Silicon Savannah: Expanding Access to Clean Cooking Fuel


A significant amount of the world’s population — over 2 billion households — cooks with dirty fuels. For most, there simply isn’t access to clean cooking fuel.

In Kenya, Nick Quintong (CEO and Co-Founder) and his team at PayGo Energy have designed an IoT solution that expands access to clean cooking.

In this episode, Nick shares:

- Why startups are abundant in Nairobi

- How a piece of smart hardware brings clean cooking fuel to Kenya

- The journey of developing new IoT technology

- Advice for negotiating the right metrics for success

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Currently significant amount of the world's populationscooking with dirty fuels that they can buy some small amounts they can afford everyday. Our device allows to buy gas in the same fashion, so thatthey can afford it, and gas is much cleaner than cooking with charcoal kerosenein the household. You are listening to over the Air Iot connected devices andthe journey, brought to you by vary in each episode we have sharp,unfiltered conversations with executives about their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessonsthey learned and what they wish they'd known when they started. Hey,everybody, welcome back to over the air, Iot connected devices and the journey.Today we're going to be talking about energy, Iot and Africa with COfounder and CEO of Pago Energy, Nick Quintong. Nick, thanks for goingon the show man. Thanks for having your in. So, Nick,for those who don't know, tell us a little bit about Pago Energy andthe problem you guys are trying to solve. And for now, thirtyzero foot viewis fine. Thanks, Ryan. Yeah, so, pig of energy. Our mission is to unlock clean energy for the next billion, and soby the next billion we meet of the billion households that are currently lack accessthe clean cooking fuel today, and so our technology is a smart meter thatlocks in any gas cylinder and it turns it into a pays your device sothat customers can actually buy gas and small amounts. Currently, significant amount ofthe world's populations cooking with dirty fuels that they can buy and some small amountsthey can afford every day. Our device allows them to buy gas in thesame fashion so that they can afford it, and gas is much cleaner than cookingwith charcoal kerosene in the household. I guess one thing that's kind ofinteresting to me is like your background personally. You're not from Africa originally, believeyou're raised in the United States. Spent some time at GE kind oflike a, I don't know, more traditional career path talk. Can youtalk a little bit about like how how a guy came from that background and, you know, is now founding cofounding a Tech Company in Kenya? Likewhat does that path look like? Yeah, it was kind of a kind ofa random pat so, yeah, that Gee Great Company. Great receivegreat training there. Originally, I'm a an oregon boy. I grew upin band if I'm a way into the corporate world and yeah, around yourfour five, I sort I getting this kind of creeping existential angst about whatam I doing in the world. I think it's something that's been plaguing ourgeneration and so I wanted to try to do something a little bit closer tothe impact side. So, coming into like my fifth theory, G as, are looking for some opportunities and I found one to be a kiva fellowKiva, if you're not familiar with that company, their one. They're nonprofit. They're one of the first companies to do crowdsourcing. Their focused kind ofthe microfinance, micro lend space and emerging markets like Kenya. So I wasaccepted into this Kiva fellows program and they placed me in Nairobi to work onthis kind of Keybas it project. So could it placed me anywhere in theworld? They placed me kind of randomly. Maybe not ran randomly for them,but randomly for me for Nairobi. And once I got there, Imean Ken you as an awesome place. Can you. People are awesome.There's tons. I'm an outdoor guy. There's tons of do outside. SoI really loved the country and then when I got into the start up ecosystem, people are working some really big kind of media challenges. There's lots ofsmart people here and, yeah, I really liked the vibe of the scenehere. But what I like the people are working on a type of peoplethat are drawn to this market and yeah, but love the country. So that'show I ended up here. Is the silicon SAVANNA. Understand the termit is, like, is that related to Kenya specific, or are isthat like Africa, you know, that region of Africa, or like this? Obviously this podcast is not about Iot in Africa specific, but for manypeople this might be one of the few times they're hearing about IOT development inAfrica. Can you give us like twenty...

