Life Lessons: David Helliwell

The CEO and co-founder of Pulse Energy learned the importance of reassessing strategy to build your business

Energy-use software company Pulse Energy was fortunate enough to get off to a great start. It was launched in the market with the University of British Columbia as a customer before the company even had a product.

"They found the story about what we were planning to build compelling enough that they signed on to be partners through the construction of it," said CEO and co-founder David Helliwell.

Pulse software allows customers to monitor their building's power consumption. The data is then used to increase energy efficiency. Pulse initially sold its software directly to building owners and managers. But four years later, Helliwell realized that the company needed to shift its distribution strategy to target utilities, because Pulse's target customers were slow market adaptors.

"They were interested," he said, "but it just wasn't a big deal to them."

Utilities, on the other hand, "have access to millions of customers' data already, [so] we didn't have to do data integration building by building anymore, and that was a drastic reduction in our costs."

Pulse cut its staff from about 60 employees to 40.

"Letting people go when you've got an extraordinary team is a hard thing," said Helliwell. "But it was really important in getting the whole company aligned around the direction of just selling to utilities, and now we're riding on a high like we never have before."

Helliwell came up with the idea to shift his company's distribution angle while he was on his first vacation in about three years, and since then he has placed great value on his spare time.

"My wife and I have a deal where a few times a year she'll play a card that's good for 24 hours with no work calls or emails. Being unplugged for a bit does help clear the mind to think about the strategic issues more clearly when you come back."

He has also learned to buffer his family from the ups and downs of daily business.

"Being in a startup, you feel the highs and lows deeply, and it's such an exciting ride. But we've agreed that it works better for our family if I just give more periodic updates when we actually sign purchase orders."

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