Juan Pablo Cerda – Zeigo (RE-Search) – How Smart Tech Is Changing The Renewable Energy Market

Juan Pablo Cerda – Zeigo (RE-Search) – How Smart Tech Is Changing The Renewable Energy Market

[0:02] Jake: Have you ever wondered what happens when entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, and venture capital collide? If so, you’re like me, and you’re in the right place. Welcome to the Green Adventure. On the show, you’ll learn from the critical insights of both founders and investors, not random advice or generic guides, but real stories born out of their experience with genuine climate action. We aspire to create a network of people collaborating to build the green economy, accelerating us towards this critical target of net zero emissions. I’m your host and founder of the show Jake Woodhouse. For all the notes, links and episodes, please visit www.greenaddventure.com. Take care when typing that in, adventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening and enjoy the episode. 

[00:55] Jake: Today we speak with JP Cerda, founder, and CEO of Research. Research aims to build a marketplace for B2B renewable energy purchasing, recently closing its seed round, including investment from the Green Angel Syndicate. Listen closely for tips on how to market your vision to investors, how important building a talented team is, and how solving real problems is such a successful starting point. JP is at the helm of an extremely exciting clean-tech startup. I hope you enjoy the conversation. 

[1:26] JP: Hi.  

[01:27] Jake: JP, welcome to the episode. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. 

[01:31] JP: My pleasure.

[1:32] Jake: So to kick things off, I want to start from a very high level, can you give us a bit of an overview, on what it is you do at the moment?

[1:40] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, right now I am the CEO of a company called The Company. So, essentially, we are a half tech, half energy platform that we want to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy globally. And essentially, we are working hard to make things a lot easier for energy buyers and the strong focus, actually, the only focus is renewable energy. So, we kind of convince companies to buy renewable energy and ditch the fossil fuels. And it’s been great, it’s been a very interesting journey but now we are getting somewhere in that mix between energy and tech, is working really well. And we are in the later stages of implementing AI to the platform, so that the AI algorithm can learn from every interaction because you know, for us data is the key. And, also facilitate the process to all the energy buyers. And essentially, make sure that the process gets simplified and technology does help a lot with that.

[3:01] Jake: Okay, great start, thank you. So, to help the listeners out there, I want to really dig into the problem that is, shall we say, that you’re trying to solve? So lots of entrepreneurial ideas come from this base of, you know, solving a problem, so can you unpack a little bit, exactly what the problem is you’re trying to solve?

[3:22] JP: Yeah, I mean, the problem is, one, the market is quite complex. And our focus is, well currently, our focus is power purchase agreement, which is essentially a large contract between the corporate offtaker and the company that builds solar farms and wind farms, in these cases, developer. And the problem is that the length of the contract is quite meaty. So, it’s basically a minimum of seven years, probably up to 15, 20 years and is a high-value contract, so, not many companies are happy to commit to. And, you know, there’s a lot of excuses in the industry and what we’re trying to do is, make sure that we simplify every single stage of the process. 

[04:16] Jake: Okay, and so, I guess, bring that back a little bit, as a B2C consumer like myself, we think of energy supply businesses like Bulb who will sell only a renewable energy contract, you’re working in the business to business space. Yeah, okay, completely understood. And so, the solution then that you’re working on today, can you talk through a little bit of that?

[4:38] JP: Yeah, sure. So, essentially, what we’re trying to do is build a marketplace. So, normally, if you’re, imagine you’re a large corporate, let’s say, you’re Google, and then you’ve got a target to be X percent renewable by 20X, right. And then your options are very easy, so you can either go out to the market yourself or you engage with a consultant, in which case is going to be quite expensive. And there’s no real neutrality in the market, so there’s no, you know, no player, that it’s quite transparent and neutral, and we’re trying to be that player. And, currently, those are your two options, so you do it yourself and spend a ton of time finding developers and finding projects, or you go through a consultant, in which case, it’ll be quite expensive, and you don’t know what your options are, and either covering the whole market.

[5:32] Jake: And so if I was an SME of some form, and I was looking to buy a 10-year contract, a PPA, how do I currently go about that, then? So, the consultant, if I chose that route, how much might that cost me?

