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John Belizaire


John Belizaire

Gabriel Flores  0:03  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the shades of entrepreneurship. This is your host, Mr. Gabriel Flores. Today I'm here with the C E O of Soluna. John,

John Belizaire  0:15  

how are we doing? We're doing great. We're doing great. Gabriel, I'm glad to be here. I'm excited to the conversation.

Gabriel Flores  0:22  

Yeah, we're it folks, folks listening, we're going to talk about something I'm very interested like personally interested in because it's something that I think we're all here about. And I think some of these questions, we're going to talk about that. We're gonna talk today about renewable energy. So I'm really excited. But first, John, let's introduce the world to you give a little background education experience can kind of just introduce them to

John Belizaire  0:44  

Sure. Although I'm I run a competing business that helps the renewable energy industry with challenges that they have actually started my career as a software engineer, I studied computer science, in my undergrad and in grad. My alma mater is Cornell Copic read. And I was always fascinated by distributed computing. I did a internship very early on in my college career with Intel Corporation. Many people don't know this, but they did and still have a very large software function focused on helping to drive demand for their processors and so forth. So I would go out to the West Coast, and, you know, learn that. And I've always had a drive to be an entrepreneur started several little mini businesses and in high school, and I was always fascinated by how these very large companies like IBM, where I interned, and then I was just fascinated by what it means to be a corporate, professional, and how do you build a company from scratch. And in college, I had two grad school mates, that were also equally driven to become entrepreneurs. We wrote a business plan for fault tolerant distributed computing. And the whole idea was, at the time, this was just when the internet was just taking off. And the whole idea was, if you had web servers that were running your, your, your eStore, you never want that thing to go down, or drill, we would do these demonstrations. Or we would try to do these demonstrations where we would try to swing a baseball bat at one of the computers in the lab, and show that it would still be running. And you know, since we didn't own that equipment, we couldn't really do that. But we would shut one down and show how this this miscommunication ring that we built can sort of keep them running. And our we were engineers, and we took some business schools and entrepreneur, entrepreneurship courses, and they wouldn't let us into the courses because like you engineers, you can't take that. I mean, what do you guys know about business? There, right? We didn't know anything. But, but we went in there. And we learned a lot. And we set out to start the business. But we felt that we were all not ready for that two out of the three of us needed to get a visa to stay in the country. And so they had to get a job. So we went off our separate ways. They went to the startup world, I went to the big company world. And then we came back two years later and started our first company. We built that from nothing in Boston, to about 50 people doing 15 plus million in revenue. And then we eventually sold it for $150 million, to a very large, fast growing public company that was building lots of systems for the new E commerce revolution, if you will. And I went on to work for that company was the on the management team of a new division that was formed. And we essentially 10x the size of our business in a three, three year period. So we went from 15 to $150 million across the world. And I used to say I live technically live in San Francisco, but in reality, I live on C three E on United Airlines. So offices we had around the world, I really experienced what it means to scale a business. And I just continued to do that I went on to form a software incubation company and then eventually an investment group and formed a new software company in the insurance space and always looking for really complex problems that have not yet been solved for industry. And in fact, my my insurance company experienced we spent 18 months just figuring out what the problem was the the industry was having before we even wrote a single line of code. And that has helped us to build very successful companies and over the last 20 years, I've grown a lot, as a person, professional and entrepreneur and as a leader, as a CEO. I'm constantly trying to perfect the role, if you will. And it's, it's, you know, my strategy is get one 1% better every day. And that's a little bit about me, living here in New York, married with kids, and you know, still very energetic about building companies and bringing amazing people together to do exciting things together.

Gabriel Flores  5:32  

Like it, you know, and so for the folks at home, there are going to be some times where I'm going to be unable or John might be unable to answer some questions, because just just for the folks who don't know, so Luna is actually a public trading company, correct?

John Belizaire  5:45  

Yes, we are. So Selena computing the entity I run as part of a parent company called Soluna. holdings, sar ticker is s, l and h salary, Larry, Nancy Harry, hey, go there. Right. And, and so folks can learn about the company. So yes, there'll be some questions. So I'll pass on be perfect.

Gabriel Flores  6:06  

No problem. Let's, let's give them the general synopsis. First, what is saluted? How did the concept get created? What does it do?