...seconds on Silicon Savanna what that means? Yeah, I mean's looking Savannah's really focused on on Nirobe and what's beencreated here. So there's been a lot of investment in ecosystem development and sothere's one. There's some great universities here in East Africa, specifically here inthy robe, plays like university and I robe strath Moras and great schools thatare that are putting out talent. There's a lot of focus from development financesinstitutions in this part of the world. The UN is based here, alot of embassies are are located here. So there's a fair amount of fundingand a lot of educated people and there was some initial kind of startups thatstarted, you know, popping up here about ten years ago. Since thenthere's been a lot of investment and accelerators. There's been popups of kind of venturecapital firms and there's been, you know, a few kind of winsome kind of early success stories come out of Kenya. Hunions are also veryinnovative people. They're also quick adopts and new technology. There's over ninety percentof the population uses mobile money here. A lot of innovations come out ofthis part of the world. So it's become a real hub for startups inEast Africa. And then so when missay s littlekins about Savannah, they're reallytalking about what's been built here in my robe. Cool. Well, let'sget back on track. I'm I'm really interested to hear about the technology solutionyou guys have have developed. So you're looking at the energy market in Kenya. You know, you're seeing this like nondemocratized access to clean burning fuels orlike for most people to get access to to natural gas like very expensive ormaybe, you know not, like the unit economics don't work at the individuallevel. Can you talk about like the process of you landing on an isotsolution as the solution to address that problem? Yeah, just kind of just setthe stage. So, I mean, when you're looking at a place likeNairobi, most of the population is living in these really densely populated kindof informal type settlements and so cooking with like natural gas, you know inthe states or in Europe, really isn't possible. And these areas that youcan't put piped gas infrastructure into a place that's kind of informally set up.You know, there's there aren't tarmac roads in the houses are are not,you know, built to the traditional code that you're used to. This isa really a really challenging environment right especially, so would be very dangerous and expensiveto put natural gas in these areas. are also growing really fast. urbanizationshappening in Africa and most part in a lot of emerging markets really rapidly, and so these places are actually, you know, they're not static,they're growing every day. So it's a really challenging environment. If you lookat the livelihood of the average household here, they're living on less than eight dollarsa day. Some, a lot of houses, less than five dollarsa day and a lot of their income streams are unpredictable. We're doing,you know, six seven things in a month to make ends meet, andso when you look at that person's Daytoday, it makes a lot of sense inthe by charcoal, wood or kerosene that they can buy in small amounts, and that's what our founding team saw early on, as they're kind ofthe kind of pattern of behavior on cooking and for curing fuel. So wesaw folks team up and in long lines to buy these fuels. We starteddoing the back of the NPT and map or like wow, they're actually spendinga lot more money to cook with charcoal then I actually spend cooking with gasevery month. And so first I was like, well, this is areal injustice, but then it also was the next question was like, well, you know, what are the real barriers to cooking with gas? Sowe understand why we can't put pipe gas in the home, but I cansomeone not afford a gas cylinder if we know they're spending more than that adaily basis. So we realize that really just that gas is only sold inlarge amounts. You have to buy the cylinder itself, which traditionally would be, you know, pipe gas infrastructure. You if to buy that yourself,which is the cylinder, and it can only be refilled in large amounts.So, although there are some maybe analog... to this, we thought,hey, there's a real opportunity for us to come in, you know,with an Iot device, to not just change the format in which gas issold, to try to find a way to sell on a fractional basis thatmatches up with the day to day life of the customers were targeting, butthe IOT component could also help us be really efficient with a supply chain,because the areas, again, that we're working in are really challenging to dodistribution. There's no addressing system, that there's not street names, and sohaving information flowing from the home, having better control of the assets, wethought, could also really improve the supply chain. So it felt like theright solution and it felt like a way to really displace a lot of thesedirty fuels that we knew we're not the right product for customers. Just it'sjust all they had access to, got it and like okay, so you'renow like narrowing scope. We, I think the we are the audience,and I are starting to understand like the problem, you know, and howyou guys are looking at the solution makes a lot of sense to me.Talk about the device that you guys have built, you know, to actuallybegin to meet this out some of the like unique problems that you needed tosolve? Can you talk about that submetering device, I don't know if that'sthe right term, but that you guys have built and like some challenges alongthe way that, you know, either technical or user interface or, youknow whatever, that you guys have needed to solve in order to be successful? And like actually talk about the device itself. True, yeah, Imean to like any hardware company, I mean developing hardwares are a nightmare.It's again. So we had a place that we wanted, we had avery clear idea, i. really elegant solution, and then we kind ofhad to bump along until we landed on what we've got today. Look,when you when you look at the technology that we needed to solve this problem. A lot of the things under the hood are not novel. Right,you have a gas cylinder. Gases, you know, pressurized so that it'sin liquid form, right, and so it's coming out at high pressure.So we have to regulate it to get it to low pressure. Once it'sregulated, regulated to get low pressure, because that's what we can cook atright, really efficiently. Once regulate it, we have to measure it, andthat's also not novel. There's lots of devices out there that can measuregas, you know, and flow. Once we've measured the gas, weneed to communicate that measurement back some kind of a system. So we havesome kind of a communication, a module and PCP that's kind of storing theinformation, right. And then, you know, in a prepay format,you need to be able to shut off access right to gas if folks haven'thave been paid for it. So you need some kind of a valve,right, that's going to that's going to lock. So all these components areare not novel, that are under the hood into the first question is,do we need to develop an entirely new device at all? Right, andthis is a gas meter essentially. Well, there weren't gas meters out there thatwere really that could do what we needed them to do, that aremanaging gas at high pressure. Most gas meters are dealing with we have somuch lower pressure than out of a cylinder. There weren't meters out there that wouldlock on top of a cylinder and would be tamper proof the way thatwe needed. And then also from an accuracy perspective, there weren't meters outthere like in a commercial setting that we're selling gas and he's really like amicro amounts. I mean we're talking about folks, but need to buy,you know, fifty grams or at the gas. That kind of accuracy weweren't finding in meters that were available in the market. So pretty quickly we'rebacking into a totally new device again, knowing that, hey, a lotof the components may not be novel, but the way we're going to putthem together will be. So we started that journey. Obviously there's a lotof prototype being going on. We didn't actually land on pointing advice in thecylinder off the Bat. We actually tested putting a device inside of a stove. But we started find out really quickly the hey, this we got.We have to get to the household level and understand how people are in interactwith this device and the environment that it's going to be in and pretty quicklyrealize, okay, there's a lot of safety concerns to having this built in, built into a stove, that it...

