This month we spoke with Hubert, one of the founders of Senfal. An energy specialist who has an answer to all energy related questions. He tells us all about how Senfal got started, what happened in 2017 and what his dreams are for the future of the energy world.
How did you get started at Senfal?
“I was writing my thesis on exactly what Senfal is doing. While finalizing that I had accepted a traineeship, from which we were looking for a company to employ me. We got in touch with Sander and after the first meeting he asked if I wanted to work for him. Over the first three months I worked for him as a trainee. However, the organization behind the traineeship was a startup that didn’t make it, so I continued at Senfal. One or two weeks after I started, Derek was looking for a project for his master thesis and joined us. We went to UtrechtInc and there it all started.”
“My whole life I’ve been selling stuff, making other people and myself happy with a good deal is what I like most.”
Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur?
“It happened accidentally, actually. During my traineeship I was supposed to work for three different companies, in order to learn different kinds of skills and try out various roles. The traineeship was also a way to find out if I wanted to be employed or to become an entrepreneur. My whole life I’ve been selling stuff, like pumpkins or firewood. They are hand-made things that I’m really proud of and which reflect my passion. On top of that, if I can make someone else happy with a thing I created and in return that person values it with a good reward, than that’s what I love to do most.”
How do you look back on last year?
“We started out small with a great team and during the next period more people got involved. The past months we’ve been working on professionalizing the organization and the standardization of processes. We’ve grown towards a performing organization, everybody is aligned and knows what to work on. We’re really getting things done.”
What is the most important development of 2017?:
“2015 was a year of experimental pilots, 2016 was all about technical development and 2017 has been about actually getting things done. This year we were doing serious projects with large energy utilities and we connected interesting assets. Most of all, 2017 was about the FCR pilot with TenneT, which was really unique. We controlled batteries of different sizes and have controlled a stable FCR signal. We have a good, broad set of assets and lots of different technologies we can use. This is really cool, because this technology is relevant to both existing industries, as well as new sectors like the entire wind industry. The coming year will be all about expanding our customer base at an accelerated rate: we want to increase our sales and let more people profit from our experience and technology.”
“The system we’re making is a necessity to enable a sustainable future with wind and solar energy.”
What do you like about being One of the Founders of Senfal?
“I like to be able to give direction and help Senfal grow. Senfal has become a part of me; it’s something that didn’t exist before and is now growing towards something new. I like it to think about all sorts of questions and practicalities which come with leading an organization, like how to communicate and structure things and everything that comes with entrepreneurship. Also, I try to figure out how to do this in a smart and efficient way, so that everybody keeps enjoying their work and keeps being involved. This is partly an internal matter, about making people feel comfortable at work, but it’s also external focused on the clients. Besides all the business stuff, of course I also really like the technical part: does what we’re doing match with the external needs? By posing these questions we can make better decisions.”
And what’s the worst part about being an entrepreneur?
“It is the drawback of being able to do everything I like: you cannot do it all well and still have time to really get into it. I sometimes wish for a bit more serenity and structure. And also, if something big is taking a lot of extra work, I should not think ‘as soon as I’m finished with this task, I will finally have plenty of time for something else’. Then I’m wrong, because there is always a lot more to do.”
What do you value most in Senfal?
“I appreciate the open culture of giving feedback to each other. ‘Make your mother proud’ is the nicest one in my opinion, it reflects the honesty and willingness to create something good. We’re continuously working towards that goal and that’s what is nice about Senfal: we work on the bigger problem and try to fit in all small puzzle pieces. The system we’re making is needed to build a sustainable future with wind and solar energy. We’re working to make the world better. I feel like I can say everything to everyone in our company and I think everybody does that: just being honest. I also think we really live by our core values, and they fit me perfectly.”
“The core values fit me perfectly, I mostly appreciate the honesty and open culture.”
Did you ever think of turning the ship around?
“What if Senfal becomes really big. Are you still needed? I’ve a bit of a fluttering personality and I crave innovation. If the organization were to become really big and rigid company structures appear, I’m not sure if that would fit me. But that’s something for the future. Even before Senfal I’ve always had the dream, that if I would make good money, to keep working in a business-setting for three days a week and to work on a farm the other two days with some nice people. To do more physical, hands-on work. But this is more of a fantasy of mine. For now, I don’t think I could have done something better than being involved in Senfal. It’s perfect for me.”
What is something cool you worked on recently?
“We do so many cool things. I like to do a big thorough data-analysis representing a lot of value or giving a big presentation. Or showing the big picture of how just a small piece of our software connects the energy markets, paving the way for a sustainable future. It’s so easy, but just fitting the concept together and translating it to different people with different discourses is what I like. Something else we’re doing now is primary reserve with wind turbines. It’s really cool to work on the very basics and figuring out how you market this. Starting from the requirements, working your way to finding a way to make different parties cooperate within the market, while keeping the right (economic) incentives. Making sure such an innovation becomes a success.”
What does your ideal future dream look like?
“I would really like it if it becomes common practice for all big energy companies to connect all their customers’ different assets and that we can keep doing a large part of that job. Controlling a lot of these assets is the way we can really make an impact. We can improve our software, connect to all brands of big industries, assets like heat pumps, electric vehicles, boilers, and so on, and become a big player. It wouldn’t matter anymore where you live: we can control your assets. I hope this becomes a reality in the next few years. Now is the time for big companies to invest in these technologies, to prepare for a volatile energy market.”