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Innovation in sustainability paying less the more (green energy) your consume, with a touch of jazz

We interviewed ebbf member Arash Aazami founder and CEO of BAS Energie, an innovator in the area of finance and sustainable energy who also keynoted at a number of ebbf events (see on ebbf’s slideshare channel one of his presentations)

ebbf question: Arash Aazami, you have over 10 years experience in the sustainable entrepreneurial business, but as we see from this image of yours, your first passion and work was as a musician, isn’t that a bit of a jump?

Arash Aazami: Yes, I studied music and I often get asked how did you start studying jazz music and then move into the energy business, but I see it as a perfectly logical flow and connection. Studying jazz, you learn all about managing chaos and poverty and in the sustainability industry there is plenty of both to manage. Actually there is something else that I learnt from my time touring as a jazz musician: I was sometimes asked at the last minute to substitute a guitar player in a group at a gig; what I did there was to first listen to how the band played, experience the dynamics of the group, tune into that and then find a way to play along whilst trying to add whatever flavour was required from me.

That is very much the principle I used when I entered my first job in a new company or business situation and that I have always been keen to put into practice since then: listen, attune and then offer the best you have to offer within the culture and objectives of that organisation. So starting my life in jazz music was the perfect headstart for my business career.

ebbf: you are the CEO and founder of BAS energie, how would you define your company and why does it exist? What does it aim to achieve? Arash: My company’s aim is to enable energy users to be independent of other people’s energy sources. We do that by putting energy consumption into a financial model that works like a mortgage: you pay certain amount of money over time and a decreasing percentage of that amount is spent on fossil fuels and necessity of other people’s fuel and an increasing amount is invested in creating your own energy resources.

We help and encourage our clients move from consumers to producers of their own energy.

If you think about it, in nature there is no organism that is dependent on other organisms for its energy. They all have their way to fulfil their own energy needs: plants need sunlight, animals need to find food, humans have done that for thousands of years but in the last hundred or so years we have given up that control of our energy, to companies who field oil or produce energy for us. In nature you’d be on your way to extinction if you were to give away control of your energy.

We world with customers to regain control of their energy.

ebbf: we were impressed by your “the less energy they use, the more we earn” new financial paradigm that you created, how did you come about this model?

Arash: I had set up an energy supply company, before I started with BAS Energie, and I noticed that whilst all energy companies describe themselves and market themselves as sustainable companies, their whole financial model is still based on selling as much energy as they can, as their revenues remain proportional to the  amount of the energy that they sell.

Wouldn’t it be great if we created a company which would make more money as they helped its clients use less energy?

So we did not focus on energy supply but on energy economy at a consumer level. By looking at lighting  and heating of a company’s buildings, the kind of roof, its insulation, especially if you view the selection, the whole energy economy, opened up a whole array of solutions and that is where we came about with this mortgage-like financial model, where your energy is yours.

ebbf: how does one develop a new model like this one, what was your process of creation? Arash: I definitely did not do this on my own but in consultation with different groups of individuals and going through a number of iterations. When I was still working in another energy selling business, I started to first implement it there, but it actually went against the revenue model of the more energy you sell, the more profit you make and I quickly noticed how I was having difficulty in getting acceptance there.

I then had many meaningful conversations between 2007 and 2009 where the model was refined. Many of them at ebbf conferences, the kind of conversations that I define as life changing. In many of those conversations people would react so very enthusiastically and give great ideas, I specifically remember conversations with Laurent Staudt and Graham Boyd whom I had met at past ebbf events. But as I presented this idea to other people, specially people from the energy business I instead received very negative feedback. They were strongly objecting to those principles but this did not dishearten me. I actually  needed that resistance as it really pushed me to strengthen both the model and the story around it.

People from this business, from the sustainable energy sector, they are the experts, regardless of the fact they were doing business in the same old way it has been done for the last 30 years, they still needed to be convinced to then allow them to adopt it .

In fact along the way we had some down moments, some pretty big ones, but I never had the feeling I should not be doing this. The moments when things were going very wrong, I persisted as I strongly felt that first of all the world needed a solution like this one, and second … because I can and therefore I should pursue this with all my energy.

The world needs this kind of solution – Why me? Because I can

ebbf: implicit in this “why me? because I can” is a way in which you view the potential of people, what is it?

Arash: Talking about what people can or are aware of what they can do, makes me realise so often that people don’t give themselves enough credit. Everyone is born for a purpose and somehow in our culture we forget about it or deny the strength we have inside of us. For me it’s been a journey, a long journey, I had big ups and big downs before making an important realisation: that by performing hard and and trying to reach the highest possible level of success, I was not pushing myself for my sake but instead contributing and enriching the whole world around me.  With that kind of responsibility, your energy is increased manifold and so is what you can achieve.

ebbf: how do you suggest that people focus their energies? what have you learnt?

