The TH Interview: Michael Ford, CEO of ChooseRenewables
ChooseRenewables, which formally launched earlier this week, features several personalized eco-tools - including the MyEnergy Analyst and MyWatts Renewables Estimator - which allow consumers to evaluate their carbon footprint and view location-based solar and wind energy solutions (which, unfortunately, rarely come cheap). In addition, consumers also have the option to purchase a wide variety of energy-saving appliances and carbon offsets. We recently had the chance to sit down with Michael Ford, the company's CEO, to ask him a few questions about his startup:
TH: What has been the reaction so far to ChooseRenewables?
Outstanding. It has absolutely exceeded our expectations. I think it really confirms the underlying theory of our business that consumers really want to do their part to support a clean and independent energy future - they just need some help to do so. The MyEnergy Analyst and corresponding MyEnergy Makeover features have received more attention than I imagined. There are so many "footprint" calculators out there that I wondered if it would get lost in the masses - but that doesn't seem to be the case. I think people really like the fact that our tool leaves them just one click away from taking action - and that's what really counts. We only sell products that are great products first and deliver an energy "improvement" second. We do not believe there needs to be a compromise. I think consumers agree and appreciate that we've done our homework before adding a product to the ChooseRenewables portfolio.The MyWatts Renewables Estimator is one-of-a-kind - so we figured that would get the most attention. In just the last few days, we have helped thousands of people better understand their potential for on-site renewable energy. That's very rewarding - and will undoubtedly lead to better adoption of distributed renewable energy technologies.
Lastly, we have seen significant interest from corporations. We recently developed a co-branding platform to enable companies and their employees with best-in-class enegy conservation and renewable energy products and tools. We'll be announcing several of those partnerships in the coming months.
You've described the website as a cross between Zillow and Amazon. What do you mean by that?
ChooseRenewables' synthesize large amounts of information about an individuals renewable energy (and energy saving) potential and presents it in a innovative and user-friendly way. To that end, we're intending to do to renewable energy what Zillow has done to real estate. Moreover, when people are contemplating a move, they can now see a potential location's renewable energy potential and consider it as part of the overall evaluation.
Instead of selling ad space (like Zillow), we sell tangible products that help people to improve their energy impact - whether it be through energy conservation, renewable energy certificates, or on-site renewable energy. Amazon is probably a stretch - but eventually we want to be "the" source for products that will help people save energy, support clean energy, and generate their own renewable energy.
A better model for us may be BabyCenter.com (now owned by Johnson & Johnson). My wife and I recently had our first child (Hi Syd!) and became enamored with this business. It provides all the tools and counsel you need as a first-time parent - and then you're only a few clicks away from having the products you want at your doorstep.
Where do you hope to be with ChooseRenewables one year from now? What types of consumers are you hoping to reach?
Over the next year, I hope ChooseRenewables establishes itself as the leading provider of renewable energy (and energy conservation) content and commerce on the web. We've developed two great free tools and the start of a great product portfolio - but we need to aggressively expand both. I also expect us to formalize several important strategic relationships over the next 12-18 months.
In terms of target customer, we're intending to reach the typical American - someone who wants to do good but doesn't think they should have to pay exorbitantly high prices or endure inferior products to do so... Frankly, the eager environmentalists and cultural creatives have already implemented much of what we stand for (except the on-site renewable energy in most cases), so we're really trying to take these concepts and products more mainstream.
Do you think the tools you offer will truly compel individuals to change their living habits? In your opinion, what has been missing from similar previous efforts?
What sets us apart is our ability to empower our customers to take action. Our users are just a few click away from having their personal MyEnergy Makeover kit delivered right to their doorstep. And we eliminate the quality trade-off by making sure that every product we carry is a great product first, and delivers an energy improvement second. That's the primary reason we carry a limited product portfolio right now.
We also try to avoid the dogma of doom and gloom. People come to ChooseRenewables because they want to improve their energy impact. We try to make it easy and fun for them to do so. Ultimately, the products we offer deliver a variety of benefits - a significant one being financial savings! That appeals to all of us.
Some have criticized your website for a being a little unfocused and unsubstantive: basically just a glorified collection of energy management tools and environmentally-friendly products/services. How do you respond?
I think the criticism was more of a reflection of my (poor) ability to conduct that interview than it was a reflection on our business. I'm so passionate about where this business is headed that I sometimes forget I'm talking to the media. The focus of ChooseRenewables is very clear - to aggressively add content and products so that www.ChooseRenewables.com becomes the leading on-line destination for people to learn about their energy impact and to take action to improve it. If you want to see your impact, see your potential, and then actually do something about it, ChooseRenewables is for you.
How often are you planning to update ChooseRenewables' offerings and information database?
We are aggressively adding new content and new products. We plan to add a completely new feature every 3 to 6 months. We will update the backbone of the MyEnergy Analyst, MyEnergy Makeover, and MyWatts Renewable Estimator once a quarter. And we'll be adding new products much more frequently than that. I'm hoping that we'll be able to offer new content at least once per week.
How are you planning to expand the services offered by your website in the future? Will you go beyond offering evaluations for just solar and wind options?
We are continuously adding new content and new products. We are focusing our expansion efforts in the following areas: adding and improving content, adding products that meet our "great product first, great energy benefit second" philosophy, and expanding our geographic reach. And we will continue to evaluate expanding the technologies that are evaluated via our MyWatts Renewables Estimator. The most likely candidates are solar thermal and geothermal.