BY Fast Company SA 10 MINUTE READ

Solar systems are one of the greatest inventions on the planet, converting sunlight into electricity without harming the environment.

Jaco Venter is a CEO making moves to eradicate the use of and dependency on fossil fuels through Zeroth Energy, a consulting company that supplies solar systems for sectional complexes, retirement villages, commercial businesses, industrials, schools and fuel stations. Jaco chatted to Fast Company and shared some insight into what the company is all about.

Can you give us a brief background of your childhood and adult education?

I was born in Vereeniging on 18 July 1985, grew up incredibly poor and often moving from school to school, house to house, neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Even though it was painful growing up in that manner, I appreciate the value it had on my life, as I started asking the question WHY, especially in patterns I noticed. This helped me to become a top 10 student in school even though I was a massive rebel and always got into trouble.

This foundation gave me the opportunity to go to North-West University, where I studied Mechanical Engineering, which I later changed to Actuarial Science. I left university with a few credits short, the best decision I made in my life even though I was classified as a failure.

This allowed me to pursue my true passion, which was to know myself and the universe, so I went travelling. I travelled the world for 7 years, where I visited over 90 countries on all 7 continents. Looking back I basically got a 7-year degree in human psychology, philosophy and learning to think big. For me, knowledge is not the key, but experiences are the key, and experiences lead to the ability to do things smarter, with a bigger picture in mind.

Can you give us a brief background of your career?

My career has always been sales orientated. I worked for numerous companies while living in London, one of them being a $ billion fitness/detox company, as well as the biggest art company in the world in America, where I was an Art Auctioneer. Even though I was never actively pursuing a career in art or fitness, I did get interested in sales as it was aligned with human nature and my philosophical way of thinking was intrigued.

The time I spent in sales jobs around the world was great, as I had different teachers and different perspectives, making my viewpoint on sales very unique. For a brief stint I lived in Thailand, where I taught philosophy and yoga for free on the beach, and this is where I got more aligned with the energy of the universe, as well as learned how I was in control of my own reality and the creator of my own life. I came back home in 2015 for two of my sisters’ weddings and decided to stay in South Africa.

Can you give us more info on Zeroth Energy and what it is about?

Zeroth Energy is a unique African energy brokerage firm, specialising in making renewable energy accessible to the masses. We work with numerous solar and wind suppliers, installers and financial institutions to simplify the process, from client introduction to system implementation. We have successfully managed to shorten the process, as well as make it much more cost effective for solar/ energy suppliers to operate in the market, bringing the total cost down for the clients. Along with our partners, we have also introduced solar rental models to the market.

Making renewable energy accessible to the masses by completely removing the upfront costs is our mission at Zeroth, and we also aim to change the way we use energy effectively and productively manage our energy sources in all forms. Our principal objective is to make renewable energy accessible to the masses and effectively through a comprehensive paradigm shift, alter methodologies of producing food, personal and produce transportation and power to our industries and residences.

What was the need to facilitate change in the energy market? Did you see a gap for an opportunity?

When I came back to South Africa I wanted a challenge, as I am a big thinker, and after travelling the whole world I felt I wasn’t challenged in my own life anymore. Been there, got the T-shirt… So I started asking what South Africa needs.

The rating agencies said two things will make life better in SA. One is the political situation and the other is the energy problem. Since I won’t be a great politician with my rebellious nature, I started questioning the energy space. I got my first chance with an IPP company, helping them start a division to bring PPA (Power Purchase Agreements) to the private market.

From my sales background and learning to turn “no’s” into “yes’s”, I started realising that my ability was very limited, being associated with only one company, even though I was bringing a product to the market that was a no-brainer, with no upfront cost, to get solar, with savings from day one. As time went by, and coming from a ttravelling background where I saw plenty of solar systems installed, even in countries with little to no sunshine, I questioned why Africa was not fully renewable in energy, why clients were not taking it, why there was no competition and why nobody was representing the clients.

