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Jessica O. Matthews is CEO of Uncharted Power, a renewable energy company. At age 19, Jessica invented the SOCCKET, an energy generating soccer ball. At age 22, she founded Uncharted Power. At age 28, Jessica raised the largest Series A funding of any African-American woman in history.
In this interview, Jessica discusses how she got here, starting with her childhood love of invention. Jessica shares powerful advice for creatives and aspiring CEOs and you’ll also hear a story about how she traveled with and even corrected President Obama!
Listen and it won’t take long to understand why Jessica was named to Oprah’s inaugural SuperSoul 100 list, why former President Bill Clinton said about Jessica: “If there was ever an innovator, she’s it!” and why she has received countless accolades including being named a Forbes 30 under 30, Black Enterprise’s Innovator of the Year, and Harvard University’s Scientist of the Year.
Enjoy learning from this inspiring woman!
(Published September 2016)
-I grew up with belief in not only science and reality but also delight, magic and being comfortable with the balance between the known and unknown.
-I see the unknown as the glass half full and wonder what magic lies there.
-The missing piece in creation and innovation is the human component: it’s understanding what makes us get up in the morning and makes us happy.
-Don’t just think about the solution but how we can make the journey more enjoyable and the process of getting to the solution more fulfilling.
-The SOCCKET was more of a psychological invention than a scientific invention.
-I wondered: if the ball is moving, why can’t we generate power from that?
-My strategy was: don’t think too far ahead in the beginning; let’s just see what’s possible.
-I think that what was helpful was that I had no dreams beyond the day. A lot of people will have an idea and start planning their exit strategy, IPO or how they will be so successful or famous. My thought process was: let’s start by taking a flashlight and hamster ball and put it inside of a soccer ball and see if that works. Then I thought: oh, wow, that worked, that’s great! Then it was: let’s just keep working on these prototypes. Then you get feedback and go from there.
-I just kept thinking: who knows how many times someone will get this opportunity, so I’m just going to keep pushing.
-In the beginning when one starts innovating, I see it as equivalent to the runners in Central Park: I just want to see what I can do and make progress each day; I’m competing against myself, let’s see what happens.
-The next phase is like track and field style: I think that we can be the best; let’s try to build something that’s amazing and can stand up to other companies and be an example of what it means to integrate impact into a business model.
– When building a sustainable business, every CEO needs to be in a boxing framework. You’re never going to throw a combination and hit someone and they are just going to smile and say thank you – they are going to want to hit you back. That’s what sustainable business is: with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When you’re planning how to move, think of how your presence affects the industry, the space you’re in and the people that work with you. Not everything is about: I want to hit this or achieve that. It’s more about a very dynamic eco-system with so many moving parts. You can’t control those moving parts, avoid the moving parts or always predict those moving parts (sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t), but you can be aware that things are always moving, which will allow you to stay in the ring and keep going.
-Recognizing those phases will allow you to have longevity.
Beginnings of the Company:
-When we started our company: we would do meetings in hotel lobbies because they were nice and we didn’t have an office, we treated my Chelsea apartment as our lab where we would hack away at things, we hired lots of interns and learned a lot the hard way.
-We spent a lot of time with the supply chain, figuring out the best way to make the SOCCKET, and learning how to build the right team with the right experience and the right structure. That’s where I had to learn how to run a business because to do what we did the best, the groundwork and foundation had to be very strong.
About Uncharted Play’s Core-Technology M.O.R.E.:
-Our new technology is called M.O.R.E. (Motion-based, Off-grid Renewable Energy). It’s what’s in the SOCCKET, in the PULSE and now we hope will be in almost everything that moves.
-We’re not doing enough to get MORE out of life: to address energy access and freedom in terms of how we move through our lives. Technology is supposed to freeing and empowering but it’s imprisoning if you don’t have battery power. If I look at my phone and it’s under 10%, I feel extreme anxiety and don’t want to go out. How do you foster growth and innovation and getting people to be excited about being part of the conversation about what’s next for our world if we can’t power our hopes and our dreams and what’s next?
-It’s not just play that is underutilized, it’s motion!
-To be moving is to be alive and when you’re alive you need power, so it’s a clear circle.
-We’re constantly in motion! To be alive is to be moving and we should be getting MORE out of our life.
-Let’s get power from play!
-When we step on floor panels, they are moving; when we wear clothing, it’s moving. For example: we are working on strollers that when you push, you can get power at a faster rate than if you were plugging your phone into a wall. If you have to push your child around in a stroller, why aren’t you getting power? We partner with manufacturers that make strollers, furniture, floor panels, etc. We bring our technology and expertise and integrate it into the products that they already make and then it’s distributed through their own channels.
Advice for Creatives:
-Know yourself. If we are defining creativity as the willingness to look at things in a different way, then be comfortable with yourself and doing things that other people don’t do. By virtue of someone being innovative, it means that no-one has done it before. Be comfortable saying – what is different here? At the same time, know that creativity can show itself in many different ways.
-Do whatever you can to be comfortable with yourself and your quirkiness. Find what makes you different, awkward and uncomfortable. Discomfort breeds innovation.
-When there are situations when you feel uncomfortable, don’t run away from it. Sit in it and think about what’s happening to you, what are you feeling, how many people might have ever felt this way and attempt to have something come out of that.
-If this is a locked room, how would you bust a whole through the wall? That is the key process for innovation, which I think is the point of creativity: to do something with that creative thought.
-Be comfortable with the oddities of life and know that creativity can manifest in many different ways and at different times. Discomfort is the magic time that something that can come out and you can push through.
Advice for CEOs:
-Find comfort in thinking ahead and also thinking in the moment. In the earliest stages of what you’re trying to build, thinking ahead should be thinking a month from now. You should only be thinking about how do I get through today and MAYBE what might be happening in a month, max. You want to keep it super short term. Because otherwise, you’ll get so overwhelmed that you’ll be paralyzed and won’t be able to do anything. Think about what you want to do in one day. Before you know it, 7 days is a week, 4 weeks is a month, 12 months is a year and, before you know it, you will have been in a business for a long time.
-Resist the temptation to dream about success in the long-term. I could have never imagined that I’d be where I am. If I had over-planned, I would have been worse off. You have to go with the flow.
-Strategy vs. planning: plans will change, but strategies don’t have to. Strategies are meant to adjust. You should have a strategy for how you want to build your business and how you want to live your life so that you can adjust to what comes at you.
-Even as we grow and need to have a 5-year plan for investors I still try to keep it: what are we trying to get done in this quarter, in this year.
Advice for Everyone:
-My Mom is excellent at helping a lot of the problems I see as big problems not seem like big problems.
-I try to meditate at least 3 times/week. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. There are many different beliefs about meditation. For me, it’s calming the mind and not controlling what’s on your mind. Your mind might take you to the problem you want to be dealing with and help you figure that out.
-Exercise. I have found that when I sweat, I sleep better. When I’m working out, I feel more balanced and it makes me happier. If I don’t work out for 2-3 days, I’ll feel uncomfortable/unbalanced and it’s because I need those endorphins.
-I’m really into lists. If I don’t make a list at the start of my day, even if I do things that day, I don’t know what I did. I need to have a list and see things get crossed off. I’ve been making lists for years, and it’s amazing.
-I was raised to not be afraid.
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