...needs if we're going to really makethis thing tampered proof, it's going to have to lock on the on thetop of the cylinder so people can access more gas and we need to beable to control as much as we can the safety side in our own office. So having multiple components in the household would be more dangerous. So howmuch can we put under the same kind of housing and Qa within a controlledenvironment before we get it into the household? So we start doing all these learningsonce we got it got out in the market and obviously it's been aninderative process like any other harbor company, but we've landed on a product that'sstill kind of has those same core componentry but we've had to make some tradeoffsand we've had to spend some time really understanding what the customer needs. Butgas companies need to be able to do this really efficiently and provide ultimately experiencefor a customer that is going to keep them from, you know, excitedto cook with gas and keep them from cooking with other fuels. So ouraudiences a lot of business leaders that are thinking about or in the process ofdeveloping a connected vice, a CIOT solution whatever for their for their business.You know, we hear a lot at very that, hey, this thingthat we're developing, there's a lot off the shelf components. It's you know, this thing is is most is mostly you know, a, plus,B plus. See Different off the shelf components configured in a unique in differentway, or the application of the thing is unique and different. But yet, as you've discovered, you know, A and B and C may allbe standard off the shelf components, but the application or their integration is notat all standard. If you were taught like speak directly to those people outthere, like what learnings do you wish nick had known at the beginning ofthis process that he knows now about what look may look relatively straightforward because,as you said, the things are not novel. The the technology is relativelyoff the shelf at the individual component level, but the application or their integration isnot. What would you say to business we are out there that thatis in a similar position about the journey that they're about to embark on.There's a lot thought that I would do differently. I can go back andtake this thing from the top. But lookuy, I don't have a technicalbackground, so I you know, I leaned a lot on the te levelguys on our team when we scope this thing out the beginning. But frommy perspective, there's a couple areas where, you know, we might have beenable to we actually some things that we did well then some errors wherewe might have been able to potentially speak things up. The first is,once you understand, I'd say, the experience you're you're trying to provide yourcustomer and what you believe are the risky assumptions like in your business model,there are a lot of ways to test those without having, you know,fully big device. And so for us working with gas, not just froma safety perspective but also just for there you know the standards regulations around sellinggas and measuring gas. Right, there's a lot of hurdles that you haveto overcome just to get your first devices out into the market, and soyou've got to find clever ways to get out there and test as soon aspossible. We had some prototypes or we're testing, you know what, howa customer interact with it, and they were incredibly low fidelity cardboard. Ye, using low fidelity prototypes, you can learn a lot about your customer withoutgoing through the Rigamarole of developing even like initial prototypes and trying to put thoseout in front of, you know, front of customers, and I thinkthat the some of that. I think companies could do right as is sayhey, I I see that a lot of these components are off the shelf. I could put something together rather quickly...

