What is it like to be the first startup in your industry? The first to disrupt? The first to see the problem and know that you can fix it? I’ll Go First, a podcast from The Globe and Mail, takes us on a journey to find out.
John Paul Morgan: Rich people can buy their way out, they can turn up the air conditioning. You know they’ll be fine but how can you wake up every day having the power to change the world and choosing not to, even though you can see that this planet’s on a collision course
[Theme music fades in: Upbeat, digital]
Takara Small: Welcome back to I’ll Go First, from the Globe and Mail.
I’m Takara Small. I’m a tech journalist and founder of VentureKids Canada.
On this season of “I’ll Go First” We are getting up close and personal with the entrepreneurs who are changing the way our society works.
We’re skipping the small talk and ditching the elevator pitch.
We want to find out what it takes to blaze a trail, to be the first to see a problem with the world and know that you can fix it.
So we’re starting this new season with someone who is creating technologies to solve this planet’s greatest problem.
Protestors Chanting: What do we want? Climate Action! When do we want it? Now!
BBC Reporter: In the decades ahead as the planet heats up more ice here will melt
Greta Thunberg: Entire ecosystems are collapsing
Protestors chanting: Climate change is not a lie! Do not let our planet die!
[Theme music ends]
TS: Canadians have plenty to say when it comes to today’s changing climate. Wildfires in the west, flooding in the east and record-breaking temperatures in the Arctic are just some extreme changes to our weather. The predictions are that this is just the start.
The economic cost is real too. Crops are being damaged by late frosts and storms are damaging our homes. The bill is really starting to add up.
So we’re speaking to the man who wants to fix all that.
JPM: My name is John Paul Morgan. I’m the chief technology officer of Morgan Solar, Morgan Solar is a solar energy technology development company that makes super efficient solar panels and that manages light around buildings.
TS: John Paul Morgan brims with energy, and his passion for his work is immediately obvious.
He views his company as more than a way to make money. It’s his way of changing the world.
When John arrived at our studios, he wasn’t what we were expecting from the founder of an energy company. He had a scruffy beard, a baseball cap, white trainers and a warm grin.
And while his motivations are partly selfless, they aren’t totally what you would expect.
Commercial: This episode of I’ll Go First is brought to you by National Car Rental, where you can skip the counter and choose any car in the aisle. Keep listening to find more ways to stay in the driver’s seat when you’re travelling for business.
TS: Why did you decide to start the company?
JPM: That’s a really good question. So I decided to start the company because back in 2006, I was researching other solar companies to try to go and work for one of them. And I was looking what everyone was doing. Like technology wise, I was like all this stuff from the 70s. Like, no one’s really.... And I was I think I was wrong. I think I totally underestimated what my competitors were doing. But at the time, I kind of had the sense, like I see a huge opportunity to do things like way better using cheaper materials. And I was like, I should just start my own company, do that. And it seemed like a joke because most companies fail. And then I was like solar energy is really important. Someone’s got to figure it out. I’m probably one of the failures, but what if I’m the success and I didn’t do it. So kind of talked myself into it like that.
TS: Do you view yourself as an environmentalist?
JPM: Um, yeah, I mean, definitely now. Yeah, to be honest, when I first started the company, I would make a point of being like this isn’t about climate change because I thought climate change was coming in like 100 years. I didn’t realize it was like right on top of us. What I was more worried about was energy poverty. I’d spent the year prior to starting the company living in Africa, in the Congo, in a town of 30,000 people with no motor vehicles and five electric generators like everyone else was using kerosene lanterns and basically just getting by without electricity. And I was like, man, not having electricity is kind of punishing. You know, you have to transport your own water by hand rather than pumping it. You have to grind your flour by manually instead of using a mill. Electricity is a really liberating thing. And I’m like, man. We gotta make solar energy super cheap so that people who can’t afford fossil fuel energy can have something and can have the same quality of life that we have in the electrified, developed world. So that’s why that was my main impetus at starting the company, was I want to provide energy to people who can’t afford energy. And then while I was doing it, like, oh, wow, OK. Climate change is not a future problem. It’s a right now problem. And I kind of came around on it. I think along with the rest of the world.
