Awesense’s Mischa Steiner on Being in the Business of Saving the Planet

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4 min read

Mischa Steiner  remembers hearing a question posed by Peter Thiel which became a mantra for him: What is something you believe to be true, that no one else believes? For Steiner, it was that “on one hand we had to save the planet. On the other hand I was quite certain that the energy transition was going to make the internet pale in terms of economic opportunity.”

That belief was critical in overcoming the hurdles that came with creating Awesense. The company is an enterprise that has large industrial and utility companies as their customers. Selling to utility companies comes with extremely high barriers of entry, such as a very long sales cycle. With sheer will, Steiner was able to persevere.

Awesense’s Mischa Steiner on Being in the Business of Saving the Planet Click To Tweet

Awesense  employed a three phase strategy to achieve the positioning it wanted. While the business model was always based around being a software company, phase one involved building hardware in order to collect data from the grid. During phase two, they used that data to build their software analytics package. It was that product which ensured the company’s success. Their software analytics package offers customers something which nobody else can offer. “It’s not that just that what we do is 10 times better. I always talk about building products that are at least 10x better and 10x more cost efficient so you have a 100x spread. But we do things that nobody else can do with data.”

While the creation of the second phase meant the company could offer an invaluable product, Awesense realized that they would never be able to build all the algorithms and applications necessary for the energy transition. For software companies, it would be a simple matter to use a token on an API to exchange data, but in enterprise that is much more difficult, and amongst utility companies, such sharing is not common. It was taking this basic idea from software, and building a platform to easily share data with partners, that allowed Awesense to enter into its third phase as a trusted mediator of decarbonization solutions offering middleware that everyone will soon need.

Awesense’s Mischa Steiner on Being in the Business of Saving the Planet Click To Tweet

Steiner thought he’d get to phase 3 much sooner, “it’s not an overnight thing. I think that’s probably what’s hardest to wrap your head around when you’re an entrepreneur and trying to have impact.” And there has been no lack of challenges. “What you see is everybody else being successful, you only see the salacious stories, but you don’t see the hard work. You don’t see how you struggle.”

For Steiner the hardest part came in late 2016. Nearly killed in a crash while bicycling to work, Awesense lost a $15 million deal and then were sued by a company out of the blue, all in short order. Steiner describes it as a “deep dark valley to get out of” with his team going from 65 to six at one point. When things were at their worst, Steiner did the only thing he could: “if you have that belief and that driving force then you can get up the next morning when you’re in the valley of despair and you have no idea how you’re going to meet payroll and you just get up the next morning and work.” Right now things are looking good for Awesense; word recently came in that they triumphed in the lawsuit. Yet, even far from the valley of despair, Steiner is guided by that driving force.

“It’s not an overnight thing. I think that’s probably what’s hardest to wrap your head around when you’re an entrepreneur and trying to have impact.” - @mischa_steiner Click To Tweet

Join fnVancouver Chapter for a virtual dinner/happy hour, where Mischa Steiner of the FN April ‘15 cohort will share a short talk about his founder journey and he’ll discuss:

  • The importance of a vision you believe in
  • Offering a product that no one else has
  • Creating a viable business plan to achieve impact
  • Relying on hard work to move through the hard times
  • Using innovations from a different industry

Afterwards, the leadership of Founders Network Vancouver chapter will lead a roundtable discussion. Register here.

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Read more by Founders Network

Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.