Note: THE TORCH is an interview series from Entrepreneurs for Impact. We profile CEOs mitigating climate change. Our goal is to highlight their work and inspire others. As we deal with multiple crisis, from COVID and racial injustice to climate change and economic recession, we need some of this positive light in what seem like dark times. Onward and upward.
Why did you create 75F? This was not the plan. I’m not from the energy industry. However, when my daughter was one years old, she woke up crying at night. I eventually learned that the reason was a temperature drop of about ten degrees at night. So, as a self-respecting engineer, I quit my job to solve this problem. This is my sixth time in a startup, but my first time as a CEO. The prior company was purchased so I had some money to burn. (insert humor)
Who does your company serve? Building owners, facility managers, and ultimately the tenants inside the building. We are solely focused on commercial real estate, even though I started solving this problem in the home. We wanted to also address challenges with energy and comfort controls in the home, but we would have had to create 26 SKUs. That was far too inefficient for a profitable business, so we focused on commercial instead.
What problems do you solve for your customers? We make people more comfortable, more productive, while also saving costs. We define it like this: “OE squared” => Occupant Experience meets Operational Efficiency.
How does your work contribute to mitigating climate change? On average, our customers saved 41.8% in energy last year. We replace the entire buildings’ control systems. But we are deeper than just controls and cloud management. We are building the world’s best BMS, building management system.
What makes your company different than its competitors? Traditional BMS are nuts. The sequences for controls are so customized and complicated. We don’t have that baggage. All our buildings’ controls are the same. As such, all our upgrades over time can be rolled out via the cloud to benefit all buildings, even years after our BMS has been installed. We have our own hardware and software, so the data coming in is more trustworthy and useful. Most competitors have dozens of data scientists, but mostly they are just cleaning the data. Garbage in, garbage out. Some competitors are trying to just put a Band-aid on or solve just a piece of the problem. We’re the only ones crazy enough to tackle the whole problem.
How are you rethinking your business strategy to get through the COVID crisis? How do you play both offense and defense? We introduced something called “epidemic mode.” The World Health Organization acknowledged that there is an air transmission component to COVID. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance is focused on dilution solutions; that’s too simplistic. The reason for that is to make it easy for everyone to implement, not just sophisticated facility managers and building owners. Their goal is 100% outside air, run 24-7. This is a problem because most BMS only consider two scenarios: occupied or unoccupied. However, in our system, we only purge the building air before and after an occupied session, with the dilution solution only running for a smaller portion of time. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed that the CDC solution used 2-3x more energy than our Epic Mode solution. We can use. And we have further been able to reduce our energy use to just 5% above baseline HVAC energy use through staggered occupancy and automated occupancy sensors.
What are 2-3 things that your industry needs most to succeed, but is currently missing? We need more IT professionals, not just mechanical engineers, driving improved building management. The current building management systems were started in the late 1990’s and while they have made a concerted effort to keep them open, they end up being more like a bunch of “Lego pieces cobbled together.” This leads to problems being partially solved. We need a bolder approach, one that is integrated, not piecemeal.
How are you finding growth capital this year? COVID has highlighted the need for smarter, adaptable buildings, with greater attention to indoor air quality. So, the HVAC system has finally risen to more people’s attention. As such, I think we’ll see more capital going to this sector. This will come from both financial and strategic investors.
When it comes to addressing climate change, how do you remain optimistic? I think that humans are exceptionally adaptable, especially when it comes to survival. Sometimes we need shocks to the system to highlight the urgency. At the end of the day, humans are very resilient. As a Sikh, we have a concept called “Charhdi Kala,” which refers to the quality of being eternally optimistic. Additionally, as a pilot, I always keep my sunglasses above my head because I know that above the clouds, the sun is always shining.
What kinds of apps, databases, or software help you and your team excel? Alright, now we’re talking about the good stuff! We leveraged the Microsoft infrastructure, with Teams and its intranet solutions. We used the last quarter to level up with better systems like this. We also use a job applicant tracking system called Breezy because sometimes we get 100+ new applicants for a job. We also record the heck out of meetings so that if anyone has any doubt about how a decision was made, they can go check out the history. I also like Lattice for goal setting and performance management. Lastly, we use Click Up for project and task management. We only have a few key goals each quarter, with subtasks underneath them. This keeps us focused. All of these programs really boost transparency, which I think is a big deal.
What kinds of personal habits, mindset, exercise, meditation, or scheduling help boost your productivity and increase your resilience to “fight the good fight”? I used to be a very competitive shooter (pistols). I almost went to the Olympics. At one point in my life, I was fairly into Zen with lots of meditation. From these practices, I learned that we all need cues that get us in certain mental states. With shooting, it’s all a mental game. I can use different cues to get into a focused or relax state pretty quickly. This helped me win about $1M in business competitions. For these and in business more broadly, someone has to win, and it might as well be me.
What are 1-2 quotations that keep you focused and motivated? “Life is meant to be lived, but if you live your life without making a difference, it makes no difference if you lived.”
“Ideation without execution is masterbation.” [Pardon my French.] If you want to procreate, you have to do the deed.
What are you excited about now? I’m excited about how we as humanity can respond to challenges like COVID. Sometimes it can be frightening; consider how some governments are responding now. Hopefully it will give us time to think, respond, and come out stronger. As the saying goes, “This can only make us stronger.”
Who is inspiring you now? Who can other climate change entrepreneurs learn from? Richard Feynman was probably my idol. He was a genius with pretty snarky humor. My great grandfather was also a big piece of my younger life. Both were always curious and learning. But the key is doing it with wit and humor. Richard always had simplicity and elegance to what he did. He was actually responsible for investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In front of Congress, he dropped the rubber in the ice water and showed how the O-ring was the culprit. Brilliant simplicity.
What question did we forget to ask, but that deserves an answer? Why is the company called 75F? - In 2008, the United Nations launched a campaign to raise thermostats in their secretariat building from 70 to 75°F as one of many strategies to reduce their carbon emissions. From our partnership with the UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, to our tireless drive to create smarter, more comfortable, and more energy efficient buildings, we take inspiration from the United Nations and embody it in our name and company culture.
Apply to our join our Executive Masterminds, invite-only peer groups for entrepreneurs and investors tackling climate change. Founded by Dr. Chris Wedding — with $1B of investment experience, 30,000 professional students taught, 25 years of meditation practice, and certification as a Mastermind Professional — our cohorts are like your own personal Board of Directors to catalyze personal growth and leadership development in order to scale world-changing businesses.