Climate change has been at the forefront of attention in recent years. Our world has witnessed its true potency through the increase in climate disasters, ecological, and humanitarian crises. Back here in Vancouver, British Columbia, we have watched our neighboring towns and regions burn down to ashes due to last Summer’s rampant wildfires.
Despite the substantial warnings from scientists and international bodies like the UN, only recently have governments become proactive about climate issues. Meanwhile, private technology companies have been at the forefront of innovating scalable solutions to address climate change. China, previously notorious for its dangerous pollution levels after the tidal wave of manufacturing plants have turned to its own private companies to improve their carbon footprint. It has one of the largest market shares in the world in total stock and sales of electric vehicles (EV), followed by Europe and the United States. Tesla, one of the pioneers in EVs has expanded its gigafactories to large cities like Shanghai and Berlin.
Vancouver, Canada is one of the greenest cities on the planet. Canada has an abundance of natural resources and cities like Vancouver utilize hydroelectric resources to produce electricity and heat. The urban design is cyclist and pedestrian-friendly, coupled with a comfortable transportation system that connects people across every major district. The pandemic mobilized people to find other modes of transportation to avoid close contact or to overspend on inflated gas prices— one solution is micro-EV products. Will Fan, the founder and CEO of Nexpress focuses on building technology to empower smart cities. By the time he turned 30, Will had already pursued multiple successful ventures in software, cryptocurrency, natural resource and gas, lithium, and hardware development. He shared with us the process of building companies, replicating golden results, and his pivot towards the climate tech industry.
Interviewer: I don’t know about you, but climate tech isn’t exactly the most glamorous topic. How do you think modern-day entrepreneurs have succeeded in getting people to care about climate change with tech?
Will: First off, it’s a very political topic, not everyone can agree with it. Entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Gil Licanzo promote it, but it also hurts different industries like mining. I believe there are solutions to meet the demands of both sides.
For example, in Canada, we have such a large pool of natural resources that it’s possible to create jobs in these sectors. Canada imports more than it exports, and most of its oil from parts of the Middle East and Africa. But we have some oil here, so why can’t we use it? This is because of the gatekeepers. Entrepreneurs who want to build industries here can’t because of the gatekeepers who don’t wish to risk their reputations with the voters.
I think what has contributed to the growing interest in climate tech is that it’s seen as a new industry, and more world leaders want to tap into the clean energy sector. Compare it to the early 1900s, when airplanes and automobiles became a part of the first big boom—everyone wanted it. There hasn’t been a boom like that until now. The second wave will be led by eco-friendly tech innovations.
What most people are worried about is a disruptive change in existing industries, but our generation benefits because it forces us to adapt and learn new skills.
Interviewer: How has your background or career influenced your current path? What got you excited about EV?
Will: When I was young I was in art class and we were told to draw what would happen in the future. I remember I drew a photo of a floating city and flying cars, something that resembled Utopia. I always had that vision when I was younger. I also remember being scared by what we were taught in school about global warming. Our parents might not be able to see the problem, but for us and our children it’s more prevalent and I don’t want to think about my kids having to go through a climate disaster in their lifetimes.
I was always entrepreneurial and tried to build multiple things throughout my life. I worked as a marketing consultant, been in the investment industry, and built successful software with a team in Africa.
These were countries that were not considered valuable besides for their resources. What might surprise most people is that countries like India can develop software very inexpensively with almost the same quality as developers in SF.
I had one guy in Africa, and his English was perfect and I was shocked because I had this stigma of people living there. The thing is there, they don’t have a choice. They can’t afford to be complacent. If they don’t innovate and work relentlessly at it, they won’t have a future— at least that’s what I’ve heard from the people there. One of my partners had a skin disease for which he couldn’t afford the medication. He knew if he did not succeed in this business he would lose his skin.
We found the right system with software, it was about putting in these golden nuggets and seeing the output it produced. Once we got a golden process down, we just kept repeating that process for other ideas. We engineered it down a to a perfect science from product creation, sales, and marketing, to end-user experience
The ability to step outside of my previous worldview has been humbling. At one point we were able to bring the whole team out of poverty and build a 30-man team. At first, we started with just making $100 a day, which then became $1000 a week, and then eventually it was $1000 a day. From there we just kept scaling.
