Sat. will mark 2 weeks since we became a single car household after turning in our Nissan Leaf at the end of its lease. Is we both had offices downtown or better yet lived on a great transit core, it would sound simple, but we don’t. The big adjustments — when I need to be on UW’s campus 2 days a week and we can’t arrange around each other’s plans and commitments — are still a month off. But I’m already feeling “Leaf loss” pains.
A key Seattle freeway was closed for the start of the work week and, like everybody, I sat in some heavy traffic Monday. Our Subaru Forester, which made the Mt. Baker hiking weekend immediately before this such a piece of cake, reports its own mileage efficiency every time you shut it off. My mileage some times inching home from UW on Monday made me wince. The Forester’s Mt. Baker mileage had all been great. I vowed to be organized and never make short runs where the engine wouldn’t have a chance to really warm up and start performing.
And then I realized just how little thought I’d given to that type of thing in the 2 years we’d had the Leaf. A run to PCC (our local co-op) used very little charge, so we went whenever, as if we were using our feet to pop into a market next door.
My husband used the Orca card (Seattle’s Metro Transit system card) I’d had for years to get to dentist appointment and lucked into perfect connections that zipped him home in no time. He needs to go get his own card. We’re likely to need cards in different parts of the city at the same time some time. We both signed up for Car2Go, which we haven’t used yet but plan to just for education sake before I go back to school. Meanwhile, “my” side of the garage has 2 bikes parked in the bay, saddle bags permanently attached. I have slowly begun to get my tailbone used to a bike seat again.
We decided we were going to see how this quarter goes and then revisit our one-car commitment Jan. 1. I think I’ll file a monthly report here to share our experience. And the Jan. decision. Because after all, I still want a Tesla …
The Washington Clean Technology Alliance’s annual Crystal Ball Forecast breakfast is always an educational way to kick off a new year. Merrill Lunch Financial Advisor David Beck opened with predictions of a volatile bull market that may extend 10-15 years and three megatrends. The first would be in U.S. innovation leading to energy independence (yes, with fracking). Second will be great market shifts in terms of labor and capital flow with a big rotation from bonds to stocks and quantitative easing (which I had to look up).Expect a mild correction in the first half of 2014. The third trend will be geopolitical including an aging global population and the emergence of a larger global middle class that will want more meat (and everything else). There likely will be 9.1 billion people on earth by 2050. Beck also mentioned impact investors, a group that didn’t exist 10 years ago, noting that more than half of investors under age 44 invest this way. (There was an interesting article last month on lessons impact investors can learn from microfinancing, if you’re interested.) He was bullish on 2014.
Next up was Bank of America Merrill Lynch Analyst Krish Sankar focusing primarily on solar whose time, if I may paragraph enormously, is coming, particularly for rooftop solar. One of Sankar’s charts summed up the argument for solar: if you’re paying more than 15 cents per kilowatt hour, go solar. The low, low prices of natural gas will continue to challenge solar adoption, but Sankar believes that will only slow things down, not change the trajectory. I like that. He sees the U.S., Japan and China driving solar adoption, representing a move away from Europe which has led the charge up to this point.
The forecast continued with a panel talking about financing cleantech development here in Washington State starting with Richard Locke from the Wash. State Dept. of Commerce, Todd Myers from the Wash. Policy Center and Brad Boswell, a lobbyist with a keen view into what Olympia may really be capable of doing this year. Spoiler alert: the answer to the last question (for the impatient among us like me!) is very little of significance. The big focus here for me was Todd Myers who outlining the differences in favored climate policies between Democrats and Republicans in Olympia and then quipped “Politicians have a very limited view of the future” before outlining his arguments for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Myers’ blogged about Climate Policy in Washington Jan. 8th This is a push I’m happy to get behind aggressively.
Wrapping up the event, WCTA CEO Tom Ranken mentioned Sunday’s 60 Minutes The Cleantech Crash segment. I hadn’t seen it, so I pulled it up online when I got back to the office. The piece I respected more, however, was written by Katie Fehrenbacher on Gigaom: What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on the “cleantech crash.”
