FIP 115: Hardware entrepreneurs II 1/3 – Creating a smart gas meter for the BoP, with Mike Hahn from PayGo Energy

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are continuing our second series on hardware entrepreneurs, this one with Mike Hahn of PayGo Energy about his hardware development journey. This is the first episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets. As many will know, from episode 44 with Mike’s Co-Founder Fausto, PayGo Energy has created a smart meter that sits on an LPG gas cylinder, that lets customers pay on a PAYG basis.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How the idea of PayGo came about: started in 2015 with an observation that, on a daily basis, lots of people were lining up at petrol stations to buy kerosene or diesel fuel for cooking and they were bringing small vessels to carry this fuel home, despite there being a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) option 10 meters away. This spurred our question about why aren’t people cooking with LPG? It’s clean, fast, and convenient.
    • This idea came about while all of the co-founders were working for different organizations within the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya.
  • What their first basic prototype looked like: technical discovery “can we turn gas on and off with a text message?”
  • How their diverse group of co-founders with diverse skill sets helped: technology development, understanding the market/operations, etc. and this blend of personalities and experiences gave them an advantage early on.
  • For their first prototype they used BRCK components (see episode 111 with Erik Hersman, Co-founder of BRCK) in order to test how to get some level of accuracy of measuring gas vapor (actual flow) to the stove, and then send that data remotely to a server while including the ability to shut that gas flow off.
  • Why he uses SolidWorks for designs and recommends GrabCad for downloading files that other people have made based off of the real object. It makes it easy to plug into My Assembly so you can build something around it, and spatially you are in the right ballpark.
  • Why he decided to buy a 3D printer instead of using 3D printing services: it’s incredibly fast and convenient to do it by yourself, especially if you aren’t sure how many iterations will be needed, and you’re learning about the design as you’re making it.
  • How they raised their seed round: having a physical prototype and a real functioning unit in someone’s home along with comprehensive market research and a business modeling effort prepared them for that seed round. Also having a couple backers from very early before the seed round helped instill confidence.
  • When working with manufacturers it’s a good indicator when you get to meet directly with the CEO.
  • Advice for those in the hardware development process: get yourself into it, fake it until you make it. (But his design background at Rhode Island School of Design also helped.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to people, work with in the past who are willing to pick up the phone. i.e. how to do contract with a contract manufacturer.

Links to resources:

Connect with Mike:

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