[05:49] JP: Quite a lot, so probably, you would start in the 80k region, just to find a project. And, my previous company was actually a consultancy, so I know what it takes and how complex we make the process just to kind of justify our fees and, it shouldn’t be lower that. The reason I set up this company is because it should be very easy, it should be like going to Amazon and typing in, I want to buy a TV, right, and then all your options for any TV should come up. And what we’re trying to do is, facilitate that. So, any corporate can come into the portal and just say, I want to find renewable energy in my Spanish operations and then they should be able to see every project, right? And then they can, you know, filter down to exactly the size, exactly the ten-year and just be very simple and then connect with a developer. That’s, I think, how it should be.

[07:02] Jake: Fantastic. So, it sounds like the previous experience you had in your last role has been a, in a sense, that’s where the genesis for this company’s coming from and it’s always so exciting to meet people and entrepreneurs out there who are working on personal pain points, because, you know exactly how much it costs to actually buy a 10-year PPA. And it’s when you spot those opportunities, to make someone’s life easier for a fraction of the price, that you have an interesting opportunity as an entrepreneur to exploit. That’s absolutely awesome. And the next, kind of step I guess I wanted to go through was really around the customer discovery element of startups. So, I guess we’ve covered the fact that you had a personal pain point in your previous job, or perhaps you noticed an opportunity in your previous job? Many people struggle with the concept of diving into a startup and founding something for the first time, how much of the, so customer discovery, so how much research did you do prior to actually deciding to jump into this project research at the moment? And how would you advise someone out there to think about these steps?

[8:14] JP: Okay. So, if we start from the very beginning, my background is quite similar to yours. So, I’ve been involved in trading and operations for nearly 10 years and I was working for very large oil majors, like BP and Shell, and I was involved in the trading operations of various dark commodities, like plastic, and sugar and metals and gas. And, basically, very similarly to you, what I decided to do was focus on my passion, which was renewable energy. And I noticed that fossil fuels weren’t doing anything, good for the planet, and then took the leap and set up my first company. And to be honest, I didn’t did a lot of research–

[Crosstalk]

[09:14] Jake: Not much research to start the first company, you mean?

[9:16] JP: To start the first company, yeah. Exactly, so–

[9:19] Jake: So you’re a second time founders, so

[Crosstalk]

[9:23] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, actually, I think if I would have done my research, before setting up my first company, I wouldn’t have done it.

[9:38] Jake: Which sounds so crazy, in hindsight, doesn’t it? It’s like, what am I doing?

[9:43] JP: Exactly. So, like thinking about it now, I was a little bit crazy, just to take that leap. And I had a literally just had my first kid. And I thought, yeah, it’s a great idea to leave the comfort of a huge company and go on my own. And I remember perfectly, my first day, I was sitting in front of my desk at home thinking, right now, what should I do? How do I get my first client? And luckily, it did work out quite well. And I exited the business about four weeks ago, so we sold to a large Suisse multinational, and thank you I learned quite a lot in the process, because we were self-funded. 

[10:34] JP: So, we basically, I started in my spare bedroom, and then recruited this guy. And at the time, I couldn’t offer him any financial incentive, so I promised him like the world. And you know, the prospect of being part of a very sustainable company and from the beginning, we only advise companies to buy renewable energies. Our strong focus on in my previous company was to convince companies to just buy renewable energy and power as a consultant–

[Crosstalk]

[11:16] JP: Yeah, exactly. So, we started with very small companies, and within our networks we went out with to friends and family and started buying energy for their businesses and advising them on their strategy because we did have quite a lot of experience in buying for very large corporates. And, but we also noticed that there was a lot of issues in the industry. And, for example, the consultancy, the energy consultancy business is quite dodgy. So, we wanted to be the most transparent company, that we became a B Corp. We committed to only buying renewable energy for our clients and that was a differentiator four and a half years ago, there was no other company doing that. And that’s how we started getting that reputation in the business. 

[12:13] JP: And then subsequently, when we started getting larger clients, we started getting into the power purchase agreements, which was a fascinating thing, because they were popular in the US, and they were being signed, like, you know, like, leases or anything, but not in Europe. And we were wondering, why not in Europe? And Europeans tend to be more risk averse but also, the industry itself, was putting, obstacles that shouldn’t be there and excuses as well. So, we, you know, when I saw that, my first company, I thought, actually, this can be done a lot easier with the use of technology. And, again, I thought, okay, because it’s a tech company, I need to do a, we decided that we needed fundraising, which was quite, good, fun. And then, went for it. And I’m really glad we did, because now it’s becoming the norm to be a platform and facilitating a process throughout technology. 