TS: And what was that moment where your ideology behind the company and what you’re doing shifted when we’re you’re like, OK, climate change is just as important or maybe more so.
JPM: I mean, I don’t know that I’m actually there. I actually think that eliminating human suffering is the most important thing. And however, climate change is going to cause a ton of human suffering. So climate change is important inasmuch as it’s going to hurt a lot of vulnerable people. And so I don’t think I’ll come around at all. I’ve just realized that the same vulnerable people that I was always worried about are going to now get impacted from all sides by like environmental calamity. And I mean, I care about biodiversity. I care about wildlife tremendously. But, you know, at the end of the day, I care about like my brothers and sisters on the world more than anything else.
TS: And it’s interesting because a, you know, individuals who are living in poverty or who are living in financial challenging times, they’re the ones you’re going to be impacted by changing weather patterns and by climate change more so than anyone else. So they don’t have the financial means to move or to improve their situation.
JPM: For sure, rich people can buy their way out. They can turn up the air conditioning. You know, they’ll be fine. But that’s the really terrible thing to me is that you have a lot of people in the world who are easily in a position to adapt and adjust and have a tremendous amount of essentially disposable income to spend on mitigating their own discomfort against a changing climate. And meanwhile, they’re not willing to commit that money that they have that they’re going to spend on climate change in the future, to spend it now to avoid climate change from happening at all.
TS: Why do you think people who do have the financial means to adapt and adjust, like you said, aren’t?
JPM: I think people are really fundamentally very selfish. Like I think there’s a lot of good in the world. And if I meet a person on the street, I assume they’re probably a good person. But yeah, I mean, there’s no other explanation for it. How can you wake up every day having the power to change the world and choosing not to? Choosing to continue to reinforce the status quo, even though you can see that this planet on a collision course? I don’t see how you can do that. And be, be a very moral person.
TS: Do you feel like you’re educating individuals at the same time as trying to sell them a solution that is more environmentally friendly?
JPM: I kind of keep this stuff out of the day to day interactions with Morgan Solar because, frankly because people are a bit selfish. I’m not going to make 10,000 sales or a million sales appealing to heartstrings. And so at the end of the day, you have to. It has to be about just dollars and cents. And so we’re always just trying to make the most efficient, the least costly, the simplest, the easiest to use. Easiest to communicate. A lot of what we’re doing right now. A lot of our current focus and new products we’re rolling out are actually software oriented and web oriented So that I actually have to get to way too much detail to explain it. So maybe we can go down that rabbit hole.
TS: No, let’s do it. I’m interested, I’m interested.
JPM: OK, so right now, a big problem from a global climate change perspective is cities. And within cities, buildings are one of the main causes of energy use. And yet when it comes to considering questions about the energy envelope of the building, how much solar energy hits it in the summer and how hard that has to push the air conditioning, cause it heats up the building. How much heat it loses in the winter, you end up getting a kind of complicated technical question that to even begin to answer you have to go and hire some consultant and pay them 15, 20, 60 thousand dollars to do some proprietary software studies for you to generate some reports being like, here’s your energy opportunity, here’s how much you’re wasting. Here’s here’s all this information back and then you can use that to decide if you’re going to do something or not.
So what we’re trying to do is basically make that whole exploratory phase frictionless so that the Web site that we’re going to be launching in the new year is going to, at its core, be a kind of a map based interface. You’re going to open it up. It’s like Google Maps ish and you’re gonna scroll around. You can find where you’re interested in checking out. And then once you’ve selected a spot, boom, it’s going to explode into like a 3D map view. Nothing novel there. I mean, you can look at a 3D map on Google Earth, but then it’s going to do a ton of back end like in-depth solar analysis on like, okay, how much solar energy is hitting this building from where? How much shadow is it getting from other buildings? And it’s gonna to quickly characterize like the energy opportunity that the building represents. And then it’s going to let the user select any of a huge catalog of different things you could do, upgrade the installation, change the windows, put in solar panels on the facade, put it in solar panel windows that are kind of translucent. There’s going to include products that my company makes as well as products that my competitors make and that, you know, standard products off the shelf. And that’ll let someone essentially explore options for their building and come up with ideas of ways to massively reduce the CO2 emissions of the building. And that'll be 15 minutes on an interactive website where at the end of it, you get all these great reports, you get all this data out of it, you can click a button to buy it from us or etc. and all of that without having to plunk down a ton of money and wait weeks for a consultant to go away, do their work and then bring back a report. That's then, you know, it's a it's a document, but it's not actionable immediately.
