Co-Founder and CTO
Most people think that starting a company is about having a good idea. This is probably true in some cases, but today I used Slack, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which began their existence in a form that would be difficult to recognize today. Early stage investors tend to emphasize the strength of the “team” as a critical element in their decision criteria. Just as no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, it is rare that any new company evolves the way its first pitch deck describes. Reality tends to be stubborn. It’s almost entirely certain that companies end up looking a lot different three years after their founding than they describe in their first pitch decks and the quality of the team more or less determines how well a company adapts.
So, if a team matters to such a large extent, how does one go about building a team?
At the end of the day, to build a team you have to convince people to give up what they are currently doing for some improbable outcome that will more than likely end up in pain and suffering. This is why people start companies in their dorms.
The more strategic question is who you should try to recruit to your team. What are the characteristics of a great co-founder? There are some pat answers here, such as a complementary skill-set, a suitable temperament, and a willingness to take on risk. But there are also intangibles that reduce to the relationship you develop with people over time.
I first met Hassan Shaban when he reached out to me at Open Energy Efficiency (before we became Recurve). He was working at ICF and ready for a change of pace. I politely told him to check back in 6 months, as we had no immediate plans to expand our data science team. I also wondered how someone working at a billion plus dollar consulting firm would manage in a small startup. Six months later, I got permission to hire Hassan and I immediately regretted not hiring him sooner.
At the time, our company was trying to figure out how to implement a system for measurement and verification of energy efficiency savings using meter data. We were working on methods that would calculate daily energy savings. But our goal was to get to a point where we could calculate savings on an hourly basis. Hassan and I decided to give it a try, but with one catch. We would figure it out in public, in real time, with bi-weekly webinars that would be open to anyone who wanted to join. If we fell on our face, our entire industry would see it.
So we simultaneously worked on analyzing massive datasets as well as figuring out a set of methods that would meet the requirements of utilities to pay different amounts for energy savings at different times of day. Hassan figured out how to adapt an existing demand response model to be able to manage annual savings roll-ups. We put our heads together around error metrics and looked at the differences between commercial and residential buildings. After nearly a year of grueling work we reached consensus with industry stakeholders and formally contributed the CalTRACK 2.0 methods to LF Energy as part of its charter class of open-source projects.
The bonds of creative collaboration are strong. I sought out Hassan’s counsel as I started working on WattCarbon. In the meantime, he had started his own consulting practice focused on inclusive decarbonization. He knew the pain of measuring carbon as acutely as anyone. He helped steer me towards the right questions to ask and the use cases that really mattered. I asked him to help me get the company off the ground and he happily obliged. When our first customer threw us a curveball (we needed to cook up wind and solar production models) Hassan had new models ready in a matter of weeks.
There is no person in the world as well-suited to developing an energy decarbonization platform than Hassan. His grace under pressure, his deft communication skills (ask him to explain something and you’ll get a great analogy alongside a deep understanding of the issue at hand), and his fearlessness in the face of new challenges all combine to perfectly situate him as the intellectual leader of our company.
That’s why I was thrilled when Hassan agreed to become a co-founder and the CTO of WattCarbon. Between deep domain expertise, broad technical skills, and a visionary sense of what’s possible with data, Hassan improves our company in every possible way. At the end of the day, the best kind of co-founder is one who is not just better than you at some important part of the company, but also someone who makes you better in the work that you do. In this regard, in my life I have never worked with someone who fits this description better than Hassan. Thanks for coming on board, old friend.