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The Joule is a Joke April 30, 2012

Posted by warwicksworld in Uncategorized.

The first recorded government finance venture capital flop took place in 1821 when Charles Babbage propose the worlds ‘first computer’ called the Differential Engine

It’s a fascinating story and well worth reading about. Britain’s government at the height of the Empire decided to finance this project and whilst it was way ahead of its time it was just too ambitious a project (many of the parts could not be made at all) but at least the various prototypes can be seen in a museum!

Almost 5 years later and with R100’s of millions of public cash our very own Joule is a joke. It was always going to be too-little-too late.   Besides any developer connected to the cash-guzzling Rooivalk helicopter project should have been employed as a technical consultant. But with a total development cost now estimated to exceed over R9billion – my suggestion is that Optimal energy be liquidated as soon as possible and let some other energized entrepreneur acquire the rights to the blueprints and carry the baton.

Entrepreneurship is not about getting the job done at any cost. Nor is it about the manipulation of strategic national interest such as renewable energy, job creation etc. It’s about delivering a product somebody wants to buy at a reasonable cost and on time. The truth of the matter is that electric vehicles are simple to design.   For example retro fitting of electric motors into old cars is a growing hobby in the USA. The ‘White Zombie’  is a 1972’s Datsun 1200 vehicle retro fitted with an electric motor and has become famous prowling the streets of the USA dicing and destroying Maserati  and other famous sports cars. And that was in 2007.

With this type of performance possible the opportunity to create real interest would have been possible.

The sad thing about the Joule is that it carried the hopes of many South-Africans. We have a proud history of innovative products from the Kreeply Crawly to Prattleys Putty. But there was always something odd about the Optimal Energy’s set up. For instance for years there was no video on You Tube –just how on earth are you supposed to build up a loyal band of followers – without YouTube.

When I visited their premises in 2010 I was left with a lasting impression that the energy was definitely neither entrepreneurial nor inspirational – in fact I was relieved to get out of their offices. It always bothered me that delivery dates were being extended. Seriously a battery car is a car without cooling systems, starter motor, gearbox etc etc, far simpler than your average fossil fuelled sedan.

What are the lessons for entrepreneurs?

1) Prove the concept – even in less conventional ways. In the case of Optimal Energy converting 20 year vehicles to battery motors would have proved passion and desire. This was entirely absent in the entire Optimal Energy culture.

2) Build citizen, company and government support and participation.  In the case of Optimal Energy the decision to take advantage of the interest in Renewable Energy solutions and the Joule via Social Media should have been a no brainer.  Right now there should have been over 100,000 disappointed South Africans but there aren’t because Optimal Energy thought they didn’t need an army of unpaid volunteers! With 91’ likes ‘after 5 years, it’s a sign of chronic disengagement.  Contrast this to the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle which has 180,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook.

3) Investors, and  clients love a product that has its origins in a garage or small workshop.  This was definitely not the case with Optimal Energy who always seemed to have a need to aim so high that delays were made to seem as if they were normal. There was a time when the Joule could have been a ground  breaker. This is definitely no longer the case. The lesson to entrepreneurs – concentrate on demonstrating core expertise, unbridled passion and commitment to technology and product. In fact the Joule operation reminds me of the well known securities scam movie called  ‘Boiler Room’. It had all the ingredients of a remake . ‘Working prototype, fossil fuels are on the way out – just need R8.5 billion- Invest now’.  As if a handful of electric cars and 91 likes on Facebook warrants a further R8.5 billion rand of public funds.

The sad  thing about this entire unhappy project is that the potential was always there. Unlike the Differential Engine which failed in 1821 – I have no desire to see the Joule again neither do I expect it to even end up in a South-African museum!

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