“Why Founders Should be Honey Badgers”
All over the planet, companies are trying to reduce their CO2 emissions, if not to help the planet, least to reduce their energy costs. Fortunately, there are startups like Resync that are serving enterprises as an energy management solution using AI. The Singapore-based startup has already made great progress and is now in the process of scaling and expanding to help move companies in different corners of the world to reduce their energy costs and carbon footprints at the same time.
Resync co-founder and CEO Emir Nurov joined startup coach Roland Siebelink on this week’s episode of the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast to talk about his startup’s purpose, approach, and success.
- How Resync reached the point of relying mostly on inbound sales.
- The approach Resync took in finding its first few partnerships.
- Why Resync considers itself to be agnostic to different markets.
- The importance of having a team that believes in the founder’s vision.
- How Resync is able to operate with a limited sales and business development team.
- The value of founders and startup employees having corporate experience.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I’m an advisor and ally to many of the fastest-growing tech startups around the world. Today, we have in our studio Emir Nurov, who is the founder and CEO of Resync, dialing out of Singapore. Hello, Emir. How are you?
Emir Nurov: Hello, Roland. I’m great. Thanks a lot for having me today.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. It is our honor. I’ve heard a lot about Resync. But of course, not everyone has. For those that haven’t heard of your company yet, could you just introduce Resync in a few sentences? What do you do? Who do you serve? And what impact do you make in the world?
Emir Nurov: Sure. Resync is a Singapore-based company, started back in 2017. We specialize in developing intelligent energy management solutions, which are driven by the artificial intelligence and machine learning models that we develop in-house. We serve enterprises. In simple words, we help them to save on their energy usages and reduce their CO2 consumption. We basically help them and we handhold them toward sustainable operations and we help them to meet their sustainability targets.
Roland Siebelink: Very good. Talk to me a little bit more about enterprises. Is that enterprises in any vertical, in any geography? How are you focusing on which enterprises to help first?
Emir Nurov: We’re quite market agnostic and we are quite customer agnostic. We serve different type of clients ranging from single office owner to large real estate companies with multiple buildings in their portfolio.
Roland Siebelink: And is it focused primarily on the office management or are you also looking in the core value chain like what they do in their factories, how they do logistics, and all that stuff.
Emir Nurov: No, we predominantly focus on real estate. We predominantly focus on buildings and offices.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. That makes sense that you wouldn’t focus on a particular vertical but more on anyone that has buildings. Absolutely. With that dependency on buildings, can you talk to me a little bit through how long you’ve been in business and has the pandemic had a big effect on your client’s base and all the buildings they occupy?
Emir Nurov: We started Resync back in 2017. That was an early move toward sustainability and adoption of digital solutions for buildings. I think down the road, as you mentioned, with the heat of Covid 19, we saw a lot of people moving from offices to work from home. But despite a lot of people working from home, the building still continues to consume almost the same amount of energy. And most of the building operators were surprised, especially considering the fact that the buildings are utilized to the minimum. But the electricity bills are still the same, if not higher, because the electricity prices went up as well.
It was a good validation and good push for solutions like ours in order to showcase to the end user that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s too many people or whether it’s too few people, sometimes some of the aspects of the building operations contribute the most. And that’s where a lot of buildings had to be aware - building operators had to be aware - in terms of how they consume their energy, what actions need to be taken, and how to become more energy efficient. That’s exactly what we help them to do. Instead of seeing a lot of outbound clients, we see a lot of inbound clients where the clients themselves reach out to us and say, “Hey guys, we are utilizing our buildings to half capacity but the electricity bill is not changing that much. What can be done?
Roland Siebelink: You must have had a good marketing presence or maybe public relations or a brand in the market. How did you get to that awareness of what you do and where you are, how people can reach you so that you can actually rely on inbound?
Emir Nurov: Me and my co-founder, we both come from an energy background. I spent the early stage of my career at REC Solar, it’s a Norwegian Solar Manufacturing company. I did R&D there, I did new market expansion, whereas my co-founder, she’s a mastermind of our solution. She got her PhD specifically focusing on developing control.
Both of us already had a certain level of presence in the energy market because energy space is not that big and people know each other. But then when we started Resync with a vision in mind, we went to a lot of conferences. We pitched at a lot of events. We, of course, tried to create as much awareness as possible. I think when you’re continuously going around and pitching the idea of digitalization, pitching the idea of smart energy, smart, efficient energy solutions, people get aware: “Oh, let me check out what this company does and let me find out a bit more.”
