An Interview with Yoav Lurie, CEO and Co-Founder of Simple Energy
Simple Energy motivates people to save energy by changing how utilities engage with their customers. The company uses behavioral science, big data analytics, and digital marketing techniques to build software that makes saving energy social, fun, and simple. Imagine not only having easy access to your energy usage information, but then having that energy usage data be the basis for an engaging rewards program that makes trying to reduce your energy use fun and competitive. As a result of this innovative program, Simple Energy has helped people save over 100 million kWh [kilowatt-hours] to date. That is enough energy to power almost 10,000 homes for a year and equates to a reduction in over 60,000 tons of CO2, which has the same environmental impact as planting over 1,500,000 trees or removing 12,600 cars from the road. The company is helping people make sense of their energy usage, save more energy, and enjoy doing it.
What is the story behind Simple Energy? Where did this idea come from?
I met Justin Segall, my co-founder, our freshman year at Duke University. Early on in our friendship, two things became apparent: we wanted to make a positive social impact and we were entrepreneurs. Years later, Simple Energy started as a hardware product - a simple thermostat. We had the great idea that if we could provide an inexpensive (almost free) easy-to-use thermostat, we could help people save energy in their homes. We shopped this idea around to friends, family, and energy industry executives. What we found was that people don’t need another gadget, even a free one. In fact, many of the utilities we spoke with were already offering thermostats and having trouble giving them away. The problem was getting people to change their behaviors. It was when we realized this that we got out of the thermostat business and into the give-a-shit business. Since that day, everything we create is designed with what people want in mind. We started this company because we want to change the world and we quickly discovered that the best way to do it was to get everyday people to act like they care.
One of the scariest times for many entrepreneurs seems to be making the choice to really go for it. What did this decision look like for you? What advice do you have for other budding entrepreneurs regarding making the decision to jump in?
Oddly enough, the decision to start a company wasn’t hard for me. Since I was a child, I have always known that build- ing companies was what I was going to do and I was already at a turning point in my life where I was deciding on my next move. What was difficult, however, was convincing my co-founder, Justin Segall, that starting Simple Energy was a jump he needed to make. Justin was comfort- able. He had a great job and wasn’t look- ing to make a move. I asked him to look at this opportunity from the perspective of his 75-year-old self; what would that Justin think about choosing comfort over passion? That is the same advice I would give to anyone who is scared to go after something they want. When you look at things from that perspective, not taking the jump seems a lot scarier than going for it.
What do you attribute the success of Simple Energy to?
We’ve found a sweet spot between being able to get people to act and a need in the utility industry. People al- ready cared about helping the environment, but it wasn’t enough to get most people to change their daily behaviors. Simple Energy has been successful in actually motivating people to take action. The utility industry is facing a changing market with new technology entrants and increasing regulatory requirements. Now more than ever they need to engage with their customers. Utilities need their customers to take specific actions to meet behavioral efficiency targets and reduce peak load demand. Utilities also need to strengthen their customer relationships to future-proof their business. Simple Energy helps utilities build better relationships with their customers by making energy saving fun, social, and simple for customers.
One of the components behind the success of Simple Energy is competition through games. How important is this component for changing people’s behavior?
Rewards, points, and competitions are important because people enjoy them. The success of Simple Energy lies in the fact that we have been able to transform energy data into things people actually care about and experiences that inspire people to take action. Delivering energy data in charts and graphs just isn’t enough to motivate most people to make a lasting, meaningful change in their daily behavior. We’ve found that different motivations work for different people and that those motivations change over time. Simply put, we offer a range of experiences that target individual desires rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. While stay-at-home parents may want to share home energy savings tips with their friends on Facebook to support local schools, young professionals may be more interested in timely information delivered on their smartphone and the opportunity to compete with their friends to win a new tablet.
Are there any other industries where you think a similar model that utilizes games and competition could be applied to the benefit of society?
There is no limit to the power of play. A few of the industries that immediately come to mind where best practices of consumer engagement based on gamification can and are having a positive impact are health-care and education.
What business practice are you most proud of?
It is important to me that our business practices uphold the Simple Energy mission of creating a more sustainable future. Justin and I didn’t just want to build a business, we wanted to make a positive change in the world. One of the things I am most proud of is becoming a certified B Corporation. As a certified B Corporation, Simple Energy is part of a community of over 1,000 companies across 60 industries with one unifying goal: redefining success in business. Simple Energy has met rigorous standards of performance, accountability, and transparency; is using the power of business to address climate change; and is building a strong local community and a great place to work.
What other companies are inspiring you right now?
I am inspired by companies that make the critical and seemingly boring aspects of life more beautiful and seamless, in a purpose driven way. That is why I try to always support other B Corps. Some of my favorite companies right now are Nest (connected home), Ello (the new social), 7th Generation (everyday products done right), and Revolution Foods (healthy kid-friendly school lunches).
“We started this company because we want to change the world and we quickly discovered that the best way to do it was to get everyday people to act like they care.”