Felipe Perini interviewed Eden Full in December of 2014 to discuss how SunSaluter is doing.
Where are you operating?
We primarily have our HQ functioning out of Bangalore, India. Our COO is based on San Francisco and I’m based on NY. Our team is essentially based everywhere, but manufacturing and a lot of our distribution is in Bangalore. We also have units that have been deployed in 14 different countries. It is slowly expanding and it is a work in progress.
What problem are you trying to solve?
SunSaluter is a device that rotates solar panels without using any electricity, for the purpose of making them 30% to 40% more efficient, so that when it generate more electricity, they can be used in developing countries, providing additional lighting or charging for cellphones, more charging for batteries, whatever it is. Our tracker is specially designed to be used in the developing world, which is special because there are no other solar panels that have been designed for that specific market.
How did you become interested in this?
I’ve been working on solar since I was a kid, I built my first desktop solar car when I was 10 years old, and I started dabbling a lot in solar, I started exploring all different issues related to solar and why isn’t this technology more mainstream. As I stumbled upon this problem of tracking where solar panels aren’t being efficient enough, I started looking at different ways I could add values to this market, and I realized that one of the missing links right now is people in developing countries who are using solar panels just aren’t getting the resources and the innovation they need. I was particularly interested in helping out the developing world, simply because I think there is not enough innovation going on there, and that is realistic.
Would you say your costumers are everyone in the developing countries or do you have a specific niche?
I’d say we are specifically targeting underdeveloped, rural, off-the-grid areas in developing countries, and users that can benefit from solar home charging systems. We are also where they are starting to make that leap, from having no electricity to have solar, rather them trying to make them switch to fossil fuels.
What are some of your major challenges?
Distribution and access is always going to be the biggest challenge, it’s going to be hard to connect to the people who need the technology the most, finding ways to leverage our networks and build upon what we already have, to be able to find the right people who can get us connected in the right communities, but that is always challenging. Another challenge is also convincing people why the technology actually makes a difference, because when we show people and we actually give them the physical evidence, it is easy to prove that the SunSaluter works and is actually making an impact, but when you talk to someone on the phone, you aren’t there in person or you don’t have a demo unit in front of you, sometimes it can be hard to believe. But I think that when we show people and we have it in front of them, it makes sense. Sometimes it is hard to get to that point, of being able to sell people on it, but once they are sold on it, they become advocates for us, and that is fantastic.
What is it that makes SunSaluter special for its market?
The design is very intuitive and very easy to use, it also very low cost, we can manufacture SunSaluter units for around U$15 to U$20, and the cost is continuing to go down as we continue to figure out manufacturing. When solar panels are so expensive, if you can get 30% more power out of every solar panel every single day, for a very small incremental one-time cost, there is a lot of economic value that can be offered to these people that are relaying on solar panels as their only source of electricity.
How many people do you employ?
We have a team of about 10 right now.
How has the distribution of the pilot units been going so far? Are you going to be able to reach your goal of distributing 1000 units by the end of 2014?
Yes, we are on target to meet our goals.
Did you give any extra thought to the copyright/patent of your product?
We do have patents on our technology, but I’m not necessarily a fan of intellectual property protection. I think that if something is genuinely useful for the world, I should just put it out there, and be the fastest person to innovate, the fastest person to create it, and just continue to innovate. If other people catch up, I think that is a good sign, that means I’m actually on to something useful, but obviously, the world is not necessarily always a safe place, so we do have intellectual property protection.
How is your relationship with the manufacturers and distributors in India?
Our relationship is very strong, but it took a lot of time to develop that relationship. They first read about us when we were featured in an article in the New York Times a couple years ago, and we have been skyping, emailing, and corresponding back and forth for a year or so, before we actually formalized a partnership. I think that it is very important, that both sides feel like they are coming into something where they feel they can trust the other party. Because so much of what we do can be remote sometimes, it is about building a local team in India who can actually work with us. Having a local team to really watch over everything is important, and you have to make sure you pick the right people.
Has any competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?
Yes, I think the Mentor Capital Network, attending the Annual Gathering was really helpful, some of my connections that a made through the Thiel Fellowship as well as The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, both of those were very helpful as well. And just living in both San Francisco and New York City, I’ve definitely met a lot of really interesting people, and they all contributed their expertise. One thing that is really important to keep in mind, is that a lot of the decisions I make for SunSaluter, are not decisions I made myself, they are a conglomeration of the advice that everyone gave me and I combined into something useful. That is how I chose to be strategic about decisions that I make for the organization, our board, our advisors, a lot of people have contributed to actually figure out what the future of the organization is.
What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?
I think for me personally, I recommend, build your product, build whatever it is, and make sure you solidify and understand your market before you go out to those conferences and before you go out and try to sell everything. I think it is important to have a very clear idea of why are you different, why is what you are doing not redundant, what are you actually contributing rather than adding excess into the world, especially in this social impact space. In terms of resources to keep in mind, I think sometimes going to these conferences can be helpful, so you know what else is out there, doing your due-diligence, but I think the most important thing is connecting with locals. Local people who actually are on the ground and experiencing the problems, and will be the ones evaluating the solutions you are trying to implement.
How can readers learn more about you?
Our website, SunSaluter.com, our twitter, @TheSunSaluter, we also have a Facebook page and a LikedIn page. I think all of that is in our website, and they can subscribe to our mailing list, there is a link in our website to do that.