And people have done it already for rooftop solar. So this what I’m talking about essentially exists in a few different forms for like a single family home, suburban residential rooftop solar, where all you’re dealing with is maybe just a few trees, maybe there’s a little bit of shadow. But generally speaking, it’s like a fairly simple situation and you can just use satellite images to be like, oh, I can guess how much energy this thing’s going to have and you can make predictions. Things get really complicated when you’ve got 3D buildings and huge buildings casting shadows on each other and nothing exists to solve that problem right now, and also nothing exists that lets you do this on a website and software beyond solar panels, because solar panels aren’t always the best way to reduce greenhouse gases from a building.
TS: Oh! Go into that.
JPM: Well, I mean, here in Toronto or in BC, where we’re doing a lot of work, the grid is relatively clean. We do burn a bit of natural gas in Ontario to make electricity, but most of it, the majority comes from wind, solar, nuclear and hydro. So it’s zero carbon electricity for the most part in Ontario. And that means that if you’re looking to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of a particular home or building, you just gotta terminate the natural gas. You’ve got to get the natural gas use down. That’s rule number one. Solar panels are going to generate more electricity and yeah, it’ll be clean, but that’s just gonna replace clean electricity. I’m not saying I think solar panels aren’t a great business case in Ontario. They can save you money, but they’re not going to reduce your environmental impact on the climate. So insulation, that eliminating heating element in natural gas. Those are the the most important things to do.
TS: How can you convince individuals who don’t believe in the effects of climate change? If, for instance, their livelihood does depend on it, it seems like you’re waging a war that’s almost impossible to win.
JPM: That may be true. That may be true. And if it’s a war that’s impossible to win a war, I’d rather die fighting than give up on. Right? This is kind of like when I started the company in the first place. When I first started the company, I’m like, yeah this company’s probably not going to work out most. Most companies fail in their first couple of years… but that doesn’t mean that you don’t try. And so yeah, this is a tough fight.
I think fundamentally the reason the climate change fight is so hard is because if I own an oil well or if I own a pipeline or if I own like a big piece of infrastructure, I have the expectation that I’m going to continue to collect revenue from that in perpetuity. These are revenue streams that are owned by very wealthy people and very wealthy families and whatever. And they don’t anticipate that those taps are getting turned off anytime soon. And we need to turn off those taps. And so we need to say, sorry, rich families of the world, but your revenue streams are going to dry up so you've got to diversify and get other revenue streams or just, you know, live within your means is what you've got so far.
You know, we’re talking obviously billions of millions of dollars a year flowing from everyone because we buy gas, we buy products that are shipped with gas. We heat our homes with natural gas, blah, blah, blah. So that’s this transfer from all of humanity collectively to some very small fraction of humanity, so there’s a willingness to really put up massive barriers. Exxon is the most famous case of this, where they’ve been financing climate denial and obfuscation for decades, they knew in the 70s. So right now, one of our one of our most exciting products is actually based on initial work done by Exxon in 1978, the year I was born.
TS: Oh, wow.
JPM: And we were working on this. And then I found this old patent from 1978. I’m like, hang on. They were on to something here. And if they had just followed through on that work from 40 years ago... but they, I think, realized, well, you know, we’re making a lot of money under the status quo. We could probably ride this out for a couple more decades before we ever worry about it. So instead of taking action on climate change in the 80s when it was being seriously discussed, people were like, oh, we should do something about this. Instead, they just financed this huge political machine and think tanks and B.S. Scientists to just sort of spread doubt. And now the fruits of that are the ignorance of a lot of people who just don’t believe in it, don’t want to believe in it, or even have adopted a contrarian view of like “Well, I think it’s going to be good. And I’m going to actually push for climate change.”