What I do know is that the status quo isn’t an option. Unless your definition of relaxation is sitting in a beach chair on a hill watching the oceans rise and warm. So what’s the alternative? Every new industry ever created is littered with the bodies of dead companies and lost investments. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to vet the winners. I’m with Vinod Khosla whose quote ended the 60 Minutes segment:
In fact you need dreamers to stretch. I probably have failed more times in my life than almost anybody I know. But that’s because I’ve tried more things. And I’m not afraid to fail because the consequences of avoiding failure are doing nothing.
In preparation for our first Environmental Innovation Practicum class at the University of Washington tomorrow, I did a little unscientific polling among the regional cleantech community to ask about their environmental priorities, where they feel we most need environmental innovation and where they see the greatest entrepreneurial potential. I also asked for ideas they’d like to see student teams tackle as part of the class — or elsewhere. The results are fun. Of particular interest to me were the intersection of environmental priorities and entrepreneurial potential. In some areas, ranked priority and perceived opportunity line up nicely. In others, not so much.
I’ve got a terrific panel talking about this tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, I just wanted to share.
There is some absolutely amazing cleantech innovation happening in the Pacific Northwest! I know because last Thursday, I was in Portland and then on Friday in Seattle helping the regional teams competing in the CleantechOpen improve their pitches. Some of the teams were innovating in areas I’ve come to expect from entrepreneurs in our region. Others took me completely by surprise. It was a delight to meet all of them.
I found myself giving many of the teams similar advice to strengthen their pitches, so I thought I’d share the same tips here:
Know your audience. This is imperative. Find out who’ll be in the audience, what they’re likely to know about your subject and what matters to them.
Grab my attention immediately! You can do this with a bold description of what you’re doing or with a powerful outline of the customer’s pain. Don’t lose that opportunity to make your first impression count.
Convince me there’s a problem and it’s big enough to matter. Only one team out of the 11 I saw had no need to strengthen their story here. In that case, the need is so glaring obvious it wasn’t worth wasting pitch time addressing. If there’s a problem but it’s not big, you’re talking about a lifestyle business, which is fine if that’s what you want. Otherwise, this is your chance to prove this work is important.
Convince me you have a viable, working solution. I want to understand exactly what you’ve built/are building, precisely how it addresses that market need you just uncovered in talking about the problem AND that you are the team to do this. Recognizing you have competitors and acknowledging their strengths is part of this argument as well.
Convince me you know who’ll pay for your solution. It’s absolutely fine to have a number of potential target customer segments you genuinely believe will want what you’re creating it. But show me which one has the greatest initial potential because they really want this and are willing to pay good money for it.
This also marked my first trip by train to Portland, a ride between two renovated historic train stations. I had to be a tourist and snap this picture of Seattle’s gloriously bright King St. Station. Fun. Thanks for saving these landmarks, Seattle and Portland!
Volha was practically shaking, she was so excited to tell me about the undergraduate Capstone project she and her fellow UW chemical engineers had taken to the final round of the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) at Seattle Center yesterday. When her team, PolyDrop, won the $10,000 grand prize I could recognize her voice among the happy screams from the back of the room.
PolyDrop manufactures additives that makes regular coatings like paint conductive, opening up, as the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship described when announcing the winners, “a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries.” A funny thing happens on the way to using light-weight carbon fiber materials for cars and plane to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions: those carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop can fix that.
I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting any members of the PolyDrop team before the EIC, but I knew nearly half of the second place team from last Fall’s Environmental Innovation Practicum, which I teach at UW. That team, Pure Blue Technologies, is developing a safer, smaller, more cost-effective water disinfection technology for treating the average of seven barrels of water that comes from extracting one barrel of oil. Called “produced water,” it has to be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, we’re talking about 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water.
