Jit Bhattacharya to relocate from Silicon Valley to Uganda
Kampala, Uganda – July 18, 2017 – Jit Bhattacharya, best known for his pioneering work in electric vehicles, has been appointed as Chief Technology Officer at Fenix International. The next-generation energy and financial services company has hired the well-respected Silicon Valley engineer and entrepreneur as part of an ongoing mission to deliver breakthrough technology and products to sub-Saharan Africa. Bhattacharya’s more than 10 years of experience in energy storage systems and product development will inform his work with the company.
Prior to accepting the role with Fenix, Bhattacharya worked as a senior manager in the special projects group at Apple Inc. Until 2014, Bhattacharya had served as the CEO and President of Mission Motors, a company which developed state-of-the-art technology for the emerging electric vehicle sector. Their company’s record-breaking electric motorcycle remains one of the highest performing electric vehicles ever constructed.
Under Bhattacharya’s leadership, the company raised over $30 million in capital and delivered battery and powertrain technology to manufacturers around the world including Honda Racing, Caterpillar, and Harley-Davidson.
In his new role, Bhattacharya will lead development of the company’s next generation products, whilst ensuring that Fenix continues to provide exceptional customer experience to off-grid customers.
Bhattacharya will also lead Fenix’s data science efforts as the company seeks to improve and extend its unique credit scoring for off grid customers into a wider portfolio of financing products offered through their ReadyPay platform.
As early as 2005, consultancy work on electrification in rural South Africa gave Bhattacharya exposure to the challenges and opportunities of off-grid home solar systems. This on the-ground experience will ensure that Fenix’s technology remains specifically designed for the last-mile customers they are targeting.
Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Fenix International stated: “We’re all incredibly excited to see how Jit’s passion, skills and vision will accelerate our growth in the coming years. We know that if Fenix is going to achieve its mission of empowering last-mile customers with the benefits of solar energy, our technology and products need to be at the cutting edge of quality and cost. Jit has a track record of delivering world-class products and we’re looking forward to him bringing that experience to Fenix.”
Jit Bhattacharya, in his new role as CTO of Fenix International, commented: “Fenix has incredible credentials within the off-grid energy sector and are constantly striving to find the technology that will empower more change. With the costs of solar and battery technology continuing to improve, we have an incredible opportunity to bring life-changing energy systems to more households than ever before. Fenix’s fearless pursuit of this goal is one of the reasons I am thrilled to be joining the team in Uganda.”
Fenix are already providing their flagship home solar system, ReadyPay Power, to over 120,000 households in Uganda. The company, which has operations in Silicon Valley and Uganda, is planning further expansion into African markets with their pay-to-own delivery model.
Originally published as a Member Spotlight for the Energy Access Practitioner Network.
Energy access for those living off-grid is a pressing concern. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #7 states that in 13 short years, by 2030, there should be universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services. Universal energy access is an important goal, but energy services must go above and beyond the basic requirements of the SDG. For people earning $2 to $10 per day, who make up 56% of the global population, energy products need to provide outstanding value. For families to survive on such low budgets, each purchase must be carefully considered. Cost is an obvious and immediate concern, but so too is quality. Ultra-cheap products can create market spoilage, as customers buy products only to have them rapidly break, and families can ill afford repeat purchases.
For customers to switch to clean energy products and continue using them – instead of reverting to kerosene lamps or candles – businesses must focus not only on the physical products but also on providing an exceptional customer experience. Fenix International was founded with a mission to provide transformative energy and financial services to off-grid customers, with customer experience at the core of our mission. This customer experience includes several key components:
As a vertically-integrated energy and financial services company, Fenix designs and manufactures ReadyPay solar home systems and sells them directly to last-mile customers. All our product managers (and over 95% of our team) are based in Uganda and spend significant time in the field to ensure that our hardware engineering team, based in Silicon Valley, designs products that meet the precise needs of our customers. By following human-centered design principles, listening to customer feedback, and implementing these requests in future product iterations, we more closely meet customers’ evolving requirements.
Fenix has implemented numerous customer-requested changes throughout the history of our business. Many customers asked for additional light points for the multiple rooms in their homes, and so we’ve expanded our SHS offerings to include a variety of kit sizes, some with up to 6 LED lights. TVs are incredibly popular, and so we’ve sourced an ultra-efficient LED TV, with a screen approximately the size of a laptop, and work with content providers to make sure customers who purchase a TV have programs to watch even in remote locations. Families also want to be able to upgrade their kit, so we sell additional solar panels paired with appliances (either a radio or a lantern) to increase kit size without having to purchase a whole new SHS.
Durability of off-grid energy products is also paramount. Fenix conducts rigorous testing at both the factory and the kitting facility in Uganda to ensure that ReadyPay power systems will work as intended throughout their lifespan. With a three-year warranty, families are assured that any technical problems will be addressed should they arise.