John Belizaire  6:14  

So Soluna started about back in 2018. It was my one of my mentors, longtime investor in a number of my companies was having this challenge. He had a renewable energy development company in Northern Africa, Morocco, interesting. They were doing solar hydro wind type projects, they had one really big wind project in the southern part of the country. And they had this problem where the wind farm was actually stranded. So there was no grid infrastructure to speak of that they could connect up into to sell the energy. So the question was, how do you monetize stranded energy, and they got the idea of placing Bitcoin, or integrated computing facilities at the location. And once they started thinking about that, in fact, they researched it for over a year, it became clear that that project was no longer just a renewable energy project, it was a technology company. And I was asked to go run it. And we ran it for we did the traditional things you do when you're building an energy company, right, you've got to prepare the land, you got to do some studies, you had to do some engineering designs, and so forth. And we designed this synchronized approach to connecting the energy production to the computing consumption, so that the computing can actually run off grid. And while we were doing that the grid actually did make its way there passes right over the site now. And we started conceptualizing a new architecture that integrated the power plant into the grid, and essentially makes the computing a battery almost, where we can convert that excess energy because renewables are intermittent. Well, I'm sure we'll talk a lot about renewable energy in the discussion here, but renewables are intermittent, meaning the grid can't really control when that power plant produces energy, sometimes it's going to produce more than the grid can handle. And so we had an embedded solution to that problem. And in 2022, the COVID happened, and we couldn't get to the project, we started thinking about the long term strategy of our business. And it became clear to us that if we took just the computing part and took it to other wind farms, or other solar farms or other hydro plants, we can actually solve the same problem. The only question was, was that problem big enough to build a really large enterprise. And, and so we spent, you know, six, eight months, you know, on Zoom calls, talking to just about anybody we can get our hands on from equipment manufacturers to grid scheduling entities, grid operators, powerplant owners, and everybody told us the same thing, you guys got to work on this. This is a big problem. And this solution is very novel. If you can scale it, make it work, it's going to be fascinating. So Soluna computing, which is the company we serve broke, broke off into the energy from the energy development company, and that we took that public through a merger last year, is focused on building data centers that help integrate more renewables on the grid. And what we do is we go to green energy, power plants that are dealing with basically wasted energy. And most people don't know this, but about a third of the power that's produced by some of the best wind farms in the world, the best solar plants in the world. The best hydro plants never make it onto the grid. Actually, it gets wasted because the grid is congested by the fact that you can't dispatch these power plants directly, right. It has to be planned. ahead of time, and sometimes Mother Nature is interested in producing more or producing less than the grid needs. And so when it's producing a lot more, that creates this excess energy problem. So what we do is we bring the consumer of that power to the plant. And we've designed these specifically, purpose built data centers are highly flexible, that absorb that energy, and convert it to computing, flexible computing, where we'd like to call Bachalo computing, any kind of computing that can be put to sleep. So cryptocurrency mining is one of them. AI is another machine learning, scientific computing, graphics, coding, those types of applications are very resilient to these types of environments. And they're some of the fastest growing forms of computing out there right now. So you put those two worlds together, it creates a very exciting confluence between the computing world and renewable energy, which ultimately gets us to have renewable energy be the world's superpower. And that's the mission of our businesses to make renewable energy, the number one source of power in the world.

Gabriel Flores  11:15  

Excellent. You know, I'm gonna, I'm definitely gonna talk about crypto shortly. But let's let's do some definitions for the folks at home. What when you're talking about the grid, what do you mean?

John Belizaire  11:27  

So when I talk about the grid, I'm talking about the entire grid system. So today, we sort of take for granted, especially countries in the Western world, you wake up, you turn on the light switch light comes on, you don't you don't think twice about it, right? There's never,

Gabriel Flores  11:46  

I think, like a where the heck my light go?

