Kevin Stevens
Kevin Stevens
California Blacks Out

California Blacks Out

This weekend California was hit by rolling blackouts for the first time since the days of Enron.

Several media outlets explored the possibility of rolling blackouts and many speculated on their causes. But, Greentech Media’s coverage caught my eye for a different reason.

OhmConnect operates a fleet of 150,000 residential customers in California, to whom it sends notices to reduce usage at key times. The company also controls 50,000 home devices in the state, which it can cycle on and off remotely.

150,000 seems large until you realize California is a state with 11.5M residential households. Realistically, 50,000-75,000 is the number for purposes of alleviating strain on the grid since we can’t assume that all 150k households participate in each event.

So, OhmConnect has, at best, a 1.3% market share in the most progressive state, with the best incentives, and some of the highest energy rates in the country on a per kWh basis. Theoretically, it should be the perfect market for their service.

This should serve as a warning for startups tackling consumer energy.

Similar to the hobbyists that jump-started the tech revolution of the 70s and 80s, energy has a passionate subset of early adopters. Simon Mahan is a great example.

In his blog post “25k miles, $0 fuel cost. How?”, Simon details the steps he took to optimize his energy consumption by leveraging a time-of-use energy product. Simon is the customer that seeks out YOU, but unfortunately he’s also the exception to the rule.

Moore’s Crossing the Chasm is the bible for customer adoption, but there is danger in applying his theories too broadly. Not all chasms are the same size, and in energy, they vary wildly due to policy, ideology, and grid capability. As B2C energy startup, you have zero control over 2/3 of these variables

California is ideologically perfect for smart grid solutions that help consumers reduce their carbon footprint. State incentives and a high per kWh price of energy create a great economic environment. A modern distribution grid (transmission is another story) enables consumers to participate and achieve maximum return.

The chasm in California from early-adopter to early-majority should be the smallest of any customer segment.

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Customers between the early-adopter and late-majority segments are the highest cost customers any company will ever acquire. The chasm varies by market and its width determines the amount of time you’ll spend acquiring the most expensive customers.

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In the early days, ideology drives adoption. Consumers are attracted to your mission or see themselves as innovators on the cutting edge. The next set of customers adopt as they see more innovators adopting. After the early-majority, brand recognition takes hold and customers again find you.

But, the middle is no-man’s (or woman’s) land. This traps generalist investors and founders new to the sector. The early adopters are reminiscent of tech-adopters, passionate, cutting edge, and public about their views. The mental models kick-in and assumptions are made about future adoption, but unless you’ve seen it, the chasm is a canyon.