Origin story series
Origin story series

Origin Story Series W/ Martin Baart, ecoligo

Origin Story Series W/ Martin Baart, ecoligo
Brighter Future
Author:
Brighter Future
|
April 26, 2022

T

oday, we’re delighted to be speaking to Martin Baart from ecoligo, a company dedicated to tackling the climate crisis, making the world a better place to live, and transforming the world’s energy landscape for the better. Ecoligo uses crowd investing to provide fast and flexible funding solutions for clean energy systems in emerging markets, like Kenya and Vietnam. It provides a “solar-as-a-service” solution that reduces soaring energy costs for businesses while using clean, renewable energy and having a big impact on climate change.

T

oday, we’re delighted to be speaking to Martin Baart from ecoligo, a company dedicated to tackling the climate crisis, making the world a better place to live, and transforming the world’s energy landscape for the better. Ecoligo uses crowd investing to provide fast and flexible funding solutions for clean energy systems in emerging markets, like Kenya and Vietnam. It provides a “solar-as-a-service” solution that reduces soaring energy costs for businesses while using clean, renewable energy and having a big impact on climate change.

First of all, thank you so much for joining us today, Martin, It’s great to have the opportunity to speak to you. Let’s get this interview started with a simple question. Where are you from?

I come from a working-class family in the UK. I was actually the first in my family to graduate from university. I studied electrical engineering, as I knew early on that I wanted to work in this field. Specifically, I wanted to work in renewable energies in order to save the planet. After successfully finishing my bachelor’s degree, which was a dual degree in combination with an apprenticeship, I started an international dual master’s degree in business and engineering. During my studies, I was working in Australia for a leading renewable energy company. After a few years in Australia, where I worked on the international expansion of products that allow a higher share of renewable energies in power grids, I first moved back to Germany, then relocated to Spain. It was around this time that I joined a start-up focused on solar project development in East Africa. So, basically, I focused my whole career on renewable energies, but I also dived deeper into the topics of technology, sales, business development, and finance in between before I started ecoligo.

It’s incredible that you knew so early on that you wanted to be involved in this area. What made you take the leap from working for others in the industry to starting your own business?

It mostly came down to the fact that we had successfully identified a solution to a major problem in the renewable energies market. Knowing that we could really make a difference—to people and to the planet—kept us going and motivated in the early days. In fact, even to this day, creating a meaningful impact through our work and knowing that we are changing the planet for the better with each new project is highly motivating for the entire ecoligo team. I knew the results we could achieve were worth the risk, so I made that leap of faith and committed to making ecoligo a reality.

A sense of purpose and making a difference are always mentioned by the mission-driven entrepreneurs we interview. Do you feel the same? What motivates you to keep going?

As an entrepreneur, there are two elements that motivate me. The first one is the huge impact we can have on the climate crisis. With our solar projects, we actively avoid CO2 emissions in emerging markets, which is a fantastic achievement in and of itself. That we are able to successfully scale both our company and our impact only strengthens this feeling. On the other hand, I feel motived by the fact that we have built a company that is so impactful and rewarding that our team enjoys coming into work. That’s tough to achieve. It requires constant adaption to an ever-changing and growing company, but it is so worth it. In fact, ensuring that our team members have enjoyable jobs, a good work-life balance, and a work environment that enables them to grow and achieve the best in their positions is my second-highest priority, just after generating impact. Those two things are what motivate me most.

Ecoligo is an incredible business that is having a positive impact on the planet. When you think about those you are impacting most with your work, who comes to mind?

We built ecoligo to benefit every person who is currently living on this planet, as well as the future generations to come. Everyone should care about the climate crisis because there is no planet B. We should and must do everything we possibly can to ensure a safe and liveable planet for mankind.

We absolutely agree! There is nowhere to hide from this problem and no time waste. We know you were focused on the renewable energies market from the very start of your studies and career, but was there a particular moment when you decided it was time to make a change and pursue your own ideas in the market?