John Belizaire  11:48  

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, it actually you get upset. You turn on a toaster. And it just works. Well, how does that work. And the way it works is you have all these different components coming together. In the current grid fabric, you have power producers, so independent companies that build power plants, that are designed to provide power into a grid system, you have the high voltage power lines that run you've seen them on the road, sometimes running across state lines and sending power all across a particular state. That's part of the grid system, there are lower voltage distribution lines that kind of come down to your actually house or your business and so forth. That's part of the grid fabric. And those distribution systems are managed by retail, electric service providers, and so forth. And then there's the sort of regulated, manage, grid operating company that's living at the state level, usually managed by the Department of Energy or some form like that. And they manage bringing all of those components together and making them work in a synchronous way to balance demand for energy, with the production of energy, by design, and the whole model of the system is that there's a there's a direct match between those two things. For the most part, sometimes you may have some peeking areas and so forth, really hot summers, you need extra power for those ACs. But generally speaking, you're trying to match that. And that has worked for a long time, that system that I've just described, you know, you've had, you have coal power plants, gas fired power plants on the system, providing the energy. And then you have these distributed networks of power lines, delivering electrons to people's homes and businesses and so forth. And, you know, the kids can see see the whiteboard, because there's light in the building. And the movement to renewable energy, adding renewable energy to the grid, and moving to more sustainable and climate friendly sources of power, has created a major challenge for that model. And that is because in the system, I just describe the grid can turn dials, literally, you have these giant rooms, and no one no one else gets to see, although, apparently the Russians keep trying to hack them right now and get inside there. And there's there's people managing that balance, right? They're firing up, you know, power plants, or they're shutting them down and so forth. And the goal is to keep that synchronization and keep the grid Frink frequency, the rate with which the electrons are pumping through that. Perfect, gotcha. But when you add renewable resources, what happens is the grid can't really fully dispatch those facilities. Technically, they have control of them, because they're connected to the grid system. But how much energy is produced doesn't get set by them, right? Whereas a cold plant, you can dial it up or dial it down, for the most part. And so the challenge that gets created is what I described earlier is you suddenly start to have lots and lots of these facilities that could be producing more energy than you need. And you have to dial that back, right. And that means calling the power plant and saying dial yourself back. Right. And so imagine now you start adding more and more of these facilities on the grid, this problem gets worse. And because power plant owners are independent companies, they're backed by big funds, and so forth. You've you've heard some of these names, BlackRock and whatnot, right? giant companies, they invest in finding the best possible place to put a powerful facility, a wind facility, they go where the sun is really bright, right, and then they're all end up going the same place, I call it the McDonald's Burger King problem, they all end up sort of right across each other because they're optimizing for the best resources. And so you suddenly have a lots of power plants in a particular location of the grid, also, that's producing more energy than it can you can consume. And that puts a lot of congestion on the grid, electrons can't get to the sources, they have to dial back those power plants. And so they start prices to actually start to crash and go negative, which then puts a lot of pressure on those power plants, because they can't sell that power. So they actually have to pay to send their energy to the grid sometimes allow. So when I say the grid system, it's that, fundamentally those pieces, and the grids challenges are fundamentally those pieces. That's the grid. In fact, there's a, there's a really good book, called the grid, actually, that if the Listen, listeners are really interested in reading it, I'll send you the details, you can put it in the show notes. But that's a great history of the grid, the different components, actually the grid used to be integrated in your home. So if you had, if you had a house, many moons ago, you would actually have everything there, the generator for your electricity would actually be in your basement, and it would be provided by Thomas Edison's Electric Company. So you'd buy a whole kit and put it together. And then over time, it moved to a decentralized approach, where you have the capability not in your home, but provided as a public utility. And then that further decentralized, were deregulation and focusing on you know, separating the power plants from the owner of the grid happened. That created the grid that we have today. Nice.

Gabriel Flores  17:42  

So now, what would we define renewable energy? What are what are some of the sources of renewable energy out there?

John Belizaire  17:48  

So the biggest sources of renewable energy these days is solar and wind. They're big hydro plants in parts of the world. As well, you have everything from, you know, the big dams in this country, Hoover Dam to the massive dams in Canada, providing that electricity. And the, the other one is geothermal, electricity as well. There's also hydro based. So you know, the change in a wave, for example, ocean can also create energy, there's lots of different things that are sustainable forms. But the you know, the big kahuna is today are still are sort of solar and wind. And that seems to be increasing at an accelerating rate rate actually, almost exponentially, because the doubling effect or this concept called Rights Law, so as you build more of this stuff, it becomes easier to build because you've learned some things. And as you learn those things, they they help to decrease the cost of that. And so you can build more of it than it just feeds on itself. Yeah. And that's happened to the renewable energy space. That's why it's become the cheapest form of power these days. So those are the those are the dominant. Those are the big boys if you're nice.

Gabriel Flores  19:05  

And shout out to my boy, Kurt. Kurt, he's probably out there in Arizona Kirk. He's doing a lot of solar solar power has solar installations everywhere. So it's crazy how many different renewable energy sources are out there. Now. I want to talk about something that I'm sure it's going to be interesting to a lot of the folks that are listening because I think a lot of my listeners are into the investing world. So let's get into crypto. Okay. Cryptocurrency in particular, because I think I even have a misconception that you know, cryptocurrency is actually really bad for our environment. And maybe it's true, maybe I'm wrong, I don't know. But let's talk about cryptocurrency mining and blockchain and why they are important technologies that can fuel future energy.