From there I knew I didn’t want to stay in software. I wanted something that could exponentially grow my viewpoints. So I got into investments, and I took my first company public at 26. It was in natural resources and oil. Around age 27 was when I heard about Bitcoin, and then I tapped into cryptocurrency and the lithium market. That catalysed me into my industry today. Whatever I made I reinvested it back to create other businesses. Bitcoin is what kept me going; if I had not invested in cryptocurrency I wouldn’t have my business today because no banks were going to finance me. I started to scale my EV business during the pandemic and it worked in our favor as more people demanded these types of products and the government finally started funding us. It took 2 decades for the world to finally take notice.
Interviewer: What do you see as the main challenge of people adopting EV technologies? What’s your take on the solution?
Will: The main challenge will probably be that people associate these technologies with the concept of luxury, thus in their minds being inaccessible.
Back then Tesla was attributed to wealth. Now the government has implemented rebates and tax incentives for electric vehicles so I think the demand for EVs will be higher, making the barrier to entry lower. Also, companies like ours are always thinking of innovations that could benefit people without having to spend an arm or leg for it. Scalability comes down to accessibility.
Interviewer: A Mckinsey article mentioned that “The interdependence of climate technologies means that scaling them up often requires organizations to work together on building new value chains and industrial ecosystems—a more cooperative approach than businesses might be accustomed to, and one that can disrupt existing networks.”
How would you respond to that given your knowledge and experience of the current competitive landscape?
Will: It will disrupt other markets, obviously gas and vehicle. The problem is those old industries don’t have the money to get new equipment and hire new staff. I think the government will have to step in with more incentives to encourage innovation.
The pandemic has been a huge wake-up call for many businesses. I had friends left, right, and center who went bankrupt. They were not prepared and unable to change which led to this consequence.
I would never heavily invest in one thing, we’re built to be fluid so we can always change and adapt. Many business owners are stuck in one type of business model and see anything new as a risk.
When you’re more fluid, you’ll have more time to create more opportunities which opens the doors for more funding opportunities.
Interviewer: What would be your advice for entrepreneurs looking to tap into the growing EV market? Are the startup costs high? What type of people do you look to hire for your own company?
Will: It’s so expensive and you have to learn so much at any given time. In terms of hiring, we look for certain talents but our method resides in just giving them a shot. The hiring process is probably the easiest. I don’t care so much about their resumes but more about how they work inside my company and how they build things. I’ll give them a trial at the warehouse, and ask them to build something. If they don’t know how to, I ask them to go watch a Youtube video on it and see what they come back to with.
In any great business, it’s all about letting people innovate on their own. We don’t like to micromanage. If the person stops innovating, it’s the perfect time to let them know it’s not the right fit.
EV, energy, and tech are the highest asset classes now. Many banks, governments, and decision-makers all recognize it. For example, we constantly get funding from provincial, federal and international governments. There are very few of us so they want to encourage this type of innovation and growth. We’re building something essential. Being a pioneer and a technologist is the fun part, you’re like an inventor, and people will pay for you to innovate. You get to create something of value for society. It’s not a job anymore, it’s just a part of our lives to create.
Community is essential. When I talk to Lucid Motors or Tesla, they always say the same thing— we have to stay close. It’s an emerging industry and there are only so many of us in it. People are going to attack us, because one, they don’t have the knowledge, two, they don’t have the resources, three, capital, and four is the biggest— ego.
I have seen many investors who now regret that they wish they got into something, sooner but they’re so used to their ways. They thought they were better.
Their egos led them to walk away from trillion-dollar industries. They only know how to make money in their fields, but do not trust newer fields that are flourishing. Because it’s unknown to them, they have this type of insecurity.
Interviewer: Your thoughts on scaling beyond Vancouver?
Our company now has recognition in the United States, Taiwan, and Korea. We’re hoping to expand globally someday.
Interviewer: If you were given an hour with Elon Musk, what would you talk about?
Space and family values.
Interviewer: Name some of the toughest things about being a tech entrepreneur.
Not many people can understand it, it’s a form of loneliness. If you want to teach someone it’s difficult because their ego gets in the way. Very few make it, and a lot of them just end up working for tech companies.
I feel like new grads these days have a difficult time adapting to the ‘real world’. I speak from experience because I know many people within my friend groups who had just graduated and have no idea what the path forward is. Economically speaking, conditions aren’t the best for new graduates right now— inflation and student debt can hinder people from innovating when they’re focused on survival.
I think a major problem is that more people lack discipline and grew up too slowly.
Someone who’s thirty might have a ten-year lag in mindset. Whereas I noticed technologists are always looking ahead so they’re prone to be a little more adapted.