The Energy Talk

Building Okra Solar: Afnan Hannan

Episode Summary

Afnan is the CEO of Okra Solar, which aims to unlock the potential of villages and microentrepreneurs with Internet-of-Things controlled smart microgrids. While other companies looked to ride out the pandemic conservatively, Afnan took a 3 week trip to Nigeria to partner with local companies and attract investments to Okra.

Episode Notes

Afnan is the CEO of Okra Solar, which aims to unlock the potential of villages and microentrepreneurs with Internet-of-Things controlled smart microgrids. While other companies looked to ride out the pandemic conservatively, Afnan took a 3 week trip to Nigeria to partner with local companies and attract investments to Okra. 

Recommended Reading 

Guest Bio:   Afanan Hannan was born in Bangladesh and grew up in Australia, and is now the CEO and Co-founder of Okra solar. Prior to starting Okra, he worked for Bueno, Australia's fastest-growing IoT start-up as the 8th employee. Bueno has since gone on to be a world leader in cloud-based automated building data analytics and optimization.

Afnan earned his Bachelor's degree in Renewable Energy Systems and Economics at The Australian National University.

Learn more about Okra Solar

Connect with Afnan on LinkedIn

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Episode Transcription

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the energy talk podcast. My name is Olubunmi Olajide and thank you so much for joining us again this week. Today we have a very special guest and I do think I can introduce him without telling him how I first came across him. So a few months ago, I stumbled upon this video on LinkedIn where you hear a guy talking about coming to Nigeria. And I immediately recognized the airport where he was, which is Hamad international airport here in Qatar. And he was talking about coming to Nigeria, meeting with the local companies and trying to raise money from Elon Musk. That guy turned out to be Afnan who we will be hearing from today, he is the CEO of Okra Solar. And you hear more about the company later. And it's such a great privilege to speak to someone like him. 

[00:00:47]Usually  you don't hear about companies like these until they raise the first round of funding, but. Afnan is such a joy to listen to. He's very young, just a bit older than I am. I am extremely excited to have somebody like him on the podcast. 

[00:01:01] And hear about the wonderful story and experiences that have led up to him starting Okra Solar. And yes so I sincerely hope you enjoyed this episode

Afnan: [00:01:11] My name is Affy and I am a citizen of this planet. I was born in Bangladesh, grew up in Australia, spent a bunch of time in Asia. And now I am in Nigeria, Abuja, and I am the CEO of Okra solar, and we use IOT automation and artificial intelligence to enable off-grid communities to get access to reliable, renewable energy. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:01:36] Okay. So how did you get involved in the energy space? What was  that story for you? 

Afnan: [00:01:42] The story, like, I'll try to keep it short, but the story is, you know, growing up in Australia and then going back to Bangladesh and you know, having all the privilege and the opportunities,  then going to Bangladesh and then sitting with a bunch of cousins in a field and being like.

[00:01:58] You know, what are you guys, what do you guys get to do in the future? And then being like, well, we don't have the opportunities that you have. Like we're probably going to divide our land in a half and farm it. I'm like, well, you can, you can do 70 things, right? Like you can do like what me and my brother are doing.

[00:02:13] Like, we're trying to become programmers, building websites, building robots. And they're like, yeah, but you have the opportunity to do that. And then we thought about it and it was like, wow. And it's not necessarily because he grew up in Australia, but it's more so because we had access to, You know, the internet and computers and we could research and learn and do whatever we wanted.

[00:02:31] And so, yeah, at a pretty early stage, I kind of made up my mind that when I grow up, I want to, you know, enable and assist these people who have less opportunities to have the same opportunities as us. And it's pretty cool. Like the first enabler in that is access to reliable electricity. And then without electricity, you've got devices, the internet, you can do so much more.

[00:02:52] The world is everyone's oyster. So that's, that's really how things kicked off. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:02:56] And you did that. You, I believe you actually studied renewable energy in your undergraduate. 

Afnan: [00:03:01] Yeah, that's right. So, you know, I had the privilege, well, I actually didn't make it into engineering. Right. When I first entered university I was too busy playing chemistry at college, but so when I got into university, I got in because, because the score required for economics and commerce, which as I was interested in, it was lower than engineering. So I got in with that and then I had to smash it in the first year and then pick up engineering as my second degree.

