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Archive for February, 2010

” If your solar towers need service and support all the way from Israel- no bloody chance we want them in Australia!”

Sometimes you need a slap on the face all the way from Down Under, in order to show you how far you are [not just in miles] from having a product ready for market.

That’s what came out of the CEO’s mouth as I finished pitching our roll out strategy for getting our solar towers installed across the Australian outback. I mean after all, we have the technology, they have the sun and space- ¬†so no worries… Well, not quite mate, not quite.

This veteran CEO that came to see us, has been installing power generation units all across the outback. From diesel generators in far flung cattle stations, to gas turbines powering the most remote copper mines. So he definitely knew a thing or two about keeping a customer running 24/7. And on the notion that our solar systems, installed by his Sydney-based crew, will be serviced over the phone & internet via our team of dedicated team of support engineers all the way from Israel, he had just one thing to say: “See mate, if Bruce the only mechanic out on the station, who takes care of the fridge holding the beers, the TV showing the cricket and the air conditioner [in that order], cannot figure out your solar towers- I DON’T WANT THEM HERE!.”

What a great way to tell an aspiring solar start up, that figuring out the technology is not everything that is required in getting a product ready to market. And the first smell of it NOT being a pure plug-and-play, will drive some customers completely off.

What does your customer REALLY want?
Here in Green Ground Zero [i.e. Israel] we are so consumed by pushing innovation as it’s the key driver that attracts foreign businessmen to come see our latest & greatest. Yet, while that is a prerequisite, the customer on the other hand is looking far beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, innovation is key and it most certainly is our true competitive advantage, but the customer is past that new gizmo, thinking in terms of QA, service & support, life cycle management and product liability.

It turns out that while I was busy selling Israel’s latest innovative solar towers, my Australian guest was actually looking for a reliable 24/7 power solution that works at the dead of summer at the end of the world- and that Bruce would be able to figure it out even after he loses the user manual.

Do we really make enough effort to understand our customer, or are we all too often focused on getting him to buy what we’ve just invented?

So this was a great visit from Down Under, with the highlight being a fresh supply of Vegemite for my crew ūüôā

Tip– If you wanna get your hands on the latest Israeli technology, make sure you bring something nice for the boys out in the bush.

Solar dishes tracking the sun on a cattle station in outback Australia. Photo: dryasadingo, Flickr

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Last month I returned from my first business trip to India. After backpacking there over a decade ago, I promised myself that one day I shall return on business to this magestical land.

My opportunity came in the form of an official trade delegation lead by our Minister of Trade and so I joined the ride, seeking a strategic partner for setting up AORA India.

My 1 week visit left me with a plenty insight into the challenges and opportunities of doing business in the land where by now every rikshaw driver owns a cell phone. Here are few of them worth sharing, listed in a Top-10 format (with only 3 this time):

#3 Timing means everything- time means nothing.

Now is the perfect time to go to India. Their economy is booming relentlessly, with little effect from the global financial meltdown that is hovering over the developed world. As a side note- every month, over 6M new cell phone users join the network! Wrap your head around that number.

And as their economy is climbing so are they becoming aware of its climatic implications, and are in the process of puting public policy in place to address these matter, with solar power being right up in front.

But while timing is perfect, time still runs its own pace in down town Mumbai. As I was setting my back-to-back meeting schedule from morning to night, someone carefully pointed out to me that I can knock off any of the meetings set before 11am. The reason being that with traffic so bad in the city, the big chiefs only come into town in their limmos after rush hour. ¬†“Any person you’re meeting before 11am is¬†probably¬†a low level clerk coming in on the morning train.”

Also on timing, don’t get fussed on people not following up on emails as quickly as you expect them back home. Some Indians take their time responding, letting the email go up and down their internal corporate food chain . Then again, expect a straight answer 2 months later, continuing on from exactly the point where you’ve left the conversation.

#2 Learn to understand the Indian end user- he wants broadband too, but electricity first!