John Belizaire  19:47  

That's a great question. I think the first question is what is what is cryptocurrency? And as you can, you know, you start with sort of a high level question and you drill down and use whereas if you start to eventually see the relationship to energy cryptocurrency, which Bitcoin really started, it's the biggest brand. You know, it's it's the, it's the godfather of the of the space, if you will, the basic concept is that everything has been digitized, think about it, you no longer have to leave your home to order food. You, you know, you can watch movies from your house, you know, education can be beamed to your home now, or straight glory streamed. Yeah, we're streamed Right, exactly. And just about everything has been digitized except for money. And we've seen the good and the bad that comes with that. Money is a very powerful form of technology, if you will, to some extent, that powers the global economy. It's primarily sovereign based. So the concept of Fiat, but there are challenges that have been seen everything from inflationary concerns, because one entity can decide to increase the output of that currency devaluating it? And some countries have had to do that, for a number of reasons. Not always good. And so and it's built around the concept of trust, fungibility, the ability for it to be transferred, etc. That's money. So the question that the creators of Bitcoin asked was, how would you create a form of money where you didn't need a central authority? And trust was irrelevant? Right? How would you do that? Exactly. The first step is to essentially create a series of different technologies that you're going to need to make that possible. And one of them is this concept of a ledger, where you keep track of who owns what, and how much, quote unquote, money do they have, right? And that ledger today is very centralized. So you go to a bank, they keep track of how much money you have. And if they get it wrong, you get into this big argument, etc. But you trust that they're, they're documenting it correctly. But what if you didn't have that bank? There is no intermediary? How do you create a system to make that happen? Well, what Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym for the creators here, basically came up with is an elegant system that essentially decentralizes the ledger. So everybody has a copy of the ledger, I add the ledger, I see what you own, and what I own what everybody owns, we share that. And we create a peer to peer system. And, you know, when I was growing up during the E commerce world, I was there when Napster was sort of taken off and oh, yeah, getting a peer to peer network for digital, you know, content, content, and so forth. Not not exactly totally kosher. But the concept was there, right peer to peer networks, to create a peer to peer network that keeps track of all the transactions that are happening among all the participants. And since everybody has a copy is perfectly synchronized. And now you run into a new problem. If everybody is trustworthy, then it shouldn't be synchronized and completely accurate. But if everybody isn't trustworthy, how do you protect that? And the trick is, through something I like to call the magic machine. So imagine for a moment listeners that you're all keeping track of your ledger on a sheet of paper, I send a few Bitcoin to Gabriel Gabriel sends a few Bitcoin to his pal in Texas, etc. And everybody is keeping track of that, and everybody has a constant ledger of it. Now, imagine I told you, there was this magic machine that took that sheet of paper, looked at everything on the paper, and could convert the entire content of that piece of paper to one fixed number. Or imagine I told you that the machine and the machine didn't care how big the content was, I can place the entire, you know, Bible, all of human knowledge to the machine and it would create the same number of a fixed length. Now, by using that we can make sure that if we if we all push the piece of paper through the machine, that number that it generates, okay, will be the same. And fundamentally speaking, if anybody changes that sheet of paper, we would know because if you push it through the machine, create a different number. So now what we do is we stamp those that information on the page, and then we link that page to the previous page. So we start to not only convert the page, but the actual what I like to call folder. So imagine the page gets added to a folder. And as you link them over time, this form of conversion, you know, protects the folder and the pages. What I've just described to date is essentially the blockchain. Yep. And the magic machine is the concept of cryptography or hashing, if you will turn it into a hash. Now, the only thing that's left is to encourage all the participants to protect and continue to perform that work of protecting those sheets and so forth and making sure that it's secure. Because now that the pages are linked through through hashing and backward hashing, I have to create a reason for you to protect the network. So what I do is I say everyone perform this exercise. And that exercise is to seal the page, such that it, the number that comes out of the machine looks a certain way. And usually it's a number of zeros in front of in front of the number. And the only way to get that is to put the sheets through the page through the machine one at a time to guess that number, there is no way because that machine only works one way in one direction. So if I give you the number, you can't get back to the transactions. And because everyone can do that, eventually someone will find that magic number, if you will call the number that you use once or the nonce, and that number will stamp the blockchain and basically seal it forever, really hard to to, to break it down. But to perform that I have to perform computing. To do computing, I need energy. And so the only way for you to have gotten that nonce is to have expended some energy. And so when you boil it down, that fundamental capability of the network to drive people to expend resources to protect the network, makes a direct connection to something that's very clear energy consumption. That's why Bitcoin especially is a digital form of money that is backed by energy, essentially are secured by energy is another way to think about it. That's fundamentally crypto, just about every other form that you've heard of eath, Solon, all these other all these other, etc. They all fundamentally follow this concept of decentralized management of information that that focuses on the protection of digital assets. They focus on this concept of creation of assets based on certain activities on the network. And they focus on a host of technology to protect and secure that asset as it builds value. And that value comes from utility. So bitcoins primary utility, right now, although it started wanting to be sort of, you know, digital cash, it's primarily a, a digital store of value. So if you want to, you have a lot of money and you want to store value, for a long time, that's independent of where you live, the sovereign, etc, you can convert that value into bitcoin stored in the secured network, and you know, that there are actors and mining companies all over the world, spending hundreds of billions of dollars building equipment to secure the network, okay? No one can go in and increase the production of of the asset, decrease it change the the, the ledger, you now have confidence that your assets will be protected, and they are very easily transported. So if I'm in a country in Africa, that where I don't trust a government, I can't just like, take all my assets run across the border.

And, you know, hide them in some in, you know, dig, dig a hole and hide them somewhere and hope they retain their value, you could actually convert your assets into this digital form. And suddenly they're, they're there. They're in there in the network, and protected over time. That's cryptocurrency. That's the power of it. It has all sorts of implications for the financial services system now and and going forward. And we believe it Soluna that it also has because of the feature that I just talked about how energy is a feature in that system to provide security is also a way to drive and exceed and accelerate the amount of renewable energy that we'll be able to build in the world.