Actually, yes. At one point in my early career, I was transitioning from a founder-based company to a large corporate company. It struck me as so painfully obvious that in a corporate company, the actual impact you can have is very limited. The work is centred around politics, administration and dealing with internal matters. Only a fraction of your time is dedicated to real impact. In a founder-owned company, the situation is quite the opposite. This experience made me realise that in order to achieve my goal of helping to save the planet, I would have to start my own business. I knew that I had to be in a position where I could steer 100% of my time and my company’s time towards this one goal.

That’s a powerful realisation! Seeing and experiencing that environment for yourself probably clarified your next step. What other aspects of your previous career or life contributed to you founding ecoligo?

Great question! For a few years, I had been working in the solar industry in emerging markets. During that time, I noticed that no one really adjusted their way of doing business to the requirements of these markets, whether from a cultural or commercial perspective. Renewable energy companies took the same approach to selling solar systems here as they would in other parts of the world, including trying to sell systems with high up-front costs that almost no company in these markets could afford. So, naturally, they barely sold any. It was painstakingly obvious that new and innovative business models were needed to bring more solar systems into emerging markets. It was as a result of this first-hand observation that my co-founder and I came up with the idea of offering long-term contracts, so-called “power purchase agreements”, while raising the desired capital through crowd investors in Germany. This model was extremely unique. In fact, it was so unique and complex that everyone we spoke to told us that we wouldn’t succeed. However, we were convinced by our solution, and because we were experts in the markets we worked in, we knew we were onto something. I think our success today proves us right.

That’s incredible. Even with your wealth of knowledge, industry expertise and first-hand experience, people still doubted your idea. You spoke about a lack of adaptability on the part of some companies in the industry. Being adaptable is a core skill for entrepreneurs. Could you share with us a time when perhaps things went in a different direction, for better or worse, than you had originally planned?

Sure! Life always throws up twists and turns that take us off the path we had planned for ourselves. For example, I lived and worked in Australia for two years. After coming back to Germany, I was adamant that I was going to return to Australia for many years to come. But for various reasons, and despite wanting to go back so badly, I never took another job offer in Australia. The plan just never materialised. I was quite sad about that for a long time, as I had never really wanted to leave in the first place. But if I had returned there, I am pretty sure I would have never started ecoligo, and my life would have turned out quite differently. I’m not sure my career would be as fulfilling as it is today. Right now, I am very satisfied with my life as an entrepreneur. It has allowed me to grow tremendously. So, even though my plan didn’t come to pass, I adapted and somehow ended up exactly where I needed to be.

Funny how that happens! We’re grateful that ecoligo exists today. Being an entrepreneur is not all fun and games, though. Failure is a real part of the process. Is there anything you consider a failure in your journey, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure is that, early on, I did not accept the fact that there are limits to what I can do and what I am good at. I had to come to an understanding that there are some things I need to unlearn or relearn. Accepting that I simply do not and cannot know everything was quite a challenge. Another failure on my part was not giving my team more ownership over tasks. I can admit that I micromanaged them too much. That was a tough time for my team. When I finally managed to let go of responsibilities and stop managing them too closely, everything flowed much more smoothly. I’ve learned and grown a lot from my failures.

Letting go is so difficult for many entrepreneurs. It’s not all negative, though. Ideas, solutions and “aha!” moments flow through you when you’re so connected to every aspect of the business. Do you ever experience these “aha!” moments, where something just clicks into place?

Yes! I experience most of my “aha!” moments just before I fall asleep at night. My brain goes into rest mode before I go to bed, and that seems to free up some capacity to think about unsolved challenges. It’s incredible how solutions can just arrive in your conscious mind, as if from nowhere, when you’re not actively trying to find them.

Yes! The unconscious brain is always silently working on solving problems. It seems building a business is a 24/7 commitment, whether we want it to be or not. All entrepreneurs make these little sacrifices, as well as some pretty big ones in some cases! What kinds of sacrifices did you make in order to ensure ecoligo would be a success?

In the first year after ecoligo was founded, we had little to no income. It took us several years to be able to live on our salaries as entrepreneurs. And that’s in addition to the burden of having to invest a lot of our personal savings into the company. This type of financial stress can become unbearable, especially when the situation is so tight that having a social life becomes almost impossible. In addition to that, I was working 60 to 80 hours every week for a few years straight. That basically means I had to work every evening and every weekend. Being an entrepreneur is extremely tough. It’s definitely not something to be taken lightly.