...and get that out to market andit's actually at least for gas right. There's a lot more that you've gotto do to probably get that fully approved, to get that out there and safein front of someone's get that hands your customers, and you might haveskipped some really risky assumptions that you could have rooted out was something that was, you know, much more kind of low fidelity, like even a cardboardprototypes like what we used Atago. So I think that's that's something that wedid. That was probably a good thing. It helped us land on a devicethat I think was much closer to where we where we need to be, and I think we save a lot of time and money by doing thattesting up front. On the other side of it, some mean that Ithink is it's mean that you should be parallel processing is that, although youmay have something that again has let off the shelf components to hit the unitcost that you need to hit for this to be a commercially viable product,usually you can't have all off the shelf components under the hood. At somepoint you, in our start need to do custom componentary when you go tothe value engineering process you're going to need to start making some some tradeoffs andthe thing will get a lot more custom over time just to get your costdown. And so I think the earlier you can start that process will willallow you to avoid a stop start and I think for us, if wedid things a bit sequentially, I think that was tied to the timing aroundour funding, to be honest, in our our bandwidth. But if wecould have parallel process that path the scale and that path to a place whereour uneconomics were we're looking positive a lot sooner, I think it could haveprobably shaved a lot of time off our path. So although you're you're takingyour time and using lower fidelity stuff up front, I think should be takingthat information and feeding it into what you believe is the more skilled product you'reand have in the future, and that's your entire thought process around not justwas under the hood but your global supply chain. How insaid that manufacturing everythingyou need to do to hit both the unit costs and scale that you needto really have this thing take off. So I think for us, youknow, we did the front end right, or we were doing a lot ofthe really important testing and iterating really quickly and not doubling down on adesign too early. But in the other side I think that we probably couldhave done some of the value engineering work and thinking around what a scaled productionshould look like, what our global supply chain should look like, which haddone it a lot earlier and led to kind of a stop start. So, you know, takeaways. They're around parallel planning, you know, likegetting your existing prototype as time as possible while also thinking about Vto, notprototype all the way through. Then begin, you know, thinking about you too. We see that a lot. Can you talk about this idea oflike accidentally shaming your customers during that manual weighing process because they were embarrassed atthe lack of gas being used. It made them it. Can you expandon that? Yeah, I mean to keep yourself honest, right. Soyou're trying to be scrappy and and do a kind of a clever test.And for us we were trying to test, you know, people's willingness to pay, you know, you know, for to sell gas and small amounts. And the way that we did it, we thought was really clever, goingaround and weighing people cylinders every day. It didn't require any you know,technology development. If we can get to the kind of the root ofthe challenge early. The problem is when you knock on someone's door but dayand you weigh their cylinder and then you right down the weight and then youknow, you know, either take payment ay they to top up or ifthey didn't cook anything the night before, they're having to look you in theface as your weigh the cylinder and say sorry, I know, I cookedwith something else or or I or maybe it's really low income household. Theyweren't able to have a meal the night before. And so we really feltthat we were skewing the data, but by this really invasive approach. Andso when we didn't think about at the...

...beginning, and I think we hadto look back at the data afterwards and say, Hey, I wonder howmuch you were driving consumption just, you know, because of the you know, the social pressure that we write that we were giving them by knocking ontheir door every day. It's something that we hear a lot where early Betacustomers start to root for the the product company. You know, they're partof it, they want to see the things succeed, and so they endup, as you said, skewing the outcome and it in it has allof these unintended downstream effects where people are saying, Hey, look like usageis higher than expected. You extrapolate that forward and say, you know,we could maybe see, you know, this much impact. And but ofcourse that's, you know, related to like the personal effect that that youpointed at. Can you talk a little bit about like another thing you mentionedthat that I wanted to kind of pull on a little bit is we heara lot where the device developer, you know, either the person at thecompany that's in charge of it or the company itself, has these metrics ofsuccess and they say, look, we're going to get fifty units out inthe wild and that's what we're going to consider success. But maybe that person'sCEO or that person's venture capitalist says, well, hang on, I youknow, five hundred is actually the benchmark of success. Hat Did you guyshad? Like was this something that that resonates with you? Is this anexperience that you guys have had and, if so, like what lessons learnedcan you share about, like setting the goal post in the correct place andgetting everyone bought in around the correct goal post location? Yeah, this isone of the most deeply frustrating things about launching at a hardware, hardware companyis that for a hardware company, to hit it between the UPRIGHTS is morechallenging, you know, and there's a huge difference between fifty units and evena hundred units or thousand units and depending on where you're at in your inyour development process, and so getting to a place where you think that you'veread the top of the mountain and then people telling you you're not actually there, you've got this whole other thing to go up is is really demotivating forthe team and really frustrating. So we've definitely had that happen. I meanthe first thing is that if you can have investors that have a background andinvesting in hardware companies, that will help a lot because they can start toat least empathize with your position and understand how challenging is to even just getto that next it's that next point. So for us, one of thechallenges that we've had is that, you know, we've got a lot ofdifferent folks that are that are setting some of these parameters and we have toreally get deep around what is this assumption that they want to test, andI think that's been the real question. Is this a question of around thetechnical feasibility of what we're doing? You want to you want to see howthis thing actually works out in the wild and you need a certain amount ofyou know, there's a sample size and your mind that shows that and wereally dig into it, like what is it? What is the actual datapoints that you need to understand that this technology works and that it's feasible atsmall scale and at some significantly larger scales as that the question. Is itmore about user engagement and you have a real concerns around product market fit andyou want to see enough cycles of data, and that can come in different forms. That's actually like the number of customers, or it's a smaller groupof customers over a longer period of time, or it's more data points right fromindividual customers. So we spent a lot of time, as we getbecame more mature. Thing is a leadership team digging into what is it we'resolving for. And when you got different folks in the room that are tryingto kind of scope what they're mean, what they believe, the risky assumptionis you start to put those out of separate assumptions that we're testing. Sotechnical is something doing? There's a technical concern that we need a test,let's make sure those books are covered. If it's more of a market basedconcern, let's separate those out and we...