Gabriel Flores  29:52  

Nice. Now, one of the things we kind of talked about, you know, is the economy right and focusing on the economy. We talked about the grid as well. Now let's talk about the future. of the grid, like, what what are we looking at for work? So how can it provide efficient energy that reduces energy poverty but enhances the economy? Equality, growth? Or equality?

John Belizaire  30:11  

Good question. Very good question. You know, when we were in Africa, I learned a lot about the energy space, because what we were doing was very complex. And I had to learn a lot about project finance and the energy industry and how capital comes in, etc. But I also got to travel the continent, and learn about energy in the on the continent. And what I learned was that, wow, I am very fortunate to live in the United States, I'm very fortunate to have studied in Europe, the, you know, these infrastructures and economies are powered so much by the energy, you can see the effect that it has on it, right? The biggest countries in the world, in Africa, that's not true. There's an incredible amount of resources, there's wind and solar, there's hydro, all the things that that we have over here. But they haven't been exploited to, to the point where they can be developed and become part of the infrastructure to power the economy, you can't build a growing economy without energy, even in the southern part of Morocco. It was it was it was an economy that was growing, it didn't have sufficient energy to reach the growth levels that it needed. So it needed those power plants down there. So if we could find a way. Now, the reason that is the case is because while renewable energy was subsidized by some of the largest economies of the world to accelerate the industry over the last 2030 years, in Africa, it was few and far between the projects that were done. And the original form of the industry relied on US selling the power to the government at a fixed price. That's, you know, ironclad they're going to pay their bills. And, you know, these countries can afford to do that. So it's really hard to attract capital is very challenging to build projects, etc. But if you could find a way to make it such that the economy, let's say it's a small economy can start building power infrastructure, that's essentially self monetizing. Where it's combined with this form of computing, and a small power plant or big power plant, right? Initially, maybe even off grid, it provides local micro grid energy to an area that allows that area to grow and expand. And as power infrastructure comes closer to that area, that power can then get added to the grid, which allows it to participate and grow the power infrastructure of that country, that country can then use that access that energy to drive economic development. And it's never over, you know, over tilted on power, because the, you know, the computing has is monetizing it, and also creating jobs locally. So you have this catalyzing effect on driving more, more growth, I think, personally, and we believe this very much at Soluna. That, that represents some of the most exciting opportunities for renewable energy bringing it to those markets in this unique way, and bringing more capital in to invest, because you can make a good business case for that. Yeah. And suddenly, you You're, you're bringing more technology to help all the grids of the world become modern grids, and power their their economies. That's what I think is the future opportunity. That's why I like getting out of bed. It's it's exciting, because it's, it's, it's it's something that could really help the world from a climate change perspective, but also lift people out of darkness. Yeah, literally, literally darker, literally over parts of Africa. Because they, they they haven't, they don't have the ability to grow.

Gabriel Flores  34:16  

Yeah. You know, one of the things you mentioned at the beginning of our conversations is, you kind of started out with this entrepreneurial kind of mindset, right? But you're a CEO now. So explain the evolving role of the CEO and entrepreneur.

John Belizaire  34:32  

So there's something I've learned several years ago, I want to say about a decade ago, and it was in a CEO forum. So the CEO forum is where the simplest thing is like, the way to explain is like a bunch of CEOs, building startup companies get together, and they literally they just cry on each other's shoulders like, man, you have that problem, too. I didn't know.

Gabriel Flores  34:58  

He loves company. I'm telling you My goodness,

John Belizaire  35:01  

you know, it's like, wow. And then they and then they, and then they shift to like helping each other, you know, everybody has their strengths, right. And so, you know, they get up, people get up and describe the challenges they're going through. One of the one of the exercises we do is we look at sort of where the company is in its stages of growth, and what role the CEO has to play in that stage of growth. And what most entrepreneurs and CEOs of smaller, large companies don't realize sometimes is that the company is constantly changing, it's growing up, it's like a child, you know, it starts out really young, it doesn't really know its way doesn't know its identity, what it's about. But it's, it's it's lumbering along, you know, and then eventually it starts to grow, becomes an adolescent and has more awareness, it just continues to grow. And each phases of those of that growth, and by the way, it grows and it grows and shrinks, too. So yes, so most people think, you know, entrepreneurial growth is just a straight line and up into the right peaks and valleys reality is when you zoom in, that's actually up and then it spirals down, then it goes up. And it's about you know, there's there's bad things that happen along the way. And as the company breaks through those different stages of growth, the role of the CEO is constantly changing, you go from sort of being right there in the trenches with the team to moving up where you're helping to set direction, you're sort of managing, and then you move up to being more of a facilitator for teams of very experienced people. And then you move up to where you're not focusing inside the company, you're focusing beyond the company and looking at the future where the company needs to go, and what's happening outside of the company that could affect it. And you're ultimately becoming a coach, you're just the person who's making it possible for the team to be the best team that they can possibly be. Not everybody knows how to make those transitions over time. But knowing that they exist, which is what I learned in the forum, helps you to understand the growth that you have to go through as an individual over time. So for me, my journey has really been about that. It's about perfecting the CEO role. I like to call it the you know, the 1% focus, like every, every, every day, I'm trying to how can I do this? 1% better, what can I do to be better? How can I build the best possible team, make sure people are communicating? What how can I be a servant to them remove obstacles and make them successful. And one of the things that I do that blocks the team that slows us down, that prevents us from reaching our goals, and being very self aware about it, humble about it. And you know, talking to folks and, and listening and empathizing with the effects that I have on it. And I tried to write down these learnings in a almost cathartic way. I have a blog, that I pin it on a personal blog. And lots of people have found it very helpful, because to be honest with you, making mistakes is actually okay, as long as they're original. So I spend a lot of time talking to people about what they've done that similar to what I've done so that I can learn from it, and try to avoid those mistakes and make real genuine, original ones that I can learn from, you know what the CEO journey is really about. It's about it's about growth, self reflection, firefighting, and ultimately, coaching.