Again and again, the two biggest sacrifices entrepreneurs highlight are time and money, especially in those early years. It’s a huge change from being an employee with defined hours and a consistent salary. The world itself is going through a period of great change right now. And just like starting a business, we all have to make sacrifices in the hope of securing a better future. How do you envision the future?

In my view, there is only one constant in life: change. Change has always been part of life on this planet and it will continue to be an important part of our lived experience. It is just that, in our perception, these changes are happening faster than ever before. In my opinion, the biggest change ahead of us is the huge threat that is the climate crisis. But I am still optimistic that, as humans, we can tackle and ultimately overcome this challenge before it’s too late. For me, I think society at large is already very aware of the things that went wrong in the past and is willing to make changes faster and more radically than ever before. I think the future is bright if we continue to adapt and innovate in positive ways.

Legacy is another common theme that comes up when we speak to entrepreneurs. When future generations look back on your life and your work with ecoligo, how would you like them to remember you?

I would like people to remember me as the person whose motto was “saving the planet” long before Fridays for Future was around, long before the climate crisis was ever-present in the media, and long before sustainability was a hot topic. And then I would like them to look at what we have achieved with ecoligo. I’d like people to be impressed by the impact we created in emerging markets thanks to our clean, climate-friendly energy solutions. In an ideal world, they’d see that ecoligo pioneered the energy transition in emerging markets, and that I was the one who initiated it.

That’s quite a legacy to leave behind! There are so many creative and innovative up-and-coming entrepreneurs who could learn a lot from someone with your experience. What advice would you give to them as they embark on their own journeys?

I would recommend that entrepreneurs just starting out today get themselves a more experienced founder as a mentor or coach. Then talk to them on a regular basis to absorb as much of their knowledge as humanly possible. Almost all founders face the same major challenges when starting a company, so they could easily help those starting out to successfully overcome them or at least avoid the most common pitfalls or setbacks.

Great advice! Sharing knowledge and helping others to launch is and will continue to be a huge part of how we progress as a species and overcome global problems, like climate change! We’re so grateful that you’ve taken the time to share your knowledge and experience, as well as your start-up story, with us at Brighter Future. We’ll leave you with this final question: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Save the planet!

--------------

A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Martin from ecoligo! If you would like to find out more about Martin and ecoligo, you can find him at: www.ecoligo.com

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing entrepreneurs like Martin, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

First of all, thank you so much for joining us today, Martin, It’s great to have the opportunity to speak to you. Let’s get this interview started with a simple question. Where are you from?

I come from a working-class family in the UK. I was actually the first in my family to graduate from university. I studied electrical engineering, as I knew early on that I wanted to work in this field. Specifically, I wanted to work in renewable energies in order to save the planet. After successfully finishing my bachelor’s degree, which was a dual degree in combination with an apprenticeship, I started an international dual master’s degree in business and engineering. During my studies, I was working in Australia for a leading renewable energy company. After a few years in Australia, where I worked on the international expansion of products that allow a higher share of renewable energies in power grids, I first moved back to Germany, then relocated to Spain. It was around this time that I joined a start-up focused on solar project development in East Africa. So, basically, I focused my whole career on renewable energies, but I also dived deeper into the topics of technology, sales, business development, and finance in between before I started ecoligo.

It’s incredible that you knew so early on that you wanted to be involved in this area. What made you take the leap from working for others in the industry to starting your own business?

It mostly came down to the fact that we had successfully identified a solution to a major problem in the renewable energies market. Knowing that we could really make a difference—to people and to the planet—kept us going and motivated in the early days. In fact, even to this day, creating a meaningful impact through our work and knowing that we are changing the planet for the better with each new project is highly motivating for the entire ecoligo team. I knew the results we could achieve were worth the risk, so I made that leap of faith and committed to making ecoligo a reality.

