Sitting down with Greg Kiessling feels like catching up with an old friend. It’s hard to imagine that this was the man who worked 70 hours a week to create and build Sitraka, a wildly successful software company that sold for $52 million in 2002.
In 2012, the Globe and Mail quoted Tom Rand, Managing Partner at ArcTern Ventures (formerly the MaRS Cleantech Fund), describing Greg as “…one of most gentle and intelligent people I have ever met. But make no mistake, when it comes to business, he is as hardheaded and as tough as they come.”
Greg’s story as an entrepreneur is meant to be told. He exited the tech landscape in 2002 only to re-emerge a few years later in the renewable energy space, as the co-founder of Bullfrog Power, a renewable energy retailer. Born from a visionary goal of transforming the electricity landscape in Canada, Bullfrog Power was among the very first social enterprises to exist in Canada, tackling global warming by offering renewable energy choices to consumers and businesses at a premium.
We sat down with Greg to talk about his unorthodox business model, what social innovation means to him, and what’s in store for his upcoming Lived It Lecture at MaRS on January 6, 2016.
MaRS: What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser?
Greg: Definitely Google. I shudder at how information-starved we were before the Internet. It’s shocking to me that we could get anything done in the 70s or 80s without access to even just Wikipedia. It’s Bill Gates’ vision come true: information at your fingertips. Now, it’s information at your voice. It’s a great world we live in where we can access everything with such ease. You don’t have to go to Encyclopedia Britannica at the library anymore.
MaRS: What has been your most important milestone to date?
Greg: There have been two standout moments in my career. The first was with our software company—the very first orders we received were really quite mind-blowing. The first time that we had companies paying for our software, where they just give you money in return for a series of 0s and 1s in a certain order, that was an exciting moment. The second was the day we launched Bullfrog Power. It was 2005. I’ll never forget that day. We really had no idea if there would be any interest in it. We had put out a bunch of media releases, but didn’t have any official response that anyone was going to come to the press event. At the last minute, the press event just filled up with TV cameras and Bullfrog Power was launched beyond our expectations. Those were two great moments for me.
MaRS: How many times have you had to pitch a product?
Greg: (Laughs). Thousands. Tens of thousands. I’ve been for many years out selling our software products, then Bullfrog Power, and now I’m selling a social product. I’d say I’ve been pitching probably five times a day for twenty years. I think the secret behind a pitch is, first of all, it has to be interesting. You have to believe it yourself. I don’t think any salesperson is successful if they’re not passionate about what they’re selling. And then you’ve got to flip out of your own perspective and into the perspective of your customer. Try before you meet them to understand their world as best you can, and explain what you’re trying to sell by referencing your customer’s perspective.
Watch a sneak preview of what’s in store for the upcoming Lived It Lecture with Greg Kiessling.