[00:03:30] And yeah, I picked renewable energy systems engineering. Cause I knew that was something that I was passionate about and would drive the change required, to enable that electrification these small areas 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:03:40] Okay. So how did the Okra story start? What was the initial motivation and how did you determine that this was the right time to go on and start a company?

Afnan: [00:03:49] Cool. So, yeah. Keep in mind. I had this long-term vision and mission in mind. I didn't know how but I just knew, like let's enable people to get access to electricity who don't have power. It'll unlock opportunities, studied renewable energy at uni. And then after that, I got a job at an IOT company say internet of things.

[00:04:09] And basically we would take tens of thousands of data points in each commercial building and tens of millions of data points in total and then we'd analyze all of this data and actually optimize and automate the building performance. So what that means is we would automatically, you know, turn on and off heating ventilation, air conditioning lighting to reduce the energy footprint of these buildings.

[00:04:33] And it was pretty awesome. Like it was deep tech, it was exciting. You know, reducing the carbon impact of these buildings, but me and one of the lead software engineers who worked there, we were speaking this one day and we were like, man, this is pretty cool, but what are we doing at the end of the day?

[00:04:49] We're probably just helping some rich dude in New York City who owns all of these buildings, like, save some money off his energy bill. Like couldn't we use this knowledge to do something more [00:05:00] impactful? And he was like, what can we do? And I'm like, man, I've been researching a lot in off-grid energy. And I think we could somehow. I don't know exactly how, but I think we could apply, you know, this analytics and automation along with, you know, rapidly declining costs of senses that we've seen from what we're working in to enable people to actually get more reliable access to energy. And he was like, okay, let's, let's figure this out. And that was really the Genesis of how we actually got into the game.

[00:05:29]Obviously there's, there's a lot more to that, but that's, that's the first kind of like habit how the ideas sparked 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:05:34] let's go back to something you mentioned in the earlier parts of this interview about being a global citizen. So how, how, how did you read it? Deploy the company and how did you determine that having international operations was the way to go to deploy technology and to build up that case.

Afnan: [00:05:51] So, yeah, we've got to start from the fact that energy access is a global problem. Right. So at that point in time, when we started, there were a billion people in the world that don't have access to electricity. And then we've got to think about we don't, what could we actually do? Right. We can't actually go to all of these communities and villages and install solar panels and batteries and collect cash from these communities.

[00:06:15] Right. It's just not going to be scalable or work. But what we can do is build the tools and technologies to enable the companies who are serving these last-mile communities to do it much more effectively, right. So that they can do their jobs awesomely, and use our AI and analytics and controls to do it in an automated way.

[00:06:32]So that's really how we thought of it. And we're like, it's a global problem. We're going to be a technology solution. And for us to enable everyone to have energy access, you know, by the end of this decade, We need to make sure that, you know, we're providing this technology to countries all over the world and that these developments, like say the energy companies all over the world are rapidly scaling out to get this energy out to communities.

[00:06:57] So that's, that's how we thought of it. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:06:58] And could you just describe how this technology works? 

Afnan: [00:07:01] Yeah, sure. Sure. So we can start with how the current status quo tech works. Right. Everyone from, you know, the world bank to the governments, to the communities, right. They want these communities to have productive use of energy.

[00:07:18] So enough power, not just for like, you know, light bulbs, but for, you know, water pumping refrigeration, you know, charging devices. So they can use digital education, all of these amazing things. Right. And so the status quo technology right now that companies are using to provide this productive use of energy they are mini-grids and so that's basically like a whole lot of solar panels and a whole lot of batteries installed at a central point in a village. The challenge though has been that with mini-grids, you need to acquire land, which takes time and costs money, and then you need to take this distribution line, so cables all the way out to the last house of the village.

[00:07:57] And both of these two things cost a lot of money, right? It's, it's expensive for these mini-grid companies to set up. So what we saw at Okra, we were like, well, Actually, this is a fun, fun fact, right? What we saw at Okra. Like years ago when we were working at IoT, is that it now costs less to buy a sensor than it does to buy a bowl of rice in Nigeria or Cambodia, or the Philippines, or any of the countries that we work in.