Gabriel Flores  38:47  

Yeah, you know, I was talking with for another guest previously, and one of the things you mentioned, you learn more from failures than successes. You know, you learn so much more from a failure than you do from a success. And one quote, I constantly say, on this podcast, I'm sure people are probably getting sick of me saying it. I always say, I never felt that day in my life, I either learn or I succeed. And what I mean by that is if I fail, I'm learning something, right? And I'm gonna, I'm going to try it again and try it again, until I succeed, because the way I look at failure is like, I just stopped trying, I'm not going to try anymore.

John Belizaire  39:20  

That's right, you're done. Yeah. Failure is, is information. It's, it's telling you where your weaknesses are, is telling you where your blind spots are, is telling you what muscles are weak, you know, that you need to build. And it's, it's showing you that you know, the red lights, so you can see the relay, the green lets you know, that's what failure is. It's a very powerful asset, actually, to your point, so, so going through it as as painful as it is it it changes your whole DNA, especially yours you're suddenly stronger than next time. Yeah. And once you realize that that's the role, you actually embrace it, you know, we work in a very complex business over here. We're constantly learning. When something happens, I'm like, great. What did we learn?

Gabriel Flores  40:14  

Yeah, bring me a problem, I'll find this, you know, but

John Belizaire  40:16  

what did we learn? What did we learn, you know, that we're gonna use this to improve the process going forward?

Gabriel Flores  40:22  

I like so let's, let's switch gears a little bit, I kinda want to talk a little bit about that first business that you mentioned that you scaled, and you brought up? How difficult was it to actually start your first business?

John Belizaire  40:32  

Oh, a very first business that was hard. Well, we it was our first one. So we, you know, we had kind of like the, you know, the energy that comes from knowing how hard

Gabriel Flores  40:44  

it's going to be, just jump in feet first, not

John Belizaire  40:47  

knowing what yeah, just go for it, you know, just go for it, we had lots of excitement. And, you know, just passion to be successful. But literally, we knew nothing. And one thing I did, which I realized was, was really helpful to me is I said, I can't be the first person who's ever done this. And we build our company in Boston. And Cornell used to do this great thing where they would publish this Cornell directory, like, who are the alumni are, which cities they are, what their professions are to help you to leverage that network. And so I looked at the Boston chapter, and I said, you know, let me look at all the CEOs that are doing stuff that's similar to what we're doing. And I literally just cold call them Hi, you don't know me, I'm John. I'm gonna cornelian. And I'm running this company. And I just got so many questions as a new entrepreneur, you know, can you help me? 30 minutes is all I need 10 minutes, what do we got? Yeah, totally. And folks started to call me back, you know, I went to their offices, ask them lots and lots and lots of questions. And then they would send me to other people to talk to. And I brought back that information, shared it with my partners. And that just really helped us to start to build a framework around the things that we needed to do versus not do. As I said, we had mentors, you know, I worked for one, one of those mentors now. And that was how we got through the really tough sleepless nights around how we're going to pay ourselves how we're going to pay this employees. How do we how do you raise money? Like, what does that what does it mean to do that? You know, yeah, the first one, what

Gabriel Flores  42:25  

did you do? How did you how did you find it? Did you go grass?

