$OPWR: A great day for do-gooder startups


Have you been following today’s big do-gooder IPO story? It’s got everything anyone in startup land would want:

  • Big Data? Check
  • Gamification? Check
  • Scrappy young upstart disrupting a boring old industry? Check
  • Billion Dollar Exit? Check

But, wait. Do a quick search of TechCrunch, Hacker News and Techmeme. There’s nothing there.

And, that’s a shame. Because, Opower is an awesome story for all the aspiring do-gooders in startup land.

If you haven’t been following them, Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm does a great job of covering the background.

Here’s the tl;dr version: Two friends sat down and tried to figure out how they could stop climate change. They figured out that folks started using less energy when you told them how their electrical bill compared to their neighbors. They built some great products around that insight and sold them to utilities around the world. Along the way, they’ve kept over 6 trillion pounds of CO2 from re-entering the atmosphere. Oh, and they both just earned over $100m.

The best thing about stories like this is that they’re not just great for those directly involved. They’re great for all of us who are trying to build things that actually matter. Iconic stories like this can, and should, ripple through startup land and remind folks that in some cases, you can have your cake and eat it to. You can do well and do good.

Hunter Walk interviewed Alex Kinnier, an Opower exec, and they had a great exchange about this:

Q: Are you seeing more technical product managers, engineers and designers get interested in energy-related companies? I mean it’s very different than the latest mobile social app.
Absolutely, I mean which would make you feel more satisfied at the end of day? Writing code to create a new jellybean on Candycrush, or writing code that will help reduce global warming pollution by a billion pounds of CO2 this year? We’re seeing a big spike in technical candidates who want to put their talents toward making the world a better place. Last Earth Day, we calculated that every Opower employee’s annual impact is equivalent to taking all their Facebook friends’ homes (average of about 500 of friends) off the grid for a year. Our measurable double-bottom line impact is a powerful asset when it comes to recruiting top talent.

So, if you’re trying to build something that matters, today is a good day. Celebrate a little, and then get back to work.

Disclosure: Co-founder Alex Laskey is a friend, as are several other folks who work at Opower. But, I haven’t run this piece by them, since I assume they’re too busy celebrating to be bothered with a blog ;)