Aaron Patel is the founder of IHandal, a young Malaysian company that commercializes thermodynamics theory to provide clean energy solutions to his country and beyond.
Human Asia spoke to Aaron recently.
Explain the concept of heat transfer and energy efficiency in general. How does it apply commercially in the real world?
Aaron: iHandal recovers and re-purposes waste thermal energy. The idea seems pretty abstract until you realize you are surrounded by things that generate heat. We utilize solutions that are able to harness energy from warm air (for example hot areas like ceiling spaces or hot car parks) or even that generated by air conditioning systems and re-purpose them to become useful concentrated thermal energy in the form of hot water for buildings such as hotels and hospitals. We have completed more than 50 hotels and hospitals across South East Asia since we established and are moving into new applications of these solutions.
Tell us more about Ihandal and how you commercialize and monetize the heat energy concept. Who buys your product?
Aaron: My journey with iHandal started in 2007 at the age of 15. On the third day into the first semester, my dad suffered a massive stroke that disabled him. At that time, he had a fairly new solar hot water panel trading business. Together with my mum, we did our best to pick up the business overnight and manage orders in his absence, to keep the cash coming in to sustain ourselves.
When it became apparent I had to take on the business full time instead of pursuing my further studies, I decided to dig deeper into what I could do in the thermal space.
Coincidentally, I was exploring Thermodynamics in my High School Physics and Chemistry, and there was an instant click on how I could further encourage applications of what we were studying – heat engines and heat pumps – in the real world.
Almost any client that requires both heating and cooling simultaneously is our ideal customer. We started with the hospitality industry first because of the first opportunity that presented itself, and used the power of referrals to quickly gain a majority market share in the industry. We provided guaranteed solutions that helped them save up to 90% of their heating energy costs, which was hard to turn down.
We also improve the hygiene of their water supply by eliminating risks of water borne bacteria such as Legionella through advanced system design by eliminating stagnant pockets of warm water, common in improperly designed heating systems, and also help them reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of their operations.
What were the challenges at the beginning, and how is it different from today’s challenges?
Aaron: When we first started, it was definitely a challenge in getting customers to believe that we could provide that much savings through our solutions. However, as our referrals built up, that quickly became a thing of the past. Our biggest challenge now is dealing with the unprecedented growth we are currently facing, and ensuring we are able to continue to deliver the same level of precise and detailed service to our customers, as we grow across multiple countries and markets. Corporatizing a business to scale requires lots of work on systems and processes, and of course most importantly, attracting the right talent to do the right thing in such a niche space.
There are environmental aspects or benefits too about your business. Tell us more about it.
Aaron: Everything we do is anchored in the environmental impact our solutions provide. Our solutions help our clients to significantly reduce the carbon emissions generated by their heating and cooling systems, which are the major components of their overall energy expenditure. We have a big goal of providing solutions with a combined impact of an annual reduction of 200 million tons in 15 years, which is the amount needed to make Malaysia carbon neutral. The idea that just one company is able to lead such an impact is amazing and what drives us. We hope to take it regional and make South East Asia carbon neutral as our efforts expand.
Where do you see Ihandal in a few years from now?
Aaron: We will grow by at least 5 times from last year. We look to continue sustaining that exponential growth for the next 5 years due to the immense opportunities that has opened up to us in the past year within the South East Asia region. With the help of organisations such as EO (Entepreneur’s Organisation) and Endeavor Malaysia, I’m able to rely on peer to peer learning from other entrepreneurs and from masters of the industry to help cut short the learning curve and help illuminate the road ahead so I can deal with the numerous obstacles that lay ahead with the ambitious plans we have set for ourselves.
Aaron, tell us more about yourself. What were your memories growing up?
Aaron: I’m an only child to proud parents who are both instrumental in who I am today. They sacrificed everything to provide me with the best education possible, and having the typical Asian parents, I spent summer breaks learning new things whether it was my passion in programming, physics, or mathematics while the rest of my friends were out on a break. I now realize that if it weren’t for all that hard work at that age, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I’ve been able to with iHandal, at the age I’ve done it at, without having that foundation.
A fond memory is the time spent with my parents. My dad grew up with lots of help around the home and one thing he was adamant about was for me to grow up with my parents instead of maids. Being an only-child, I spent a lot of time with them, and I believe that helped me mature a lot faster than my peers.
As he was a businessman, I observed him and learnt how he managed his business day to day and even traveled around the country with him on weekends whenever he had a business trip. It was this exposure and discipline that they had instilled in me, that is instrumental in me becoming the person I am today, and which gave me the tools and knowledge in starting iHandal.
Is there a burning passion inside that drove you to pursue a career as an entrepreneur?
Aaron: When I first started, it was out of necessity. My dad was the sole bread winner for our home, and being the only son, I had no other choice. An entrepreneur born out of adversity as some say. When my dad first had the stroke, we had to even rely on the welfare of the church for basic necessities such as food. Starting with almost nothing and having to find a way to support my family gave me the immense drive and motivation that I had to first start iHandal.
If you could do everything all over again in your entrepreneurial journey, what would you do differently?
Aaron: When I first started and dealt with the challenges, there were a few challenges that made me almost reconsider everything and wonder what I would have achieved had I indeed pursued my childhood passion in IT. However, as the years passed by and I’ve realized the impact of where I’ve been led to with iHandal, I regret nothing and would do it all over again. Every challenge, obstacle, failure and success along the way has shaped us and has been the curriculum of the School of Hard Knocks, and I can proudly say I am an alumni of.
What does success mean for you in life?
Aaron: Being authentic or simply being real is core value in everything iHandal and I do. We want to help impact the world through the environmental impact of what we can offer. We have to live by what we say and align ourselves to that calling even in the smallest things we do daily if we want to be able to persevere long enough to achieve our vision.
For me, at the end of my journey, when I look back, I would say I’ve succeeded if I’ve made full use of the talents and resources entrusted to me to impact the world and the next generation.
Final advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Aaron: Do it for the right reasons. Build something meaningful that you get excited about because of what it could do and not just because entrepreneurship is cool just because everyone else is doing it. Persevere and stay true to who you are. Along the way, there will be many challenges that will come, and knowing what you stand for will go a long way to help you through those challenges.
Visit IHandal at http://www.ihandalenergy.com.my/