With our solar system fit for ‘Rural Solar’ applications, one has to learn the inner workings of doing business at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). Namely, those 650M villagers across the Indian country side. This posting by no means offers a canvas wide enough to depict the chasm that has to be crossed in order to bridge between the offering of an Israeli innovation and the needs of a typical Indian village. Many times the businessmen across the table confronted me by asking whether I have spent any time at all at an Indian village. And since my answer was “Yes” in account of my month of travelling across the sub-continent in my past life, the follow up question was whether I’ve done any business there, aside from ordering a cup of chai and a room for the night.

Doing business in India at all, but at the village itself is a skill on its own. For one thing, they don’t have an electric grid, and therefore no system for distributing power let alone paying for it. Then again Indians are GREAT early adopters and are into anything new and innovative. Pre-paid methods of payment are catching on very quickly across ¬†the rural country side, especially since the cellular network is enabling to leap frog over existing technologies and bring modern applications down to the masses.

But it all goes back to having a deep understanding of your end customer, what drives his daily life, what are his priorities, and what is he REALLY willing to pay for.

Back to my school days on the street: Playing street cricket inside the workers compound of Mumbai's dobi ghats.

#1 Find the right business partner- one that won’t kill the monkeys !?!

This one is for the books!

From one meeting to another, I was giving my deck of PowerPoint slides to the nation’s leading CEO’s and board members, ¬†searching for the right¬†technical company to become a local partner. At the end of one of my presentations, the CEO sat back for a moment, digesting all the techno-speak that had just thrown at him. And out of that silence, came one soft and single question: “But what about the monkeys?”

“What about the monkeys?” I replied in true Israeli fashion, trained to come back with a question when taken off guard.

The CEO continued to explain that he is worried that the monkeys spread across the country side, will climb on top of our solar mirrors and break some of the glass while they play.

Problem…

There I was, bringing Israel’s latest solar technology over to the developing world, and now I have to overcome them monkeys…

“Not a problem” I replied, coming out with a solution straight out of our military background, which we are so proud to display at any given opportunity.

“See the fence going all around the solar site?” I pointed at the perimeter fence surrounding our facility. “We can easily set it with an electric charge, and that will stop any monkeys from climbing over.”

I felt so good on being able to think on my feet, coming up with a great solution on the spot.

Unfortunately that was not the mood that was resonating across the table. The room went into a ‘deafening’ silence, as the CEO and his team were gasping at my answer‚Ķ

They all looked at me, amazed when finally one of his board members opened his mouth and uttered: ¬†”¬†You want to kill the monkeys?!!

It is in that very moment that the image of Hanuman appeared in my mind. The monkey-like god from the Indian mythology looking at me from over my left shoulder, saying “This CEO is about to go bananas!!”

Conclusion

Finding the right partner who knows the inner works of doing business across rural India is more important than an engineering firm, that can install the damn thing. Which leads me to understand- that closing a deal in India- will be no monkey business!

Selling to rural India- is no monkey business at all. Photo: Michael Fairchild

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Too much water has been wasted in my showers lately, about figuring out a name for my blog.

And to make matters worse, I was thinking of naming it “Hedgehog in the Holyland”. In reference to that fascinating book by Jim Collins (“Good to Great“) which talks about the Hedgehog Concept. Briefly described, greatness in life (both personal as well as in business) is¬†achieved¬†by focusing in remaining inside the space defined by the following three overlapping circles:

  • Do what you’re good ¬†at
  • Do what you’re passionate about
  • Do what can earn you a living
The Hedgehog concept: remaining inside the 3 circles

The sweet spot: Remaining inside the 3 circles

With that in mind, Riding Shotgun defines exactly that space for me, ¬†as I work alongside the most amazing group of people, helping them break new frontiers inside one of Israel’s most¬†exciting solar start-ups.

And by occupying that seat, I have been privilledged to meet the folks that make up the Israeli cleantech space. Be it the entreprenuers, investors, academics, government officials and different service providers [lawyers and other creatures ūüėČ ¬†] that make up this ever growing eco-system.

So this blog, that will cover some of their stories, and my travel tales amongst them, seeking to transition us all- from Good to Great.

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