I stopped to congratulate another team from this year’s class, Upcycled, developer of a handy little bio-briquette maker initially targeting markets in India, and one from last year, EcoMembrane, developing a better technology EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound. Founder Jaffer Alali told me getting Pacific Northwesterners to grasp the need for desalination is a bit trickier than it was in Jordan where he was a teaching assistant recently. Yet desalination is news here in the U.S. too. We talked about San Diego’s recent announcement for a big plant. I was so proud of him and his tenacity in continuing to develop his technology and gain industry support for that work. Both these teams won $2,500 Honorable Mention prizes along with Sunscroll from Western Washington for its solar-charged LED light and USB charging station. You can read more about all of the teams at UW’s Foster Unplugged Blog: $22,500 Awarded to Environmental/Cleantech Innovators. Seattle’s KING5 TV also covered the competition on its Evening Magazine program, which is wonderful!
As I made a last round before heading home, I talked with another student from this Fall’s Practicum, a brilliant electrical engineering student who has come so very far, far since Dec. in identifying a real potential market and articulating a viable value proposition for that sector. After working so hard and pitching his heart out all afternoon, he struggled to contain his disappointment to be walking away without a prize. I resisted the enormous temptation to give him a consoling hug. But the team intends to keep developing their technology and are entering the UW Business Plan Competition, one with an even bigger purse than the EIC offers.
These are the faces of environmental innovation in this region — young, passionate, committed and (most importantly in my mind) hopeful. They see possibilities for making a difference all around them. What’s so cool to me is being able to see so many possibilities in them. I can’t wait to see where they take it from here!
There’s been a lot of finger pointing and soul searching in all the back and forth between Tesla, The New York Times, writers, pundits, marketers and analysts since John M. Broder published his Feb. 10th story on taking the Model S sedan up Interstate 95 in frigid temperatures. Broder had a far less than enjoyable experience, including some woes I’d argue (and will in a subsequent post) were stupidly self inflected. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, understanding the serious potential for lasting brand damage here, quickly and aggressively (a bit too aggressively, in my opinion) jumped into the fray. Today, Margaret Sullivan, the Times editor who’s been investing the conflict attempts to close the chapter in her blog post today.
What there hasn’t been – at least that I’ve found, and I’ve been looking – is a recap of what lessons those responsible for managing product reviews for any brand can learn from this experience.
But first, full disclosure: I’m an enthusiastic supporter of electric vehicles (EVs) and frankly anything that gets the world weaned from fossil fuels just as fast as possible. I drive a Nissan Leaf, which we got after sadly realizing the Tesla S we had reserved wasn’t going to fit in our World War II era garage without giving me heart palpitations every time I tried to park it. I love our Leaf. It’s fun to drive and I love just plugging my car in when I get home instead of filling up at a station. I still want a Tesla. Really badly, I might add. I’m also a long-time subscriber to and advocate of The New York Times and sincerely believe that the paper is one of the few remaining bastions of trustworthy journalism in this country. In other words, I’d happily go the mat for both of these brands.
Now that we’re clear on that, here’s my point: Tesla mismanaged this review. And here’s why.
I learned the art of managing product reviews at the hands of the masters – Microsoft. I’d managed reviews before I started representing them in late 1996, but I’d quickly learn that the company had the review process down to a science and knew how to do all it could to get at least a fair if not favorable review of its products. It’s been a good number of years since I last managed one of these myself, but here’s a quick overview of a smart process.
#1 Know your product’s weaknesses even better than its strengths.
I was unfortunately reminded of this in 2007 when I didn’t dig deeper than my client had into its product and was blind-sided by an awful cnet review I wish I could forget. Tesla knows well by now how its S sedan performs. It knows under what circumstances drivers can and can’t achieve the promised battery range. They knew perfectly well that the charging stations were spaced toward the end of that range for normal driving conditions. Bad luck for them, East Coast temperatures plummeted during the review. I can testify personally that my Leaf had a much shorter range when we ran through a week of 20-degree days in Seattle in Jan. But unlike John Broder, I adjusted my driving that week because I didn’t want to get stranded on I-5; but more on that in another post as I digress. Tesla should’ve been watching that forecast and talking to Broder about the unusual circumstances he might have been facing on his test drive. This is even truer since the whole review was Tesla’s idea, not Broder’s. Did no one do a risk analysis of reviewing the charging corridor when the stations were spaced at nearly maximum range? I can’t believe they didn’t, so they should’ve anticipated their risks.
