Andreas Thorsheim raised $100M euros for his solar startup before taking it public, and around the world. His venture, Otovo has raised funding from top-tier investors like Akershus Energi, Agder Energi Venture, OBOS Forsikring, and Axel Johnson.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Otovo and the future of solar
- Andreas Thorsheim’s top advice for others starting a business
- How to get in touch to find out about employment opportunities
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About Andreas Thorsheim:
Andreas Thorsheim is the Founder and CEO of Otovo, an online sales platform for renewables. Former SVP of Product of Opera Software, former board member at Finn.no, Norsk Tipping and Dagens Næringsliv Has been pivotal in scaling Otovo internationally Andreas supports PatientSky in setting a framework for technology and organization with an emphasis on growth and international expansion.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Hello righty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So I’m very excited about our guest today. We’re gonna be talking a lot about building and scaling and I think that the you know the segment that he is in is quite the right time in history I would say so without furtherdo. Let’s welcome our guest today Andreas Thorsheim:.
Andreas Thorsheim: Well thank you for having me.
Alejandro Cremades: Same welcome to the show. So originally born there in Norway I mean obviously you had the quite the upbringing you know quite international you know I’m sure that that shaped you quite a bit but give us a little of a walkthrough memory lane. How was life growing up.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah, no, ah so um, um, I’m a norwegian and born in the the beautiful city of Oslo and in Norway. But we we left the the country when I was 1 year old to to live in South Africa my my parents worked in the foreign service. So. We feel. It felt a bit like joining a circus you know, yeah moving around and and going to different places with with their work. Ah all the time. So um, got to got to experience ah living in South Africa and Namibia um geneva and in Switzerland Paris France. Um. Before being of ah, an age to decide of my own ah location and and and direction. So um, very much of an international upbringing and I think and I’ve I’ve heard that there’s quite a lot of founders that come from ah from that type of ah backgrounds either. You know military families or or doctors or or or other people who move around because it allows you to have different perspectives and the guys you bre you’re ah you’re growing up with and and figuring things a bit out for yourself being a newki and that’s maybe not the worst experience to have when you’re. Ah, setting out to to to challenge the status quo. So um, I’m very much one of those ah moving around kids.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, and how do you think that shaped you because moving around making new friends. You know on certainty I’m sure that that served you very well now that you’re a founder.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah, sure you know it’s ah you get to be the new kid in class. Ah every every 3 3 years and you start at the the bottom of the ladder with everything to to prove and in a way that’s what you’re doing when you’re starting a company so you get to in. You need to toughen up a bit and believe in yourself to do that and um and then of course it it helps to have support around you I’m super thankful for my my mom and dad and my brother who’ve been and they’ve been there quite the unit since I was ah a kid and think it’s a. Illustrative of what you need as a founder. Also right, you need the you need the ground support in at home and and then friends and family. You support you early on and the angels who support you a little bit later on those things are those things are essential. That’s for sure.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for you I mean it’s you you really got into business I mean obviously that’s why you studied too. So I mean what? what was that thing about business that that you enjoyed you know early on.
Andreas Thorsheim: I’m I’m not sure I was like this business mindded kid you know, ah and I remember last day of high school I was like ah I’m never doing economics and then a year and a half later after completing military service I was. I was in business school. So I don’t know what happened happened there but I haven’t been a guy who’s kind of had my direction staked out early on and and I did I wasn’t the guy who had a leade stand or ah and my bank account had always a 0 in it until I sort of ah and. Well into my my twenty s so I was like yeah and not a particularly entrepreneur entrepreneurial or at least not business minded kid I was a creative kid I used to make really cool Halloween disguises and that type of stuff. Ah and insane lego lego stuff. But. Like more more of a builder than the businessman early on. So I think ah and meet me going to to business school and startinging economics later on ah guest ah wouldn’t have been something that would have impressed the 16 year old me at all right that doesn sound that sounded boring and in a way it still is.
Alejandro Cremades: So so so what? What? What? What? What do you think clicked for you then you know what do you think you know was that thing I mean you were talking that you were you went to a military service and then you know that that kind of like clicked it. You know and and anyone to the high year to go to.
Andreas Thorsheim: And know.
Alejandro Cremades: Long-known school of economics and and then put it on track. You know in that direction. But what? what do you think changed.
Andreas Thorsheim: I don’t know maybe something about just I think you know in those formative years and in the early 20 s you’re you’re figuring the world out a little bit and and I guess ah.