[00:08:23] So,  the cost of getting data out from the middle of nowhere is cheaper than the cost of a bowl of rice, right? So we're like, can we use this data and automation and IoT.   To reduce the cost of getting this productive use out to these communities. So simply put what we figured out was what if we could combine the flexibility of a solar home system, right?

[00:08:44] So just a solar panel and a battery with the productive use of a mini-grid. And so what we did was we created an IOT device that lets these energy companies just quickly go to these villages set up a solar home system and then our IoT device lets one solar home system be linked to the next one, just like Lego.

[00:09:05] And as soon as they're linked our software and our sensors determine if there's any excess power anywhere if there is, it shares it with the other households. So it enables them to have that productive use of power and the energy companies. Now don't have to build these massive mini-grids and let's say there's only a cluster of 10 houses and then there's a gap of 50 meters or 200 meters, and there's another 20 houses, traditionally they'd have to build a big mini-grid to serve all of that. Now they just plug those clusters into small plug-in-play what we call mesh grids and yet it's rapidly reduced the cost to about 50%. And then once it's connected, I didn't even mention this bit, but once it's connected, all of these sensors are reporting data right, in real-time. So how much power are households using what's the state of health of the assets? Is anyone trying to steal power? And everything is automated. So someone steals the power, it will cut them [00:10:00] off. If there's an issue with an asset, like a panel needs to be cleaned, it will send a notification to the house so they can actually clean it themselves.

[00:10:08] And this is really reducing an expensive part of these last-mile networks, which is operations and maintenance. And yeah, combined it's really making energy access much more affordable and that's how we're in multiple markets right now doing this. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:10:21] that is actually really amazing to hear. And it's been over four years now, over in okra. So how, how has the growth been from your perspective? 

[00:10:30] Afnan: [00:10:30] Yeah, I mean, you have to think of how challenging it is to do, you know, a deep tech startup, right. Which is IoT and AI when the end customer that you're actually serving right,

[00:10:42] they're making like a thousand dollars per year, average income, right? The entire family. So trying to build a high-tech solution. It makes sense because you need to automate everything. Cause the cost of serving these people is so high, but at the same time, how are you going to recoup that investment?

[00:10:56] Right. So the first couple of years of our journey was just hustling, bootstrapping, finding as many smart, passionate people who are willing to work for next to nothing. Right to build this deep tech to serve these communities. So we've got amazing people, like people from Nigeria, people from like the Philippines who we met on Upwork, people from MIT for like great institutions as well, all come together from 11 different countries, 25 people.

[00:11:25] And we spent, you know, the first greater part of three years building our product making sure that it's reliable and mass-produced. And then we're ready to go. Right. And we've got prototype, we've got pilots that we've set up in Cambodia and the Philippines things just about to take off and then guess what happened? Yeah, we all know the answer to that.

[00:11:50] But no, it's so good. Like at the end of last year, You know, the world basically was like, there's coronavirus people don't even   have energy, right? What are we going to put the vaccine? so, yeah, last year we actually like seven X our growth in, in the last three months of the year, right.

[00:12:05] When everyone started getting out of the shock of coronavirus. And then this year we entered  Haiti. And we also entered Nigeria and Nigeria is exciting because it's the biggest upgrade market in the world. And where, like, who cares about coronavirus? people still need energy. And if we want to prove to everyone what we can do, we need to do it in the biggest market in the world where energy is the biggest challenge, which is Nigeria 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:12:29] Yes. So now we're here in Nigeria. So you've been in Nigeria for a few weeks right now, right now you're in Abuja and what was your objective what was the reason why you visited Nigeria and how has it been so far? 

Afnan: [00:12:43] Yeah. Yeah. So firstly, Nigeria is epic. Like the people here you know, some of the most vibrant Yeah, intellectual and energetic people that I've met around the world.

[00:12:55] Right. And I've been to many countries I've been to like over 30 countries around the world. So that's, that's awesome. I love the people here and they're so helpful and I love the food, Jollof rice, cray soup. It's all bad, but why did, why did we come to Nigeria? Basically when you think of like, you know, deep tech startups like 10 years ago, or even software companies 10 years ago where would they go?