A sense of purpose and making a difference are always mentioned by the mission-driven entrepreneurs we interview. Do you feel the same? What motivates you to keep going?

As an entrepreneur, there are two elements that motivate me. The first one is the huge impact we can have on the climate crisis. With our solar projects, we actively avoid CO2 emissions in emerging markets, which is a fantastic achievement in and of itself. That we are able to successfully scale both our company and our impact only strengthens this feeling. On the other hand, I feel motived by the fact that we have built a company that is so impactful and rewarding that our team enjoys coming into work. That’s tough to achieve. It requires constant adaption to an ever-changing and growing company, but it is so worth it. In fact, ensuring that our team members have enjoyable jobs, a good work-life balance, and a work environment that enables them to grow and achieve the best in their positions is my second-highest priority, just after generating impact. Those two things are what motivate me most.

Ecoligo is an incredible business that is having a positive impact on the planet. When you think about those you are impacting most with your work, who comes to mind?

We built ecoligo to benefit every person who is currently living on this planet, as well as the future generations to come. Everyone should care about the climate crisis because there is no planet B. We should and must do everything we possibly can to ensure a safe and liveable planet for mankind.

We absolutely agree! There is nowhere to hide from this problem and no time waste. We know you were focused on the renewable energies market from the very start of your studies and career, but was there a particular moment when you decided it was time to make a change and pursue your own ideas in the market?

Actually, yes. At one point in my early career, I was transitioning from a founder-based company to a large corporate company. It struck me as so painfully obvious that in a corporate company, the actual impact you can have is very limited. The work is centred around politics, administration and dealing with internal matters. Only a fraction of your time is dedicated to real impact. In a founder-owned company, the situation is quite the opposite. This experience made me realise that in order to achieve my goal of helping to save the planet, I would have to start my own business. I knew that I had to be in a position where I could steer 100% of my time and my company’s time towards this one goal.

That’s a powerful realisation! Seeing and experiencing that environment for yourself probably clarified your next step. What other aspects of your previous career or life contributed to you founding ecoligo?

Great question! For a few years, I had been working in the solar industry in emerging markets. During that time, I noticed that no one really adjusted their way of doing business to the requirements of these markets, whether from a cultural or commercial perspective. Renewable energy companies took the same approach to selling solar systems here as they would in other parts of the world, including trying to sell systems with high up-front costs that almost no company in these markets could afford. So, naturally, they barely sold any. It was painstakingly obvious that new and innovative business models were needed to bring more solar systems into emerging markets. It was as a result of this first-hand observation that my co-founder and I came up with the idea of offering long-term contracts, so-called “power purchase agreements”, while raising the desired capital through crowd investors in Germany. This model was extremely unique. In fact, it was so unique and complex that everyone we spoke to told us that we wouldn’t succeed. However, we were convinced by our solution, and because we were experts in the markets we worked in, we knew we were onto something. I think our success today proves us right.

That’s incredible. Even with your wealth of knowledge, industry expertise and first-hand experience, people still doubted your idea. You spoke about a lack of adaptability on the part of some companies in the industry. Being adaptable is a core skill for entrepreneurs. Could you share with us a time when perhaps things went in a different direction, for better or worse, than you had originally planned?

Sure! Life always throws up twists and turns that take us off the path we had planned for ourselves. For example, I lived and worked in Australia for two years. After coming back to Germany, I was adamant that I was going to return to Australia for many years to come. But for various reasons, and despite wanting to go back so badly, I never took another job offer in Australia. The plan just never materialised. I was quite sad about that for a long time, as I had never really wanted to leave in the first place. But if I had returned there, I am pretty sure I would have never started ecoligo, and my life would have turned out quite differently. I’m not sure my career would be as fulfilling as it is today. Right now, I am very satisfied with my life as an entrepreneur. It has allowed me to grow tremendously. So, even though my plan didn’t come to pass, I adapted and somehow ended up exactly where I needed to be.