Andreas Thorsheim: I Guess this was quite shallow to me in a way that I I saw that you got better opportunity by making certain choices than than others and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be left behind or seeing you know kids who were. Doing worse than me at school get a better life than me. So I thought I’d sort of do things that gave me optionality for later in life right? and then going to 2 schools that had some renown and and taking classes that the. Had a a nice chance of landing you a job. But I think I I got there sort of cynical enough in in my twenty s to realize that I ought to do that right? But um, but it wasn’t with any particular plan and and any time I was given the choice I always chose chose things that were more. About how society worked and and less about balance sheet but I was ah still very much into the the big questions and and trying to to figure stuff out rather than than than I guess earn points but I wanted to earn enough points to to not not lose Optionality I guess.
Alejandro Cremades: And why why in your case going to but going back to to Norway to oslo because you know here you go to the London school of economics and one of the best schools for for business in Europe and you know there’s a lot of people that see that you know.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Get to experience the incredible salaries tool that you get in London so why going back home.
Andreas Thorsheim: For love you know it’s the best reason there is you know as ah now I had ah had a girlfriend and in in Norway. So but I also felt like I wanted to ah I wanted to to be settled in 1 place you know it’s um.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, right.
Andreas Thorsheim: Um, a lot of international kids they end up just being sort of these globe trotting or or jetsetting type of life where you where you never and you never anchor up. Um, and you get a lack of stability that I guess I think you know has a tendency to get to you over some time so I wanted to have some stable friends and. And feel like I could get my roots in the ground somewhere. So to me it was ah it’s quite intentional to to try and um, set up a life where I’d have friends that I’d chosen and that I could stick together with for ah for more than three years that was something I hadn’t. And had a lot of when I was ah in my early twenty s so I thought like I really want to be stuck with the same bunch of people for ah for extended period of time. so ah so I think that the home bias was one way to to get that about and go you know, go back home and and.
Andreas Thorsheim: And get the roots in the ground I think that was the motivation so you know very much the the idea to have people around you that that would be there for some time.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously you know in in your case you you work for some time in shipstead which which was the first you know real rodeo for you I mean there, you learned about Numbers. You learned about logistics operations management you know people. Everything. So. So What would you say were your top 3 lessons there if you had to like you know, put them together.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah, so I I joined shipsstead after university and for those who don’t know Shipsstead. It’s ah, a company that grew out of a family-owned media business. Ah traditional style. Ah, coming from from Norway but then turned into an international juggernaut doing online media and online classified first in in all of Scandinavia then all of Europe and later south america and asia and turned into a bit of ah, a global and online classified giant and ended up with. Acquiring ebay classifieds here a couple of years back so um really a fantastic transform moreative transformative story of ah of a family ownned traditional business of which there were kind of 200 of those companies and in europe fifty years ago and there’s like maybe axl springer and shapes that are. The the only ones with any yeah claim to fame and then in an online world right? So um, a cool company to join at a transformative time and a company that was rehashing all of its organization while while doing this so it gave young people a lot of responsibility. And if you succeeded in 1 domain they weren’t shy of of moving you to something else. So it really gave gave me this sort of all aroundund exposure to to many different parts of ah of business. So I’m super thankful for the years at at chipstead and top 3 yeah lessons is ah press your talent.
Andreas Thorsheim: And they were exceptional in doing that. Um, it’s think bigger. They were a local player that turned international and and that on like on the back of 100 years of local history and then they just decided to go international and and did that tremendously well and. And then I’d say also make it fun was just an incredible mix of people who who enjoyed going to work together and just ah, having a ah positive work environment. That’s just ah.
Andreas Thorsheim: That’s just incredibly important.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for you the most immediate step before you know getting into it is.
Andreas Thorsheim: Sorry I have a recording error here. So it says that I’m out of local data and okay, should we just go until we hit hit the stop. Okay, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: It’s it’s still it’s still looking good to my end. So um, let’s keep going. Let’s keep going. Yeah, let’s keep going we we’ll we’ll edit this. So don’t worry if if you see anything else. You let me know. Okay, but.
Andreas Thorsheim: Okay, good.
Alejandro Cremades: I Have like the checkmark on my end so it’s ah so Good. So So so basically on your end you know right? after shipsstead, you know you’re going to opera software and Oph software is literally like the most immediate step you know before you know you go actually add it on your own as an entrepreneur and and it sounds like. Like ships that you know really shaped you Up. You know to really have that Readiness. So What do you think you know like ah because if they say you know ideas you know, take time you know they are Doorrmant. You know there’s like certain events that really trigger us to push us to really make them happen. But what do you think was the case for you. What do you think push you over the edge to say hey you know what. I Think it’s my time to to really get going and.