I also saw and realised that most solar and energy companies are run and developed by engineers who are the ones needed for the innovation, but they didn’t have the ability to sell their innovation to the public. This is where I saw the gap; that you need a company that represents both the suppliers and the clients, helping the clients to get the best deal and helping the suppliers to sell and to always improve, which will lead to a better product offering to clients and better pricing.

We want a never-ending cycle where everybody wins. If it is not a win-win situation then Zeroth doesn’t get involved. So I started Zeroth Energy. It was a poor start as I lost all my clients I had built up with the other company, eventually going from two suppliers to none as I left them due to unethical business practices. I refused to do business with people who didn’t treat my clients like I did, even though it almost cost me my entire business.

My ability to stick with something, even though it is costing me in my personal and family life, as everything in my life is about Zeroth Energy, helped me keep persisting and eventually build up an amazing business, with talented people all over South Africa. Even though I had the ability to not give up, it was the people who worked for me, past and present, who helped me build this company. Since the beginning, I knew this was bigger than me, and I could not have gotten Zeroth to this point without the people involved. And divine energy places the right lessons and the right people in my path to steer Zeroth to great heights.

What are the pros and cons of being in the industry of manufacturing renewable energy in South Africa?

The con is that to have a financial model work in renewable energy we can only use Tier 1 products. Tier 1 means they are Vertically Integrated, with over 5 years’ experience. In South Africa we only have Tier 2 & 3 locally produced solar products. So it makes it incredibly hard to buy and support local products. This is something I would love to change, however, this will take a tremendous amount of money and a few years to achieve.

The pro is that we have one of the best climates in the world to have renewable energy implemented. The only push we need is some education to the masses that renewable energy is now accessible, and that it works. Funnily enough, Solar was invented before AC electricity. JP Morgan saw the opportunity to make loads of money with Thomas Edison and so pushed the funding for the electrification of New York, and the world followed the working mode. However, it is changing rapidly.

Zeroth has consultants across South Africa. What is the response towards your services from customers and entities who you supply to?
Zeroth has an amazing team of partner consultants, together with a team of referral agents. Our innovation does not come from technology enhancements, but from the way we have broken down all the barriers for somebody that wants to get into the renewable energy space at little to no cost.

We provide our consultants with everything, from solar to wind, smart meters to designing, installation to maintenance, contracts to marketing as well as one hell of a brand, Zeroth. All they have to do is talk to the people of this world and tell them that they can switch over to renewable energy at no cost.

What more can somebody ask for when wanting to start a successful business in this incredible space? All our consultants are their own business owners under the Zeroth brand, and our model is to make sure we empower people to grow their own business and to run a flexible schedule. We don’t believe in office hours or checking up on each other. They are all business owners and as long as they act like business owners and keep up with our high standard they will always be part of us.

We work on a pride system – personal responsibility in developing excellence, make your targets, help the clients and you can take the rest of the month off if you want to. They all are fantastic at what they do and have an incredible product knowledge.

However, their best ability is to relate to the clients on a personal level and become friends with their clients. We are in this for the clients, and our number one thing is to make sure every client sees our consultants and company as a friend. Customers have come in their droves, and lately we have experienced a growth rate of almost 4 000%. As people learn more about our effortless approach, they are more drawn to doing business with us.

Do you have a global presence or are you currently based in South Africa?

At the moment we are exploring our entry into the entire African market, and eventually into the entire world. By introducing our app in the near future it will help us to control the demand, as we are struggling to keep up with a limited amount of installers and suppliers, so our aim is first to make sure we can handle the demand in effective ways without disappointing our clients in the process. Our goal is to be all over Africa by the end of 2018 and all over the world by the end of 2019. With our current growth rate, we might get there quicker.

Who would you consider as your competitors and how are you staying ahead of the competition?

