Dreamers: “They told me It was impossible and I did it anyway” With Nishaant Sangaavi
I do believe in the old adage that ‘the early bird, gets the worm’. I subscribe to the 5 am club and it has truly allowed me to find the time to kick start my day and be so much more effective and productive. I feel I have a head start and can really maximize the 24 hour time limit I have every day.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nishaant Sangaavi.
Nishaant is the Co-Founder and CEO of EnergyX, a high growth start-up with offices in Toronto and Halifax, that has successfully raised millions of dollars in financing and posted 100% growth year after year. Prior to founding EnergyX, Nishaant was leading global business development and marketing teams across North America and Europe. Nishant has a Bachelor of Science from Dalhousie University and an International MBA from the Schulich School of Business. Fascinated by maximizing his own, and others’ potential, here are the words he lives by: “…The definition of hell; on your last day on earth, the person you could have become will meet the person you became.”
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
First and foremost, I am a dad to three crazy yet loving kids (7, 6 and 2 years old) and getting to see them grow and come into their own is an amazing journey to experience.
I am also a co-founder and the CEO of EnergyX, which is a fast growing technology start-up based in Toronto and Halifax, and we work with utilities all across North America and empower their customers — homes and businesses — to become more energy efficient.
In addition, my spouse is also an entrepreneur, running her own social impact start-up and being part of her journey as she grows her business is very rewarding.
It is in these four roles — father, spouse, entrepreneur and business partner — that I am focused on having the most impact.
On a personal front, I was born in India, grew up in Dubai, studied and worked all across Canada and then spent 6 years in Amsterdam prior to relocating back to Toronto and starting my company.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The beautiful and exciting aspect of running a start-up is that there is an abundance of projects that we work on that create real impact. It’s in the nature of what we do. Start-ups are built on tackling and solving problems that have not been solved before and so it is all new and exciting!
At EnergyX, we are very focused on living and breathing our mission — to provide every building in North America with a relevant and personalized energy savings plan that can empower them to take action. In a nutshell, we make energy decisions easy — and we are always pushing the dial on the technology that enable this mission.
We believe in the three basic truths:
- Energy efficiency and conservation is essential for us to achieve our climate change goals and sustain our quality of life for all future generations.
- When people are empowered with information about their homes and businesses, they can make smart choices about energy and prioritize the things that matter to them.
- Energy efficiency is the most effective means for utilities to engage with their customers, keep them sticky and add real, tangible value above and beyond providing them with commodity (i.e. electricity and gas).
One of the new products that we are bringing to life is our Virtual Audit technology which will enable us to conduct engineering-grade energy audits virtually without ever needing a certified energy auditor to walk through a building — this will truly disrupt the space as it will empower every building to gain access and opt for an energy audit at a fraction of the cost.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
I firmly believe it is our culture because that is truly unique to us. I compare company culture to a person’s DNA — we are all unique as human beings because we have different DNA and so it is EnergyX’s company culture that helps us stay different and relevant.
The culture at EnergyX is centered around building relationships, developing ownership and an extremely strong focus on growth and innovation. We focus on pushing the dial and imagining what’s possible, both for the company and for the team. It’s a culture built on learning by doing, paired with the ambition to succeed. We’re constantly defining, achieving and then redefining success — constant iterative improvement informed by real experience. The team is full of industry professionals who know that better is possible in the energy efficiency space and that EnergyX is the place to make it happen.
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
I would venture that all entrepreneurs, at some point in their lives, have been advised that they should not be embarking on their own. In being true entrepreneurs, it is in their nature to not listen to that advice and do it anyway ☺
I recall when my co-founder and I decided to start EnergyX, all we had was an idea and a firm belief that we would be the ones that would be able to solve an industry-wide problem in a manner that had never been envisioned before.
Let’s start with defining what that problem actually was that we set out to solve? Well, we knew that homes across North America were facing high energy bills and did not have the necessary information readily available to take action towards reducing those bills. We also knew that utilities had a number of energy efficiency programs that could help homeowners reduce their energy consumption, save money and lower their carbon footprint. What was missing was a technological link between the two- a platform that enabled utilities to effectively engage with their customers, identify the homes that qualified for these programs and automate the processes that would ensure that these homes were able to make the necessary improvements to become more energy-efficient and lower their energy bills. It was that very platform that we knew we wanted to build and in building it, we would be able to have a real impact in improving people’s homes, reducing energy usage and fighting climate change.
All of that being said, we had no capital, no team and to top it all, I had two little kids at that time and my business partner also had two little ones with a third baby on the way. Everyone we spoke to told us that now was not the time and the idea was not validated and proven out. The truth though is that it is never the right time to leave the security of a full-time job and start your own business, you just need to commit to making it happen and that is exactly what we did.