Andreas Thorsheim: Um I joined opera software because I thought it was an exciting technology competing in the most exciting markets in um, in in online competition right? They’re they’re focused on the indian subcontinent and emerging markets and um. Creating products for for that part of the world was really exciting to me. so so I joined there as Svp products and in 2014 or fifteen I can’t remember and it was um, it was really to be part of a competition where you’d be facing off against the. Californian big guys and and chinese ah tech companies. Um and signing up for a european company that had been founded um fifteen years prior to that and was very much part of the first ah wave of ah of tech companies coming out of ah. Of europe at thethe.comboom and um I was really excited to join that company. Ah and then to meet was a learning on how much difference there is between having a good system and having good talent and. Shipsstead was a company that was all about the system like all kinds of players turned into good players when they played for that club right? It was ah you know like some football clubs are like that and and some just need to buy and the best players but they don’t have a system and and an opera software was a bit in that category right? where.
Andreas Thorsheim: Had like individually exceptional people. But it was like yeah ah logistics of that organization was just a complete mess and I learned to what degree like ah first of all my own successes in shapes that were not probably only my. Ah, merit. They were also the merit of ah of ah of a fantastic organization that could make and pretty much the people who joined their ah performant right? And then I came into this thing that was run more like a pirate ship where the individual pirates skills were what mattered? Ah so. So to me I got a lot of respect for for the untidiness of growth and the like the raw power you need to put into it in order to to pull off competing in that type of environment with an organization that still is. Is is young and and unfinished in in terms of its process and system building. So and I think it’s it turned me into rougher a rougher type right? I was like this. This executive type and a bit of a sort of a golden boy in a company that i’ worked for for more than 10 years and then I came in as ah as a new joiner in a much more raw talent organization. Um, and it it kind of I got.
Andreas Thorsheim: It untaught a lot of the things I’d learned in in in ships. Then I think that’s important right? that you don’t think you have things figured out. You need a you need a humility when you start as ah as a founder. So I think just it it kind of yeah.
Andreas Thorsheim: Took took away some of the small businessness I had from corporate life and turned me into ah to a much more of ah, a true tech guy. Um, and I think that was necessary for my um. That was necessary for for my eventual journey as ah as a founder that’s for Sure. Yes.
Alejandro Cremades: Now, let’s talk about otovo your baby and the rocket ship that you’re in so you know quite interesting. You know to start a solar type of company in Norway where where you don’t have that much sun so you know I know that the early days you know were probably you know, not easy. But I guess before we go into it for the people that are listening to really get it. What is the what is the business model of otowa. How do you guys make money.
Andreas Thorsheim: Atovo is a marketplace that combines homeowners on the one side with installers of solar panels and batteries on the other. So for the homeowners. It’s an ecommerce experience where you go to an otovo site in italy or Spain or France or. Poland or or wherever you happen to to live. We’re present in 13 european countries currently um and you input your address. The software will figure out the shape of your house and how many panels will fit there. Um, and then it will ping installers that we have recruited on the backend of the system to figure out their cost. And then present you the cost of putting solar panels on your roof and you can buy it online just as easy as you buy a shirt or a pair of shoes. Um, now in order to do that. You need to know about the installers on the on the backend right? So on the supply side of the marketplace. We’ve recruited about 700 installer companies that are good workmen who who have local businesses typically of installing solar panels and and batteries and then they’ve gone through a wizard where they input their panel cost and and working cost and driving costs and all the other things that go into building a solar system. Um, and once we know those prices on the shape of the house. It’s an easy calculus to figure out how many euros it will cost to put 15 or 16 or 17 panels on your roof so that when you select 17 panels. We can present the price immediately now that price comes up up as the.
Andreas Thorsheim: And auction that gets run in a second online. The best installer is the base cost and we mark that up. So the installer is a cost to us and the consumer is the income to us and of course we take? Um, um, a take rate in between there and that’s how we make our our money. So if if the installer costs. Ten Thousand Euros and we sell the system for thirteen Thousand Euros we pocket pocket 3000 right? So that’s that’s the mobile and for that we need to cover our our costs of creating that relationship that’s marketing and and sales and and the postsale logistics.
Alejandro Cremades: So how do you guys go about product Market fit because I mean I’m sure that that was not easy being where you’re at.