Funny how that happens! We’re grateful that ecoligo exists today. Being an entrepreneur is not all fun and games, though. Failure is a real part of the process. Is there anything you consider a failure in your journey, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure is that, early on, I did not accept the fact that there are limits to what I can do and what I am good at. I had to come to an understanding that there are some things I need to unlearn or relearn. Accepting that I simply do not and cannot know everything was quite a challenge. Another failure on my part was not giving my team more ownership over tasks. I can admit that I micromanaged them too much. That was a tough time for my team. When I finally managed to let go of responsibilities and stop managing them too closely, everything flowed much more smoothly. I’ve learned and grown a lot from my failures.

Letting go is so difficult for many entrepreneurs. It’s not all negative, though. Ideas, solutions and “aha!” moments flow through you when you’re so connected to every aspect of the business. Do you ever experience these “aha!” moments, where something just clicks into place?

Yes! I experience most of my “aha!” moments just before I fall asleep at night. My brain goes into rest mode before I go to bed, and that seems to free up some capacity to think about unsolved challenges. It’s incredible how solutions can just arrive in your conscious mind, as if from nowhere, when you’re not actively trying to find them.

Yes! The unconscious brain is always silently working on solving problems. It seems building a business is a 24/7 commitment, whether we want it to be or not. All entrepreneurs make these little sacrifices, as well as some pretty big ones in some cases! What kinds of sacrifices did you make in order to ensure ecoligo would be a success?

In the first year after ecoligo was founded, we had little to no income. It took us several years to be able to live on our salaries as entrepreneurs. And that’s in addition to the burden of having to invest a lot of our personal savings into the company. This type of financial stress can become unbearable, especially when the situation is so tight that having a social life becomes almost impossible. In addition to that, I was working 60 to 80 hours every week for a few years straight. That basically means I had to work every evening and every weekend. Being an entrepreneur is extremely tough. It’s definitely not something to be taken lightly.

Again and again, the two biggest sacrifices entrepreneurs highlight are time and money, especially in those early years. It’s a huge change from being an employee with defined hours and a consistent salary. The world itself is going through a period of great change right now. And just like starting a business, we all have to make sacrifices in the hope of securing a better future. How do you envision the future?

In my view, there is only one constant in life: change. Change has always been part of life on this planet and it will continue to be an important part of our lived experience. It is just that, in our perception, these changes are happening faster than ever before. In my opinion, the biggest change ahead of us is the huge threat that is the climate crisis. But I am still optimistic that, as humans, we can tackle and ultimately overcome this challenge before it’s too late. For me, I think society at large is already very aware of the things that went wrong in the past and is willing to make changes faster and more radically than ever before. I think the future is bright if we continue to adapt and innovate in positive ways.

Legacy is another common theme that comes up when we speak to entrepreneurs. When future generations look back on your life and your work with ecoligo, how would you like them to remember you?

I would like people to remember me as the person whose motto was “saving the planet” long before Fridays for Future was around, long before the climate crisis was ever-present in the media, and long before sustainability was a hot topic. And then I would like them to look at what we have achieved with ecoligo. I’d like people to be impressed by the impact we created in emerging markets thanks to our clean, climate-friendly energy solutions. In an ideal world, they’d see that ecoligo pioneered the energy transition in emerging markets, and that I was the one who initiated it.

That’s quite a legacy to leave behind! There are so many creative and innovative up-and-coming entrepreneurs who could learn a lot from someone with your experience. What advice would you give to them as they embark on their own journeys?

I would recommend that entrepreneurs just starting out today get themselves a more experienced founder as a mentor or coach. Then talk to them on a regular basis to absorb as much of their knowledge as humanly possible. Almost all founders face the same major challenges when starting a company, so they could easily help those starting out to successfully overcome them or at least avoid the most common pitfalls or setbacks.

Great advice! Sharing knowledge and helping others to launch is and will continue to be a huge part of how we progress as a species and overcome global problems, like climate change! We’re so grateful that you’ve taken the time to share your knowledge and experience, as well as your start-up story, with us at Brighter Future. We’ll leave you with this final question: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Save the planet!

--------------

A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Martin from ecoligo! If you would like to find out more about Martin and ecoligo, you can find him at: www.ecoligo.com

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing entrepreneurs like Martin, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.