Ask the Climate Startup is an interactive series we run at CLIMAFIX that derives key insights from innovative climate startup founders on many different aspects of their startup journey. (See all posts at Ask the Climate Startup)

This series is done as part of the CLIMAFIX Summit 2023, India’s largest climate startup summit, organized by CLIMAFIX & Energy Consortium – IIT Madras.

In this post, we have Aayush Jha of ClairCo sharing his perspectives.

CLIMAFIX thanks Aayush Jha for his valuable inputs.

Basics

1.Are you a first, second or later generation entrepreneur?

I am a First generation entrepreneur

2.What has been your previous work or professional experience?

I founded a company called ThinkWheels and then I worked as the India CEO for Bright Box which got acquired. I was also one of the founding members for Autoninja which also, later on got acquired.

3. Were there any special or specific reasons for you becoming an entrepreneur?

Solving important problems for humanity has been my motivation since I was a child and as a person I am deeply concerned about sustainability, thus I have always been curious about the problems that humanity faces at large and I used to keep thinking of ways to solve them. As I grew up, I found entrepreneurship to be a perfect way to pursue my ideas and create a venture which has a large positive impact on the world. 

4. Where or how did you meet your co founders?

My co-founder, Udayan, is a childhood friend of mine. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years and also, we went to the same school. When I came up with Clairco’s idea, I discussed it with many friends including Udayan and he was one of the people with whom my wavelength matched and we eventually decided to take the plunge and work together on Clairco. 

Highlights

5. Was there anything noteworthy you wish to talk about from your first year or the first couple of years of your startup?

We started in 2018 and in the first 12-18 months I encountered a lot of concerns about the scalability and defensibility of Clairco from my well-wishers and from investors. However, the common thread was that everyone appreciated the problem that we are solving but felt that it was slightly ahead of its time in terms of urgency of the problem. However, after the pandemic in 2020, we have seen a significant shift in people’s approach towards sustainability, climate change and air pollution which defined our journey in the years since the pandemic. While we are yet to witness the exponential growth in adoption of sustainable solutions in the market and in Clairco’s growth in particular, I believe we are very close to the inflexion point. 

6. Was there an Aha moment/s during your startup journey that made a dramatic difference (positive or negative difference)

The first such moment was when it clicked to us that we can convert ACs into air purifiers by retrofitting high grade filters, the second was when we figured out the B2B business model & the right target group in the market. All these happened between the year 2018-2019. The recent AHA moment occurred when we finally worked out the model to combine energy saving along with clean air as a service. All of the above are the positive aha moments. One negative aha moment was when we realized that we were yet to hit the product market fit with the clean air as a service model and perhaps invested prematurely on hiring senior sales people. 

 7.Were there any memorable, amazing or funny memories from your journey?

Yes there have been several such moments, perhaps a couple of amazing moments were when me and my co-founder made it to the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 list in 2020 and then when we closed our seed round of $500K after a tough 8-10 months during the lockdowns. A recent amazing moment was when we were among the 3 companies from around the world who won the pilot project with Aldar group in Dubai which has opened the door for us to launch in the UAE.

Perspectives

8. What was your biggest mistake in the startup journey? Something that you would like other startups to avoid?

The biggest mistake perhaps is to assume PMF prematurely and to not understand the market needs at the right time. All entrepreneurs tend to make these mistakes at some point and it is best to remain prudent about these pitfalls.

9. Looking back, what would you have tried to do differently if you were to start again?

We would have focused on developing the energy efficiency product sooner. 

10. Is there a question you would like startup founders to ask before they start?

Startup founders should spend a good amount of time in understanding the market, estimate the right market size and arrive at the right product which has a chance of hitting PMF sooner. However, I think arriving at the right product needs multiple iterations as it keeps changing with the evolving market conditions especially in niche segments like climate tech where the pace of innovation is rapidly increasing along with the growing awareness around climate change as its impact is being felt almost every week now in some part of the world or other. Thus, having a macroscopic perspective in terms of the problem statements out there while having a deep understanding of the business models which the industry would prefer are key in developing a compelling solution.

11. What keeps you awake at night?

The sheer size of the opportunity that we have at hand to counter the climate crisis and the amount of impact Clairco can possibly create globally.

Others

12. What do you think are your biggest strengths that are especially helping you in your journey?

I think Clairco’s strengths lies firstly in its strong gross margins which helps us in investing in R&D even without raising a lot of external capital, secondly, I believe we are quite agile in terms of decision making and execution of new ideas into products which helps us pivot fast.

13. How were you able to find – and retain good talent – given the vast, lucrative opportunities such talent has today?

We have faced a fair share of challenges in attracting and retaining quality talent and there have been several iterations of building the A team, however, at the same time we have been fortunate enough in attracting the right kind of talent for the most part.

14. Was there some support or help you received in your startup journey that proved critical? Who would you like to thank?

I would like to thank all the investors and mentors whom we have met over the years who provided critical feedback and insights which helped us in picking the right strategies time and again. And of course, we would like to specially thank the investors who have decided to back us and continue to do this early in our journey.



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