We formalized our business plan together and I then dedicated myself to speak with utilities so that we could validate the idea and to investors and prove why we were the right team to build and commercialize a product that would be scalable and have a real impact. And sometimes, when you are on the right path, things happen. And they did for us. Within two months, we successfully closed our pre-seed round of $400K, quit our jobs and started EnergyX. And we have not looked back since!
In the end, how we're all the naysayers proven wrong? :-)
Well, having won 2 MIT awards for our technology, raised $2.2M to date, grown our team to 25 co-workers across two offices (Toronto and Halifax) and licensed our platform to 15 utilities across the US and Canada which give us access to empowering 5M homes to become energy efficient, and having done all of this in only 3 years, I believe we are on the right path. And we’re not even warmed up yet ☺
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are always people along the way that help shape us and so for me, it’s not been one particular person but a number of people who have been instrumental in my journey thus far. I would not have been able to start EnergyX without my co-founder and business partner, who is a fantastic complement to my skill set and embodies the same values and commitment to growth as I do. My wife has and continues to be instrumental in our success. Our initial investors believed in us and gave us capital at a time where we were still proving our business model and for that, we will always be very grateful. Our initial utility clients trusted us and we had so many internal champions along the way that took a risk on us and licensed our platform. Our current investors provided us with the capital and the advice to scale our business and continue our growth. And of course, our co-workers who could choose to work anywhere else, choose us and that is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. And so, it’s all of these people that have played their own role in helping me get to where I am.
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
I believe resilience and perseverance is something that you build in your childhood and I was fortunate to be exposed to that from a young age. My dad was an entrepreneur and I learned the value of hard work and the importance of taking risks from him. I also experienced the highs and lows of entrepreneurship through him and that prepared me for this roller coaster of emotions one feels when they run their own company.
I moved, on my own, from Dubai to Canada when I was a teenager to go to university and really built whatever I have here from ground up. I did not have any networks in place that I could leverage. So, my experience living and working in Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and then Amsterdam — all places where I started from scratch and built up all of my connections and relationships — allowed me to understand the importance of believing in myself, my own ability to create something from nothing and my skill in attracting people who are smarter than me — a very important skill as it constantly allows me to learn and grow and push myself to be better.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
There are 5 strategies that I swear by and I follow very religiously:
- Be the first to rise — I do believe in the old adage that ‘the early bird, gets the worm’. I subscribe to the 5 am club and it has truly allowed me to find the time to kick start my day and be so much more effective and productive. I feel I have a head start and can really maximize the 24 hour time limit I have every day.
- Daily Exercise — One of my greatest investments has been to convert my 3 car garage into a full designer gym which allows me to have an amazing work-out every morning. I believe this is what keeps me balanced, focused and energized throughout the day.
- Continuous Learning — I subscribe to a Master Class every morning where I am able to learn a new skill set and this keeps me hungry and also helps me evaluate my business on various different fronts. One of the key challenges for every entrepreneur, especially as they grow their business, is to find the time to work ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ the business. It’s very hard to do as we are natural operators, however, it is so important to take the time to look at your business with a helicopter view and continuous learning exposure to different ideas and schools of thought allows one to do that.
- Meditation — I have started the practice to meditate for 30 mins daily and this has provided me with an abundance of focus and clarity that I had never experienced prior to starting the practice. Once again, very essential given that, as entrepreneurs, we are balancing a multitude of activities and priorities at any given time. Meditation, at least for me, has allowed me to have a laser focus on solving one problem at a time as opposed to allowing myself to become distracted and pulled in different directions.
- Continue to take risks and make decisions — There is a Helen Keller quote that comes to mind here and is very relevant to anyone who is considering being an entrepreneur. ‘Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Running a start-up is all about taking calculated risks as we are constantly innovating and looking to solve problems in a better way than they have been solved before. And hence, taking risks, failing fast and often and most importantly falling forward is essential to achieve success.
All of the above are daily habits and strategies that I have incorporated in my life and have worked for me as I continue to grow personally and professionally.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
One of the quotes that currently resonates with me at the moment is ‘The definition of hell; on your last day on earth, the person you could have become will meet the person you became.”
What I really like about it is that is helps one realize that our time on Earth is limited and we all have so much potential to be better, bolder, and we owe that to ourselves and those around us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am in awe of a movement that my wife has started with her own company, Cooks Who Feed, and I support it wholeheartedly. She runs a social enterprise that is tackling food insecurity and at the same time, empowering marginalized women in India. Her food startup is trying to rethink the tools we use in the kitchen while building a more sustainable world. She employs marginalized women in India to produce handcrafted designer aprons and for every apron sold by Cooks who Feed, 100 meals are given to those in need.
Can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook, LinkedIn and my blog on Medium.
Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!