Arash: I have been reminded a lot of Steven Covey’s three concentric circles theory of influence: with the smallest circles being influence, the second larger one being interest, and the third biggest one being world. We are lured in putting so much energy in things we cannot influence  so that we are left with little energy left to dedicate what to influence. So we are effectively wasting energy (as you can see this theme of energy is always on my mind [smiling]) on what we cannot change.  By really thinking about my own area of influence, of where my energy would make a difference, that is where I realised what I could achieve in life.

CHECK: We are always blaming our means, our surrounding, our teachers but I believe the answer lies within ourselves. In fact this is how innovation is born if we try to make use of what is available to us we are going to achieve nothing as the key to accieveging is within ourselves

ebbf: What are the key principles of your company? Arash: 1- simplicity: everything we do and say has to be understandable to everyone 2- unity: whatever the solution, it has to be an integrated solution, no partial decision on its own, just like the iPad is the integrated solution where hardware / operating system / and Apps have all been embedded to their highest potential. There is practically no choice required by the consumer, so that the user can use all their attention and energy to get the best out of that ideal combination.

But also as an organisation being one unified whole. For example we don’t have departments. We don’t have specific group of people who take care of sales OR of a project management department: we are all responsible to achieve the same purpose, we are all responsible to bring our customers towards energy independence.

So I don’t label people as you are sales you pick the phone … we don’t assign tasks but we do assign roles to people, because in a task people cannot grow but in a role they can and I believe that is one way of creating a sense of unity and to empower; which takes me to the third principle of BAS.

3- ownership: if a person has a customer he is everyone’s customer if he asks a question whoever receives it has the responsibility reply to it

ebbf: how do you choose your people? 

Arash: I am learning to choose wisely, it does not always go as we wish, one of the things I quit doing six years ago or so was reading CVs as they bias you, they give you a certain image of a person that you have not met before and then you are expected to make a choice based on that preconception. So I invite everyone first and then ask about them and their lives I do n0t care about their past experience, rather I focus the interview questions and assessment o what they are going to do after they join us.

I need people to have a very independent attitude, actually I want the least staff possible so try to work with independent entrepreneurs, free souls, artists as that really improves the creative energy of that company and increases the sense of ownership.

I do therefore like creative people in my company and whilst you should not manage creativity and independence, there are times when free spirits may try to take the company in a different direction than the intended one. I am learning and hope I can do more quickly spot those deviances and remind the group of the main purpose.

ebbf: how strongly do you feel about the purpose vs the creativity of your team?

Arash: I feel very strongly about following the purpose of the company. If you have a concept that depicts the purpose of your company you should stick to it whatever happens, as you deviate form the concept you deviate from the purpose of your company making it useless to continue.

So the things I put most attention when talking to people is what the company is made for. What have you done this week to make this customer more independent of energy? Every monday at 11:00 we evaluate the week behind us and the one in front we have coffee and if there’s a birthday we have cake and we sing.

We also have lunch together instead of eating from our desks separately, and that is another way to bring a culture, a unity around the main purpose of the organisation.

I myself travel a lot and am away a lot so I am there only a few times per week which means that there are a few people who have the role of keeping the company in unity and aligned towards the purpose. In other companies they’d be called managers but I see them as culture officers. They re not as such as yet but I am working to making them such.

In other companies they’d be called managers but I see them as culture officers.

ebbf: how does someone like you reach this point of “clarity” on what you should be doing, on your purpose and that of your company?

Arash: It’s been a journey, a very intense journey with plenty of successes and failures. I started as musician and founded in 1988 my first company at 21. I then moved into financial consultancy work and found great satisfaction in that with quickly success / financial results so I decided to work for another company in 2004 but then, in that year I experience big failures and had to rethink my life, I could not work for one entire year and I really forced myself to re-evaluate what I was doing and why. After that year I decided that if I’d be doing work, it had to be, worthwhile, beneficial to the world in a way. I did not really know what I meant by that, but that I could not just go for the money anymore so I actually denounced money,  which is a good thing as I did not have any, I mentioned learnt a lot about chaos and poverty and really lived poverty in a 12 mt sq room and really had to learn to adapt in that situation.

I then started a new job and was successful in answering both of my callings for the financial and the energy sectors, two sectors which are those that bring most wealth and most poverty, more divide to the world. I decided to focus all my energies there.

Meaningful conversations with friends and many ebbf members was fundamental to reach that point of clarity. So I do recommend that you stop and rething your life but that you also share your thoughts with other like-minded individuals, they don’t have to be best of friends, but they need to understand where you are coming from and the higher purpose you are seeking. ebbf has been one of the keys of coming up with this whole business model and it was not in the program nor in the speakers but in the individuals conversations with members that I had the assurance that I should continue and make a success out of my new purpose of using finance and energy to create a more prosperous world.

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