On Twitter, I’m always seeing people making jokes about like, you know, one person’s like, I’m going to stop flying. So I’ve stopped flying.
TS: How do you move?
JPM: I drive, I run an electric car. If I need to go somewhere..
TS:Let’s just say you have to fly to a conference in the U.S.
JPM: I’ll turn it down or I’ll drive. So I was recently invited to a great conference in Copenhagen. That’s like, thank you so much. I’m not going to be able to attend.
TS: Do you believe in carbon offsetting?
JPM: Uh… Not. Not really. I mean, I think it’s better than nothing. But I think it’s worse than just not emitting the carbon. Right. You can recycle a plastic bag or you can just not take it from the store in the first place. And that’s the better thing. It’s better to just refuse, like introducing it into the waste stream. And same with CO2. You can emit it and then be like, well, I hope that this money I’m paying these people to plant these trees, you know, makes up for what the ill that I’ve done. But maybe just don’t do the ill.
TS: And so what experience did you have before you started the business, though, in the solar industry?
JPM: So in the solar industry directly, the only experience I had was my undergrad thesis. So back in 2001 when I was doing my undergraduate thesis, that was on as a kind of thin film solar panel. But then after undergrad, I left. I went to go and work in fiber optics. I went to work for this company called JDS Uniphase in Ottawa. And I had a great short career there. I was there for three years. I loved it. I got noticed kind of on right away on my second or third day. I put up my hand in a meeting and suggested an idea that then became my first patent. They were just trying to solve some problem. I was like, well, here’s an obvious solution to the problem that you guys are talking about. I’m just like throwing it out there. And then, yeah, people laughed at it at the time and then a couple of weeks later it’s like, oh, yeah, that was a good idea. Let’s do that. And so they did. They kind of built this little you know, it was like a little like a little tweak. It wasn’t like a major breakthrough.
TS: You still have that patent?
JPM: Yeah, that’s still probably in effect for another year. I got a dollar for it. They bought it off me for a dollar was like a sort of a I don’t know, not a technicality. Would you call that a formality? I had to sign a thing.
They’re like, here, thank you for the invention.
TS: Do you regret selling that invention for a dollar?
JPM: I had no choice. It was like I was I was an employee. Those were the rules.
TS: Sorry. It annoys me that you only got a dollar for that.
JPM: No but I also got three years of gainful employment. And because I got noticed by the higher ups for solving a big problem, they gave me a bunch of interesting projects. They’re like, can you do this? Can you do that? Try this nut. And plus, I could totally phone it in if I didn’t want to work it. Like I was just like. They’re like, well, he’s probably working on something good. So it’s like, don’t worry that he’s just reading, you know, blogs.
So I did that for a bunch of years. I learned about R and D. I learned about how to develop new products. The main thing that I learned at J.D. Uniphase, what I always tell people is that we were on the absolute cutting edge of fiber, fiber optics, communication. So we were building the fastest routers for fiber optics of anyone in the world by like by a lot. I remember there’d be like four people standing around a workbench in the optics lab. And one of the technicians is like pushing a prism with a Q tip to like line it up while watching a number on the dial. And then he’s like, “oh, there, stop, hit it with the UV gun to lock into place. Good. Now let’s package it and sell it for a hundred thousand dollars” and like we would do that. And it’s like, oh, I get it. The cutting edge being at like the pinnacle of human performance in a technology space. The cutting edge literally just needs an empty room and a table and four people to sit around to hash out a problem for three months. And if you can. If you can do that, if you can get enough money together to pull that a little team together and work on a problem, you can do something that hasn’t ever been done before and you can do it better than it’s ever been done.
TS: Sounds exhilarating.
JPM: Yeah. It was liberating. It was realizing that it’s like, OK, I can I can do things that no one has ever done before and it’s a breeze and everyone can. It’s not just me. It’s like the there is no barrier to innovation.