John Belizaire  42:28  

So we had this exercise where we we made a list with the saying, know who you know, because, hey, you never know who you know. So family and friends, they are really good, or whatever said, Yeah, we made a list of family, friends, acquaintances, professionals, you know, and we just started dialing for dollars, we say we need to raise $50,000, we need to raise $100,000, and you raise $150,000. And I'll never forget this, we went to banks, we got small business loans as well, for our first company. And I never forget this, there was, there was this one moment, we were in our sort of shared space office here there in Boston, and we just spent our last dollar in the bank, literally, it was like buy a sandwich or something like that. And like, what are we gonna do, we're like, we're not gonna be able to meet payroll tomorrow. And after we finished lunch, they dropped off our mail. And there was a $50,000 checks, you know, from one of our, one of my closest friends to this day, to make an investment in the company, and that just kept us going. And then from there, we we eventually got more professional capital into the business and grew it from there. But I gotta tell you, the those early periods, they were dark to some extent, right? Because you're, you're a little concerned, you're not going to make it. But that's part of the journey. That's part of entrepreneurship, actually, it's really, building a business is hard for reason, because not everybody can do it. And the companies that successfully do it, and the teams that successfully do it build very big successful businesses, because they solve consistently solve hard problems and make it look easy.

Gabriel Flores  44:18  

What has been the hardest part starting a business?

John Belizaire  44:22  

I would say that, depending on the business, there are different hard parts. building teams, for example, is hard. How do you attract really strong talent and keep them motivated, growing? How do you build a culture? That's hard? Yeah. How do you raise capital in a consistent way such that you're not giving away the company as you grow in? How do you plan that? out that that's hard? And as I said earlier, how do you transition from a founder or culture, if you will, where you're sort of doing everything, you're making the coffee, to more of a professional management, leadership and CEO driven culture. Those things are very hard. And that's the stuff that I like to write about. Because they're the hardest part of the process. It's not, it's not usually the technology. So you know, you've got this great invention, you want to solve this problem. And some people think, oh, man, we got all these hard technical problems to solve. That actually isn't as hard as building all the infrastructure and capabilities, you need to be a company that delivers that amazing technology to the world. That's, that's the

Gabriel Flores  45:45  

difference. What motivates you?

John Belizaire  45:49  

I'm driven by building things, I like the experience of taking something from nothing to becoming a well known brand that solves real problems. I love building teams that really motivates me. I love finding all sorts of people from different walks of life, diverse backgrounds, and bringing them together and forming sort of kind of a new family, if you will. I think companies are not families, per se, but they're they're really sports teams, to some extent, right, we're all working together to be successful as an organization, and getting them to really act like a team, right, where you don't have many fight five terms and stuff like that, that motivates me creating that environment where people really enjoy coming to work. Like they're, they're just super jazzed about it, you know, and they're, they're doing what they're passionate about that, that does motivate me, I also am motivated by inspiring other young entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds to try their hand at building a company. And, and not being afraid of it. It's not it's, it's hard, as I was saying, but it's not impossible. In fact, it will make you an amazing person, whether you succeed or fail, if you will, by going through it. And so being an inspiration to young entrepreneurs motivates me.

Gabriel Flores  47:11  

Nice, I like it, you know, one of the things it's important for the listeners to know is, no matter what you do in your career, the folks the team, as you're mentioning, you know, John, the team that you build, they're kind of probably spend more time with that team than your own family. So it's imperative that the team you're working with, you really do enjoy working with it, and you complement each other, right? You complement each other witnesses and things like that. Now, John, you're a CEO. Now, what are some things that keep you up at night?

John Belizaire  47:42  

I'm always worried about how well we're executing against our goals. That I, you build strong teams, but I'm always worried that I haven't communicated the commander's intent, clearly enough, so that when things you know, go off kilter, the team knows that, you know, they can still push ahead and get to get to the end game. Commander's Intent comes from, it's a military term that describes sort of what to do in the field of battle. When you write the plan, you get out there and like all hell breaks loose, breaks loose. Well, what you want to do is you got you want to take the hill, that's the

Gabriel Flores  48:21  

fight or flight home out.

John Belizaire  48:24  

You know, so I, you know, that keeps me up at night, finding the talent, we need to grow the business, you know, it's a tough job market out there, you know, the other way around? Yeah, you know, getting, getting the right folks together. And so recruiting really fantastic talent from all over the world, and doing it doing it well. And I think the other is just the global economy, and all the crazy stuff that's happening, and how it could affect our business and the people in it. You know, I am constantly praying for the people of Ukraine, I feel like what's happening is just terrible. And I think about all the companies that rely on the incredible talent over there that can't do that anymore, and how it's affecting them. I think about the families of folks that are here that have families back there. And so those are the kinds of things I think about these days.

Gabriel Flores  49:29  

Yeah, yeah. And that's, that's a tough one. You know, I constantly tell people, we have to take a step back and kind of realize that this is, this is my first pandemic, is this your first pandemic, right? Right. Right. So so we don't know, like, we're all going through a lot of a lot of stuff, right? And so just take some time to be kind, right. A lot of people are going through a lot of things. The world, the world is changing at a very rapid pace, right? But take a moment to just Hey, are we doing okay, right, because Because burnout is all So a big thing and it's it's a big

John Belizaire  50:01  

question. Yeah. The mental health of our teams, you know, yeah, because mental health is gonna go, I think society because of the pandemic is gonna go through a major health challenge over the next few years. And just make just checking in with people. Are you how you doing? You know, yeah, because it's so important to do these days.

