Your purpose should bring together your passion and how your technology can create meaningful change for your customers. Knowing that your company, your technology, and your mission are bigger than you is critical to creating change in the world around us. Our technology at EMPEQ aims to replace old, inefficient equipment with new as quickly as possible, and ultimately helps our customers solve their critical problems using AI.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rap. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact.” We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Herbert Dwyer, MBA.
Herbert Dwyer is Co-Founder and CEO of EMPEQ, a software development and financial technology company serving the commercial HVAC, energy engineering, and building equipment industries. A United States Marine and veteran, he has worked in the energy efficiency, finance, and real estate industries since 2006. In his tenure in the energy efficiency industry, he oversaw over 300 equipment audits and design-builds in energy efficiency and clean heating and cooling, inspiring him to co-found EMPEQ which created the Fast Site SurveyTM app.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
While not a typical upbringing, I was born into a Mennonite Community. I can remember the women wearing long dresses and, although we didn’t use one, many times horse and buggies would show up for Sunday services. My father was a sales engineer which meant we moved around a lot. This also meant I didn’t have an opportunity to establish long-term friendships. As soon as I’d find great friends, we’d be on the road again, only leading me to reestablish new friends all over again. I believe this constant cycle enabled me to learn many important things about myself and the people around me. I also think it’s why I truly enjoy meeting new people and welcome new ideas.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Wow, this is a great question. There have been so many twists and turns, and ups and downs. A few years ago, I found myself in-between startups. I wasn’t quite sure what my next adventure was going to be, but I wanted to continue that momentum I had built. During one of my checkups at the Veterans Administration (VA), it was suggested I consider going back to school or take a certificate program while I was looking for my next challenge. Due to finances, I didn’t think schooling was in the cards for me. Plus, I figured that an entrepreneur didn’t need an advanced degree to be successful, but it probably couldn’t hurt! The VA counselor let me know about a special program for service-connected disabled veterans that pays veterans to go to school. That sounded like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. A few months later, I was accepted to not only the VA program but also to the educational program of my choice. After receiving my wife’s blessing and support, I began my MBA at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Using this momentum, my current co-founders and I began to formalize the initial business model for EMPEQ.
Over the next 18 months, I found myself “drinking from the firehose” at Cornell, while balancing full-time startup life as well as my family commitments. In the end, even after the many sleepless nights and sacrifices made by my family and the EMPEQ team, I came away with so much more than just an MBA. The Johnson MBA program provided me with another incredible personal growth experience: teaching me to foster my natural curiosity and combine it with incredible lessons learned from real business professionals. It further fostered my appreciation for meeting and working with new people and the importance of taking in diverse ideas and perspectives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many amazing people that have helped me along the way. However, there is one person in particular that forever altered my life’s journey. In high school, I was bored and didn’t feel challenged. As you might imagine, my grades were a reflection of that. I was on my way to failing out of high school if it wasn’t for one of my teachers, Mrs. Joan Haviland. She worked with me to help get me focused and get my grades up. While I didn’t graduate top of my class, with her generous, unselfish help, I was able to graduate and be accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a long one but it is so relevant to an entrepreneur, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910
The quote may speak for itself, but to me there are no better words to describe an entrepreneur. Statistically speaking, it is highly unlikely that an entrepreneur will be successful. And like Roosevelt implies, that’s perfectly fine; the process of failing is also the process of winning. As entrepreneurs, we are the creators of change. We are the risk takers. Don’t let others discredit who you are or what you are capable of achieving. “Daring greatly” may not be for everyone.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
As a Marine, we were taught the 14 Leadership Traits. While all 14 are important to me, I found two traits to be most instrumental, as well as a third trait that I learned later in life.
- Perseverance/Endurance: There was a time a few years ago when things looked bleak for our startup. What made matters even worse is that I received a text message from our CFO and co-founder, Derek LaClair, with a screen shot of our online bank balance. The balance, and I kid you not, read “0.01 cents.” We had no idea where money would come from to keep our company afloat. We decided to either wallow in self-pity and pull up the stakes or do a gut-check and double down. After a long and difficult discussion, we doubled down and it made all the difference.
- Courage: I’ve heard my fellow Marines say, “There is a fine line between courage and stupidity.” Both can be well thought out or merely instantaneous. Both can have extremely successful or disastrous outcomes. An epiphany I had during a difficult period in my life was, “They may say, ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’… but maybe I’m just getting up to steer.” Sometimes it takes great courage to do something many others can’t or won’t do. I think one of my favorite stories of courage comes from a fellow Cornellian and veteran named Herb Thompson. Herb is a former Army Special Forces operator. While serving in Afghanistan, Herb and his small team of highly trained operators drove through a known Taliban ambush. Since all team members were in armored vehicles, visibility was low and the enemy would be hard to locate. Herb chose to ride in an unarmored pick-up truck, wholly exposed to enemy fire. He stacked three ballistic helmets to gain some semblance of protection. This courageous and heroic decision not only enabled him to gain a 360° view of the battle but enabled his team to exchange accurate return fire and push through the compromised position. Twice he had to dismount the truck and move on foot because the convoy stopped. Some critics might say it was stupid to knowingly ride into an ambush and not choose an armored vehicle. But that personal risk and decision made all the difference. As an entrepreneur, you will face similar situations. Maybe not requiring you to jump in front of live enemy fire, but probably a circumstance where people will call you stupid or crazy for rocking the boat.