[00:13:16] They would all like maybe prototype proof of concept that technology at home, but then they have to hit the US market because the US market is the biggest market for where they will have their proving ground. There's the most competition. So the best product will win. And when the, when that product wins, they'll have the most impact because there is you know of 200 million people to use, use that product when we're looking at energy access technologies. Right? So we could be supplying energy to anywhere in the world. And there are like, this challenge does exist in many places of the world, but Nigeria specifically has 18 million people who are not connected to the electricity.

[00:13:55] So we were like, Hey, we've built this tech. We've proved it out in Southeast Asia, but we haven't really proved it out in terms of the potential impact it can make until we bring it to Africa and bring it to Nigeria specifically where there's the most cutthroat competition. And there's the most potential for impact.

[00:14:12] If you really hit the nail on the head. So that's why we've, we've, we've brought it here to, to do that. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:14:16] Yes. And let, let's talk about the other objective because with growth comes the need to raise money. And how do those two things really coincide, especially considering the whole atmosphere of COVID and how everyone is a little more reserved, I should say.

[00:14:34]That's a nice word to use for it. So how has that been and what is the goal towards that? 

Afnan: [00:14:41] Yeah, for sure. Thanks. that's a good question. So I'll tell you some interesting things, right? So basically when coronavirus started, right, a lot of investors, they Tell the companies to go into survival mode.

[00:14:54] They're like, Hey man, you've got to cut back on expenditure and make sure that you last till the end of this [00:15:00] pandemic and this recession and then you can come out the other side. And we were pretty much like men is not what we want to do. Like I mentioned, people don't have refrigeration where they're going to put the vaccine if they don't have energy, right. Energy access needs to continue to grow during this period. So we were actually like, screw this, like, we're going to enter Nigeria, we're going to enter Haiti, new markets. We're going to continue growing. And we did all of that. And now we've come to a point where we've managed to, you know, more than 10 X, our growth from when the coronavirus started.

[00:15:28]But you know, potentially, and responsibly, you could say,it has grown by a few people enter new markets. We need to raise more money. So one of the things and actually that's how you, you probably came across me, but I was in the airport and I'm like, Hey, we're going to Nigeria, biggest market this technology is going to kill it.

[00:15:49] We're going to work with all these massive local companies to get energy out to more and more communities. It's going to be huge. It's going to scale, but guess what? We need help. So we need Elon Musk, right? And we're calling out to Elon Musk and, hopefully, he's listening to this, but Elon Musk there is so much potential over here in Nigeria and first, it's energy, but after energy, it's the internet and its devices, and that's going to unlock all of these minds to solve the problems of the future.

[00:16:17] And there are so many parallels between what we're doing and what Elon is doing. So Elon, we want you to let us pitch you because we are raising $6.5 million at the end of quarter three of this year, we want you to be a part of that. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:16:31] that is so great. And yes, that was the reason why I actually found you.

[00:16:35] It was a video of LinkedIn. I think I'll put some of it in the intro here, but this just goes back to the unconventional that I think, I think almost all entrepreneurs have to go through this, but yours is particularly different. What have the challenges really been running the company for the last four years and especially now?

[00:16:52] Cause I think this is, this is the real testing period. What kind of new experiences has it given you and what new perspective do you have on running a company and addressing the challenge that you have? 

Afnan: [00:17:03] Yeah, well I think, you know, no one comes into you know, as like a founder who's like 25 years old.

[00:17:10] Right. You haven't even been like a manager. Right. And then you realize that, yeah, you've got this great idea and you know that it can be done. You layout the steps, like it can be done. We can get there, right? Like there are a billion people who don't have access to energy. But if we spend the US GDP, the US government's military expenditure for one year on energy access, we would have completed the entire job.

[00:17:34] Right. So we know that these things can get done and we can lay out the steps on paper, but then when it comes to practice, I think one of the key things that I've learned is that having people around you who believe in the mission and are willing to, you know, grow and grind to make this happen, that's, that's paramount.