Appropriate Business Models
For the vast majority of off-grid customers, the cash price of SHS is too great for them to afford. Consumer financing is essential to reaching these households, so Fenix sells ReadyPay solar home systems on a lease-to-own basis. Customers put down a small deposit, take home and self-install the SHS, and then pay off the remainder of the cost over 18 to 30 months via Mobile Money payments. Our smallest SHS has a daily rate of $0.20, making it one of the most affordable lease-to-own kits in Uganda. After each payment, customers receive a code that unlocks their kit for the amount of time paid. The lease-to-own model not only allows customers to afford the SHS, but also helps customers begin to create a credit score as they repay their loan. Fenix first launched in Uganda with a cash sales model, and sold 5,000 kits in two years; since switching to a lease-to-own basis, we have sold over 100,000 kits in three years.
Last-Mile Sales and Distribution
Fenix partners with MTN, the largest telco in Africa and Uganda, to drive SHS adoption and benefit both companies. Fenix attracts customers who may be skeptical of solar (due to market spoilage or concerns about new technology) with the the visibility and reputation of the trusted MTN brand. MTN builds increased loyalty and improved relationships with customers through offering high-quality ReadyPay solar, and extensively emphasizes this benefit and partnership in its branding. MTN also increases mobile money penetration in rural areas.
The Fenix-MTN partnership helps reach last-mile customers who may not be able to afford travel. Based out of 90 Fenix points of sale, many co-located with MTN shops, our commissioned sales representatives reach far into the most rural parts of Uganda. Representatives travel long distances on motorbikes and put on market-based events to reach off-grid communities with SHS. Sales representatives demonstrate kits, answer questions, and help customers choose the most appropriate kit for their needs.
After-Sales Customer Experience
While being able to reach customers across a wide geography is key, building relationships with customers is also paramount. Satisfied customers are better paying customers and refer still more customers, leading to increased adoption of energy products. To ensure a stellar customer experience, Fenix runs a call center where representatives speaking over 25 languages follow up with each customer after the sale. Call center associates also handle inbound calls from customers who have questions about their systems or technical issues to address. If a customer has a technical issue and needs to bring the SHS in for service, he or she is directed to the nearest of 20 Fenix service centers across Uganda, where repairs under warranty are completed for free. If a customer has a problem that can’t be addressed at one the service center, he will be offered an immediate swap so he can continue using the SHS right away instead of waiting for a repair.
Off-grid customers deserve high-quality, long-lasting energy products and incredible customer service, and the long-term success of the energy access industry depends on creating a positive experience for families. By putting the customer experience at the heart of our business, Fenix has reached over 100,000 customers in Uganda to date. We will continue to expand our product line and reach new geographies in 2017 to bring energy access, an exceptional experience, and better lives to even more families in the future.
Fenix International reaches 100,000 customers as part of Africa’s infrastructure revolution
KAMPALA, UGANDA – January 23, 2017 – Fenix International, a venture-backed technology company providing a next generation energy solution, has reached 100,000 customers in Uganda. This figure stands at double the 50,000 customers Fenix had 12 months ago, and comes just over two years after the company celebrated its 10,000th customer in 2014.
Its flagship solar power system, ReadyPay Power, is generating radical access to energy in Uganda where over 80% of people lack access to electricity: roughly 600,000 people in Ugandan households are now benefiting from the 1.2 million watts of solar installed across the country.
In addition, Fenix estimates that more than 200,000 dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps have been displaced by their product. With an estimated $23 billion spent per year on kerosene, the company’s battle against ‘dirty light’ will continue to bring safe, affordable power to the millions who live off-grid.
Fenix’s business model uses a pay-to-own payment plan. Customers pay just $0.15 per day for the entry level product, with 36 months to complete payment for the entry level $160 solar home system. This inclusive price point is the most affordable pay-to-own home solar system in Uganda and is key to the company’s scale in a country where the average salary is less than $2/day.
Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Fenix International, said: “Since we started selling ReadyPay on the pay-to-own model in 2014, we’ve seen exceptional demand. I’m incredibly proud of our team, who’ve worked hard to
reach last mile customers in this underserved market and relentlessly provide an exceptional customer experience.”
“Arriving at 100,000 customers showcases our fantastic growth record, but more importantly it represents more than 600,000 Ugandans who now have power and bright, safe light in their homes for the very first time. In addition, all of our off-grid customers build up a credit score, opening up new access to financial services and additional product upgrades.”
Hitting the 100,000 customer milestone brings the total of solar leases deployed by Fenix to over $20 million. ReadyPay works by unlocking access to the battery as soon as a customer makes a micro instalment which are facilitated by MTN Mobile Money. Fenix’s unique partnership with MTN, Africa’s largest telecom, has seen customers generate over 2.5 million mobile power payments so far.
Building on a robust financing model, a high-quality product, and utter commitment to exceptional customer experience, Fenix is now poised to take ReadyPay and additional product lines to new African markets in the coming year.