Gabriel Flores  50:17  

Yeah. Now, how? Give us some advice. What advice would you have for the listeners, you know, listening right now what what advice do you have for them?

John Belizaire  50:24  

Well, if you're listening to this podcast, that means you're interested in entrepreneurship in, in, in the science of building companies, and the experience of it. I encourage everyone to read, read lots about companies and the history of building companies go way back, though, go go to, you know, the books that describe the founding of, of the early Silicon Valley companies read about the failures, the companies that actually didn't do well, you know, the world wasn't built around the drop boxes, and Facebook's and it's very true and Googles of the world, there's, there's actually few and far between of those, there's many, many companies that become lives, lifestyle businesses, those are those are completely legitimate companies. And people think they've got to be building these big, large enterprises, small businesses that really provide a service at a local level or a niche business are still very real businesses, they have the same challenges I just talked about, they may or may not need that outside capital. So think through that. Keep a journal. If you're thinking about doing a business and you don't know an idea, you want to do write a journal down every day, I got my got my journal, write good ideas, bad ideas. There's no bad ideas, actually 10 ideas everyday, sit down and write 10 ideas. If you can think of 10 to 20. And just write those down. There's always going to be one that sort of piques your interest, like, Huh, that's what I should pursue. Yeah. So do that. Spend time collaborating with people, if you want to be an entrepreneur, spend time with other entrepreneurs or people who have entrepreneurial interests? Yep. That, that that common interest drives more energy into your goals? Yeah, than away from your goals. And I think the last thing is, you know, I've been going through sort of like this personal transition, if you will, like what, you know, what's important in life. And I would say that, it's really important for people to not connect themselves to things. Me, I guess, the way to put it is, don't fall in love with things, you know, things are transient, you can use things, you know, take your take your golf club, and swing, you know, at the golf ball, but don't fall in love with the golf club, because it's not, it's not a representation of what happiness is really about. But do connect with people who have fallen in love with people build relationships that are lasting, don't forget to call your mom or your brother or sister. Because those are the things that ultimately, you know, to truly drive happiness, build long term relationships with your peers and professional colleagues, etc, really lean into that. And stay away from relationships that are, you know, transient, if you will, or are not very deep. And then I think the last thing is just try to do things that, ultimately are important beyond yourself. So when you think about the business that you're building, what's its purpose? And is its purpose and beyond just putting money in your pocket? Or, you know, solving a problem for one business? What's the higher purpose of the of the enterprise and try to zoom in on that, and always make sure that that's clear and make sure it's clear to your organization, and the more that purpose can be beyond the product or service that you're providing, the more successful you will be?

Gabriel Flores  54:11  

I like it, you know, one of my former guests said, if our communities aren't doing well, our businesses never will. And that's so true.

John Belizaire  54:18  

That's right. Yes. We spend a lot of time on that at Soluna. You know, thinking about how is this going to affect the community we're going to be in? How can we grow the community that way? I 100% agree with you on that.

Gabriel Flores  54:30  

Yeah. Now speaking of Soluna, before we leave, how can they contact you, John? Or how can they follow the company's social media sites? How can they learn more about it?

John Belizaire  54:39  

Absolutely. So on Twitter, you can follow me I'm Jay bellows their CEO at or at JBL is their CEO rather. Our company is at Soluna holdings on Twitter. We're also on LinkedIn. You can find Soluna on LinkedIn and myself on LinkedIn. We're on medium if you are there, we actually have our own podcast called Clean integration. Every all of these things, places you can get by going to our website, Soluna And you can learn more about everything we're doing some of the projects that we're working on, and we have lots of content around cryptocurrency and renal. Excellent that that's very educational. Yeah, encourage you guys to check it out. And we have a great channel on YouTube as well, where we give cool insights on what's you know, some of our projects are people, myself and our parent company, CEO, saloon holdings, we do AMA's. So folks send in questions and we answer them nice, because we really want to connect to our community, people supporting the company. So check us out in those locations. And we look forward to hearing from you

Gabriel Flores  55:57  

excellent, John bellows air the CEO of Soluna, corporate entrepreneur, energy, expertise. Ah, man, this was a great, great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time. For those folks at home. You can follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, or you can subscribe to the shades of entrepreneurship podcast, as well as the newsletter. In fact, John, you were mentioning, um, you know, writing the least 10 ideas a day for those listeners at home, if you are struggling trying to find an idea, sign up for the shades of E newsletter, I wrote a book the starting line, which actually goes through the mind maps that it's actually famous by the IDEO school on the Stanford school, the school down there in California. And it really takes you to the process of how to how to start thinking of different ideas and it really helps you spark some creativity. So please do sign up for the newsletter. John, thank you so much again, for this time. I really do appreciate it. For those folks listening at home please follow me and have a great night.

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