[00:17:55] Otherwise, to be honest, like there are days, like there's month, for example, like, since I've been in Nigeria five weeks ago, I've had one single day off. Right. There have been days when you just like had three hours of sleep back to back to back. Right. And you can kind of start feeling a bit, a bit unwell. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs when they come into the game, they don't know that that's kind of, that's what it's going to be.

[00:18:18] And that's not at year one or year two, that's five years in. Right. But yeah, surrounding yourself with awesome people who also believe in the mission Is super important to getting through it all. And then to be transparent, like, you know, having people like you who are just trying to shed light on what we're doing, like that gives that gives me energy coming to Nigeria, talking to the rural electrification agency and finding out that, you know, there's heaps of obstacles in front of them, but they want to use the money that they've got from the world bank and actually put it into getting energy to last of all the households.

[00:18:49] And they're willing to listen to like a new company that's come from the other side of the world. You know, they can do something differently to make that impact happen. You know, more cost-effectively and more effectively that's awesome. All of that stuff inspires me and keeps me going. So I guess my lesson would be, don't be fooled.

[00:19:06] Like the startup journey is a mission and a half, but it's always worth it because you meet so many amazing people who are passionate about the same or other problems along the journey. And that's what, that's what makes it worth doing I think 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:19:19] I really appreciate how honest you are about this, because I think most people will really glamorize and it's easy to focus on maybe just the highlights, but it takes a lot of work to get to highlight sometimes.

[00:19:30] And I think that's, that's something that might be under, underappreciated in, in, in some instances. And. Right now you are speaking with lots of people. You spent five weeks in Nigeria. I'm sure you've spoken to some investors. You've spoken to lots of companies. You spoke to its mission to the Agira education agency.

[00:19:49] And what, what is the story there? Cause Nigeria is just one market in Africa and then there are others that I imagine they are going to look into. What is the next, maybe the cannot Kenya [00:20:00] looking at Rwanda? What has been the response to this and how, how does the sector really see the potential for the technology that okra is, is offering and what kind of traction that you try you're looking at right now?

Afnan: [00:20:11] Yeah. Cool. So that's, that's a good question. Right now let's, let's start with, The markets and then we'll look at what we're looking at doing. So we're right now in Cambodia and the Philippines and also Haiti and Nigeria. Right. And we had to diversify because of coronavirus.

[00:20:28] And also the other aspect is we're a technology platform. So we can provide this technology, you know, much more scalably and easily to companies around the world. Then necessarily the companies that are actually building the grids, right. It's very hard to go from Nigeria and then build a grid in Cambodia the next week.

[00:20:45] Whereas we can just fly on a plane and bring our electronics and our software platform and the companies can start using it. So we've come here but now we're really focused on these four markets in, in, in the meantime. And that's because between these markets is more than 30 million households.

[00:21:02] Right. So that's 150 million people who don't have access to energy. So we've got our work cut out for us. And one of the things that we've determined in this energy access space, it's not just, you know, the best technology or the best solution wins. Right. And that's one of the challenges we're here overcoming.

[00:21:21] And so we can enable energy companies to set up grids at half of the cost of traditional media. Right. We can reduce that operational cost to about 40% by using our automation and our software platform. And then we can also use our artificial intelligence technologies to help, you know, flag when households are likely to need more power, need access, to financing and help these mini-grid companies generate more revenues to make it more profitable for them to run operations.

[00:21:50] So we can do all of these things. That's the technology side, but then there's the other side, which is the regulations. Right. And the support from the international community. So keep this in mind, right? Like, imagine you've got one computer that costs a thousand dollars and it does all the same things as another computer that costs $1,500.

[00:22:11] Right. So obviously you probably got to take the computer that costs $1,000. But imagine then you've got the government that says you're not allowed to use computer A because it's got a chip from a certain company, so you're not allowed to use it or imagine the international community says that, Hey, if you buy computer B, even though it costs $1,500. We'll give you $800 every time you buy it. So that reduces the cost of computer B and effectively makes the non-competitive solution more competitive. And so that's what anyone is up against when they're creating new, innovative technologies, right? Anywhere in the world, not just the energy access space, but particularly energy because they're heavily regulated market that's heavily dependent on international donors to fund it. So, what we're doing right now is we're speaking with REA with the world bank and these guys and making sure that our technology which has all these benefits is put on a level playing field with the traditional technologies when it comes to regulation and subsidies and that's work that takes time. And that's why we have to focus on these markets. And when we get that done and I'm, I'm optimistic that Nigeria has an open-minded view to enable the least cost solution at the end of the day to get support from the governor. And when that's done, I think that's going to, you know, be a domino effect all over the world.

