Inventing and innovating keeps me foolish and hungry – Stefan Grosjean, Smappee CEO and founder

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Stefan Grosjean - How Smappee was born

Judging from the 25 million views on YouTube, I’m not the only one who was impressed and inspired by the famous speech Steve Jobs gave in 2005 in Stanford. While connecting my own dots, I realised that Smappee was not born in 2012 (when we launched the company), but many years before. The seeds for Smappee were planted when I was 12, when I was trying to invent submarines, engines and robots.

My heroes have always been people like Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla – dreamers and visionaries at the same time. Jules Verne predicted the landing on the moon 100 years before it actually happened and Nikola Tesla was working on wireless technology a century ago.

When I was 12, I tried to build a submarine in my bedroom. I’ve still got the plans. The engine would run solely on water; it only needed energy to kick start it. Once the engine was running, it would need no more energy to keep on going. “It’s the engine of the future, it’s the engine of energy saving”, I wrote down below the drawings.

Steve Jobs said you need to connect the dots to find out what you love. To stay foolish and hungry, as the Apple genius described it. After all these years, there is still nothing I like better than inventing new things. That’s what keeping me foolish and hungry. Things don’t just happen to you – you make them happen.

But at the same time, I learned very early to think of what other people need. Although electrocuting my little sister when she made a mistake during her math homework proved to be very effective, I started to use my passion for computers and electronics in a more useful and profitable manner. When I was 16, I used the money I earned from my first holiday job to buy a computer. Soon, instead of playing football with my friends, I had developed software for a local accountant and trained the employees to work with it. A one-man helpdesk, with a 4kB computer.

Steve Jobs didn’t just invent iPhones and iPads because he felt like inventing something, he started from what consumers needed.

What if…?

The energy monitor Smappee grew out of a similar need. EnergyICT, the company I founded in 1991 and eventually sold twenty years later to the German/American utility meter manufacturer Elster, did energy readings for big industrial companies. For Tesco, the biggest supermarket chain in the UK, we tracked the data from 10,000 meters to find the biggest energy guzzlers and managed to reduce energy consumption by 20%. When you keep in mind that Tesco was responsible for 1.5% of the UK’s total energy consumption, the result was an energy saving of 0.75% for the entire country. We also worked for Walmart; the American supermarket giant used as much energy as half of Belgium.

That got me thinking. I have always been a firm believer in an energy transition that takes us to a future that’s 100% renewable. What if we could put the consumer at the heart of the energy transition? What if we could empower him to control his own energy consumption? Smappee wanted to give homeowners independence and control over their own energy use and production. Real-time readings relating to major individual appliances would allow them to get rid of energy guzzlers, to cut energy consumption without losing comfort, to make maximal use of the solar (or wind) energy they produce themselves and to ultimately turn their homes into decentralised energy hubs.

That’s what I had in mind. When modern technology made it possible to develop a solution that’s affordable, easy to use and beautifully designed, we went for it. I absolutely wanted to be the first on the market. After all, the original always beats the copy. Smappee gives consumers insights in their energy consumption, by real-time readings that show them where their energy is being used. Our device and the app connected with it allow consumers to save a lot of energy and a lot of money without losing out on comfort. Smappee puts the consumer at the forefront of the sustainable energy revolution, and rewards him for leading the pack.

David vs Goliath

One of the main drivers behind founding Smappee was frustration with the way the energy market works and the way the big energy companies are treating the consumers. Nowadays, the energy bills are so complicated that no consumer understands what he is actually consuming and what he is actually paying for. Smappee gives the consumers the means to see through the mist and keep control over their own consumption. It’s a bit David vs Goliath. It probably has something to do with my West-Flemish background. We tend to be quite stubborn and pigheaded, and we like to tread on the toes of the big guys every now and then.

That’s also why Smappee operates from Kortrijk. Never say never, but why move to the other side of the world when everything we’ve needed so far is right around the corner? My family lives here, there are a lot of talented people and we can count on an entire network of small and medium enterprises to cover all of our needs. Design, packaging,… it’s being taken care of by local entrepreneurs. Small, but incredibly dynamic and flexible. Sure, Kortrijk is no Silicon Valley, and West Flanders sure ain’t California. But together with all the other entrepreneurs around here, we’re as good as Apple.

Stefan Grosjean, founder/CEO Smappee

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