Behind Business (BB) - After all this time being an entrepreneur, building your own product, would you say that you are a super entrepreneur or a super engineer?
Michaël - The truth is, at the beginning at least, the engineering part takes the best of you but the entrepreneurship has to take over. It is hard to let go of the engineering side. At the same time, it can be a trap to create a product and not validate it properly so learn that you should validate it first and then enhance it. Therefore, entrepreneurship first and engineer last - sometimes the engineer still gets the best out of me. To summarize: make it work, make it nice, make it cheap.
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
Well, it happened like in the Asterix story - I fell into it by accident. Basically, a friend of mine invited me to be the co-founder of a company in the telematics field in Portugal, around 10 years ago. We grew the company for 8 years, then we sold it.
So you have already a successful exit!
Well, yes... a weak one but it was an exit, nonetheless. Once you do it, you tend to try to make it again. If you have the resources to do it, you will have the freedom that you don't find elsewhere. That is why I started another project of my own.
Were you working in a company before that?
Yes. I was working in a company but during the financial crisis the company laid off many people and my contract was ending at that moment. So, I was one of the “lucky” ones that were sent away. Then, after being unemployed for 3 months, this opportunity of being co-founder suddenly happened and I took it.
"Sometimes, you should fail by yourself to feel it and to learn properly."
Would you say that, by taking that opportunity, your life changed for the better or for the worse?
Well… it depends on what you're looking at, I’d say. In the beginning, it’s never for the better. You have to think in the long run; you must remember that every overnight success takes 10 years to build. Great entrepreneurs make it look easier than it really is. When you read the press, you can only find the ones that are succeeding and that’s why I like that project called Fuckup Nights, where we can celebrate the failures and take lessons from it. Of course that it is difficult to learn from others failures, but at least you can learn to signals earlier. Sometimes, you should still fail by yourself to feel it and to learn properly.
What was the failure from which you learned the most?
Humm... it's a hard one….. maybe I haven't failed that much yet.
Not even that boring thoughts like “I should probably have done that instead”?
Of course! Everyday! Even if you succeed there could be something that you could have done differently and, who knows, could have helped to succeed earlier.
What was your biggest lesson so far, then?
I would say the importance of finding the right people to work with you. This is one of my conclusions so far.
So, no more solo entrepreneur?
Initially, I gave it a try with someone that I thought it was okay. I made the mistake of getting too much enthusiastic about the timing, the idea, the momentum, and I neglected proper due diligence. I wish there was an easier method to find the right people to work with you. It seems that you have to be in the right place at the right time. In the beginning, you are focused on quickly develop your product to not lose the momentum but other things must be done as well, and finding the right people is one of them. It’s can also be quite challenging to bring someone after you started. It’s both hard to give away ownership and bring people properly on board.
Kettle on Gas Stove
Pot on Gas Burner
How did your idea come up? Did you follow a process to get to it?
I don’t think there is a clear process to come up with innovative ideas. In my case, It was a mix of several things. Three years ago I had a business meeting with a large Portuguese brewery group, while I was a consultant for a Swiss company - nothing to do about what I am doing now, as you see. They were looking for a way to reduce the losses at their stainless steel beer kegs. They were trying to find a technological way to reduce that loss. I came up with a tech solution with IoT, but the technology was not ready yet, at that time. Meanwhile, some companies started doing that (see, momentum...) so I started to investigate where could I apply the same principle to other industry. And here I am, applying the same kind of principle to the gas industry.
How many people would be impacted, potentially, with your solution, in Portugal?
If we take a look to the statistics, and according to my business model, which is looking for to help smalls players in the bottled gas market to provide a differentiated service, half million families would be impacted. Business wise, it is still a good market and a good business, being the market value 650M€ per year. But, at the same time, I don't want to do something that is only for a big company to make money; I want to build end consumer-centric products, something that people do care about. What I’ve created is tackling a problem that it's annoying to many people and I am glad I could help it solving it with my knowledge. With my knowledge, I created a product that can make people's lives a bit more comfortable.
How do you manage uncertainty?
I don't. I can always try to reduce risk... but if you start a company, you will find risk all over the place. So, don't do it if you are not willing to accept a minimum threshold of risk. In my case, I could have stored my money in the bank and not trying to build this but I decided to give it a go. I don't want to look back, 20 years from now, and say “I should have tried”. I don't want to live with regret later on.
What has been your most difficult decision that you have ever made?
Nothing is ringing the bell at this moment but... I would say that if I had to drop my project now, that would be a massive decision and would be really hard for me, after all this time.
What are the values an entrepreneur should have in order to be successful?
Resilience. This is the number one. If you are very lucky, you will succeed. But you won’t learn that much; if you look at other entrepreneurs, probably they haven't succeeded in the first place, they probably failed a lot. To be able to pick yourself up from your ashes, it would generate in you a great deal of resilience.
What would be your advice for that person who wants to build something of her/his own, as you did?
Don't do that on your own. Do it with someone that is here to help you, to watch your back; someone with complementary skills, regarding your weaknesses. Solo-entrepreneur is really, really hard. Actually, investors usually say they look for three main things: team, team and team.
How to see the world in 10 years time?
It has to be a better place! The technology is here to help. Unfortunately, we always think and look at it with an “empty glass approach”. We should rely on the human side to take the most out of it, to help us. I see a trend though: people caring more and more about our world, of what we are doing with the technology and willing to find solutions for the world problems. If you look to the statistics of the world average quality of life, our societies have improved a lot, despite all the bad news in the media about the pollution, the world population increase, the poverty in some parts of the world, etc. We just have to not destroy the planet and we should be fine.