Back from the brink, FREE

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How do you bring yourself back from the financial brink and complete a water irrigation prototype?

Antoine Skayem’s company, FREE (Free Renewable Electric Energy), had been operating for two years, designing and installing photovoltaic solutions, led lighting solutions and energy consulting. He’d built up a solid client list for energy consulting projects around Lebanon.

Things seemed to be ticking along nicely. His team of six was working on several consulting projects across Lebanon and by the end of 2015 the business was doing well with various projects in the pipeline. “Around 30 percent of the 2016 target, which was great,” he said. He even took on more staff.

The Riego prototype. (Images via Riego)

It was also at this time, in 2015, that he started Riego, a water irrigation product. This is where things started to slide. Skayem was putting more energy into this while also spending a lot of time time travelling back and forth from Saudi Arabia looking for projects for FREE.

By April 2016 he was facing cashflow problems with FREE. He said that many of the pipelined projects were still pending, with various things keeping them from being implemented, “trivial stuff but keeping us from getting the cash”.

Confronting the beast

It was at this point he decided to shake up the whole structure.

“I didn’t realise I had to constantly incentivise my team,” he told Wamda. “The travelling meant I wasn’t noticing the problems, I didn’t have KPIs so no flags were being raised.”

As a start he hired a life coach to help him realign his vision and to train him in emotional intelligence.

“I didn’t want to lose my composure, I was under extreme stress, with salaries and expenses, and I needed to get cash,” he said.

Next, Skayem turned to Scrum. A lean management method created initially as a management software that is now moving into the broader workplace.

He started by removing titles and getting the team to work horizontally (think Holacracy or Agile - also a system formerly used to management software workflow). They had 15-minute stand up meetings every day, introduced visuals to the to-do lists and began to tackle one project at a time through ‘sprints’.

“We removed a lot of waste from our processes and operations,” he said. “I managed to get a few more projects meanwhile that put us back on our feet, in addition to cutting costs.”

He then did the same thing for Riego.

The dashboard for Riego's water irrigation system.

“This is how we were able to to finish the prototype,” he told Wamda, referring to their water irrigation solution. “We did more than just deliver a product, we now do agricultural consultations. And we even got a small project in the process.”

Now, while incubated at the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, Skayem is looking to raise money for Riego.

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