#2 Thoroughly prepare to be reviewed.
There’s a great deal of work summarized here. The job of the team managing a product review is to 1) find all the things that could go wrong during the review process, 2) anticipate questions a reviewer might have and problems they might encounter, 3) develop a reviewer’s guide to help a reviewer efficiently test the product and – here’s the key bit – acknowledge issues you know about and are working on, 4) prepare the product spokesperson to handle the easy questions and, more importantly, the questions the whole team is praying won’t come up. There are always some. The task is to be ready.
#3 Be clear about what you want reviewed – and by whom.
There are two problems here for Tesla. First, Tesla proposed a review of its new charging network. That’s not actually possible. The review really had to be about the car’s ability to use only that charging network to travel up the East Coast.
Second, this reviewer wrote that he wanted to The Harvard Business Review carried a post by Editorial Director Tim Sullivan that said the real problem here is that Tesla designed a car for people like them, not normal people. Sullivan writes: “But consumers rarely want to change their behaviors to adopt your cool tech. They want you to identify and solve their problem, cheaply and efficiently.” With all due respect (and I mean that very sincerely), I disagree. It’s not that Sullivan is wrong. He’s just in the wrong part of the adoption curve. With EVs, we’re very much still dealing with the Innovators and maybe early edge of Early Adopters. This would appear to be something NYT’s Broder also missed. I firmly believe any consumer at the front edge of the adoption curve would’ve taken this drive differently. I can guarantee I’d have plugged in my S overnight when it was only 10 degrees outside no matter what the car told me I had left for range. It’s 10 degrees! Plug in the bloody car.
#4 Work closely with the reviewer in advance.
Step one of this is to know your reviewer. In Musk’s blog post, he questions Broder’s intentions, accusing him of approaching the review with an anti-EV bias. The time to figure out a reviewer may be disinclined to like your product is BEFORE you agree to the review, not after.
A Tesla owner who wrote to Sullivan at the Times suggested Broder could’ve avoided all this problems if he’d just taken an hour to read the owners’ manual. A reader commented that would never have happened and that’s correct. Hell, I’ve never read my owners’ manual and probably won’t until something goes wrong. But any decent reviewer will sit down with a company representative and at least talk things through if not let you flip through the reviewer’s guide with them. This is when you talk about the nuances of charging and extenuating circumstances, like a weather forecast with overnight lows 20 or 30 degrees below average.
It sounds like Broder didn’t know Tesla would be keeping a detailed digital log of his entire journey. He should have. Disclosing that would be good for the ongoing relationship with the journalist and publication. And you never know, he may have phrased some of his sentences a little differently, had he known his own notes taken while driving (!) couldn’t compete with the car’s logs.
#5 Provide the reviewer with insider access.
This one may not apply here as the product being reviewed is already out in public, which often is not the case with product reviews. But it would’ve been so very smart for Tesla to do a briefing with everyone staffing the drivers’ line during the period of the review so they knew a NYT writer was test the I-95 corridor charging stations under frigid conditions. All hands needed to be on deck, and even more important, in synch.
Tesla had a lot at stake. Nature wasn’t helping them. They needed to up their game and didn’t. And that’s too bad. More later on this whole adoption curve thing and my thoughts on Elon Musk’s response to the Times. Meanwhile, love to hear what you think about all this.
Quick: why did Charles Lindbergh fly the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris in 1927?
Answer: to win a $25,000 prize offered by New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.
Personally, I’d forgotten the why, only the accomplishment. But I was reminded by a terrific Conservation Magazine story from June about the prize pool for environmental innovation challenges increasing 12 fold over the past 10 years, but wondering if crowd-sourcing solutions paid off for the environment as well as the winners.
The article by Marc Gunther states that history tells us prizes can deliver big social benefits. “Before the growth of research universities and global corporations with R&D labs, prizes were the pathway to solving many scientific problems, according to Karim Lakhani, a faculty member at Harvard Business School who studies open innovation. The Longitude Prize, established in 1714 by the British government, inspired clockmaker John Harrison to develop the marine chronometer, enabling ships to know their locations at sea.”
