[quote style=”boxed”]We end every meeting with a hard ask. This can be anything from asking them to introduce us to another investor, setting up a second meeting, or a commitment to try our product. [/quote]
Eric Graham is a clean energy entrepreneur who is committed to spreading energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. Eric has helped leading companies such as EnerNOC, Fraunhofer CSE, Next Step Living and Building 36/Alarm.com bring their technologies to market.
Kevin Loos is an energy entrepreneur who has extensive experience in building performance and energy efficiency technologies. Kevin has helped leading companies such as Next Step Living and Building 36/Alarm.com grow their business by creating market channel strategies and developing customer relationships.
Where did the idea for CrowdComfort come from?
Eric: The idea was conceived at the 2013 DataJam Hackathon, hosted by Greentown Labs and sponsored by the White House, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC). The theme for this event was how could we better leverage data to better manage buildings. Galen Nelson, Director of Market Development for the MA CEC suggested that we should use these $600 computers we carry around in our pocket to report comfort levels in buildings. From there, the idea kind of took off and after testing a prototype in the market, it evolved very quickly into what it is today: A comprehensive facility management tool that empowers building occupants and employees to report real time geo-located comfort levels, maintenance reports, and inspection checklists.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Kevin: With all the customer meetings, investor meetings, and travel I don’t think we ever have a typical day. I make every day productive by writing down 5 major tasks that I want to accomplish. They are generally time-sensitive and require a minimum time commitment of 30 minutes. I don’t allow myself to move onto another task until the previous one is complete. I also have an ongoing list of smaller tasks that are not time-sensitive that I address after the completion of 5 large items.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Kevin and Eric: We define, experiment, get feedback, and then redefine. This process allows us to cycle through many ideas quickly in order to identify the ones that are worth pursuing. We think many people overthink the concept and product development without testing it in the market. There are many ways to creatively prove out an idea without spending valuable time and/or resources up-front.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Eric: Crowdsourcing. With the on-set of mobile-delivered data, we can now do what we couldn’t before – accessing the wisdom of crowds in an efficient and timely manner. Traditional top-down hierarchies were born out of necessity. You needed leadership to get anything accomplished. Now, we are moving to a place where leaders are no longer making critical decisions in their ivory towers, instead they are really just implementing the will of crowds. Not only is this trend going to shift the way we think about problems, I truly believe that is going to bear innovative solutions that will drive efficiency in energy and operations.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Kevin: One habit that makes me more productive is to regularly engage my team to check-in, and review our mission, vision, and strategy. By doing this, we don’t get caught up in distractions. Our tasks remain focused on what is going to service the business most. It also allows me to effectively delegate and alleviates concerns that we aren’t using our resources efficiently. If everyone is clear on our ultimate goal, then I am confident that no matter what they are doing whether they are writing a proposal, following up with a lead, or crafting a new pitch, they are moving the business forward.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Eric: My previous job at a residential energy efficiency company was a huge challenge for me. My skills were misunderstood and my metrics and measurement of success did not match up with the company’s. That was very frustrating. I did not realize the inertia and commitment to the existing business model was so embedded within the organization. I should have fleshed out the company’s commitment to innovation by pushing for a verbal and written agreement to it. I was so enamored by the CEO’s mission (and still am) that I failed to dive into the details before joining.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Kevin: Honestly, nothing. I think we have done all the right things so far.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Kevin: Be open-minded and listen to market feedback. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own idea that you lose perspective and instead of creating a product that fits the market you waste your energy on trying to convince the market that they need your product.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Kevin: We end every meeting with a hard ask. This can be anything from asking them to introduce us to another investor, setting up a second meeting, or a commitment to try our product. This wasn’t easy at first, but after a few times, it became apparent that most people genuinely want to help out when they see a good product and a good team. But, you can’t make them do the work of thinking how to help you. You have to be specific with your request.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Eric: I consider the situation I put myself in at the previous company I was working for was essentially a failure. The expectations and vision of the company and myself were completely misaligned and I ended up leaving the company. However, had I never join the company in the first place, CrowdComfort never would have happened. I overcame that situation by staying true to myself and who I am as an innovator and entrepreneur looking to solve big problems. As such CrowdComfort found me or I found CrowdComfort.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Kevin: A web browser that is extremely private, secure, and blocks all ads. I would pay a monthly subscription for this and believe a whole bunch of other people would as well.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
Eric: Well in addition to co-founding a tuna farming company in Croatia in the mid 1990s, I was also playing rugby with the world’s best players in the Professional Italian rugby league at Rovigo.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Kevin: We currently use Gmail and insightly (CRM tool) for most business functions, both of which are powerful, intuitive and affordable. I recently downloaded the TurboScan app on my phone and love it. The application allows you to easily scan and send documents through your smartphone and only cost $2.50 to download.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Kevin: Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet. This book came out just as we were starting CrowdComfort back in August of 2013 and our whole team read it. It lays out a simple and logical framework for creating, testing, and scaling a business.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Eric: My mother and my father (both entrepreneurs) when I was younger, but nowadays it’s my kids.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.