on the decision making process.

The desire to solve this puzzle led me to a fantastic book called The New Business Road Test* by John W. Mullins of the London Business School.

How to assess a new business opportunity

In his book, Mullins lays out what he sees as the critical steps an entrepreneur should take when creating a new business opportunity. There are:

  1. Idea generation: create a new business idea that adds genuine value and solves a real customer need
  2. New Business Road Test: use the Seven Domains framework (his term for an Opportunity Screening Analysis) to assess and shape the idea
  3. Customer-driven Feasibility Study: lay out the conclusions from the road test’s data and analysis to create a strong concept document that can be used as a platform for a final decision
  4. Business Plan: write a bankable project concept that sets out the route to building a successful business that is attractive to venture capitalists.

The Seven Domains Framework

His methodology for a New Business Road Test is centred around his seven domains framework:

New Business Road Test: Seven Domains of attractive opportunities

  1. Market domain
    1. Target segment benefits and attractiveness (Micro-level)
    2. Market attractiveness (Macro-level)
  2. Industry domain
    1. Sustainable advantage (Micro-level)
    2. Industry attractiveness (Macro-level)
  3. Team domain
    1. Mission, aspirations, propensity for risk
    2. Ability to execute on the Critical Success Factors (CSFs)
    3. Connectedness up, down, and across the value chain.

What is different about this methodology compared to others?

Mullins suggests that primary and secondary data should be collected to explore the business opportunity in each of the seven domains as part of a road test that is the written up into a customer-driven feasibility study before embarking on a business plan.

We can contrast his approach with the two that are standard in today’s market:

1. Road Test v Business Plan-centric

Traditionally entrepreneurs have been asked to propose new business ideas by launching straight into the business plan stage. Business plan competitions at universities take this approach and were a dominant feature on the startup map for decades.

The problem with jumping straight into a business plan is that it is very easy to write an entire document based on optimism and the fantasy “best case” scenarios that exist in the entrepreneur’s mind. Mullins’ approach brings top-down and bottom-up data into the equation to actually validate the idea at the very beginning. This prevents resources being needlessly wasted on the creation of a complicated and in-depth business plan for a business that is inherently doomed to fail from the very beginning.

2. Road Test v Lean Startup

In the last 5 years or so, the ground-breaking Lean Startup methodology of Eric Ries* has created a fundamental shift in the way entrepreneurs launch new businesses. The Lean Startup movement opposes almost all forms of formal planning at the first stage and concentrates on building a bare-bones prototype called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to show to customers.

If they declare interest in sufficient numbers (ideally even making a pre-order before seeing the product in its final form), the entrepreneur knows that the opportunity has been “validated” and now has enough merit to be judged worthy of development into its final form. If not, the entrepreneur can either edit the opportunity (“pivot”) and try again, or they can drop the idea.

Mullins’ road test methodology differs in that it advocates a deep level of pre-execution planning akin to the business plan-centric model of the past. However, much like the Lean Startup, Mullins’ approach calls for significant customer interaction and validation from the outset, which allows the idea to be shaped by reality before the entrepreneur invests real resources in developing a formal business plan.

One advantage of Mullins’ road test approach is that it allows the entrepreneur to use high level data to investigate whether the planned product actually has a lucrative market to service and whether it is in an attractive industry to compete in or a lousy one.

Lean Startup tends to advocate jumping head-first into the iterative Build-Learn-Measure loop. However, if the destination industry is fiercely competitive or the target market either doesn’t view the problem as a priority (or is simply not big enough), the Lean Startup methodology can result in an entrepreneur iterating their business into a competitive brick wall or off a financial cliff.

The New Business Road Test approach allows the entrepreneur to get a real feel for the lay of the land using data before (or in parallel to) deciding whether to invest in the creation of an MVP. It also gives a systematic framework for the entrepreneur to really understand their customers better at the same time as assessing their need for the potential product.

What I learned

My approach to testing my businesses from now on will be a mixture of the Lean Startup and the New Business Road Test approaches. Where possible I will build a basic MVP which I will show to customers during the interview process or shortly afterwards. I will also seek macro-level data to support decisions about whether the markets that I am targeting are inherently worthwhile or more of a lost cause.

Read the book

You can download the book’s first chapter from Stanford University which provides a high level summary of the Seven Domains framework and how to use it.

However, if you are an entrepreneur struggling to make sense of multiple business ideas (or are an investor looking for a coherent and systematic framework) I thoroughly recommend reading the whole thing* as it includes a great mix of case studies and notes on how to apply the methodology.

Bonnie Scotland: Stay UK

During the history of the UK, our country has helped shape the modern world. We have sailed the seas; pushed the boundaries of science, industry, and the arts; and we have fought and died together for the freedom of our own beloved citizens and those across Europe.

The political and economic landscape of the UK today lacks balance and many agree that this needs to be addressed. But let’s not treat imperfection as a reason to throw it all away. Vote to Stay UK so we can work side-by-side to create a better country and a better world, shoulder to shoulder.

Better Together