He goes on to write: “Once the buzz dies down, can prizes generate solutions that scale up to deliver lasting environmental change? Put another way, do they pay off for the world as well as for the winners?”
Which is a perfectly fair question.
The article struck a chord since the Environmental Innovation Practicum course I teach at the University of Washington was originally invented to help student teams prepare to compete in UW’s then brand new regional Environmental Innovation Challenge. But when I came across a reference in the text I’m using for the course this year, The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save Our Economic Ass, it came back to the forefront.
In The Way Out, authors L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen write about Andrew Smith, the entrepreneurial founder and CEO of ATDynamics, who took the company from winning a business school competition to a company whose website says its sold more than 10,000 of its trailer tails, designed to help semi trucks drastically improve fuel efficiency. Not surprisingly, huge and heavy rectangular boxes aren’t all that aerodynamic when pulled down the interstate at 60+ mph. The company reports delivering more than a 6% increase in fuel efficiency. That might not sound like that much but when you consider the typical semis drives an average of 125,000 miles a year at a horrific 6 mpg, every little bit saved can quickly add up to a lot of unneeded diesel fuel.
Tomorrow, my students at UW will pitch their ideas for their mid-term grade. Next Tues., Renuka Prabhakar, co-founder of Envitrum, which makes glass construction bricks from recycled bottles, will swing by to talk to the class about how to get people interested in your idea. The 2010 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge winner is busy doing exactly that, setting up production tests with partners.
You may not know this, but not all of the glass bottles you drop off for recycling can be reused with traditional methods of recycling glass. Green, brown, and other colored glass is often considered a contaminant at waste plants. So there’s little doubt Envitrum’s process could have an effect on the waste stream on that account alone.
Has an innovation challenge yet uncovered the silver bullet we all seek to scrub carbon from earth’s atmosphere? No. But that doesn’t mean they’re not making a difference for the planet while creating businesses for we humans.
David Allen, EVP of McKinstry, was at UW yesterday talking to my Environmental Innovation Practicum class about many things including the tremendous energy savings and consequent carbon reductions available from retrofitting old buildings and then reprogramming US to run them efficiently. Behavior, apparently, accounts for 9-11% of energy use.
Toward the end of his talk, while discussing how much we waste in this country and how we don’t pay the true cost of anything because of fossil fuel subsidies among other things, he got on a very intentional tangent on what needs to happen to fix the economic and environmental mess we’ve found ourselves in and he made a startling (to me, at least) pronouncement: That America isn’t dealing with a climate crisis or a fiscal crisis or a housing crisis or any of the current talking points. What we’re really facing is a crisis of integrity.
“I think integrity is America’s biggest problem,” Allen said. “The whole country is gaming the system.”
Why do some people thinks it’s fine to move money offshore so they don’t have to pay taxes on it? Why is it OK to bilk people you know out of their retirement account? Why do college students think it’ OK to cheat to get grades they don’t deserve or into programs they shouldn’t really get in to? Why do people buy blow-up dolls and hope to not get caught driving solo in the HOV lane? Or not pick up after their dogs despite scoop laws (and common courtesy!!)?
Because “we’re in a society where everyone’s cheating,” said Allen. And at least in their minds if not in their circles, it’s not a bad thing.
Although I hadn’t heard it before, the idea itself isn’t new. A quick Google search turned up a Boston Globe story on this very subject from May 2010. And apparently it isn’t just us. The British newspaper The Telegraph ran a piece in Jan. titled “Rise in dishonesty signals looming integrity crisis in Britain.”
But the concept was new to me. Allen was engaging in one of my favorite things — a root cause analysis. But in this case, I wasn’t enjoying seeing through all the distractions to get to that root. Instead, this revelation shook me up.
Because I think he’s right. America has a crisis of integrity.
How the hell do we fix that?
I was really encouraged by an NPR story today I read thanks to Sightline Institute’s daily email recap. New Groups Make a Conservative Argument on Climate Change focuses on Former South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis who now runs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a group that wants to “unleash the power of free enterprise to deliver the fuels of the future.”