[13:35] Jake: So, and JP just to trace back a few steps, you’ve essentially noticed the opportunity for a software solution to help develop the renewable energy, only PPA marketplace here in Europe, and a lot of that experience and opportunity was seen because of your previous business? 

[13:55] JP: Yeah. 

[13:56] Jake: And it’s through that chronological order, you’ve then go, right, okay, let’s try and exit the first one and if you can, jump into the second?

[14:05] JP: Correct,

[14:06] Jake: Yeah and to those listening out there, I have to be very honest and admit that I’ve been lucky to invest into JP, at such an early stage in this new project and it’s just this kind of deep, expertise in areas that is so interesting as an angel investment, because it’s really the people you’re investing into. And this insight that he’s explaining is phenomenal for this kind of thing. Well, you mentioned the phrase, fundraise, it brings me on nicely to the next area, it wouldn’t be an entrepreneurship and VC show if we didn’t talk about the investment space. So, perhaps you could talk a little bit about how you market yourself, how you approach investors, and any tips you have from your experience during this process?

[14:52] JP: Yeah, sure. So, first thing is the market, so the market needs to be quite attractive. And the renewable energies base is growing and not only, it’s quite profitable, as well, but it’s actually quite good for the environment. And that requirement on my side was covered and for the investors that I approached, was covered as well. And second thing is to have an innovative idea. So, it’s, I didn’t realize how difficult was it to actually stand out from the crowd because there’s a lot of very intelligent people, a lot of very clever people with great ideas. So, how do you persuade a group of investors to choose your idea? And that was one of the main aspects, it has to be innovative, has to be creative, and has to have a lot of potential. 

[15:51] JP: And finally, the third thing is the idea itself has to have a lot of future, it needs to grow, and it needs to have very strong growth prospects. And because of the technology side of the platform, and it can be very big in the future. And we can implement different things like battery storage, you know, peer to peer energy, procurement, you know, the possibilities are great in the space of renewable energy, which is a great industry.

[16:34] Jake: Yeah, and particularly the software angle is also very interesting when you’re looking at the scalability of an idea. And, you know, you’re currently trying to build a business that simply doesn’t exist at the moment and that is, you know, the buying and selling of PPA. So, there was actually one company I wanted to mention, which was a business I followed a little bit from a few years ago called Level 10, we’ve had some pretty good traction actually in the US. And, actually, I mentioned the phrase, traction there, which is another topic that I wanted to try and unpack. So, we’ve covered two things there, competition and traction, perhaps we’ll take the first. So, you’ve come up with an opportunity, you’ve seen the space, you go right, I need to prove some early traction here and get some investment on board, from the traction perspective, having gained the investment that you gained, how have you gone about trying to pick up your first customers and some of the areas that would be really interesting to hear about?

[17:30] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, and we started off by trialing. So, we did a minimum viable product about six months ago, and tested the concept with a few corporate clients, that went really well. And they gave us very honest feedback on what, the new portal, the new version should have, we listened very carefully to that feedback and they became early adopters of the new version. So, we’ve had the new version for a couple of months, and we’ve already got, quite a lot of very large corporates using it. And we’re still developing the third version of it, which will incorporate the artificial intelligence side of it. But feedback is, from your potential clients is very, very important. So, we are from the third version, going to charge a subscription fee to corporates to use it. But we wanted to make sure that it actually had features that they needed, and they wanted. And so, we’re getting there, and it’s working really well.

[18:45] Jake: Fantastic. And that’s a great product development story, shall we say? So, you know, when you spot an opportunity, that’s great. But actually, you then have to deliver some form of, you know, hack together product to test that hypothesis. And once you do, inevitably, people interact with it in a slightly different way to what you expected. And it’s then the ability of a startup to be the flexible innovation, I don’t know how to describe it, like, you can change very fast basically. That’s the really exciting thing about working in this space and taking the product from from idea to small MVP, to a bit of feedback, and then the iteration process. And you mentioned earlier, stage three, fantastic, well done. 

