My Week: Joel Hagan of Onzo

The energy gadget entrepreneur on early nights, taxing motorbike tests, and his green fingers.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I live in Gloucestershire and work in London so I have a pretty long commute – it takes me four hours every day. I’m up at 6 every day to have breakfast with my children before I leave for work.  I’ve got three and another one is due next week, so it’s a pretty busy household. And there’s a lot to juggle because my wife works as well.

I’ve taken to riding a scooter from home to the railway station, because I’ve decided that using a car for a journey of one a half miles every day was overkill, and probably not a good use of the planet’s resources. I bought one of the old BMW C1 scooters with the roof on them and then I went and did my motorbike test, which was quite an interesting challenge. The motorbike test these days is far more rigorous than the car test and my estimation of motorbike riders has gone up considerably now that I realise what they have to deal with. I do like riding my bike – there’s more connection with the world than when you’re in the bubble of a car. The C1 is strange beast though – it even has a roll cage.
I sit on a train for an hour and a quarter each way, which is actually a vital part of my working day because it enables me to get some work done without interruption. A lot of my day as a CEO is spent in meetings, talking to people and dealing with issues, so I find it’s a huge advantage to have those two and a half hours a day to actually sit down, catch up on emails, and deal with things at my own pace. I’m afraid it’s very rare that I manage to sleep on the train or read or anything like that – I have to try to make the most of that time.

Every Monday morning on the train I write a blog to the investors in Onzo, which they all have access to online. I like the opportunity to review the previous week and to tell them what’s going on, I like to know that even the relatively small investors in Onzo have the opportunity to be up to speed with our progress. And I know they actually read that because I get mails back from them about things.

At the moment my diary is pretty full of performance reviews. There are 35 of us now. We did get as big as 55 at one stage, but like many people, we had to make some redundancies. It wasn’t as a result of the general downturn, but rather down to the lack of available capital for expansion. We would have really liked to take further funding in 2009, but we decided that the best strategy would be to hunker down. These are testing times but I think they are good experiences for small businesses, if you can survive them. It teaches you to eke things out more, and although it’s much easier and in some ways much more fun when there’s more money around, it’s a good discipline also to learn to live with little.

I get home at about 7.15 and although the children are supposed to be in bed at 7 o’clock, what tends to happen is that I see a little face at the window because they’ve heard the scooter coming. I’ll just pop in and say good night to them, but it won’t be too long before I’m in bed myself. I am so knackered these days that I go to bed pretty hideously early - something I wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was in my early twenties and living in London.

I’m a keen gardener so I like to get out in the garden with the children at the weekends. We’re doing a lot of seed growing this year, and we’re also growing vegetables in the greenhouse. I try not to be busy with work at the weekend, although BlackBerrys are a huge distraction in life; they make work far too accessible.

Joel Hagan is the founder and chief executive of Onzo, which provides utility companies and their customers with energy efficiency testing gadgets

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