So I did JD Uniphase for a while and then I went and did a Masters. I didn't want to build the Internet. I looked at what we were doing there and like, this is neat. But if I step away, someone else is going to come and do this job, they'll just hire someone else.
And I think to myself, what is this thing I can do in the world that's going to actually help people? Because I don't think faster Internet is it. And so I went away and I did a masters degree in medical imaging. So I was working with like MRI machines, doing some interesting stuff there. And then while I was doing this degree I ran into a friend who worked for Doctors Without Borders and was like, “oh, you're you working for doctors without borders. Tell me about that. Where?” And he’s like “I'm in the Sudan. I'm doing this and that.” And we started talking and I came to learn some things. I came to learn that 60 percent, at that time anyway, of needles used for vaccinations were unsterilised. I came to learn that like a lot of kids didn't have access to measles vaccines. And I came to realize it's like, oh. MRI machines being better isn't the barrier to helping humanity deal with health care. It is a lower tech problem than that. And the cutting edge of medical technology is just going to help rich people live a couple of years longer.And I'd rather make 100 people live for 20 more years than make a few people live for five more years.
So I finished my masters like I did. I kind of wanted to quit. But I was like whatever I'll just write my thesis, get it done.
And then I actually took a job with doctors at Borders. I went to Africa and I got exposed to what it means to be without electricity. And that’s kind of when everything clicked in my head, I’m like, OK, I know what I need to do. Like, my mission is electricity is electricity for everyone. It’s clean electricity. And that kind of just became my obsession.
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TS: Your dad helped you with the initial investment. Yeah. What’s that like having your dad as an investor in your company?
JPM: Honestly, it’s fine, like it was good. And in fact, now my dad works for me. So he was. Yeah. So at the time when I started the company, my dad was living in Spain. He was working. He worked for Ernst and Young when I was younger. And then Ernst Young got acquired by this French headquartered company. My dad is a native Latin American Spanish speaker. So he got co-opted and moved over to their Spanish office and was working in Madrid. And he was getting toward the age of retirement. And t I felt like I wanted, I wanted to work with him. And so I asked him to come and join the company and basically come and work for me. And I couldn’t pay him as much as they were paying him. But I just I know how he’s got an incredible work ethic. He’s super smart and I really admire him. And so I just wanted to bring him on board. And it is something that people do a double take at but if you ask anyone who works with us, it’s like, yeah, we are family, but we don’t like it. We’re not we’re not family in the way like the Trumps where we just, like, let each other get away with nothing. And, you know, it’s just like we’re all phoning it in. No we push each other to work really hard. We’re really demanding of each other. And yeah, I like working with my family cause I know they’re there. They’ve got good work ethic. Me, I know I can count on them to like take care of what I put them in charge of. Yeah. I just really like being around my dad. I know that’s weird for an adult.
TS: No, it’s not. And your brother too. That was that when you started too?
JPM: That was from the beginning.
TS: Yeah. When you started the company. Was that just out of necessity because he wanted to work with someone who maybe perhaps understood the mission and wouldn’t ask for too much.
JPM: Well, it’s definitely part of it. I used to joke that the reason that I wanted family is because I could pay them way under market versus what I got out of them. But I think in the case of my brother, he just was so excited by what I was working on. He was also living in Europe and he came to visit. Right. When I first started the company and I hadn’t even incorporated yet. I was just still tinkering with ideas in my back yard. And he came over and was like tinkering around with me and just was like “I’m gonna quit. I’m going to come in like, I’m going to come and do this with you. Like I this is so amazing. I just need to.” And I remember at the time being like “oh, man, no, don’t don’t like you. Like, I can’t handle your salary. Don’t do it” But he’s like, “that’s fine. I’ll just do it.” And then he did.
TS: You have a two year old at home. How has that impacted your business, your career?
