About 10 months ago I was sitting in the lounge room of our family home in Islamabad, Pakistan with my wonderful wife Samina Yasmeen. She is a professor of Political Science at the University of Western Australia and directs the Centre for Muslim States and Societies there. We had just inspected a huge pile of boxes containing hundreds of Close Comfort air conditioners in Lahore which we were planning to sell in Pakistan in the summer.
“Well Professor, what do we do now?”
Never having even sat by the road side to sell lemonade, as two professors, we wondered just where to begin.
Close Comfort emerged from my addiction to Pakistan mangoes developed in the 1990s and aversion to summer load shedding introduced by President Musharraf in response to Pakistan’s inability to pay for electricity. It was a love-hate relationship because the best mangoes come in the hottest months of May and June when the indoor temperature without air conditioning is around 40C day and night. The electricity supply to each part of each town and city is disconnected in a mostly predictable rotating sequence. It was new to Pakistan in the early 2000s, and now common in many countries.
I decided not to give up my love for mangoes. Instead I decided to try and develop a battery powered personal air conditioner to deal with my hate for load shedding. I lay in bed during the power blackouts, sweat running down my skin, listening to the inevitable mosquitos ready to pounce. The air conditioner had to be just powerful enough to keep the two of us comfortable at night, with mosquito protection, and it had to run on a domestic UPS (uninterruptible battery backup power supply).
A good ten years passed before we had the boxes in Lahore. It was only after I tried a wooden prototype in Islamabad in June 2013 with amazing success that we decided to finance some prototypes and we had now reached our first commercial launch.
It has been a whirlwind 10 months. Our prayers were answered and the right people stepped into our lives and the right moments. Samina’s charm attracted so many. Amazingly we sold hundreds of ACs with our special tents that intensify the cooling, essential in the height of summer in Pakistan.
Now several hundred people in Pakistan have slept soundly in summer, free from interrupted sleep, without worrying about power bills and mosquitoes maybe for the first time. We would like to take this technology to more people in future. It could be one way to avoid huge increases in electricity demand that could lead to unacceptable CO2 emissions.
Running a technology start-up is not for the faint-hearted. As a late-comer to entrepreneurship, I am now almost accustomed to the ups and downs and dramatic changes from one day to the next, but not quite.
We are a long way from profitability, but at least after 9 years of company operations we have some positive cash flows.
I will bring more stories from this adventure from time to time. For now, read the post “Lost in Urdu Translation” to give you some insight into the difficulties we have had to overcome. Browse our Pakistan Facebook pages for some of the reactions to the product. Try our interactive experience to educate prospective customers about a radically new approach to air conditioning.
And, at the Close Comfort web site you can also browse the new challenge that presented itself: developing an application has pre-occupied me for the last 8 weeks or so.