ecoligo turns 5: Five things we’ve learned

ecoligo's founders CEO Martin Baart and CFO Markus Schwaninger

Today, the ecoligo team is celebrating our fifth birthday. As a start-up – or rather a scale-up – this is a huge deal! Not only are we proud to have made it this far, but the five years behind us are some of the most challenging, exciting and sometimes downright nerve-wracking we’ve ever experienced. We took some time to reflect and share what we’ve learned from this amazing journey.

Persistence is key

Our business model at ecoligo is far from standard, serving both private investors in Germany and business leaders from countries across emerging markets. More than once, we were told that our ideas were crazy: we were being too ambitious, or our model was too complex. Where we saw synergies and covering a big part of the value chain as a key success enabler, others had told us that it would be impossible to execute this as it would mean building up several different businesses at once. It took a long time to get funding in the beginning, because we were pioneers in our field and many investors were scared to back something with revenue generated in markets very far away.  

However, we fully believed in ecoligo: we’d given it serious consideration, mapped out our plans and knew the market – and the massive potential. We had some great encouragement (a big thank you to EIT InnoEnergy for their ever-present support and to our first investors for believing in us and our capability to deliver on big goals) but it was our persistence that brought us to this point. In times when our runway was rather short and clients took long to decide, people told us it’s not worth all the stress or things just weren’t going to plan, our belief and commitment – and that of our team – saw us through.

Takeaway: Founding a start-up takes guts, conviction and perseverance. We’re proud of having persisted and applaud all the other start-ups that have done, too.

People want to do good in the world

Don’t let the news cycle make you think otherwise: People really do want to do good in the world. We’ve seen this in countless areas; those who’ve supported us on our journey, the passionate people we’ve worked with and the crowdinvestors who finance our projects.

CEO Martin Baart at the solar plant for Vision Plaza in Kenya
Businesses like Vision Plaza in Kenya are committed to becoming more sustainable.

The recent milestone of 10 million Euros raised on ecoligo reinforces this. When people understand what their money can do, they jump at the opportunity to make a positive impact with their investments. Who wants to actively fund fossil fuels and other pollutants? Nobody we know – but many are still doing it unwittingly.

Takeaway: Awareness and education is a huge part of the solution. When people are educated and empowered to take action, they do.

Founding a start-up takes guts, conviction and perseverance. We’re proud of having persisted and applaud all the other start-ups that have done, too.

Martin and Markus, ecoligo’s founders

Prioritize transparency

In a complex world with ever-increasing amounts of greenwashing, trust is key. Being transparent is critical, especially as a company active in many countries. For ecoligo, this means being open and honest with crowdinvestors and business partners throughout each stage of the process – through the bad times and the good.

With crowdinvestors, it’s important that they have an understanding of the risks they take on for each project and receive regular updates on the status of their invested projects. During the COVID pandemic, we’ve sought to inform investors of our actions and the status in our markets. When two of our projects were not realised, we made sure that visitors to the platform had full visibility and informed all investors with a detailed update. We managed to repay them in full including interest, but the transparent communication seemed to be even more important to them than the money.

With our business partners, we’ve worked hard to establish processes that ensure they have visibility into each stage of installation and beyond. Through this, we’ve built trust and security that is invaluable for ecoligo – and for those who work with us.

Takeaway: Credibility is only becoming more important. Being open with partners and customers lets you build a strong foundation that weathers the storms.

Changing your life is worth it for the planet

Any founder will tell you that starting a company will change how you live. For us, it meant going from security to insecurity, from stable salaries to not even paying ourselves. Markus has had two children since founding ecoligo, foregoing long parental leave for short breaks when time allowed.

100 kWp solar system at Credible Blooms, Kenya.
Visible impact: 100 kWp system at Credible Blooms, Kenya.

Pursuing an ambitious goal takes a lot. But the matter of the climate crisis is urgent, and if we don’t act our lives are going to change beyond our control. Changing your life to work on something you believe in is not easy, but one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. And when you’re doing it for a bigger goal – like saving the planet – there’s no question of it being worth it.

Takeaway: Solving the global challenges we’re facing is a big task that requires big changes. But a lot can come from giving up security and stability.

Keep learning and adapting

Believe in yourself and your idea – but constantly question it, too! One of the most important things as a founder is to continuously learn and grow. From the minute you found a company, you’ve got a lot to do and it can feel like there’s not time for this – but it’s very important for you, your team and your company.

At ecoligo, we had to adapt a lot. We went through significant changes and had to acclimatise to regulation, market fluctuations and new team structures. Staying flexible and keeping a positive mindset has been crucial. Remember that your markets and clients are also changing, too: keep yourself updated and always strive to become better in supporting your customers and partners.

And last but certainly not least: work on your leadership skills. Leading a big team, supporting and encouraging them and then seeing them achieve awesome things is the most rewarding thing about founding a start-up. Reaching big impact takes star players who work together and we are incredibly proud to have built such a team – or  how we call it: gang.

Takeaway: Take the time to learn and improve. Not only will it be better for your business, but it’s a good example for your team, too.

Our journey at ecoligo has been an incredible one and we still feel like we’re only just beginning. Thank you to everyone who has supported us, believed in us, or even challenged us over the years. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next five holds.

By Martin Baart and Markus Schwaninger, ecoligo’s founders