JPM: It has definitely made me far more efficient with my time. It has made me much better at just like hammering through things and getting to end of job. So I find that I don’t get stuck as often as I used to. Sometimes I would be uncertain as to what way to proceed and I would kind of pause or hang at a precipice for days. And I never do that anymore. I get to the precipice. I’m like, OK, going this way. Decision made. Move on. I’m not that I’m always making the right decision by making decisions way faster. And I think part of that is that I want to get home for dinner. I want to give him a bath. I want to get him in bed and then I wanna get back to work. And I think that time management thing has definitely become a key part of being able to do that. And I think that the work is every bit as important. You know, I’ve always felt like I was working for future generations and like people with less than less advantages than me. And, you know, my son is one among them. Right. So he’s and I want a better world for him, too, for sure.
TS: I’m curious, what was your childhood like?
JPM: Well, so I’m the middle child, six kids,
TS: six kids!?
JPM: six kids. So I was the third of six..
TS: What was that like?
JPM: It was awesome.
JPM: I loved my siblings. My dad worked super hard. That’s great. But he worked like crazy and was like always on the road for like just a road warrior And me and my siblings would be at home. And my mom and we’d kind of take care of each other. My brother taught me how to read. Taught me math. I taught my brother how to read. I changed diapers. Like, so, you know, you were I was like an old enough sibling to be semi fatherly, but I was super independent. From a very young age. I would just go off on my own in the world and just kind of wander.
My mom would take me to church and drop me off and be like, OK, because I admit I'd miss church because I slept in. And then she'd take me to afternoon mass and drop me off and be like “OK, I'll pick you up” and I was like “no, I'll just walk home after church.” I walk in the door, my mom takes off and I walk out. And those hours, those Sunday hours when I was unaccounted for were the greatest. I would just do whatever. I'd go to the river and like skip stones or explore or some woods or I just like to kind of wander around, meet people, get to know people. And then I kept doing that when I became an adolescent. I would still just enjoy kind of aimless wandering and meeting random people and getting into little misadventures and helping people out. Sometimes when you can. I don't know. Yeah.
So I had a pretty idyllic, easy life, kind of sheltered from any kind of challenge.
School... I failed grade 2, which was tough, right, because I was like not very good in grade 2. But then the second time I did grade 2. I’m like, I’ve done all this. I know all the answers already. So I finished that really quickly. And then before grade two is done. I’m like, well, can I see the grade three textbooks? And then the teacher is like, okay, fine, here you go. And then I kind of got a head start. So by the time next year I was in grade three. And like, I already know all the answers. And I kind of in this weird way, I got ahead of the curve in grade 2 and stayed there all through my education, which has made it all easy.
TS: This innate curiosity you had as a child to as a child, as an adult. Does that ever get you in trouble, though?
JPM: Almost. But good luck. So like I’ve had a number of encounters with dangerous armed people in different places and I have always. Sort of like skipped over it like a stone on water.
TS: Give me one example.
JPM: There’s two that are pretty good. One of them was I was... I was in La Paz, Bolivia, when I was like in my early 20s. And I just went on a random hike out of the city, up the valley wall, up to the Altiplano into this huge sprawling slum. I don’t wanna call it a slum, but it was like this place called El Alto, which was at that time referred to as the slum. It is the fastest growing city in Latin America. And it was just this. Yeah, there’s this crazy, beautiful, weird place and just teeming with people. And I just was wandering around in it. And tourists never, never really were going there at that time. And these five dudes saw me and they saw that I had this like pentax, SLR camera, and they’re like, hey,
TS: you were traveling with it.
JPM: Yeah, of course. And they’re like “give us your camera” and I was like “guys, no tourists ever come up here. Right. So I know you’ve never robbed anyone because there’s never been anyone to rob.”
TS: Wait, I’m sorry. You had this discussion.
JPM: I just had this discussion with those guys.
“I get what you’re saying. But at the same time, you’re not really. Your heart’s not in it.” And then they were like “well, no, but we’re serious.” I’m like “yeah, but you’re not. If you were serious, like, I would know and you would know. But why do we just like that? But here, let me take a picture.You guys look great.” And then I started talking to the guy next to me and being like “These kids. Can you believe it?” I mean. Well, I guess. And like, I was like, I get it. I get that you want the camera. But like you, you know, you’re not really robbers. And they were kind of like “yeah, alright I guess we’re not really robbers.” And they just, like, give up. I don’t know. Like I find sometimes when people people try to escalate a situation, people try to like make it into like this violent explosion. And if you just sort of… don’t be patronizing, but be like I’m here with you. I see what you’re doing and I understand maybe why you’re doing it, but let’s talk about other things that we can be doing, right. I find that that actually gets across.
