Fourteen months ago I walked out of my last day as CEO of SolarAid and SunnyMoney… with a plan to start a new business – a distribution business in rural Africa, selling a range of clean energy technologies.
I’d left SolarAid/SunnyMoney on a high. I led a wonderful team who took SunnyMoney from a simple idea to becoming the biggest last-mile seller of solar lights in Africa. From sales of 300 lights per month to 75,000. From practically nothing to 1.3million lights sold in 4 years. From a small NGO to one of the great success stories in the African off-grid energy market, winning multiple awards, including the prestigious Ashden Gold Award.
I decided to leave for a number of reasons but two stood out:
- I needed to work for myself again. I’ve always been happiest doing my own thing. I’ve set up several businesses in my life, some of which have done quite well! Four years at SolarAid was by far the longest I’ve worked for someone else… it’s a credit to them that they put up with me for so long.
- I had believed for a couple of years that a for-profit model would be more effective and appropriate for the off-grid energy sector… and that was not a direction the SolarAid Board wanted to take SunnyMoney.
It was time for me to go.
Despite my success at SunnyMoney and all the knowledge I had built up of the sector; raising seed finance for a new company turned out to be the hardest professional challenge of my life, even with a seasoned expert, my co-founder, Jeffrey Frank, by my side, coaching me on a weekly basis to keep my nerve.
But we did it. We closed our first round of investment on the eve of the Easter weekend… giving me four days climbing Mount Kenya with friends before coming down to start executing: developing a consumer brand, recruiting a team, finalising our launch regions, ordering product… and a million other little things which you need to do to get a business off the pages of a PowerPoint deck and into reality.
April to August was relentless but I’d promised our investors in April that we’d sell our first products in August and we did so on August 30th! And so we’re off.
Through the pages of this blog, I’m going to share with you our vision; the lessons we’ve learnt to get this far; the unfolding story of our progress; and other tales from my 30 year career in social enterprises. I hope you will join me… and join in.