But then at the same time, I would say in the past five years, we managed to establish really good partnerships with big name companies. We are part of the SAP app store. We have partnerships with Hitachi, with Boston Consulting Group, with MacKenzi. That gave us a huge boost for market awareness, market presence, and establishing Resync as an energy efficient solution provider in the market.
Roland Siebelink: Can you talk a little bit how you even set up those partnerships? Because that’s something a lot of startups really struggle with.
Emir Nurov: Yes. It’s always a challenge to get the first partnership. As we used to say, me and my co-founder, we met as part of Entrepreneur First - it’s a London-based acceleration program. They always push us to be honey badgers. And as you are probably aware, honey badgers don’t see any obstacles in front of them. They try to find out the solution immediately. And that’s what we try to do. We try to honey badger our way toward some of the partnerships. And of course, once you get the first few clients, first few partnerships, that can snowball. People talk to the companies we talk to as well. Then they are like, “Hey, you do partnership with them. Why don’t we explore some solutions with you and with us as well?”
We were lucky enough to get that exposure to different types of clients and then different types of partners. Of course, it’s also a matter of how valuable your product is. All those partners, they see the value proposition in Resync and some uniqueness in Resync’s product so that they were willing to participate in this partnership and be part of this partnership and drive this solution into the market together.
Roland Siebelink: What do you think was that unique value that attracted so many clients as well as so many partners? They’d all been in that market for quite a while. What was so unique about your solution that nobody else could offer?
Emir Nurov: I think there are two factors that represent Resync in a very good and unique position. One is we resolved the biggest challenge that a lot of energy companies are facing, and that’s scalability. How to make sure that our solution can be scaled not to tens and hundreds but to thousands and ten thousands assets and units without any customization. And I think that was essential for our team to resolve, so we spent the first three years specifically focusing on developing our product backend in a way that is able to onboard different types of clients.
And that’s why we are quite agnostic to different market segments. We can serve office buildings, we can serve industrial facilities, we can serve retail and offices. It was surprising to a lot of partners and companies that, “Oh, you don’t need much customization. You can deploy a solution within one day. That’s interesting. Let me look and let me try it out.”
And the second factor is - of course, it’s always a compromise whether you scale quickly or whether you customize your solution and add a lot of value to the end user. And I think what we did at Resync, we found that sweet spot where we can still add a lot of value to the end user by taking control of their assets by digitizing their assets and saving on their energy users. But at the same time being very, very scalable.
Our go-to-market strategy is not going and knocking door by door and trying to get their assets or their portfolio into our solution. But rather go with partners, and partners have established market presence, established customer segments that we can tap in very quickly.
Roland Siebelink: Yes, exactly. Okay, very good. And when you do talk to partners, one thing many startups have to navigate is demands for exclusivity. How did you deal with that?
Emir Nurov: Yeah. It’s an interesting question. It depends on how much bargaining power you have, how interested, and how helpful your solution is. And at the same time, how many interested parties do you have? I won’t say that we had a lot of partners lined up to us and then we had to select them. But it’s always a tactics game as well. Sometimes we had to say no to certain partners, which were really, really good partners. Unfortunately, due to the demands and due to the vision that we had in mind, we said, “I’m sorry. We can’t really do exclusive partners because we foresee that there will be more players in this market who can help us, who we can partner with, so you can be either an early mover or we will have to pass on it.” We had to make some of those decisions as well down the road. But up to today, it worked out well with all the partners that we have partnered with.
Roland Siebelink: Emir, can you talk a little bit about your team? How big has it become? Which departments do you have? And how much do you invest in each? People always want to hear some details about how these teams actually grow.
Emir Nurov: Definitely. First of all, before I even start mentioning how big we are, I’m the one who does the talking but I think the real job and the real work is done by our team and team members, and we value them a lot.
Roland Siebelink: Thank you for that. That’s always very nice to say. I appreciate that.
Emir Nurov: That’s the reality. They’re hardworking, and I think the most important part, they also believe as much as we do into the mission and vision that Resync has. And that’s really, really important. Because, as every startup, we might not be the best paying, we might not be the best operating company, but with that vision, with that mission in mind, I think they compromise a lot, they work long hours themselves, even without us asking. Sometimes we have to tell them, “Hey guys, go back home, spend some time with family.”
