Q&A with Military Veteran Entrepreneur Tom Roberts - Founder of Powersage
In this military veteran entrepreneur spotlight we had the opportunity to chat with Tom Roberts, former Ohio National Guard member and founder of PowerSage. PowerSage is an in-home energy management solution. A device connects at the circuit level to provide specific appliance outputs and real-time usage amounts, while a mobile app offers consumption alerts and savings suggestions.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?
I am a naturally curious individual that focuses on the possibilities of situations and designing solutions to complex problems. My engineering background instills a methodical and systematic approach to my testing and problem solving activities, while passion for customer service and branding guide my interactions.
I have two goals in everything I do:
- Be recognized as one of the best at whatever I choose to do.
- Be exemplary, always conscious of the legacy I leave for others.
What is your military background?
I served in the Ohio Air National Guard from 1986-1992, with the 121st Tactical Fighter Wing at Rickenbacker ANG, working on the electronic warfare systems on A-7D aircraft.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
I started PowerSage in the Fall of 2015, after working for more than 10 years in the multifamily industry, and hearing the complaints of residents who question why their bills are so high. These residents pay a higher portion of their income on utilities and have the least influence over their bills as they can’t change the energy efficiency of their home or their appliances. I’m driven to solve problems by leveraging data to make informed decisions. Coupling this passion with a desire to help others, I aim to help more than 25% of Americans save money on their utility bills.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
For residents, I answer the questions they have about their utility bills and give them personalized advice on their behaviors to help them save money. For apartment property managers, PowerSage provides a desired amenity that helps attract and retain renters, while saving them money on common areas and vacant unit consumption, and alerting them to appliances needing repair.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
Unlike competitors that are trying to determine what appliances are using electricity from the whole house consumption, PowerSage monitors consumption on each major appliance, isolating and tracking the power usage pattern by appliance manufacturer and model, to provide the most detailed and accurate information.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
I’m actually still battling it. There is a perception (with some truth to it) that property managers don’t care about energy efficiency because they don’t pay the utility bills. Because of that, property managers focus on the cost of the solution, not the benefits. They are conservative and want a proven ROI before acting. Unlike other amenities like pools, fitness centers, and dog parks, PowerSage reducesoperating costs, while helping attract and retain renters. I am working with utility providers to help pilot the solution and gather ROI data.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful.
You never know where you may get some leads. Talk it up and share with others.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
I tried to get some initial funding during the early stages of the company, but really lacked (and still do) the knowledge of how to get in front of different angel investors. If I were to do it over, I would seek additional founders who were just as passionate as I am and willing to work to make the business succeed.
Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Where do I go to find accredited angel investors? How do I get to the decision makers of the companies I am targeting?
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
My challenges are mostly related to sales. These include having the personnel, time, and sales skills to just pound through it. Part of the skills involves changing the conversation from cost to benefits.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
That’s a tough one. I can’t identify any at this point.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
Visit us at powersage.com and request PowerSage for your apartment community. Check out our videos on youtube.com/powersage, and help spread the word on social media!
What advice can you offer to other Veteran entrepreneurs?
If you don’t know, ask. Listen to critical feedback – it is the most valuable. Believe in yourself