May 25, 2015

Ever bought a fridge from a Persian prince?

Maybe it’s time you did.

Written by
Matthias Kurwig

Chances are you don’t know who Horace Walpole was. And you probably don’t know the fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. I didn’t either. The fairy tale describes how these three princes are brilliant at finding out stuff seemingly by chance, and after reading the tale all the way back in 1754, Walpole coined the term serendipity to describe how great things can come from ‘accidents and sagacity’.

This is my short story of how serendipity has led me to where I am today. Because there is no other way to describe it. In a world of planning, calculation, and control, fortunate happenstance sometimes gets overlooked. And it shouldn’t.

In 2011 I held a senior post within a global digital marketing group based out of New York, having sold my own business to the group a few years earlier. My wife and I had moved from our home in Germany with the acquisition, and we were in the throes of moving house, for the fantastic reason that we now had a family in the shape of our daughter, Milla. As the move involved all the usual challenges, such as buying new appliances (washers, dryers, fridges — the whole nine yards), we thought it a good idea to try and buy the most energy efficient options, not only to do our bit for the environment (as new parents), but to also save us some money in the long-run (after all, our costs were heading north, courtesy of Milla — why was it the newest and smallest of us needed the most space and money?). And after all, how often do you have the chance to replace this sort of equipment and save?

As it happens, my long-time friend and colleague, Don Epperson (another digital marketing type), was doing the same thing — refurbishing his home and looking to replace all the appliances. So, as self-proclaimed data nerds, we set about finding the most energy efficient products and appliances we could put in our new homes.

Or so we thought.

After months of trying to make sense of what was available, we were still confronted by inconsistent, obscure and, truth be told, misleading information. And let’s be clear, with our day jobs, if anyone should have been able to pull this together, it should have been us. We had got the information we wanted, but how much effort..?

‘This is madness’ we thought. ‘How can it be this hard to simply make the right choice? The right choice for me, my family and the planet, and at the right moment?’

This wasn’t about putting us back on the Moon or mapping the human genome. This was about just getting the best fridge in your kitchen!

So just shy of 250 years after Horace Walpole first coined the term, our ‘accidental discovery’ meant serendipity had stepped in front of Don and me. We realized that being able to make the right choice wasn’t just important, it was crucial when it came to reducing our energy usage. In hacking the data over the previous months, we’d realized that if over just a single year we could help everyone buy the most energy efficient fridge-freezer on the market rather than the average, the lifetime energy savings would be like taking the whole of Washington D.C. off the grid for that year. That’s one appliance, over just one year. It may not be putting us back on the Moon, but that’s a pretty sizable impact back here on Earth.

These are big numbers; big numbers delivered not by a long complicated behavior change effort, but by the painfully simple act of just buying the better product — often without spending more. A one-time adjustment that could deliver unbelievable savings, if we all got on board.

It was if a light-bulb had gone on. A huge, brilliant light bulb, constantly on.
I know, the irony.

Wherever I looked, all I saw was this serendipity. Conventional marketing was no longer cutting it for this soon-to-be ex-COO. So I left my job, picked up my family (again) and moved us all to California, in order to be near the type of people and technology to make this idea a reality. To realize an idea that can allow all of us to make the right decisions at the right time when it comes to choosing better products for our home — or business.

That was 2011. Four years later, serendipity still wasn’t done with us. A chance conversation with our first major client about our commitment to scale the idea led to a business card being slid across the table. ‘Maybe you should meet with this guy’ our beloved client suggested, as the meeting came to a close. The name on the card was James Joaquin at Obvious Ventures. In our first meeting, James saw the same potential in our idea, and we saw the same passion in James.

Today, our company Enervee, with the support of Obvious and some savvy utilities like PG&E, is starting to provide the service that Don and I (and, we’re sure, countless others) were searching for, just a few years ago — helping us make better choices that wipe thousands of gigawatt hours off the grid. And all this without a single request to change the way we behave, just the way we buy.

Marketplace home screenshot
Marketplace results screenshot
Marketplace product screenshot
Marketplace savings screenshot
Marketplace score screenshot

We also want to go further — to help make all decisions smart decisions, from an efficiency point of view — cars, washers, houses, the list goes on.

Simple right? We hope so.

Art

I’m writing this at the end of another long day as we realize our ambition (more work than being a global COO, I can tell you). Our home is silent bar me typing this. My wife gave up hours ago and went to bed, and Milla sleeps soundly, alongside her younger sister, Kaia. It’s true that I can’t lay claim to being a prince — of Serendip, or anywhere else. But I do know my kids see me as something pretty special. They expect a lot of me. Serendipity has brought me to where I am today, and has given me a clear shot at honoring that expectation; of doing something genuinely useful. As a data-loving German, I’d love to say it was all planned out from the start, but it wasn’t. In amongst the machinery of modern life, we had a ‘fortunate happenstance’. And tomorrow, I’ll work even harder to make those moments of serendipity count.

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