Hagen Ruff

Founder of Chava Wind

Hagen earned his MS in Mechanical Engineering (Dipl. Ing. FH) from Fachhochschule Wiesbaden in Germany and is responsible for the overall CHAVA Wind offering from engineering through end-user systems integration as well as sales and marketing.

Hagen began his career at Accenture (previously Anderson Consulting) in Europe and Asia and then moved to the US in 1996 to start his own Business Intelligence management consulting firm, which was subsequently acquired by Sapient (now PublicisSapient).

After the Sapient earn-out was completed, Hagen invested a substantial amount of time and resources into research and development of rather speculative but potentially revolutionary energy technologies related to theories dating back to Nicola Tesla. During that time, Hagen’s company Chava Energy was maintaining lab research projects in Washington state, Florida, Berlin (Germany), and Adelaide (Australia).

In 2013 the opportunity to develop a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) for the Japanese market presented itself to Chava Energy with the goal of providing decentralized and on-site wind power to a country that was depleted of its nuclear power at the time.

In co-founding CHAVA Wind, Mr. Ruff brings his strong passion for solving energy demand challenges and the associated economic, geopolitical, and environmental problems to his background in mechanical engineering as well as information infrastructure integration with the goal of disrupting this market with innovative solutions.

Hagen resides in Miami, Florida which is also home to the Chava Wind development and test site.

Where did the idea for Chava Wind come from?

The idea came from a Japanese group, which tasked Hagen’s development company Chava Energy with a global market survey for Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT) for on-site power generation. The goal was to find a VAWT that can be deployed in decentral locations throughout Japan with a small footprint, no bird kill, high efficiency, and an aesthetic design to gain acceptance by local communities. We found only one potential candidate at the time, but it was neither in the right size (3KW instead of the desired 20KW range) neither was it fully developed or certified. Even though the Japanese group tasked us to deploy one of those 3KW units in Akita at the time, the goal of the project was not met and we decided to conduct a wind resource study for smaller heights (30 meters) and overlayed this map with local power cost. The finding was that there are plenty of locations worldwide that have sufficient winds and high power cost to justify the deployment of on-site wind generators to reduce power bills or to achieve self-sufficiency.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

At the beginning of the project, we assembled a team of global experts in wind technology. I basically worked with experienced scientists and engineers, quite a few of them PHDs, on finding the optimal design which meets the requirements for aesthetics, efficiency, and reliability. VAWTs have always been desired by many users over Horizontal Axis Propellers but they also have some inherent engineering challenges that we had to overcome. So, during that phase, my typical day was the coordination of those R&D efforts, sourcing of computer simulation expertise, and then selection of manufacturing partners for the prototype components. After the first prototypes were built, the team’s efforts shifted to problem solving and iterative fixing of issue on both structural components but also the control system and software.
Today, my efforts are focused on finding the right partners for continued funding and for regional market roll-outs, while dealing with specific customer inquiries and business cases.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I learned early on in my entrepreneurial career that any idea that sounds initially exciting needs to be vetted against real customer needs. Any successful product or service needs to solve a customer problem, even if the customer does not recognize that problem yet.
Once I am convinced, it is always a good idea to bounce it off some market experts in that field, just in case I missed a few things.
Bringing the idea to life will then start with funding, execution (including the right team), and resilience. Once market entry is in sight, the focus will shift to marketing while the technical team would normally work on continuous improvement and manufacturing set up.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There are many trends that excite me in the science and tech world, but as it relates to energy specifically, I am happy to see the adoption of Renewables accelerate exponentially. Not even a decade back, renewables were viewed as toys for the rich or niche products for off-grid communities in developing countries. But at least in the US, the main pillars of ‘energy’ were still believed to be fossil.
So, I am excited to see that it has become more mainstream, even in conservative circles and many people are now accepting the fact that Renewables have the potential to completely replace fossil fuels. The relatively small amount of fossils fuels used in aviation will probably be the last to convert.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think many people, including myself, could easily digress into mood-based activities versus mission critical activities. I can really only speak for myself here, but I constantly ask myself, if what I am doing is most productively done by me, or if there is someone else who could do a better job at it. And vice versa, could I be more productive focusing on another critical task, even though I enjoy the current one. I am not saying that mission critical tasks cannot be enjoyable, but sometimes you got to force yourself off something you like doing in order to do something your skills are better used at.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Even though I consider myself blessed with success and achievements throughout my career, I sometimes could have done more to change course early on. And “changing course” can be related to people you work with, people who work for you, or projects you pursue. So, looking back, there may have been situations where I was clinging to status quo for too long before making necessary changes. But at the same time, young entrepreneurs have to show dedication and perseverance and not switch between too many things, too often, which could easily lead to a loss of focus.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I have more hair than most other people.

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

Constantly ask yourself how your current activity fits in the big picture. Or better, how it fits in your big picture.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Well, my current business Chava Wind is still pre-revenue so I will tell you later. However, in previous businesses, it comes down to understanding your customer and the market you’re selling into. My previous businesses have been in B2B services, so in contrast to the branding and marketing focus of consumer product companies, it was always important for me to solve our customer’s specific problems versus our own positioning. With Chava Wind, however, the focus will have to shift towards branding and marketing as we transition into market roll out.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Well, a failure is typically defined as missing a goal that was set. In my previous R&D company, Chava Energy, which was conducting research for rather speculative energy technologies, my failure might have been to set more concrete goals and move away more quickly from projects or people who turned out to be less promising. If the goal was to further some research in that field and to shed light behind certain claims around the globe, that goal was certainly achieved. But if the goal was to discover a scalable breakthrough technology that can revolutionize the energy markets, it was certainly missed. So, to correct course, Chava Wind was born to develop a more tangible and feasible product without skirting the boundaries of current science. But I want to make clear that I don’t consider the research we have conducted under Chava Energy a waste of time and I still believe that at some point in the future, some of the phenomena we were researching could lead to scalable energy conversion devices.

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

It has become clear to me that social media has changed everyday life around the globe. For the good and the bad. However, I personally believe that social media is scattered across too many proprietary platforms. Families and older people generally prefer Facebook, while kids can’t get enough of TikTok and SnapChat. Then there is Twitter which is becoming more and more a political forum and a megaphone for celebrities. And of course, there are job platforms like LinkedIn and many other services in between.
So, when I look back at the early days of the internet in the nineties when we started discovering the world through Netscape browsers, AltaVista, and AOL email, the variety of browsers, e-mail providers (and later search engines) evolved like many social media platforms do today. However, HTTP has always been a global protocol, just like e-mail. So even if you had an AOL e-mail address (some people actually still have one today), you can freely communicate with any other e-mail provider. Not so much in the social media world of today, which consists of isolated proprietary platforms that don’t really communicate with each other (only compete with each other). Every user (whether personal or business) has to set up separate profiles on each platform (unless platforms merge into consolidated ownership) and they can’t reach users on other platforms with their posts.
So in short, I see a business case for cross-platform protocols and profiles, which allow users to have central control over postings and more importantly, where users own their content (just like they own the content of their e-mails today). The business model of today’s social media platforms is too much centered around proprietary data ownership, which is not necessarily in the best interest of the user.
But realistically, breaking through those established structures with an open-source tool might just be as hard as cracking big oil.
So, I am not sure if this will ever be a real business or more of an attempt to make the world a better place.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Since I keep my fashion style rather simple (shouldn’t we have all learned that from Steve Jobs) and don’t spend money on expensive haircuts either, the best 100 dollars I recently spent was fixing my bicycle so I can work out more and burn less gas.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

As you may have figured, I am not sharing much personal stuff on social media, but I greatly appreciate the business networking opportunities through LinkedIn.
I am most using it for business networking but I am planning to use it more for our product in the future.

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

Although quite old, I still think that everybody can benefit from Stephen Covey’s
The 7 habits of Highly Effective People”. It not only provides people with simple steps how to make the business life more productive, but it also reflects on people’s personal life.

What is your favorite quote?

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Key Learnings:

  • Don’t always take NO for an answer, even if it comes from so-called experts.
  • Hire people that are better than you in certain aspects and value them accordingly.
  • Cutting your losses on bad decisions is different from quitting.
  • Whatever you work on, do it with pride.