Interview: Lumeter Networks (2014)

The MCN’s Smarth Kharbanda caught up with Mitra Ardron Co-Founder of Lumeter Networks in the fall of 2014.

Mitra Ardron is a co-founder of Lumeter Network. They provide technology to solar companies to help people get electricity.

What is Lumeter network doing?

We provide technology to Solar companies in developing countries to allow them to work with the bottom billion. Lumeter’s Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach allows the consumers to pay upfront for the electricity they wish to use, enabling the electricity to flow through Lumeter meter.Where are you located?We’re currently selling in 11 countries:  Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Nepal, Uganda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Peru and Malawi.

How did you get interested in this problem?
I have worked in renewable energy. I am also a mentor for the William James Foundation/Mentor Capital Network and while mentoring innovators in developing countries we found electricity to be a problem, a problem that lot of people have and we were working on it. So we decided to go and solve this problem.

What solution are you providing?
We provide a Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) technology. This technology helps to make a regular solar company into a pay-as-you-go solar company. We also provide a meter which helps the customer to use the electricity they paid upfront for and making it a lot easier for the solar companies to sell electricity.    

Who are your customers?
Our customers are solar companies and not the local people. We’re B2B and we support local entrepreneurs to expand our network and help us provide electricity to the local people.

What are your further expansion plans?
We want to expand to all the developing countries where electricity is a problem and we see that happening in couple of years. We expanded from 3 countries to 11 countries this year itself. Also our expansion is not that tough, we have no people on ground. There are entrepreneurs there who find us through the internet or word-of-mouth

What is the life expectancy of the meter?
It is an electronic gadget and it will break down someday. We  expect it to work around 20 years like the solar panels.

Is the meter repairable?
The meter is not repairable because making it repairable it will double its cost and also will involve a supply chain to get the part to the market. These are cheap products and making them repairable will not be a good idea. 

How do you develop a network of agents in another country?
The most effective way is to go to conferences. There are a number of organization and conferences on energy access and we are active in all these conferences.  This helps us to tell people working in the energy access industry about what are we doing.

What are barriers to entry for competitors?
It is more likely a competitor will copy our design than copy our product. Copying our product will be difficult for anyone because you have to copy both the code on the product and the physical product. It is not a very high end market and the cost of copying the product will be too high. You will need both the hardware and the software in the backend one has to redevelop all of that.

Did you face any unexpected problems? If yes, what are they?
The biggest problem was lack of money on the angel round.  It is very difficult to find investors who are willing to invest in the second round. Angel money is not a problem in this space, there are many people who make small investment in this industry, but the money after that between hundreds of thousands and couple of million is very hard to raise.

Did you receive any help from the government?
No, we did not receive any help from the government.

What is your revenue model?
We generate revenue from the combination of sale of the product & more importantly from the energy companies.  We provide the service of tracking the payments to the energy companies and in return we get paid by the energy companies.

How have mentors helped you?
I am both a Mentor and on board of Mentor capital Network. I see this from both sides. The most valuable thing is to get most critical feedback from the judges. The feedback on first round and the second round were both very helpful. The first version of feedback helped us to reframe our concept.  The feedback is very useful.