The NPR story includes this statement from Inglis made at a recent meeting of students with the Wharton Energy Club at the University of Pennsylvania: “We think free enterprise has the answer to energy and climate. There’s an incredible opportunity in energy, if we just get the economics right.”
Yes, there is!
On Tuesday, I talked with my UW students in the Environmental Innovation Practicum class about the view of our text book authors, L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, that we’re not only facing a climate crisis but a capitalism crisis. We’re not allowing markets to perform the way they should because we’re stacking the deck, protecting 150-year-old subsidies for fossil fuels that hide real costs (not to mention pricing in externalities we can’t afford) while arguing over much smaller (and temporary) subsidies for new energy alternatives.
The uncertainty creates all kinds of market challenges because it’s incredibly difficult to craft any long term plans for building these new businesses. From my quick glance through Inglis’ organization’s website, they’re pretty much in line with this thinking. They advocate eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, but they’d also get rid of the new energy subsidies. We’d all pay more at the gas pump — or you guys would. My car’s fuel comes from the 120-volt outlet in my garage. But we’d pay more for electricity and heat as well. That’s a hardship, one many people would struggle horribly to handle, and I get that; but we really should pay more.
If we’d turn our collective creativity to finding solutions instead of denying reality and protecting vested interests, who knows what we might come up with? I refuse to give up hope that we can turn that around. People like Bob Inglis fuel that hope.
Could the timing be any better?
Tomorrow is the first class of UW’s Environmental Innovation Practicum course, and today the New York Times ran two articles on the enormous power usage of data centers and the pollution coming from the diesel generators that back them up.
The major story, Power, Pollution and the Internet, provides an idea of how much power it takes to support all our photo and email storage and search histories and everything else in the cloud and reveals just how much power is wasted making sure the data farms have enough capacity to more than handle sudden increases in demand. The second addresses some of the challenges around Microsoft’s data farm near Quincy, Wash.
Here is an example of a sector desperate for innovation. And I am hopeful some of our UW students (along with energy innovators everywhere!) will turn their attention to it and begin developing great solutions.
I love teaching the Practicum because it’s a mash-up type of course, open to business school students, engineering students, College of the Environment students — everyone from undergrads to Ph.D. candidates. We cover everything from alternative fuels and remaking manufacturing to the grid and electric vehicles to sustainable agriculture and carbon trading. And the entire focus is on sparking their creativity to solve some of our most pressing environmental issues. Innovators wanted!
It’s a speaker series more than anyting else, and we bring in tremendous speakers. And here’s the really good news! The speakers are open to the public. Savery Hall room 260 starting roughly at 4:20 p.m. most Tuesdays until the end of Nov. I’ll post a sign on the room door letting you know when you can join us.
On Oct. 2nd, MicroEnergy Credits CTO James Dailey will make the business case for climate protection and discuss being an entrepreneur in this space.
Oct. 9th, Peter Christensen will join us from Pacific Northwest National Labs to talk about the grid and work being done to revamp how we manage and distribute power in the U.S.
Oct. 16th McKinstry EVP David Allen will talk about how buildings present an immense opportunity to reduce energy consumption and make businesses more profitable. (The image in this post is from McKinstry’s very cool Innovation Center lobby.)
Author James Billmaier and General Biodiesel’s Hoby Douglass to present back-to-back on Oct. 23rd to talk about better ways to fuel transportation.
Washington State University professor Dr. Steven Jones will join us Nov. 13th — couple weeks break there — to talk about sustainable agriculture in “Being Grown Out of Place.”
Funding cleantech innovation is the subject on Nov. 20th when Lars Johansson of Northwest Energy Angels and Kirk Van Alstyne of Evolution Capital Advisors come to visit.
And finally “Return on Sustainability” Author and Consultant Kevin Wilheim will join us Nov. 27th to close out the speaker series.
But the class also an idea competition because the students have to work in teams to create business concepts and they pitch them at midterms and finals. It’s a simple, 2-credit pass/fail class but oh, so much fun!
Can’t wait to meet this year’s crew.