Monday, February 01, 2010

True Calling

My, my.. it was September 2009 when I last posted a blog entry. Well, we can blame twitter and facebook for that a little bit, but what I realized is that blog posts are effective when you can write from your true voice, and let's say I spent 2009 finding my true voice (and glad to report that it's been found ;)

This blog used to be called "business intelligence adventures" because that was my sole profession when I started this blog back in 2005. Since then, a lot's happened - our company Loyalty Matrix got acquired by Responsys where I spent about 2 years (part of the acquisition deal). Then in 2009, we started a new company OpenI - building on the open source business intelligence project we'd started in 2005, and also to scale the partnership we'd developed with Codemandu, our off-shore partner in Kathmandu, Nepal. It's been great to be back in start-up mode again, and the progress at OpenI is very satisfying and rewarding.

However, life is full of strange but powerful co-incidences.

During my 2 years between Loyalty Matrix acquisition and starting OpenI, I started becoming more fascinated with the clean energy industry, and wondered how I could get in. Perhaps part of it was my own mortality trying to find a way into my profession - I wanted my work to contribute towards more serious issues our world faces today.

Then in February 2009, a funny thing happened:

I was on a short trip to Kathmandu to kick-off a project. Right around then, Nepal was hit by its worst energy crisis, and the government-run power company (Nepal Electrical Authority, NEA) had issued a 16-hour daily blackout ("load shedding"). Needless to say, our software development staff was severely impacted. They bought hordes of batteries and inverters, but when you only have 8 hours of electricity per day, that too in two 4-hour slots, it's hard to adequately charge your battery bank. So we looked for alternatives, and the suggestion was to buy a diesel generator.

Not only the clean energy freak in me cringed at this, but the noise, fumes, etc. would be too much of an irritant to have within an office full of sofware developers. Now, I'd seen a lot of homes and businesses in the San Francisco bay area switching to solar power - so we explored if solar would be an option. Turns out there were about 40 solar companies in Nepal - but none of them could provide us with a solution.

First off, they all focused on rural electrification (which is a noble cause, also helped by government subsidies), and the types of systems they offered were just for basic lighting. We were told "solar can't power up heavy equipments like computer servers" :)

So -- an idea was born. Can we build an organization that can provide solar electricity as a viable backup option for urban homes and businesses in Nepal who need more than just basic lights?

A year after - I am happy to report that we just launched our solar energy company in Nepal - Gham Power - that just does that.

Of course, just like many other entrepreneurial adventures, this involved a lot of crazy things. I attened a Clean Energy certificate program at UC-Berkeley to learn more about solar technology and the financial structures to make it feasible. My wonderful friends Mike McCarthy and his dad Tom McCarthy introduced us to Solar Power Inc, a great solar company (public) out of Roseville, CA - who agreed to become a partner and help us bring one of the best solar technology to Nepal. Friends and family pitched in like never before -- both in the US as well as in Nepal -- to make this idea a reality. We had interesting adventures with the Nepali government, shipping companies, banks, vendors (topics for other posts). We put together a truly kick-ass executive team to run the company in Nepal. It's been a truly amazing process.

And to ensure our work with OpenI doesn't take a back seat to this - we got more help into the company so it continues to excel in its independent course, as evidenced by the new and exciting projects we've had the opportunity to participate recently.

Of course, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I'll probably also go nuts travelling back and forth between San Francisco and Kathmandu. I can't thank my wife and kids enough to be so greatly understanding to let me pursue this (I know I'm stretching the limits of their generosity and kindness). I feel truly blessed.

Being a technology geek, one of the hardest thing for me was to accept that it's okay to pursue what you are passionate about even if you don't have much experience or if that wasn't your area of training in school. Also, being an entrepreneur is about creating and growing companies, not necessarily being involved in running the company. I had severe doubts about what will happen to OpenI (and my personal career as a Business Intelligence software guy) if I went after my solar energy dream, but it turns out, they don't need to be conflicting.

One of the hardest lessons is to figure out how you can focus on your core strengths, and then bring in other smart people as business partners to do things which are not necessariy your core strengths. They probably teach this from day one of Entrepreneurship 101, but it's amazing how easily we can fall into the trap of not applying this to the businesses we build.

So, I am changing the blog title to "Adventures in Entrepreneurship" and will continue to share my experiences (more frequently). I'd also love to hear from other entrepreneurs out there about their experiences (similar and different). At the moment, I am just happy to have found a true voice to communicate, and look forward to sharing new adventures.

No comments: