Dorrit Lowsen from the Mentor Capital Network interviewed Farah Brunache, Founder and CEO of Electric Feel, on August 18, 2016.
Electric Feel is working to mitigate the impact of inadequate public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the United States by developing a supplemental power device intended to provide sufficient charge to allow an electric vehicle driver to get to the next destination, giving them the confidence they always have power to move to another charging station in the event that their intended charging station is unavailable, occupied, or out of commission.
- It is the quality, rather than the size of your network, that matters most when it comes to building the relationships that drive entrepreneurial success.
- There are times when a potential partner may interpret goals and how to reach them differently than you. Be sure to get to know their professional backgrounds before making commitments or exposing critical business details.
- No approach is one-size fits all. Be selective about advice and evaluate which best practices are best for your business.
- Raising money and/or getting to revenue takes time and not everyone with the potential to launch a successful business can afford to go without pay while launching a startup. It can be challenging to balance a day job while pursuing your entrepreneurial dream, but it can be done if you keep your priorities in mind and remember to breathe!
Farah Brunache, Founder & CEO of Electric Feel was inspired to launch the business when she set out to fulfill her long-time dream of owning an electric vehicle and found that even sellers of electric vehicles advised against purchase due to inadequate charging infrastructure. Brunache went ahead with her purchase and experienced the effects of the problem herself. She has narrowed down the overall dilemma into three main components:
1. Even where charging stations are present, they are not reliably functioning. Especially when they are provided as a free service, charging station providers often do not service them in a timely fashion when they become inoperable.
2. There are still a limited number of charging stations and in high-traffic areas there are frequently many drivers competing for access. Since each vehicle has to charge for a minimum of an hour, it is common to discover all functioning stations in use when you need one.
3. It is expensive to install and operate a charging station so many operators of parking facilities and other locations where charging stations could be located choose not to install them.
Brunache launched Electric Feel to address this lack. Her original idea was to become a vendor of charging stations but after encountering competing interests when working with another business to accomplish this, which unfortunately resulted in losing customers, Brunache decided to pivot Electric Feel in a different direction. The new focus had become to develop technology to mitigate the effect on drivers of inadequate infrastructure. Her product, now under development, will provide electric vehicles with a partial charge for extra miles of travel allowing drivers the confidence that even if there is no operable charging station available at their original destination, they will always have enough remaining power to find an available charging station.
When asked about the reasons for such a radical pivot, Brunache said that she took the discouragement of losing customers as a valuable learning opportunity. She would advise early stage entrepreneurs that the maxim “sell fast, sell often” should be interpreted wisely. If a relationship with another business can boost sales, go for it; instead of taking offers to work together at face value, though, Brunache recommends spending the time to do careful research on any potential vendor or partner. It is very important, she says, to be sure that incentives and goals are in alignment before moving forward, especially when it comes to revealing proprietary information. Her early partnership experience also highlights the importance of having legal counsel in place and negotiating formal partnership agreements which include protections such as non-compete clauses to protect your business.
Another big hurdle Brunache overcame while creating Electric Feel was developing the right network of advisors and supporters. Brunache did not have a professional background in transportation or in hardware before founding the company. Consequently, she had to build a network from scratch. She cites participation in programs such as MCN as one of the key ways she accomplished that. Another successful strategy has been to attend as many networking events as she can and to be fearless about approaching speakers and other attendees to present herself and request additional information, introductions, or other follow up. Brunache is quick to point out, though, that it is the quality rather than the size of your network that matters. One or two key connections can open up many doors and help you get to powerful people. For Brunache, one of those key connectors was a MCN mentor who was able to go above and beyond providing moral support and guidance throughout the challenging early phases, by introducing her to other important players in the industry who could help.
Brunache has navigated another challenge familiar to many entrepreneurs – that of finding harmony between commitment to the startup and fiscal responsibility. Brunache sometimes feels that founders who choose to continue working a “day job” until their new business has revenue or funding are viewed as uncommitted because they are not spending every waking moment on their startup. It’s not that they don’t want to! She points out that such a decision does not necessarily reflect lack of commitment on the part of the entrepreneur, but rather acknowledgement that starting a business is risky and taking on unwieldy personal debt in order to focus full-time on the venture does not always improve the chances of success. She notes that the sources of finance, such as small business loans, available to help entrepreneurs get through the earliest phases of starting a business are often insufficient to get a business all the way through to revenue or seed funding. Furthermore, taking on substantial personal debt is not always possible or advisable. Brunache believes that it’s possible to achieve balance between developing a new concept and a job that pays the bills and says she does not regret bootstrapping Electric Feel in the early days because doing so gave her confidence and independence along the winding road of entrepreneurship.
As parting advice to fellow entrepreneurs, Brunache reminds us that no two businesses follow the same path. She’d like to encourage anyone starting a business to show appreciation for all advice received, but to carefully evaluate the cost, impact, and difficulty of each possible path, before deciding which to take. Time is money and entrepreneurs rarely have enough of either, so strategic thinking and careful decision making will help your limited resources go as far as possible.