It’s really pleasant, and at the same time, it’s motivating for us as well to work harder to grow bigger as well. Five years ago when me and Jay met, it was just the two of us, two youngsters in their late twenties with a vision and mission in mind. But five years down the road, we are a team of around 30 people at the moment. Predominantly located in Singapore but we have offices in India and in Thailand at the moment. We have a bunch of the software engineers, data scientists, and energy specialists who try to bring their minds together and ensure that there is a value proposition on a table for different types of end users.
Roland Siebelink: You said you’re about 30 people. How should I think of how you’ve divided them up? Are they mostly in sales and marketing? Are they mostly engineers? How is this set up?
Emir Nurov: At the moment, we are mostly software engineers and data scientists. As I mentioned earlier, one of the unique selling points of Resync is that we can scale very easily without market customization. And that’s why our sales and business development team is not that big. We have only three people at the moment in our business development team. With the entire portfolio that we have up to today and to achieve that portfolio with only three BD and salespeople is impressive. Not to brag, but I think it’s more to highlight the efforts that I think our tech team put in order to make our solutions scalable.
Roland Siebelink: Will you get 750 buildings online by the end of 2023 with those three people? That sounds very scalable.
Emir Nurov: So far, we put 150 and we are targeting more than 750 by the end of 2023.
Roland Siebelink: And do you think it’s enough capacity to get all of those deals up and running with those three people?
Emir Nurov: Of course, that’s the reason why we are currently expanding our team, not just locally but to the new markets as well. And I think that’s something that our investors are demanding as well because if you can do it with three people, why not hire more people and expand your solution to more customers. It’s just a matter of economics.
Roland Siebelink: Well, the classical answer would be how fast do you have to run to beat the competition? How is that market from your perspective? Is it that you’re so unique that you can go at your own pace or are others trying to steal your bread or rice and trying to get ahead of you?
Emir Nurov: Of course, in any industry, there will be competition and we can’t really say that we are so unique that we can take our time and expand. The competition is always healthy because this is something that is driving us to achieve more, achieve faster, and deliver more value proposition to the end user and continuously innovate.
Definitely, there is some competition in the market. There are some competitors. We do see new players. We do see large energy companies trying to penetrate into this market and trying to deliver similar solutions. Some of them even made acquisition offers to us. For us, we try to push to our best and to the limits of our best what we can, and then see how the market moves. But so far, it worked out well. And we have the belief of our investors and they’re quite supportive, so we tell them, “Hey, we need to be quick in this market. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit.” And they’re quite supportive in that sense. Sometimes we can be a bit aggressive as well. We say, “Hey, we can also expand to these markets,” but they say, “Hey, hold your horses.”
In general, not just a startup, but in general, the overall worldwide market is not doing the best at the moment. Instead of just looking to be a unicorn very quickly, it’s also the balance between being a camel. Just to sustain, maintain finances, and maintain the eagerness to grow a bit more.
I just read recently in one article that it was always to be profitable first and then think about scalability. And I think in the last three to five years, there was a lot of capital penetrated into startups that investors pushed everyone to grow, grow, grow quickly, and then start being profitable.
That’s the reason why I think in the last 12 months, we see the market bringing everyone back to reality. That’s the mindset that we are trying to keep. We are targeting to be profitable, to have operational stability, and then slowly expand. Of course, we do have some growth opportunities that we propose to our investors, and if they’re supportive of that, then we move ahead. But we are quite aware in terms of the market conditions and how to be cautious about expansion.
Roland Siebelink: Do you see differences between investors with more of a Southeast Asian background versus investors that have more of a Silicon Valley link to them in terms of how they position and prioritize growth versus profitability?
Emir Nurov: Yes. To be honest, yes. We spoke to quite a number of US VCs, North American VCs and quite a lot of Asian VCs. In Asia, as I said, it’s still the same mentality. Of course, it depends on how old the firm is, how many years they operate as well. But the same mentality in terms of: “What is your growth strategy? What is your profitability strategy? What is your monetization strategy? How scalable the product is and what is go-to-market fit and product-to-market fit?”
Those are sometimes tough questions but also questions that need to be answered by the startups. And I think it’s very important to stay aware - sometimes as founders, we tend to over believe in our own ideas. But I think it’s a good balance between investors and the founders. They look from the commercial perspective a lot. And then from founders, we look a lot from the ideation and the commercial. It’s a good balance to make sure that we are aware of all the aspects that need to be considered.