Andreas Thorsheim: No I can tell you and the idea was quite simple right? And my observation was that as solar panels get cheaper and they get cheaper by about 10% per year and that means that solar energy will win on price everywhere in the world. Observation number 1 observation number 2 is that once the panel becomes cheaper. You can almost imagine a world where the panel is free but getting it up on your roof won’t be free because you need the local guy to fix it to your roof and you probably need to be aware of the amazing product that. Solar panel is our so so you’re going to have to be marketed and sold to and those 2 things they don’t drop in price by 10% so increasingly that’s where the problem is in solar the panels are working and the manufacturing these things churn out panels at an incredible rate. But they’re not getting up on your roof and so you’re you’re facing a last mile problem and that’s the same thing as feurra or uber or other online platforms. Do they solve the last mile problem. So so that the idea was kind of easy sell all the panels online using installers that already exist now. Um, how do you go about doing that well you need to start selling this all the panels. Online and and we did that back in in Norway in 2016 and that was ah a rough place to start a solar company right? You can take up a a globe and you can see in Norway as at the very top there and means the the solar rays are hitting at a terribly.
Andreas Thorsheim: Disadvantageous inclination and for the winter half year. There’s less sun here than pretty much anywhere in the world. Um, and electricity is super cheap. So you’re not that incentivized to get any alternatives. Um, so it’s in a way that probably the hardest place to get so product market fit for a solar company. And now the good thing about starting a place where getting product market fit and that is difficult is that if you succeed there you can take your or show on on tour anywhere else in the world and it will be incredibly competitive. So so we spent 2 years just selling solar pounds online and guessing the cost. Before even the installers were willing to give their prices to us. We were just guessing what we could get this installed for later on and obviously we got into this self-selection bias where every time we miscalculated too cheap. We got the sale and if we miscalculated too expensive ah consumers weren’t interested. So we. We kept selling systems cheap and then having to install them. Expensive. So we we kept losing so much money I think 1 year we we subsidized the norwegian solar consumer more than than the state aid to the sector. So ah, you can you can imagine the. How we felt in those first two years I have some gray hair and they’re all from from back then it was just so it was just so hard. Ah, but then you know you you keep going at the problem and and after 2 years I think we we felt that now we we have it right? The the consumers are converting.
Andreas Thorsheim: Um, on really acceptable levels the the unit economics are going to add up at at the at the frontend of the store and on the backend installers are putting in prices and it’s predictable and they also adjust to events the way they’re supposed to so that. Ah, the market is working when panel costs go down the installers take down their their prices and and that’s reflecting the price of the consumer. Okay, this. ah this baby is ah is walking now let’s ah, let’s get it. Let’s get this this show on the road right? so. Spent spent 2 years getting gray hair and losing money in in Norway and then and then we thought okay now now let’s see let’s go international so we took the huge step to go to Sweden the year after and and that started replicating what we’d experienced in in Norway in the last year so we’re like okay, let’s not wait and until this thing matures we need to. Keep going. So then it was France and Spain and Poland and italy and Germany and we’ve kept kept going since says since then so it’s been a fantastic spree of countries since then and now the the older ones are turning profitable so it looks like the the bet is is coming in so that’s great.
Alejandro Cremades: And and in in terms of I mean you were alluding to growth I mean when it comes with growth. You know you got to put money with it. So so how much capital have you guys raised today.
Andreas Thorsheim: We’ve raised about a hundred million Euros pretty much to the dime I guess.
Alejandro Cremades: And in that in that sense I mean how would you say that the fundraising environment has changed because I mean you’ve been at it now for close to 7 years with otobo so I’m sure that you’ve seen you know the landscape you know for fundraising and accessing capital changing quite a bit. So.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah I mean back in in 2015 when I got this idea clean tech was just so out of favor. You can’t imagine you know and Peter Thiel had just written 0 to 1 ah there’s a whole chapter in that book dedicated to. How lame. Clean tech is and how ill-suited it is for for venture capital I remember the week I was planning my first fundraising the mit technology review had its front page covered in an article saying clean tech and venture capital the wrong model. Ah, it was just ah, it was just so out of favor I was ah ah I was ah I was in the the elevator at North Zone and I got the I got rejected in the elevator right? You can imagine my elevator pitch was pretty I don’t know. Either pretty stink elevator pitch or very poor environment for for this type of company. So ah, no, it was ah it it was really a disadvantageous ah time and I think the the companies that came out from that period with era either so exceptional or or went a bit of an and untraditional.
Andreas Thorsheim: Ah, route taking in maybe more corporate venture capital and other pockets that were a bit more resistant to the sentiment and then it’s been ah, an enormous change after the Paris accord and after people’s awareness of of the reality of climate change and the. And the economic transition related to that and and the opportunity that represents. Um, it’s just been tremendously different and of course the the valuation of of Tesla and and a few other of the of the most successful companies really has also changed the perspective. Um, on the sector as a whole I guess so let’s say it felt very different in in 2021 Twenty twenty than it did back in in 2016. That’s for sure.
