Day Before Opower IPO, SVP Product Alex Kinnier Reflects on Journey

Energy efficiency company Opower is ready for its public debut this Friday. In advance of the IPO I reconnected with their SVP Product & User Experience Alex Kinnier, whom I know from our days together at Google. I couldn’t ask Alex specifically about the IPO or future plans but wanted to get some more info on a company that gets less press than your typical social app but is poised for an amazing run.

Q: How do you describe Opower to the average person?

We help utility customers take control of their energy use. How? We make software incorporating behavioral and data science. This SaaS offering is now used by nearly 100 utility companies worldwide to give their customers personalized analysis of how they’re using energy and advises them on how to use less.  In 2013, we helped utilities and their customers save over 1,900 gigawatt hours of energy.

Q: Companies like Nest sell direct to consumers whereas Opower tends to work directly with utilities. How do you compare these strategies? 

Opower’s direct utility partnerships provide us with massive reach enabling us to achieve outsized environmental and business impact. Right now our SaaS platform is reaching 32 million households and businesses. Because we house all of the utility’s meter data, we’re able to analyze usage and behavioral data on those customers plus tens of millions more.

We use all this data to power the behavioral insights—like how your energy usage compares with your neighbors—that nudge consumer behavior.

In contrast, when going straight to consumer, like Nest, you simply can’t build a dataset that grows with the same speed and volume as ours is. Additionally, Nest is more focused on revolutionizing household devices then they are energy consumption. And, in my opinion they are doing a great job with the household devices.

Q: What was your path from Google to Opower and are there other Xooglers at the company?

Just like you Hunter, I love building cool things with great people. At Google I got to help build Google Toolbar and Google’s large advertiser ad server. I then went into venture capital. As a Partner at Khosla Ventures I got to help teams like Climate Corp, Skybox Imaging, Solum, and Pellion build world changing businesses. I was then a Partner at NEA where I was helping another set of great teams, like Avos and then Opower. At Opower I clicked with the founders, the culture, and the mission in such a profound way that when they asked me to join—I saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

I am extremely fortunate to work with 12 Xooglers at Opower. We all came because of the environmental mission and huge business opportunity. Several that you know are Wayne Lin, Senior Director of Product Management, Shawn Thompson, Director of Professional Services, and Barry Stern, VP Finance.

Q: Are you seeing more technical product managers, engineers and designers get interested in energy-related companies? I mean it’s very different than the latest mobile social app.

Absolutely, I mean which would make you feel more satisfied at the end of day? Writing code to create a new jellybean on Candycrush, or writing code that will help reduce global warming pollution by a billion pounds of CO2 this year? We’re seeing a big spike in technical candidates who want to put their talents toward making the world a better place. Last Earth Day, we calculated that every Opower employee’s annual impact is equivalent to taking all their Facebook friends’ homes (average of about 500 of friends) off the grid for a year.  Our measurable double-bottom line impact is a powerful asset when it comes to recruiting top talent.

Q: Is US leading the way on this type of connect home technology or are there other countries who have also embraced the software approach to energy efficiency?

It’s a global phenomenon. Utilities around the world are pursuing innovative approaches to achieving energy efficiency goals and improving customer engagement. In the last 3 years, we’ve expanded to partnering with utilities in eight countries, including the UK, Japan, and Australia. Utilities in each of these countries, especially in competitive markets, understand that software-fueled programs can help keep their customers happy, manage the grid optimally, and meet regulatory goals. We’ve seen that energy consumers’ desire for personalized efficiency tools and advice from their utility is something that transcends borders. That’s why our cloud software solution and its behavioral science underpinnings are gaining traction in all corners of the globe.