TS: Do you think being a white male may have played a part in some of these outcomes?
JPM: Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding me? No. I had I had no idea at the time what a trump card that was, but definitely, definitely there was a huge dose of like white savior garbage in my bloodstream at the time. And like, I was really, you know, kind of loving it and feeling it because it actually feels great to be like to have the whole village love you. Yeah, it’s wonderful. And then you kind of reflect on your like like. But if I had if I had been born with different skin color, I’d never have those opportunities. I’d never get away with that garbage But white people have no problem just sailing through life because they never encounter friction. People who see them are like, “oh, right this way!”
Like, I’ve literally had this happen. I was in the Beijing airport flying home and I was running a little late. And I was wearing this excellent suit I had. I bought the suit just for this meeting because I really wanted to impress the guy that we were meeting. Like, well, they care a lot about looks and appearance, something. Boom, great suit, great shoes. Look the part. I looked great. And so I’m at the check-in counter and the agent looks at me. He’s like, oh, god, this guy must be important. And he’s like, hang on. And he radios a cop who comes and basically shepherds me through security through the whole airport. And it’s constantly like everyone out of the way. Everyone out of the way. This unnamed important white guy is coming and I’m just like, this is hilarious, but also, oh, my God. Like, why are they doing this for me? I didn’t ask for it. I was just like, oh, am I going to make my flight? And he’s like, you know what? You might not. And so I’m going to like, move. And the guy, the guard was like shoving people out of the line. He’s like, “make way!” At the time, I was kind of loving it. But then, you know, I was like, oh, no, this is I didn’t earn this. Yes. When I say I’m lucky. Definitely. Like, whiteness is a huge part of being lucky and that is a huge problem with the world that has to get fixed.
[Upbeat music break]
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TS: So we’re going to move on to a fan favorite, which is called Rapid Fire. So I’m gonna I ask you a bunch of questions and you have to answer as quickly as you possibly can. What do you do for fun?
JPM: Bike ride and play with my two-year-old.
TS: What motivates you?
JPM: I just like work.
TS: What’s your perfect day off?
JPM: My parents have a lake house. I’m there. I’m on the dock with my 2 year old. It’s nice. It’s sunny.
TS: What’s your greatest fear?
JPM: My greatest fear is. Like maybe dying. I don’t want my two year old to not have a dad. Oh, no. Yeah. I get worried like I don’t wanna die. It’s not like I just I used to not care, but I’m like, oh, man, it would suck for him.
TS: Yeah. As soon as you had a child that changed?
JPM: Yeah. It would suck for Catherine, my wife, and would suck for Luke. I just I don’t wanna leave them out in the lurch.
TS: What’s your what’s one word your friends are used to describe you?
JPM: Intense, obsessive. Those are two words
TS: Favorite hobby.
JPM: I love videogames. I don’t get to play them very much, but I love them. The original super mario brothers. I finished that in a mirror once.
TS: IN A MIRROR?
JPM: Like you put a mirror facing the TV. You face the mirror and you play backwards and you have to reprogram your brain. And I finished it start to end. And then I stood up and fell over because I couldn’t walk anymore because my brain had been rewired.
TS: How did you even come up with the idea to do that?
JPM: I think I’ve finished it so many times as a kid that I just started like upping so I could make my own rules. It’s like I’ve got to finish it, but I can’t take any mushrooms and I can’t die. And as soon as I die, I turn it off. So it’s like you got to stay small and you got to make it to the end. Or if you die, it’s like, well, you failed and the game turns off.
TS: Yeah. So. Yeah, that is it. You made it through! We’re done. The next section is called the Big Three. So I’m gonna ask you a couple questions and you can take as much time as you want.