New World of Financing Opens Up for Ugandans
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – April 25, 2016 – Fenix International, the largest provider of off-grid home solar in Uganda, announces that it has signed over 60,000 leases for its product, ReadyPay Power, since January 2014. The leases, totaling $11 million in value, have brought an estimated 300,000 Ugandans power for the first time and each lessee their first line of credit.
Ugandans, living on an average of less than $2/day, make only a small deposit to take home their approximately $200 solar system. Customers then pay off the remaining cost in affordable installments via Mobile Money over 18-24 months until they own the system outright. Fenix’s innovative hardware and software enable the company to lock the solar system if customers fail to make payments. The company receives and processes over 120,000 payments per month, and a total of $5.7 million has been paid back through 1.4 million payments.
“Our success to date demonstrates the incredible demand for ReadyPay and the robustness of our financing platform,” said Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Fenix International. “First, we are bringing clean, affordable power to replace expensive and dangerous kerosene lanterns. Second, customers build a credit history that allows us to provide additional financing for solar system upgrades and other life-changing products and services.”
Fenix partners with MTN, Africa’s largest telecom, to sell and distribute their ReadyPay Power systems, and with foreign investors to finance their leases. The company is expanding rapidly and investing in growing its customer base, product portfolio and market reach in 2016.
Investment Enables Fenix International to Increase Production and Distribution of ReadyPay Solar Systems in Africa; Device Empowers Mobile Communications and Economic Development in Off-grid Areas
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, JAN. 26, 2015 – Fenix International, a next-generation renewable energy company working in emerging markets, announced today that it has closed $12.6 million in Series B and working capital financing. Fenix International partners with global telecom companies such as MTN, Orange and Vodafone to supply mobile-enabled solar systems to off-grid African communities. Fenix aims to enhance quality of life for people who lack access to energy, communications, or the credit necessary to make such purchases.
This funding round includes investments from GDF Suez, Schneider Electric, Orange France Telecom, clean tech entrepreneurs Tom Dinwoodie and Warner Philips, and other impact investors. Fenix International, headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices in East Africa, designs, manufactures and distributes ReadyPay Solar, a mobile payment-enabled solar panel and smart battery, which empowers farmers and other rural residents with convenient, affordable access to clean electrical power. ReadyPay eliminates the need for dirty and dangerous diesel generators, candles and kerosene lamps that cause millions of fires and burns every year. Customers can charge their cell phones, run businesses after dark, and study using clean, bright LED lights connected to the solar-powered kit.
“Fenix’s mission –to deliver improved quality of life to the 1.3 billion people who live without power in developing nations– is both inspiring and achievable,” said solar industry pioneer and clean tech investor Tom Dinwoodie. “Fenix International’s dedicated team has reached impressive milestones. ReadyPay Solar is in use in thousands of villages, helping tens of thousands of families modernize their homes and businesses with clean electricity, all for less than the cost of fossil fuels.”
“ReadyPay Solar is an innovation at the intersection of renewable energy, mobile communications and microfinance that empowers East Africa residents to light their homes, grow their businesses and improve their quality of life,” noted Fenix International founder and CEO Mike Lin. “Before ReadyPay, a solar energy system would cost a farmer more than a third of her annual income, but now she can finance clean, reliable electricity with her cell phone, by making micro-payments as little as $0.35 per day. This most recent infusion of capital will enable us to accelerate production and provide our breakthrough technology to even more communities throughout Africa.”
“GDF SUEZ Rassembleurs d’Energies corporate impact investment fund finances economically feasible and sustainable innovations that deliver a positive social and environmental impact, while creating local jobs. Fenix International’s ReadyPay Solar solution is fully in line with our mission of providing sustainable energy access to low income populations excluded from reliable energy services,” said Gerard Mestrallet, Chairman and CEO of GDF SUEZ.
Jean Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and CEO of Schneider-Electric, said, “At Schneider Electric, we are convinced that the alliance of technology and innovative financing such as impact investing will be a major contributor to development through access to energy. We believe that Fenix International will be instrumental in this field and we are very proud that our Social Impact Fund (SEEA) participates to their development.”
“With more than 600 million off-grid mobile connections globally, Orange Fab is very pleased to be working closely with Fenix International, an Orange Fab Accelerator alumni, to power these subscribers, improving their access to communications and the internet,” said Georges Nahon, CEO of Orange Silicon Valley and President of Orange Institute.
About Fenix International: Founded in 2009, Fenix International (www.fenixintl.com) is a venture-backed renewable energy company with offices in East Africa and Silicon Valley. With core expertise in power electronics, product design and rural sales and marketing, Fenix’s mission is to deliver quality of life to the 1.3 billion people who live without power in emerging markets. Fenix is a grant recipient from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and from the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation, Inc. (GSMA Foundation), which, in turn, received its funding by UK aid from the UK Government. The views expressed are not necessarily those of GSMA Foundation or the UK Government.