Brian Gramm – Founder of Peppermint Energy

[quote style=”boxed”]With experience, I’ve come to realize it is okay to hear [naysayers] out and then move on. Don’t let them drain you or your energy.[/quote]

Brian is a startup junkie who has guided early stage companies from concept through exit. Prior to founding Peppermint Energy, he founded Milo Belle Consultants, which he sold in 2010. Brian has also been a part of numerous concept launches, assisting founders of businesses specializing in high tech, retail, renewable energy and ecommerce (and he even assisted Minnesota Wild, a major league sports team). All of this took place while Brian was recovering from being a CPA.

Currently, Brian serves as the CEO and founder of Peppermint Energy, a clean tech company that is based on serving others by making renewable energy available to everyone across the globe–not just to those with buildings and disposable incomes. A main part of the company’s focus is on shifting the scale of renewable energy technologies to fit end-users’ daily energy needs.

Brian is an adjunct professor for the University of South Dakota (go Yotes!), where he teaches entrepreneurship courses the old-fashioned way–using real markers and a whiteboard. He holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota (go Gophers!), with a double emphasis on corporate finance and entrepreneurial studies, and an undergraduate degree in accounting from University of South Dakota. Brian and his beautiful wife Shanna have three young children, and Brian spends much of his free time marveling at the zone defense used by people with four kids.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on the launch of our first, personal, renewable energy product (the Forty2). Some days that means raising capital, other days that means approving manufacturing specs, and every day that means talking to people who may use the product some day. We also just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help us get some funds to build our beta production run.

Where did the idea for company come from?

Mostly it came from being curious. I had noticed that several large windmills at a nearby wind farm were not turning. I then found out that it costs around $100,000 just to get the huge cranes out there to fix one that doesn’t work. So, operators wait until several don’t work before spending the money to get a crane on-site. That struck me as preposterous. Surely $100,000 can buy many, many smaller renewable energy generation devices. But those devices didn’t exist. I decided they should exist, and launched Peppermint Energy to make them a reality.

What does your typical day look like?

I start the day with a slow, painful run of a few miles while listening to the Marketplace podcast, and then get the kids off to school/daycare. Most days I have a coffee meeting somewhere (I’m a big believer in having meetings outside of the conference room), and then head to the office. A typical day at the office is wildly unscripted. We have a very clear vision of where we are going and when we need to be there, so the days are spent doing the most productive thing possible at that moment. I’m sure that would drive many people nuts, but such is the life of a startup. At some point every day, I make sure to talk to a prospective customer, to reach out to a prospective investor, and to be a dad starting at supper time.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I simply ask smart people what they think. If they give me an “aha” look, I take action. If they give me the universal look for “you’re nuts,” I go back to the drawing board.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Crowdsourcing–especially once the new rules from the SEC go into place. Letting people buy a few shares of a new company makes perfect sense and allows ideas to get to market without the bottleneck that venture capital has become.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job after college was working as an auditor for a CPA firm in the upper Midwest, whose clients were ag co-ops. The three things I learned were:

  1. I do not like climbing to the top of a tall grain silo in a blizzard.
  2. I do not know much about the ag industry.
  3. I am not cut out to be an accountant.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t do anything differently. I needed to make all the mistakes I made in the past to be the person I am today.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I buy smart, positive people cups of coffee. That simple task has opened up my mind and made me smarter. It costs $2.00 and an hour of your time. There is no reason we shouldn’t all do it more often.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I was a bit younger in my entrepreneurial journey, I spent too much time worrying about or avoiding naysayers. They are everywhere, and they used to intimidate me. With experience, I’ve come to realize it is okay to hear them out and then move on. Don’t let them drain you or your energy.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Startups are not mini-big companies. So they shouldn’t act like them. The CEO of a large company often isn’t a lot of help to a startup, but the guy down the street with three employees probably can be. Unfortunately, you want to read books by people who don’t have time to write books–so buy those people coffee instead.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I think everyone on this planet should have access to electricity and the opportunities that come with this access. In fact, I wake up every day and work to make that happen. Yes, I chose to connect my business goals with my personal goals.

Tell us a secret.

If you stop using Facebook for two weeks, you will never go back to using it.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. LinkedIn. We are always searching for some expertise, and it is a great tool to find people with specific skills.
  2. Pandora. Background noise helps me focus, and I get to play DJ along the way.
  3. RunKeeper. I guess I like to be able to measure my failings.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Bible. There is more wisdom in there about to how to run a startup than in any other book I’ve read. The Tipping Point is fascinating because it shows how seemingly unrelated things can converge to make something take off.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. @FastCompany is great for new ideas, even if many of them are not practical.
  2. @Peppermint. Maybe I’m biased here, but I think our tweets are either informative or fun, but not fluff-filled.
  3. @SDCoyotesSID. Go Yotes!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

The line, “So long, and thanks for all the fish” (from the opening of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy).

Who is your hero?

Everyone who thinks the glass is half full.

Did you have other startup ideas before you launched Peppermint Energy? If so, how did you choose what to pursue?

I had been mentally working through a few unrelated concepts when some smart people pointed out the main decision-driver for pursuing Peppermint Energy. As they noted, it is truly a rare instance when pure business interests completely align with making millions of people’s lives better–and Peppermint Energy serves as one of those instances. I truly wake up every day to work on making a positive difference in people’s lives, while also creating wealth for people to pay it forward.

Why do you live in fly-over country?

If you’ve ever spent time here, you understand. It is truly crazy that people live in big cities. What are they thinking?


Brian Gramm on Twitter: @peppermint
Peppermint on Facebook:
Peppermint Energy’s website: