Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Make them manifest through flawless execution

Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is a common term in management lexicon now. It denotes a challenge that is so daring and seemingly questionable that it suggests the impossible. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined the moniker BHAG in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies in 1994. Since then, entrepreneurs commonly include such an ambitious goal in their investment pitches. In most cases, these proclamations remain an unfulfilled aspirational statement, nowhere close to being realized. However, once in a while a BHAG does seem to become an achievable goal. Then people sit up and take notice.

Deepinder Singh was distressed because his infant daughter would be cold and crying in her room while other rooms were at a toasty level; with the house thermostat set correctly. Deepinder set about to fix this common problem of wide discrepancies in homes and commercial buildings; some spaces being too cold and others overheated within the set average. In July 2008, the United Nations resolved to raise the thermostats in the United Nations Secretariat building from 70° F to 75° F, considered a comfortable temperature while also saving on energy consumption. That inspired the company name.

75F is an innovative startup whose BHAG is to make people more comfortable and productive, while also saving the environment by conserving energy. The company develops and installs solutions for energy management and conservation by controlling the environment of any space in any building. Deepinder, CEO and Founder, believes, “We will lead the way to completely transform the buildings control industry”. The company aspires to be a worthy successor to Honeywell and retain Minnesota as the global capital of building control systems.

The HVAC controls industry is at the stage similar to the computer industry in the ’70s. Controls professionals still buy individual components and then cobble together a custom solution on every project. 75F abstracted the knowledge of all these technical decisions and developed a software that uses a combination of individual sensors, equipment controller, and a central control unit to drive each room conditions. With millions of data points coming in each day, the system is continuously learning and tuning the building to provide comfort and indoor air quality in each space severally, while learning how and where to optimize energy consumption.

The company continues to refactor everything, from product to processes, to take advantage of rapidly emerging newer technologies. In its 5 year life they have gone thru at least 3 major technology shifts. The continuing progression of IoT, declining prices of sensor technology and cloud computing is very rapidly changing climate control solutions and making it possible for any building to become a smart building. The benefits of a smart building go beyond saving energy costs. A Harvard study found that commercial buildings with optimized temperature and indoor air quality settings make workers more satisfied and comfortable, causing an increase in overall productivity.

The company has been noticed. It, along with Tesla, is listed as one of the 100 most disruptive companies in the world. It has won numerous awards from Minnesota High Tech Association’s Tekne Award, MN Cup, Cleantech Open, The Verge, Wells Fargo IN2 prize, Clean Energy Trust’s CoInvest. The total cash amount won in the various prizes amounts to over $1,000,000.

The ease of installation and operation is really what makes 75F a groundbreaking company. “Unlike the usual practice, you don’t need a specialized person to come in and install our system,” Deepinder explains. “The same person who cuts the grass can install our system.” To prove the point, STEM educators at Cyprus Classical Academy in Burnsville had their students install the 75F system at their school as a class project. They also learnt about climate control, before and after putting it into service.

The key to the company’s success has been the various practices that strive for flawless execution. When they first started, the speed of execution was the only driving force. The concept of ‘fail fast’ drove development. They adopted the agile methodology and rapidly got features to customers to try them out. Now they have adopted the Traction guiding system and retained the services of an external implementer. In areas, which are not the focus of innovation, they leverage best practices from other organizations. For example, they do no physical manufacturing. Those capabilities come from their Contract Manufacturing partners.

In his acceptance speech for the Tekne Awards in 2016 Deepinder shared the core axiom of his life “If we live without making a difference, it makes no difference that we lived.”

Is it a folly to dream too big? Not at all. The challenge is to make it manifest through flawless execution. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them”.

A version of this article first appeared in Twin City Business Magazine in March 2019.

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Rajiv Tandon is executive director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He facilitates peer groups of fast growth Minnesota CEOs. He can be reached at rajiv@mn-iie.org.