Interview Renew Power (2020)

Interview of Zach Edmond, CEO of Renew Power by Sohaib Elbebny on June, 24, 2020.

Company Overview

The idea for Renew Power Systems started because of a unique challenge that presented itself to Dr. Greg Mowry, one of their founders. When the Soviet Union fell, he was living in Moldova. The Russians took giant parts of that country’s power infrastructure back home with them, leaving his country with no options. He developed a self-contained system that generates, stores, and provides electricity that can work out of the grid or in areas that have no infrastructure access.

Key Takeaways

  • How Can mentors be vital for entrepreneurs
  • Shifting from technical background to business
  • How to chose co founders 
  • Working with friends can be a real challenge 

Interview Highlights

What do you think about the feedback?

The first thing we did was we went through all of the reviewers and found a common theme.

We are identifying the problem that we’re trying to solve and illustrating that.

It was more detail-oriented, in terms of, we have many words, I’m a very technical writer, so it’s hard to read something so technical for many people. So one of the comments they made is to try to take some of our words and put them into pictures. Put them into something simple that someone can look at, which helps them get what we’re trying to get across but without reading.

Which business sides are you trying to develop with your mentor?

We’ve been developing a lot of the business side. We are building up what our value proposition is? Who is our customer? What are the pains that they’re facing we can solve?

We had some people who wanted to buy our microgrids, and we’ve been coordinating that, and we’re going to sell and install several systems.

How did you make the transition from Technical background to business? 

It was a long process. When our business first started over a year ago, we spent much of our time building up our first business plans, but we went to competitions. So we had business plan competitions where we’d be rated on how good our plan was. We had competitions on presentation so that we could work on our presentation skills. And most of our time was spent either pitching to individuals or pitching at events, and we also started to develop trying to get customers, trying to identify who we can sell to. There were a lot of failures, honestly.

 We tried to reach many different markets and realized that there’s no way that they’re going to deal with a startup company. They’re unwilling, and we can’t enter into that market. And so there was a lot of pivots that honestly was the most significant learning for me was having to go through to think about these processes, commit to it, and talk to people and make an effort and try to do it and then have it fail and see why it failed, learn from that, and keep moving.

If someone with a technical background and trying to start the company should look for a partner, do the business part, or learn to do the business part?

Because I’m the CEO, regardless, I believed that I needed to have both. I need to have both the business side and the technical side. How it started was I brought in two people, co-founders, they had the business side, and what I did was, as they were spending some of my time to learn what they were doing and why they were doing it. In part, they taught me piece by piece the business side, and that’s what helped me go from technical to business as I had teachers. I had mentors essentially in my co-founders, who taught me these things. Without them, without other people to ask questions, which could help me learn, I don’t think I would have had nearly as successful a time learning all of that. Because there’s so much there to learn, it definitely can be done, but I think having someone, some partner, who has that experience, doesn’t mean that you won’t learn that experience; they’re the ones who teach you that. 

And then you get to be like me, where I have my COO who does a lot of the business side and marketing. I have my CTO, who is the technology expert, but I get to be in both, and I get to shift from one to the other, depending on where they need me, and that to me is the best of both worlds. To be able to see the whole picture of our company. So I would recommend if you don’t have any business background, definitely having a partner is very useful, but it also depends on the person. Some people are driven, and they’re disciplined enough to go out and read books and practice and go to competitions, and I’m sure they could learn from technical to business, but I would suggest having someone else who could make a difference.

How did you choose to be your first two co-founders, and who you later decided who should be staying? 

What I ended up doing, number one, my mentor and original co-founder was my CTO. He and I had worked for years on technology, and that was the foundation of the company. When we needed someone with a business background, I brought my friends that I had known for quite some time, and I got along really well with them. They had an interest in the research that I was doing before the company started, and so it was for me people that I knew, that I knew had skills. One of my friends has been a CEO of several companies his entire life, so he grew up in a family that lived that, so that was a lot of perspective and experience that we brought in.

My other friend was from a first-generation immigrant family and had charged his way through education. He’s the kind of person that will teach himself anything, and he is so motivated that he is amazing how much he can achieve. And we had a serious conversation about their involvement, and for me, it was, I had worked with them long enough, I had been friends with them long enough that I knew how that acted. I knew how to interact with them effectively.

How did you figure out to work together as friends?

We all read books; we on the technical side had read a lot on the growth mindset, which is the idea that even in failure, you learn a tremendous amount, and it’s about trying things, doing things, and learning from them, not being this perfect entity. And so we taught them some of that, and then they taught us some of them. It’s an experience of a CEO who has gone through this, and she helps you figure out what’s essential for a team to be effective and so we all read that and spent some of our time on how to work with each other.

It was tumultuous at times when we questioned if we could continue working together in the same way that we were. And a lot of it was, we all fundamentally believed in the vision of what we were trying to do. The vision of making the world a better place and making a real impact. And that was what, above all, kept us working together, kept us trying to figure it out even when we had disagreements that we couldn’t get over. That vision tied us and forced us like family; you are forced to see each other in many ways. That’s kind of what it did. It forced us to figure it out. And that was tremendous for us, and it ended up that I didn’t ask my two co-founders to leave. They came to me and said, “We need to leave so that you can have someone in our place.” And it came down to; they were both my age, so they hadn’t had the chance to build as extensive of a network as they hoped, and neither of them had a background in renewable energy or the energy field at all. And so for all of us, it was starting fresh trying to make connections, and it was difficult for them.

so they came to me and said, “We have a couple of options of people who want to be involved in this.” One of our mentors at the time wanted to be more involved in the company. So they said, “I think we need to start talking to these other people and try to bring someone in who has more connections in the field because we see that we have value here; it’s a matter of connecting to the right people who can help us do something with what we have.” And so it kind of unexpectedly left the company and someone that I had been talking to on occasion that knew about our company and I just informally talked about my company and what I was doing, and they were excited about it. It ended up that they came to me and said, “We want to invest in your company.” It’s a husband and wife, so they want to invest in us, but then the husband wants to be in our business. 

Did working with your friends more challenging than working with other people? Like trying to separate friendship between work sides?

Yeah, it was difficult and what it did was, even when we wanted to hang out and be friends and not include business, business always found a way to creep into our relationship. And so I’m very thankful that they eventually left the company, and so are they because that gave us a new opportunity for our friendship. After all, our friendship had been so intertwined with the business that it was hard to have one without the other. And so it was suitable for a time because I could work well with my friends and I knew that, but it changes your friendship, and it can be tough to work with friends because you don’t want to lose their friendship. After all, you have to be a boss, in my sense. And so it wasn’t easy. I’m thrilled that they were there to help me learn and help us grow and be a part of that, and they will always be a part of what we’re doing, but I’m also delighted that they left the company, and now I can be friends with them separately from the business.