An ASPIRE BeInspired presentation from Laurence Kemball-Cook, Founder and CEO
From Failure to Launch.
One of the world’s leading eco-entrepreneurs Laurence Kemball-Cook is leading the charge on making a difference to the cities we live, work and play in. ASPIRE cohorts were granted an amazing opportunity to have a presentation and Q&A session with Laurence to hear more about the challenges and opportunities he faced when building his startup and insight into his view on entrepreneurship and the green energy movement. Below please find a summary of some of the key takeaways from the 90-minute presentation.
7.4 Billion people, 55% living in cities, many are toxic. Over 2.2 million children in Delhi now have permanent lung damage. But it doesn’t have to be this way; as the CEO and Founder of Pavegen Laurence Kemball-Cook believes, we can make cities beautiful and healthy places. Laurence has a personal mission to change cities for the better through the use of technology. To build our cities for people, not for machines. And the good news is that things are changing; in 2018, only 12% of the world’s energy came from renewables. But in 2019, 33% of the world’s power came from green sources moving to an expected 45% when the numbers come out for 2020. Green energy is starting to have its moment and has the power to change lives as well as cities.
Pavegen was born from Laurence’s passion, and its mission today is to improve the world through the power of a human footstep. Pavegen is now a 40 person company with a strong management team based in Kings Cross and Cambridge with manufacturing in North London, operating in 36 markets.
But this has not been an easy journey.
Laurence’s start into this world of green and footsteps had a rocky start. Working at eON, he failed at delivering a green solution, and after being fired and at his lowest, he couldn’t stop thinking about his university passion on how to turn footsteps into power. Duck taping a prototype together Pavegen was born. What he quickly discovered is that people were drawn to his invention. They loved jumping up and down and seeing energy being created. What he needed now was to build a product, but without revenue, he couldn’t get funding; without funding, he couldn’t build a product to get revenue.
Five years in Brixton stuck in this circle, continuing to graft for every opportunity and for every penny through demos and competitions, he kept the dream alive. Finally, Pavegen was even given a chance to participate in the 2012 Olympics with a minimal check to keep them afloat. Staying focused on the end goal, Laurence looked to moments like these as well as festivals providing mobile dance floors to gain customer insight and continue to self-fund and step by step improve the experience.
Pavegens first pivot came out of these moments where Laurence realised that it wasn’t just green energy but also engagement that was being generated. A demo at Heathrow airport showcased this shift. The experience where footfall generated a lighting experience was so popular a six months installation lasted five years. This lead to an impactful partnership with Shell, where they installed the technology under a football pitch in a low-income area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where at every game, each step on the field would generate power and light the stadium. This transformational moment cemented the connection of the dream of new green energy from footfall to the powerful emotional engagement and experience of light and joy. On the back of this connection, Pavegen has continued to go from strength to strength and plans on being a critical component of the global green energy movement.
- Funding is hard. Make every penny count and get to revenue quickly to give yourself power in the discussion. As much insight, and awareness as you can gain and have under your belt can make a huge difference when evaluating the good vs the bad deals.
- New hardware is hard. Over 700 versions of Pavegen have been designed and built and still going. Need to be agile and flexible and scale up and down to handle the fluctuation of a new business
- Marketing is critical. A new product category needs messaging and a mission so that people can understand the power of the opportunity. Pavegen focused on capturing the world’s imagination to allow partnerships to be created with those holding similar missions. Laurence highlights “work with clients, work with customers and work with celebrities – this triangle is powerful. Capitalise the brand-building piece to establish yourself. Be creative.”
What’s the future strategy?
Quick wins/fast fails. Be agile, discover new opportunities. Try ideas and leave them quickly behind if they don’t work. Right now, Pavegen is exploring energy as a reward. Energy could be a digital currency with your footsteps creating compensations and linking people and businesses through the energy and the power of a footstep. Pavegen’s team are even thinking about how cars could but used to produce energy. Laurence believes that all companies have to be agile in Covid19 times. Businesses need to think about areas of risk how to de-risk through flexibility. For Pavegen, it’s about having a product roadmap that can change and overcome hurdles when things get disrupted.
What does it take to be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur?
Entrepreneurship is not a linear journey; you will take steps forwards and backwards all the time. It can be a battle every day. For Laurence, he likens the journey to climbing MontBlanc at two in the morning during a snowstorm, wondering why he was doing it; “it’s like pushing a rock uphill in the dark with no oxygen crawling over glass.” There can be extreme suffering, but the competitive nature within yourself will drive you.
- Believe in yourself and never give up. But also learn not to worry and not be overloaded.
- Be a great ‘story teller’ – your story is all that you have at the beginning.
- Be able to motivate people. Be good at networking and finding a tribe! But watch out for sharks.
- Have an eye for the details. It’s the small things that can make the difference.
- Never accept ‘no’ for an answer – find solutions.
- Listen to experience. Coaching and mentorship are critical, but stay true to your passion. Sometimes it’s okay to go against advice and listen to your heart. Make judgement calls, not snap panic decisions.
- Mindset is essential, both in yourself as well as the people you hire. When you bring talent into the business, they are the right sort of people who want to be part of the business and understand your culture.
Laurence’s steps for building something:
Get an idea, and it must solve a big problem and validate and validate quickly with an addressable market. Distil the vertical to a small user group to connect and understand the competitive market while making sure you really understand who you will be selling to.
- Self-fund it – don’t raise money too early.
- Build MVP as cheaply as possible
- Make some revenue quick!
- Create a business structure
- To build a better product
- Raise investment
The future and opportunity for energy
COVID19 is driving a green recovery. For Pavegen, this means focusing on collaborating with governments around the world to believe that the world can eliminate all carbon from coal power stations. There is already a Supergrid working today, which could make ASIA carbon-free. We can make changes. Simple and easy to install solutions like Pavegen should be included in all new initiatives to drive a green future. Laurences’ parting advice is to make sure you develop a business model that suits the times and place and has the flexibility to handle the disruption we now have to live with.
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