I personally believe our biggest competitor is who we as a company were yesterday, and that keeps us thinking in a creative mindset, making sure we improve every single day. We are never satisfied with where we are. Currently, our business model is working perfectly, and without any modifications and we will be in business for a long time. However, we want to make it even better and quicker and more accessible to every client.

Currently, the people trying to do what we do in the market are miles behind us, as we have a global view of doing things and they have a local view. We will never chase, as we set the example, and with our high standards we make sure the bar is raised high and keep raising it higher on a daily basis, not to shut down competition, but because we believe we are doing this for the right reasons – to help our clients. And we want our clients to always get the best. And the best is Zeroth Energy.

What are your thoughts on collaboration partners?

As I said earlier, this is much bigger than who I am, or my team, so I am always up for more partners and collaboration. We are doing this for the planet and for the people of this planet, and the quicker we can stop our dependency on fossil fuel and start relying on renewable energy, the better we will be as a species and leave a healthier and better planet to our next generations. In the end, we are all going to die and be buried in the same grave, so it’s not about us, it’s about the change we make. Zeroth is here to make change for the masses, so the more people we can get involved the more wonderful change we can make.

What are the business’s most notable accomplishments since it’s inception?

Our first client that signed up. As everybody doubted us and the way we were doing things, even suppliers were reluctant to sign up with us, and since our first client, a 5 star hotel, for which almost all our current suppliers (who at that point were not our suppliers) bid as well, signed up, suppliers have been flocking to us, wanting us to do their sales and help them improve in the market space.

It took us over a year to get our first client, as the market was not ready. We worked on helping suppliers create products for us to sell. However, we learned more in that year than we would have getting sales straight away, so I am grateful for that moment. It took Colonel Sanders 1 008 “no’s” before he got his first “yes”, and look where KFC is today. It is not the “no’s” that create a business, it’s the ability to take a “no” on the chin and improve every day. Persistence makes a company great and will make us stand the test of time.

What has been your greatest challenge to date?

One of my first partners, Terry Tompson, died just before we had a meeting with a client. It shook me incredibly hard and really made me reevaluate what we did and who we did it for. We are in this for the people of the planet, for the people who work with us and their families, and for the creatures and plants of this world in any form. I stood up at Terry’s funeral, even though I didn’t know him long, and I thanked him as he was one of the most important people in our company’s short history. Thank you so much, Terry.

As the CEO of Zeroth Energy, what are your thoughts on SA’s manufacturing and renewable energy industry?

This industry is a human, at the moment it is a baby. The baby has just been born and has its whole life ahead of itself. We are at an amazing stage, with renewable energy only playing a 1% role in the entire market at this moment. Now is the most crucial time in the growth of this market, as what we do now will either propel the baby into an amazing childhood of superior development or slow him down.

I believe that South Africa’s renewable energy market will grow tremendously once people get familiar with our brand and realise that we are there for them, there to help them get the best solution for their business or home, there to tell them if it’s a good or bad choice, there for them to save money, there for them to improve their brand and business image to the public, there for them to spend their money on their own business, instead of giving it away to Eskom and getting nothing in return down the line.

As soon as they see us as their friends and that we will do anything to help them, then we can speed up the process and get everybody on renewable energy. We are doing it for you. All you have to do is call us. From then on sit back and relax as we do everything for you.

All you have to do then is make a choice, which will be guided by our expertise and recommendation. If we won’t sell or provide the solution offering to our mother, then we won’t recommend it to you.

What does the future hold for the company?

Amazing things; we are growing super-fast and we actually have an inside goal we are aiming at, and that goal is to buy Eskom in 3 years’ time, as we believe our business model will be the downfall of them, and we would like to buy them for their distribution network, shut down all fossil fuel power stations and build huge solar farms. There shines enough sun energy in 1 hour to power the entire planet for a year. It is doable and Zeroth is not just showing the way, we are making it easy for anybody who wants to be involved.