JPM: That’s good, that’s why they’re big.
JPM: I can ramble.
TS: I’m genuinely interested. You don’t have to worry about that.
JPM: I appreciate it, that’s so nice.
TS: What’s one thing that’s helped define your career.
JPM: Wow, one thing.
JPM: So back before we were funded, we’d built a few different little prototypes, we’d done different stuff like that. We’re testing some things.
And then this amazing journalist named Tyler Hamilton, who for years wrote a column in the Toronto Style Star called Clean Break. He found out about us. And he came to visit and he did a piece on us. And it was just like two guys in Toronto trying to start a solar energy company. They don’t really know much, but like they’re doing some neat things. And like, we had some cool looking stuff to show him with, like lasers. I dunno we were kind of doing technical demonstrations about what our technology and ideas were. And he thought they were cool and he knew enough to understand them and to articulate them. And then he wrote an M.I.T. technology review piece that got in the M.I.T. technology review. And then some guy who used to work for General Electric, who was like the chief innovation officer for General Electric. He’s flipping through it. And he read that and he’s like, I should call these guys. And so he called us and he’s like, oh, I just read about you guys maybe we’re interested in investing some money in what you’re doing. And it’s like, well, isn’t that something? And then they ended up putting money in. And then that led to, you know, once you get the first money in then other investors are like, oh, hang on, what’s going on? Like, what’s the deal? And then other people got in and everything was great.
TS: What’s the one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
JPM: Make the business software oriented from the first moment. The reason I I’m so excited about what we’re doing now, where we’re taking this like decade of intellectual property and technical advancement and software expertise and just putting it on the Web I think that that is gonna scale so much faster than traditional business development can scale because people are always hesitant to, like, pick up a phone. Are always hesitant to, like, pay a consultant. But no one’s ever hesitant to poke around on a Web site.
TS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JPM: Honestly, I see myself. Jeez, I always ask people this in an interview, like I never hire anyone without asking this question. And it’s a super unfair question I think in five years I will have a seven year old, which we kind of great. I think that was I think well, I think that we’ll have also started working on more energy storage areas because I think like obviously energy storage goes hand-in-hand with energy generation.
TS: So can you talk a little bit about energy storage? What does that mean?
JPM: I mean, so so energy storage is just like a battery is a form of energy storage. But you can also store heat energy in all sorts of different ways. So we’re working on a really cool project right now. So this is like if you go up to Don Mills near the Science Center right now at the Ontario Architecture Association headquarters, they’re doing an epic project that we’re participating in. So they’re using some of our hardware, where they’re going to completely get rid of all their CO2 emissions from the building.
And the way they're going to heat themselves in the winter is the following: all summer long, all these solar panels are generating a tonne of energy. They've got solar thermal collectors like gathering hot water as well as solar panels, including ours, making electrons and the heat from the water, as well as the electricity from the panels is used to like pump that down into deep boreholes in the ground. They've dug these deep wells down into the ground and they're just pumping heat down into the earth under their parking lot.
And that earth underground is gonna get warmer and warmer and warmer and warmer and warmer all summer long. And then in the winter, they’re just gonna pull that heat back out and heat the building and that’s it.
[End theme fades in: Mid Tempo with steel drums]
TS: So where can people find you?
JPM: You can find me online @JohnPaulMorgan on Twitter, and you should check out what my company is doing at our website, www.morgansolar.com
TS: That was John Paul Morgan who I’m thankful to for sharing his story with me.
We’re going to be back each week with a new episode from another person who is changing the way our world works.
Alyssa Atkins: We’re the most ambitious generation with the most access to data at our fingertips except what’s, for most of us, one of the biggest decisions of our lives: when and whether and how to have kids
TS: We also want to hear your story. You can reach me online @TakaraSmall on Twitter and Instagram or you can email the show at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll Go First is a Vocal Fry Studios production. Our producer is Jay Cockburn, with research by Cecilia Keating and additional writing by Vicky Mochama.. Our executive producers are Kiran Rana and Katie Jensen.
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I’m Takara Small, this has been I’ll Go First. See you next episode