Alejandro Cremades: No kidding now if imagine you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of oto is fully realized what would that world look like.
Andreas Thorsheim: There’d be solar panels on every roof in Europe and there would be batteries in every one of those homes um people would make and store and consume about a third of the electricity. Um that they. That they depend on from sources that they have in their home. Um, it’s a transition that looks like going from a couple of ah big mainframe computers to everyone having ah a pc or or a mobile phone and that’s going to happen to to energy a lot of local stuff. Um. And then that enormous fleet of very small energy producing and energy storing assets and will be able to play in concert. So that if the grid needs stability um, by.
Andreas Thorsheim: Consumption of energy getting reduced then our software will trigger tens of thousands of batteries in ah in 1 grid to charge or discharge their power depending on what the grid needs. Um, and of course you know.
Andreas Thorsheim: Ah, we and the consumers will be paid for providing that that service. It’s a world in which coal ah power and and gas powered and and other fossil Fuel powered ah power plants are are out of the European Grid. Um, and it’s um, it’s a world in which all this. Local and clean energy. Um and helps other clean technologies succeed like electric vehicles and software for for managing the electricity consumption in your in your home. Um, and.
Alejandro Cremades: I Now not ah well, it’s coming I mean know is it climate change. You know people are very conscious of what’s going on. So so I guess I mean.
Andreas Thorsheim: The good thing about this is that I won’t have to sleep for a hundred years to wake up in that world I think it’s a lot closer.
Alejandro Cremades: For the people that are listening to get an idea on the scope and size of Otobo today anything that you can share about maybe like number of employees or anything else that you’re comfortable with.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah, no problem. We we got listed on the Alzo stock exchange here a year and a half ago so we need to be public about quite a lot of quite a lot of things. So so no problem and and being quite detailed on on numbers. Um, we sell about 10000 systems per year right now. Our aim is to double that by by next year and and we feel tremendously confident in our ability to keep growing at 100%. We’ve been doing that the last few years and um, that looks looks feasible with new countries coming up and and new market share getting gained in in the older markets. Um. We are between 30400 employees. Ah that growth is is happening in in the the 13 cities in which we’re present in Europe so we’re we’re hiring engineers and and commercial talent and.
Andreas Thorsheim: All the the major cities in in in europe pretty much now. Um, and it’s it’s a company that’s with with 10000 installations where we’re at the run rate of about one hundred million Euros and and revenues per per year.
Alejandro Cremades: And and if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time maybe to that time where you were thinking about doing something on your own. Maybe when you were still working I software and thinking hey you know what would that world be where I was you know to come up with something no and and bring it to this world. If you were able to have a chat with that younger Andreas Thorsheim: and give that younger Andreas Thorsheim: maybe seven years ago 1 piece of advice for launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Andreas Thorsheim: It would be a ah couple of investors you should stay away from but I can’t say that on the microphone. But that’s the wasted time stay away from the energy drainers. It’s um.
Alejandro Cremades: I.
Andreas Thorsheim: You’re going to get very good at recruiting great people so start believing in in your ability to do that right? from the start you’re going to have an amazing team and you just trust yourself in the ability to bring a great team together. Um, And. Ah, would also say it’s going to be exactly as hard as you think it is um and you should make sure that everyone around you understands how how hard and how long this journey is is going to be um and um, you know. Some extent I think I I did but ah, that would have been good to have some validation on my my early thoughts being right because I had anot in my stomach and I guess Also I probably should have said to my earlier version of myself I don’t worry this much right? If it’s. If it blows up I guess it won’t be the world and since I’m coming from the future and having had having had Success. You can you can trust this is going to go? well.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it I Love it Well Andreas Thorsheim: it has been on unear to have you on the deal maker show. Thank you? So so much I guess just to wrap it up for the people that are listening that want to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to reach out and and getting getting in touch with you guys.
Andreas Thorsheim: Well, ah o tovo has the handle the tova solar on Twitter we exist on Linkedin we have ah Facebook pages in most european countries I think by now. So um, check out your local ah otobo social media and if you. Solar pounds on your roof. It’s a Tovo plus your your local domain. So um, hopefully we’ll we’ll see you either in the customer backlog or ah, as ah as a direct message somewhere in the in the future.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Andrea thank you so much for being with us today. Really appreciate it.
Andreas Thorsheim: Yeah, thanks for the conversation.
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