- Learning to be present: I realize this may sound obvious, but I’ve seen so many leaders, including myself, struggle with being present. In the past, I found myself so wrapped up with life’s day-to-day minutia that I was losing track of the bigger picture. Emails, random phone calls/text messages, nonproductive meetings, worrying about tomorrow, they all started to add up. I began to not have time for the important stuff like family, working on the business, and enjoying just being human. I decided to make a change, own my shortcomings, and learn to be present — which ultimately helped my business grow, bring my family closer, and shape me as a leader. I personally believe that it’s difficult for people to multi-task and be present at the same time. Have you ever been in a meeting when you’re asking questions or trying to get something done and others are being distracted with emails, texting, or other tasks? It’s frustrating and annoying. What’s worse, is that it makes the others not multi-tasking feel less important. Given that EMPEQ is a 100% virtual remote company, meetings are an important time for us to connect. While I’m guilty of mindlessly multi-tasking as well during meetings, our team universally agreed at EMPEQ to shut down our phones, emails, and random apps during important meetings. This enables our team to be present and focused on problem solving and supporting one another by being present.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
We are enabling old, inefficient commercial and energy equipment to be inventoried and replaced as quickly as possible and at 60–80% less cost. In today’s world, it’s more important than ever for businesses to stay competitive, efficient, and environmentally conscious.
How do you think your technology can address this?
We provide our customers an Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven toolkit that includes the fastest way to inventory equipment and conduct a commercial building site survey or energy audit by automating and streamlining the site survey and proposal generation process down to a click of a smartphone’s camera. Included in the toolkit, we also provide attractive and cost-effective Embedded Point of Sale Financing to enable equipment owners to make the decision to replace old stuff with new, as soon as possible.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I’ve always been passionate about finding ways to make old things new again. Whether that’s renovating apartments, managing construction projects, or assisting commercial building owners with energy retrofits. You’ve probably heard the adage, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Many of us recycle on a daily basis but reducing and reusing is important to me. My passion for this industry is finding ways to make reducing and reusing as quick, easy, and cost effective as possible.
How do you think this might change the world?
I see our suite of technologies changing the world in various ways. For example, many commercial building owners only know what specific equipment they have in their buildings when it breaks. By assembling an inventory of equipment, a building owner gains a great deal of valuable intelligence. They can capital plan better, replace old, inefficient energy equipment with equipment that has much higher energy savings, and take advantage of government incentive programs.
However, the high cost of a quality energy audit may be holding a building owner or operator back from gaining this precious information. The U.S. Department of Energy says that energy audits cost a minimum of 0.12 cents to 0.50 cents/square foot. Our customers have reported that they’ve experienced a significant cost reduction and accuracy gain by using our Fast Site Survey app. This usually translates into a less expensive equipment audit for their customers. Which, I strongly believe, will only encourage the adoption of more commercial equipment and energy audits. Statistically speaking, with a large enough sample size, more energy audits will lead to more “old stuff” being replaced with “new stuff” more quickly and at lower costs.
If we are going to make a measurable impact against climate change, it has to happen now. EMPEQ’s technology, and our customers, will help the world win this war faster and at a much lower cost.
McKinsey Global Institute recently reported that by 2030, over 800 million workers globally could be displaced by AI. AI has received a bad rap; many times its value is seen as a way to produce major cost savings by replacing the workforce. Our technology is one of the few times that I’ve come across where AI can actually create, at scale, new jobs and opportunities for workers. Working with the Workforce Development Institute, we’ve found that our technology can actually help people living in disadvantaged communities change their career paths and find better paying jobs, simply by utilizing EMPEQ’s Fast Site Survey technology.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- For me, the first is to begin with a purpose. Your purpose should bring together your passion and how your technology can create meaningful change for your customers. Knowing that your company, your technology, and your mission are bigger than you is critical to creating change in the world around us. Our technology at EMPEQ aims to replace old, inefficient equipment with new as quickly as possible, and ultimately helps our customers solve their critical problems using AI.
- The second is to never be afraid to take the leap: Whether you’re at a big corporation, a small start-up, or somewhere in between, you might come up with an idea that could change the world for the better. Always know that if you see a problem in your industry or life, you have the power to fix it. When I was in the field doing energy audits, I knew there was a better, faster way to do this work — but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
- Which brings me to my next point: It’s critical to build a team that’s smarter than you. I knew when I was starting EMPEQ, I needed to bring on people with different skill sets than me — from marketing to finance to IT and beyond. Building a diverse and inclusive team, from different cultures, backgrounds, perspectives, and industries, helped bring the right people to the table. In turn, enabling EMPEQ to create smarter, faster, and better solutions for our customers.
- Next, it’s important to embrace the uncomfortable. It’s scary to create something new that’s never been done before. Not only does our technology challenge the status quo, but our company marries together software development to better serve the energy industry, while also offering solutions to financial challenges as well. “Rocking the boat” in the industry is really just another way to stand up to steer. Enjoy and embrace the uncomfortable as innovation is often born from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.
- Lastly, always keep moving forward: As a Marine, I learned that momentum is a force multiplier on the battlefield, and it’s no different as an entrepreneur. We use momentum on a daily basis; the technology we’re building works to fight climate change. We want to create change for today, not tomorrow or 10 years from now. We want to leave the planet better than how we found it, and knowing we’re making a difference is what drives us here at EMPEQ, and me as a CEO, each and every day.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We all live downstream from one another. What you put into the river of life will harm or help others. You don’t have to be perfect, but be mindful of your actions and present with your decision making. Because even small decisions have long-lasting repercussions. Even a tiny pebble being thrown into a calm pond can disrupt everything.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 😊
This is another difficult question! There are so many incredible people making the world a better place in their own unique way. People that come to mind include the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Guy Kawasaki. However, if I had to pick one, I would want to meet Deborah Farrington. She is a pioneer investor in the Software as a Service space and continues to be instrumental in the industry. I would enjoy hearing her insights on the industry, where she sees it going, and what advice she might offer a budding entrepreneur like me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.