[19:28] Jake: And yeah, so I just wanted to draw back round to the competition story that I was mentioning. Some of the other areas that we talk about a lot in this space is defense ability and, you know, being an acquisition target, obviously, very exciting for the future but in the meantime, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t get gobbled up by the market forces at play. So, I appreciate that Level 10 isn’t the same businesses as yourself. But yeah, could you talk through a little bit about that, when you’re thinking of, you know, you’ve got your proven pilot has been completed, your prototype is in the market, how do you look at the ways forward, then?

[20:04] JP: Yeah, I mean, competition is very important and, and it’s quite useful sometimes. And, in the case of Level 10, we, we didn’t know about Level 10, when we were developing the MVP. And then we had an intro from the media, so we issued a release, a press release. And about two months later, we saw, like, an exact press release from Level 10. And we’re like, these guys actually doing very low things. And then they are in our radar now. Because, you know, it’s quite good to have competitors because what these guys are doing is great and they’re actually focusing on renewable energy, which is fantastic. The market is big enough for various players and if they get PPA signed, then we’re very happy because you know, we’ve got the same aim. 

[21:15] JP: But actually, it’s quite healthy to have competition, because, you know, you don’t rest on your laurels or, you know, you stay focused, as you say, you have a lot of advantages for being a startup and Level 10 is very focused on the US, we’re very focused in Europe. And we complement each other I think. And but yeah, it’s good to have.

[21:39] Jake: And inevitably, the energy market in the US is different to Europe. So, you’ve got different energy buyers, you’ve got different energy generators, there’s no reason why a marketplace would cover both. So, I completely follow you. It’s a fascinating area. Okay, JP, thank you. Well, the next thing I wanted to really talk about was your team. So, when you’re investing into startups, or whether or not you’re trying to build a startup, the talent that you’re able to attract to your founding team is so important from whether or not you’re going to pay someone the best salary in the world, or actually more than likely not what their market rate would be at one of the large technology companies or one of the large industry players. So, as we mentioned, or JP touched on earlier in the show, I used to work with the fossil fuel business, and there’s no way that you would make the same money on the salaries you do in the startup space is what I previously used to. But that’s another story. So yeah, could you speak to us a little bit about how you identify the first hires that you make, or the co-founders that you may have in your business and, and just how important that is to get the right people sitting next to you every day?

[22:47] JP: Yeah, I mean, the first hires are the most important thing. And as a startup, as exactly as you say, you haven’t got the resources to, just go to the market and get the best of a certain area. And you have to get very creative, and you’ve got different superpowers as a startup, you, you know, you’ve got the flexibility, and you’ve got the excitement, you know, the prospects of growing within the company And, and you don’t really have them in very large companies, as you know. You get stuck in your position for probably years before you move on, right, it’s very difficult to grow very quickly in a large company. And also, the work becomes very tedious after a while, because you know, it’s very repetitive. 

[23:42] JP: In the startup world, every day is completely different. I mean, and that’s something that is quite attractive to some people as well. And so, we try very hard to attract the best talent that we can. And I mean, quite a lot of people say that, when do you hire, you should hire someone that you could work for. And, it’s so true. So, it’s very exciting when you start building a team and then they align themselves with your vision. And then comes to a point where you actually look up to them and say, and think, wow, well, these guys are producing, what these guys are doing is amazing, I couldn’t have done it. And that’s when you think, yeah, I’ve got a great team, because I’m kind of codependent on them just as much as they are with me and we communicate very well, and communication is essential. And we work very hard and really well together.

[24:51] Jake: Now awesome. And it’s a lot of fun when you get into a good team with some amazingly talented people, trying to envision a future that doesn’t yet exist. And of course, it is fraught with risk but equally, the, well, we’re working here in the sustainability space. So, there’s so much value add to be involved in an area where you know, there is genuine impact from the work that you do if it proves to be successful. Now, I cannot overstate more, of course, the potential failure rates are very high. And that’s a nice way to draw to the next area that I want to understand, JP, so it’s really about impact and passion. So, the space, that is, let’s say the clean tech market, the reason that I personally enjoy working it so much at the moment is the potential impact of the work that you do from a climate change perspective and it’s absolutely essential that we change the way that our economies currently function in order to reduce the emissions levels. I think it’s, you know, well, we certainly will be in agreement and whether or not this is a worthy mission. But I’m yeah, I mean, this whole question of like, what gets you out of bed every day? I mean, kind of combo question around passion and impact. So, what is it that you know, really gets you fired up about this particular project at the moment? And then equally, if, you know, research does become a massively successful business, how much impact you think it potentially can have from an emissions perspective?