...might be able to address these differently. So early on I think we just trusted you know, the folks weretalking to is. Now that they're not, they meant to change the goal posts. It's that's unders a disconnect also between the folks that are on yourboard that are telling you, Hey, this is what we believe the marketis looking for from our experience. Then you go out to market and slapin the face and they're looking for something different. So again, I thinkyou have to figure out what is it that we're testing for and you haveto triangulate it from the fost close to the business and ultimately, what thatthat that audience is going to make the found decision which, if it's anext funding round, right, it might be your this next round of investors. They might have a different looking field in the folks you're dealing with today. Three things, things that I think we're we've talked about today, thatare like interesting that you at home, you know, might want to consideras you're, you know, thinking about your project. One is this ideaof parallel development, so like get a product out in the market that utilizesas much off the shelf as possible to get that initial feedback, but atsome point you need to begin to build your V two in parallel with that, not wait until that process has completed to you know, I think there'sa an idea of like really looking carefully at your Beta adopters. You know, you want to be mindful of like is is there any opportunity for thisdata to become skewed by the you know, the people that that we've included inour Beta and and their behavior maybe not being representative of the broader market. And and then the third one is, which is one you just talked about, this idea of goal posts and getting key stakeholders really bought in aboutwhat success looks like across you know, all these key parameters. So likeunits deployed, you know, probably like something around like utilization, you know, market adoption, consumer behavior, things like that, like really defining thatso that everyone agrees what success looks like in the team can go drive towardsthat nick. We're just about out of time, but I did want toask you one last question. You mentioned at the top of the show anduser listeners from the United States would be familiar. Bend Oregon one of thesetowns that's totally blown up. I did not know anybody was actually ever fromthen. It seems like the kind of place that no one is actually you. I live in Boseman Wantanas the same thing. I think the last boardand raised Boseman person left ten years ago. What's something? When is the lasttime you've been back to bend Oregan and for listeners out there that arefamiliar with the town, what's the thing that you think has changed you've seenchange the most about bend organ? Give us twenty seconds, anyone, eventhough Ben's change a lot good at bend organ. It's a it's a magicalplace, great place to grow up. You've got the Caska mountain range thatthe shoes for ever running through town. I think a lot of the thingsthat I love about bendard are are still there. When we move there thereis about Fifteenzero people. So I didn't. Wasn't born there, but I movedthere I was four or five years old. It was mostly a lumbertown and now there's about a hundred thousand people there. I don't know whatthey're doing for work. The economy there that they have a bit of astartup seeing there's a big kind of scene around growth right, but people therearen't too worried about that. They're more outdoors people, so they're ski andthey're playing golf throughout in the woods. They're having a good time. Sothey in the main. Difference is yet the scale. I mean it's it'shuge. Is Gone up by like a factor eight and in size the economiestotally change from being a lumber town and yeah, but I'd still think thatthe people are the same there. They're outdoors people, they're having a goodtime and it's a beautiful place to live. I Love It, Ladies and gentlemen. Co Founder and CEO and a Fatgo Energy and long time Bend Oregonresident, Nick Quinn Tong next, thanks for being on the show today.Ryan, thanks so much for outing me. You shouldn't have to worry about IOTprojects dragging on or unreliable vendors.

You've got enough on your plate.The right team of Engineers and project managers can change a pivotal moment for yourbusiness into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers,continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a reality ontime and up to your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk and maximizingopportunity, will help you build an Iot solution that you can hang your haton. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at very possiblecomyou've been listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey. Ifyou enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast playerand give us a rating. Have a question or an idea for a futureepisode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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