[00:23:33]We'll see our technology and other technologies similar to ours be, be given that, that benefit and then, you know, show that there's going to come another time where the next least-cost innovative technology. It has to do the same thing. That's just part of the journey. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:23:46] Yes. Yes, it is. And I think this is, this is one of the things that I get.

[00:23:51] I try to get people to appreciate, especially a lot of people that I speak to. I'm an, I'm an engineer by training and a lot of people I speak to are engineers as well. So they don't really appreciate the role, that policy plays in actually the plane project and how, how quickly you can scale solution and how you can deploy to market.

[00:24:08] But it's something that is really, really important. And is that something that you always appreciated or was that something they kind of grew into?

Afnan: [00:24:18] Dude? I thought I was making them. You know, deep technology like IoT, like AI, engineers, like I was like, this is so cool. We're going to use technology to make it half the cost to get electricity out to villages. That's all we thought we were. Right. But then you get in like three or four years down the track and you realize like, you know, you're talking to the Australian government to ask them to support you.

[00:24:40] When you're talking to the Cambodian government, you just start thinking of geopolitics, you effectively start becoming a diplomat. And you're like, whoa. How did this happen? It, but yeah, like you said, right, it's part of the game and you need to be able to navigate that, [00:25:00] understand, you know, what their pressures are like, you know, these governments need to also do certain things.

[00:25:05] For example, get electricity out to communities, particularly before elections certain international donors will have more kind of. Influence in certain areas because that's where they want to have influence. So you need to find the right donor for the right market. And then you also need to show that donor why they should work with you as opposed to, you know, supporting like other companies and stuff.

[00:25:28] And so, yeah. Yeah, it's a, it's a tricky topic to go into, but it's something that I think being in the energy space everyone really needs to be across to, to maximize the impact. Beside an, an office. It is, I'd say ideally it would just be the best solution when straight away. But you need to think bigger than that.

[00:25:46] Think of all the motivations. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:25:48] Yes, definitely. And so you have lots of huge goals and the world is catching up to your goals. I should say. That's a nice way to put it and. Far from pitching Elon Musk and trying to raise money. What's w what do you see as the next steps for, for okra and how do you really prioritize what you're going to be doing the next few months to the next 

[00:26:11] year?

Afnan: [00:26:11] Yeah, for sure. So asides from me alone, Dangote, if you're listening.

[00:26:26] You know, we want to enable the last mile companies, right? That is having these communities to really unlock these communities and let them contribute to the modern digital economy that we live in. So over the next couple of years, what Okra is going to be doing is we're going to be integrating across the board for electricity-based infrastructure.

[00:26:49] So I'm talking. Internet as a service I'm talking electric vehicle charging stations. I'm talking inverters, traditional media. All of this data will be able to come through our platform, which will enable energy companies to basically just go out there, set up this infrastructure and then manage all of that through our automation and our software platform so that they can continue to scaling, scaling, scaling, and we can support them with our artificial intelligence and our analytics.

[00:27:18] So let me attach a bit about artificial intelligence, right? So. Think about it. We get, we've got customers now in multiple countries around the world, and there are these households who there was no data before. No one even knew how much income they have or what they're doing, how many people are in the house.

[00:27:36]Now we're collecting information on, you know, how much energy they using. Are they using it for productive uses or not? How much payments are they making? Right. Are they missing payment?   And all this information is coming through our AI pipelines and enabling us to start profiling these households and being like, Hey, this household has, you know a high likelihood of benefiting from financing, a freezer.

[00:28:02] Or from digital education tools such as laptops. And then through a platform that energy companies can finance to the households. The households increase their income, which is great. And then they pay using mobile money and if they don't pay them, we collect that data. Right. And temporarily that household can be shut off through the IoT, but that data comes through and it feeds the pipeline and the pipeline actually gets smarter and smarter.

