One of the things I really enjoy about the many people I get to meet and greet each week is the myriad of different industries I learn about. I have always believed in hiring people for their skill sets regardless of what industry they come from because sometimes the ability to think out of the box in a new industry with the perfect skill set works wonders. Having coffee with Deirdre Lord two weeks ago made me think about that. We could learn from each other although I have never been involved with energy except to use it, whereas energy is Deirdre's expertise.
Deirdre has been interested in energy from the get-go. After going to undergraduate in Vermont she took a job with The International Institute for Energy Conservation. There Deirdre worked in Chile and India implementing energy efficient technologies and policies with private sector partnerships. The next move was to graduate school at University of Delaware to get a masters in energy and environmental studies. Once graduating she found herself living in Boston working for Citizens Energy. A non-profit started by Joseph Kennedy. Citizens Energy began in 1979. Citizens Energy exists to make lifes basic needs, such as energy, more affordable and accessible. Joe negotiated with African countries to buy their unused energy and gave it away to people in lower income areas to heat their homes. The business was divded into two pieces; one for-profit and the other non-profit. Using the profits in the energy business to fund the non-profit business of providing people in low-income areas with energy. At that point energy was deregulated, the market shifted and the game changed.
It was 1998 and Deirdre moved on to New Energy Ventures, a start-up that was focusing on the retail energy space. Buying energy at wholesale prices and then selling it to residential, commercial and industrial companies. As a start-up the company went through a series of management changes and Deirdre ended up helping run their retail business that was called Constallation New Energy. There she helped countries leap frog energy development by providing zero infrastructure and moving directly into power plant development.
It was time to create her own business. She left with two people and created a company called Juice Energy to provide energy for commercial companies. Once energy was deregulated you could buy energy from secondary providers. We actually did that personally for our residence about 10 years ago. Your first instinct when someone calls you on the phone to give you a better deal on energy is skepticism. What is interesting is that when a secondary company such as Deirdre's buys energy for their clients, they have to put down twice the amount in collateral in order to secure the energy. The reason being that the energy markets can be volatile and if they go down or up, the providers do not want the secondary markets to walk away from the energy they purchased.
Two and a half years into her business they were doing over $100 million dollars in revenue and were in two states and about to enter into two more. They had great relationships with their clients and Deirdre loved what she was doing. She just had a baby and was taking off some time with her husband and the market imploded. Lehmann Brothers was the provider of capital for the collateral needed.
She came back to the office with baby in tow immediately. Deirdre and her partners got in a room to strategize. She put up a make shift sheet so she could breast feed during the meeting. As she is telling everyone how they need to start winding down and let go of 40 people she could hear a pin drop. She peeked outside the sheet and realized nobody was there. Deirdre picked up her baby and said "well at least you are still here." Her child proceeded to throw-up all her and as Deirdre put it, her business and her baby threw up all over her and the world changed. She sat there and cried.
After spending some time at home thinking she would just be a stay-at-home Mom she got restless. Went on a few interviews and realized very quickly that she wanted to own her own business again. And so she picked herself up and started another business around energy. This business helps companies procure and manage their energy. Buying the energy is easy. Managing it and understanding how you use it is hard. Her company, The MWh, provides access to everything online where their customers can stay on top of their energy needs by evaluating pricing options by looking at their historical data and in many ways this forces companies to think their carbon footprint. This saves businesses money. One of the tag lines I like is, transactions are simple, decisions are hard. MWh puts customers in charge of their energy and power costs.
It took years for people and companies to understand phone deregulation. Energy isn't quite there yet. I was so impressed with Deirdre. She stayed true to her passions about energy from the very get-go. She learned how to make a difference and has grown her second business with a very different head than the first one. She is an environmental energy entrepreneur. I am looking forward to picking her brain again next time I see Deirdre. She is involved with the tech world because she built her business online but as I have said in the past, tech is a platform for the many interesting businesses out there. Tech is just changing the way we do business.