[26:22] JP: Yeah. So, in terms, the challenge is what excites me. And the fact that I’m creating something that didn’t exist is to me, fantastic. And if we go back a little bit, when I was trying to pitch the idea to investors, it was it was actually quite complex. Because when you try to pitch something that doesn’t really exist, you know, an idea, then your natural instinct is to say, oh, we are the Amazon of renewable energy, or we’re going to be the match.com of renewable energy or whatever. Exactly, so you kind of try to explain a little bit what you’re doing with existing companies. But when there’s no existing companies, then you just have to go for it and refine your elevator pitch Yeah, I know, exactly. 

[27:23] JP: The other, the challenge, it’s very exciting for me, in terms of the prospects and what’s going to happen in the future and the impact that it’s going to have, it’s massive. So, for example, one key element of my pitch was the size of the market but it’s very difficult to quantify, because you can say, okay, the existing renewable energy market is x, so, my total, my time is x, right? So, what we’re actually trying to do is convert the companies that are using fossil fuel energy or brown energy to renewable. So, that’s a completely different market, it’s 20 times the size, right? 

[28:17] Jake: Because I think when you look at some of the stats on resource consumption, so, coal, peak coal is around now, oil, maybe 2030, somewhere 2038, gas up into 2060. Meantime, you look at electricity consumption, versus those curves, like it’s just ginormous, the growth in electricity demand and the demand. Yeah, absolutely. So, how do you calculate your time against the market that doesn’t even exist?

[28:43] JP:  It doesn’t even exist and actually, as you know, we are only consuming, so right now, 20% of the energy come from renewable sources. And we’ve got 80% of market that we need to conquer and that’s the exciting thing. 

[29:01] Jake: Though, fantastic, well, if, you know, all going well, the amount of emissions saved from a platform like this would be absolutely ginormous, in terms of the energy being consumed being renewable versus the existing fossil fuel market, so fantastic. Okay, well, we are coming to the close of this interview. So, thank you very much, JP, I guess there’s a couple of other areas that I’d love to unpack. We’ll have to save it for another time, I guess. But as an entrepreneur, a really important area is mentorship, just out of interest, have you had any particular mentors along your journey so far that have helped you make your step into entrepreneurship or help you made some difficult decisions, and in particular, those moments where, you know, resilience is actually possibly one of the largest assets that a founder may have? How important is that to you?

[29:54] JP: It is very important, especially in the early stages, you need to get as much advice and as much help as you can. And, as I was saying, before, when I started my first company, I just literally dived into the unknown, with a desk and a laptop. And then I started to speak to various people, family, friends, and people that have been very successful, people that have not been very successful. And it’s all that feedback that you can get, helps you throughout your journey. Because as we discussed before, we were talking that it might, it could be quite a lonely journey.

[30:42] Jake: Yeah, it is sometimes, yeah.

[30:44] JP: So, basically, imagine, I started from, basically my spare bedroom, on my own, you know, talking to myself, and just like, you know, just having a monologue of myself saying, JP, what are you going to do now? I don’t know, what should I do? So, talking to people and talking to, and every sort of people and getting the advice, but just taking the best advice from each one, helped me a lot in my career. And now, I’m fortunate enough to that I joined an accelerator, and I’ve got your, your angel syndicate behind me. And I can tap into great minds, and people who have been very successful in what they do. But when you’re starting your own company without that, you know, the advice that you can get from your family and friends is very valuable. 

[31:42] Jake: Yeah, awesome. Well, JP 30 minutes has flown by. Thank you so much for your time.

[31:47] JP: I know, that was really quick. 

[31:48] Jake: And, yeah, thank you very much.

[31:53] JP: No worries at all, thank you. 

[31:52] Jake: That was the Green Adventure, thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the show, then please help us out by sharing this episode with your networks and rating us on the platform, wherever you may listen in from. For any questions at all, we’d love to hear from you, so please reach out on social media or email. Whether you’re wondering about a technical term that’s been discussed, would like an intro to a guest from the show, or even perhaps feature yourselves, we’re here to help. My Twitter handle is @JakeWoodhouse, spell as it sounds, but drop the final ‘E’, my email jake@greenadventure.com. Remember that add spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes, that will be coming, visit www.greenadventure.com. Remember, that’s add with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.