[00:28:29] And it's being trained from energy companies all around the world. Right. And so this information eventually lets the energy company make better decisions on how to serve their customers and it helps customers get better services and something that's probably interesting to note is. Some people think like using all this data to provide finance or not provide finance.

[00:28:50] That's, that's a bad thing. What if a house misses out? But the sad reality is before the data was being used. If you provide finance to someone that can't payback. Then that person has a significantly increased likelihood of committing suicide, for example. Right. And now you're using all of this data to make sure you're making the right decisions on how to grow the network, how to provide appliances, how to finance which is good for the companies, and good food.

[00:29:15] The communities. So that's where we're going. And after we raised a series eight, we'll be doing a whole bunch of these integrations to get there as fast as possible. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:29:23] Hmm. That is fantastic. I'm genuinely excited about the story of okra and so I have two questions to end up with. The first one that is going to be very obvious is why did you choose the name okra, to begin with?

Afnan: [00:29:38] Basically like we were just eating dinner in Cambodia, in this restaurant and me and my co-founder he's a tech guy. Like we had won some funding and we had to write down the name of our company to get that funding. And at that point, it was called distributed smart internet of things. Network. And we couldn't, [00:30:00] there was no way we could write that.

[00:30:01] We'd probably just lose all the money. Right. And so over dinner and my co-founders like, man, I love apple. Like Apple is such a good company and just that he's cutting a piece of vegetable and he brings it to his mouth and I'm like, dude, what about okra? And he's like, yeah, basically 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:30:25] that was not what I was expecting.

Afnan: [00:30:27] People would take it deeper than that. We woke up with a deep story as well.

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:30:35] The best stories. Often go like that. And the second one is a lot of the audience are, are, are, are young people in the energy sector, either their student school or their first few years of the career. And I'm sure a lot of them will be thinking of how can they solve problems, their communities, how can they be part of the push to solve this global and extended, especially for the African continent.

[00:30:57] And you've had a lot of experience to do it very hands-on. Within the energy space, across many different countries at this point. What advice do you have for young people looking to start companies and to apply solutions to whatever field they choose? 

Afnan: [00:31:12] I'd say number one is the internet, right? To say you don't even have to be an engineer.

[00:31:18] Like you can learn about batteries, about PV, about IoT, about payments, about all of this stuff online. Pretty easily say anywhere. If you want to solve energy access or energy security, anyone can jump in there, start researching. And now the next thing that I would advise would be also related to the internet, but it would be like, once you have an idea, Right.

[00:31:42] 99.9% of people are not going to be. They're not going to have what it takes to drive that idea to execution. So don't be afraid if you think you are that person, that 0.01%, don't be afraid of reaching out to others and sharing what your idea is to get feedback and to optimize. And so just keep finding the experts on the internet and there's so many of them, and they're so easy to find, just hit them up on LinkedIn and be like, Hey, I've got this idea.

[00:32:10] I need to get your feedback and ended up anyone. Right. And they'll tell you, and then you will just make your idea iteratively better and better and better. And just keep doing that. And you'll even build a team along the way just by showing them your passion. Right. So it's just easier than it's ever been before.

[00:32:24] Just go out and do it even hit me off. If you have an idea, I'll be happy to share my perspective for sure. 

Olubunmi Olajide: [00:32:29] Thank you for listening to the episode. And if you're wondering how Afnan's trip to Nigeria went. They actually did deploy the very first project in partnership with GV projects and it's quite a successful trip. I'm sure Afnan would agree as well. And I'm also going to make the first prediction I've to think I've ever made on the podcast in all seriousness. 

[00:32:53] When okra Solar inevitably does raise their first round of public funding. I am great to have Afnan on the podcast again, to have our own. Mini celebration because I am confident that okra solar will raise. They're out of funding very soon and I am so excited for when that happens. 

[00:33:09] Afnan, congratulations on all your work so far, man. It's amazing to see how far you've come. And I knew there's still so much great things for you and your company and your team to achieve. So I hope you've enjoyed this episode. And if you are just half as interested in energy, if you love the sector or you're just a bit curious, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast and share with a friend or colleague. Look forward to seeing you again next week and of course have a wonderful day Bye bye now