I think it’s always a good balance between investor needs and investor vision. And of course, the founder needs a founder vision.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned very quickly, Emir, your founder psychology. As founders, we also over believe in our own ideas. I think you need that to be crazy enough to start a company. But what have you learned from your own experience, your personality, new insights, new ways of thinking in those five years since you first started working on Resync.
Emir Nurov: To be honest, it’s an eye-opening experience. I’m a first time entrepreneur, so I can’t really compare too much. I can’t talk much about the things that I’ve learned in my previous companies and et cetera. But I think one really important thing that I learned for myself is that the sky’s the limit. There’s a lot of opportunities. There’s a lot of things that need to be done and can be. We just need the right people. We just need the right mindset. We just need to put in a bit of effort and we can achieve that. And I think that’s something that we’ve been doing in the last five years.
When I used to work in a corporation, I used to work there for five years at a Norwegian company. Everything was in place, everything proper. We follow certain standards, certain methodologies, and sometimes being out of the box and having an out-of-the-box mentality is not a good thing because you are an outlier in a mass movement of the corporate.
In startups, very interestingly, every opinion has value. It doesn’t matter whether you are an intern, whether you are an engineer, whether you are a leader or CEO or founder, everyone will listen to your opinion. They will take it into consideration. And then depending on who’s role, they make a decision. But at least they will hear you and they will discuss your opinions. That’s a very important thing because self-expression, as you said, some people are very crazy with their ideas, with the tech, or even as a personality. But I think that’s what makes startups really interesting and valuable, that all these ideas come together and build something that is not present in the market at the moment.
Roland Siebelink: Do you ever secretly miss not being in your well-organized Norwegian company anymore?
Emir Nurov: I won’t say that it’s not well organized. It’s a well-organized company, and to be honest, I learned a lot. I can’t say I will be a good founder without having those prerequisites because I’ve seen how the companies are operated, how it’s run, who are the different stakeholders, what are the different responsibilities, what different methodologies we had to take. Because I used to work in R&D, we used to get ideas from the lab and bring them all the way to mass manufacturing. And before you bring it to mass manufacturing, you have to go through so many stages, so many approvals. You need to make sure that you can see all the factors - economical, technological, operational, logistics, et cetera.
All these factors shape up your thought process, and at the same time, exposes you to different processes that need to be considered. And I think bringing that experience into the startup and working with young, very energetic engineers, it’s also our responsibility to educate them. It’s not only about the tech. You write 50 lines of code and things are working, but you need to consider these other factors because this is important for the project or for the product or for the company operations.
Roland Siebelink: Would you advise people to always get a bit of both - some startup experience, some corporate experience - especially when they’re young?
Emir Nurov: Definitely. I think especially when they’re young. I would suggest at the early stage of their career to go to the large companies, experience that large corporate life, experience those different techniques because those companies have been startups at some point of time as well. They built it up on certain cultures. They built it up on certain experiences. They built it up on certain techniques, they adopted those techniques. And I think it’s very important to learn - even if you might not be able to implement those techniques, at least to be aware of those techniques and understand why they were adopted, what is the value proposition of those techniques. And then see whether those techniques can be implemented in your own venture or maybe when you join startups, this is something that you can propose to implement.
Roland Siebelink: Perfect. Very good. Emir, this has been an amazing interview. Thank you so much. With people that have made it all the way to the end of this podcast, how can they find out more about Resync? Where should they go? What should they download? And how can they help you?
Emir Nurov: They can just type into Google Resync Technologies. That will be our website. They can reach out to us with either our email or directly our phone number. Add me on LinkedIn. I’ll be more than happy to speak to everyone based on time availability. We are quite open. We are more than happy to support. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a potential collaboration, investor, or even someone who is interested in working in startups or in the energy space. We are always happy to look into different profiles and see how they can contribute to the vision.
Roland Siebelink: Perfect. And where are you hiring people?
Emir Nurov: At the moment, Singapore, Thailand, and India. We are also expanding in the next six months to the Middle East and Australia.
Roland Siebelink: Perfect. Very good to hear. Well, thank you so much once again, Emir Nurov, the founder and CEO of Resync Tech. It’s been an honor to have you.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.