What’s it like to launch a Company in Covid-19?

Interview with Katherine Ryzhaya, CEO at Marvel Power Group

Watch the latest video from Dylan Green with Katherine Ryzhaya, CEO at Marvel Power Group. We cover her career story and journey founding Marvel, what it’s like to launch a company in COVID-19, forecasting revenue and hiring in a pandemic, predicting a new normal, being in the Silicon Valley area right now, hiring remote candidates, sales vs business development (spoiler: she thinks they’re the same), the most challenging roles to find diverse candidates for, and handling #mansplaining.

Transcript

Catherine: Hi, so today I have Katherine Ryzhaya, CEO of Marvel Power, joining us from San Francisco. Thanks for joining us Katherine!

Katherine: Thanks for having me. 

Catherine: So we’re going to talk about a few topics. The first is, I’d really like to know about what your story is, and your career journey.

Katherine: Yeah, thanks. I started in power in 2004 at the utility PG&E in San Francisco. I was in finance before then. It was really just a great time to be there. California just passed a very robust RPS, the first in the country, I think. We were signing a lot of interesting large renewable deals. From there, just my love for energy and transacting, and my career really took off. I had an opportunity to work with some great companies. Co-founded an energy storage company in 2014. And just launched my own firm, Marvel Power Group, last year. So it’s been great. 

Catherine: Energy storage in 2014 in the States! That’s brave! I just want to talk a little bit about Covid-19, which is obviously on everybody’s mind at the moment. How has it affected your day-to-day job?

Katherine: Yeah, well, starting a company in the eye of a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. And while consulting and brokerage are already volatile businesses, forecasting both revenue and hiring is really challenging. We don’t know what our clients are going to want, during the pandemic, after the pandemic. It’s hard to predict our clients’ financial health, so all bets are off. 

Catherine: What would you say has been the biggest part of Covid-19 that’s really affected building a startup?

Katherine: Again, it’s really understanding the financial health of our clients, which has changed rapidly, both with Covid and with oil wars. In the energy industry everything is incredibly connected and everything is impacted. So that’s been really challenging. We’re quite lucky, a lot of our clients are weathering things fine and are actually becoming more efficient, more creative, relying on us more. And it’s bringing us closer as an extension of their team but also we’re providing mental health services on the side. So that’s new!

Catherine: I might take you up on that, actually!

Katherine: No quality seal here though!

Catherine: Yeah! So, San Francisco is obviously one of the hottest clean energy markets in the world. Do you think places like San Francisco are going to fare better, re: job outcomes when this is said and done? 

Katherine: I really do. We have a huge pool of talent here. That has come here historically or was brought up here in Berkeley or Stanford, eccetera. We have unparalleled access to capital, with Silicon Valley being our backyard. There’s a lot of companies that are headquartered here, who to date, have looked for in office employees. So I think on some level that will continue. But I do think that when we come out on the other side of this, and employers understand that remote work is possible, they will be more open to candidates that remote. And, hopefully that will include a more diverse candidate set. 

Catherine: Yeah, I heard the other day that remote employees are working three more hours a day, just crazy figures. This notion that people work less when they work from home is really unfounded. 

Katherine: I believe that. Well that’s what we’re not spending on commute, right? 

Catherine: Exactly! Exactly. Which is then also better for the environment! That’s a whole different story. So, I just want to talk a bit more about energy and clean technology in general. How important do you think it is to have a passion for climate change and a passion for our space in order to work in our space? 

Katherine: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think for entrepreneurs, technologists, CTOs, execs, it is important to be passionate about the space you are in and what you do. You’re going to have a lot of failures along the way. And in order to pick yourself up and start over you have to be a believer. That said, I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for being in the industry. There are functions that are really not agnostic like finance, asset management, etcetera where you don’t have to be a believer you just have to be really good at your job and you can be an excellent part of our industry. 

Catherine: Yeah. What do you think is the difference between sales and business development? 

Katherine: Ooo. I think it’s the same thing but I don’t know if anyone agrees with me. I think business professionals don’t want to be called salespeople. But I’m in business development and I think I’m in sales. Because the end result, that you seek, is the same. You want to get a deal done, on favorable terms for everybody, you want everyone to walk away happy. So I think they’re synonymous. 

Catherine: How important is a resume? 2020! Do we still need one?

Katherine: Yeah, hot topic. Maybe I’m old school but I kind of like the resume. I like to see where someone came from. I like to see what they’ve been up to. It’s nice to see the credibility piece, it’s interesting. It’s nice to see that other companies, that I consider reputable have, employed and taken chances on the individual. That said, that first meeting, the discussion, the fluid rapport, is almost more important, to me, than the resume. I run a small company, we’re all very tight. I need to have a really good feel for a person, which transcends paper. 

Catherine: Would you forgive a typo?

Katherine: I do, not too many typos though. 

Catherine: Okay. I want to talk, finally, about diversity. Something that is near and dear to both our hearts. What’s one piece of advice you would give to women, specifically who are looking to set up their own business? 

Katherine: You have to have a thick skin. You have to be prepared for failures. You have to really put yourself out there in a constructive and assertive way. You have to be creative. You have to be prepared to chase. I also think it’s a point to have a financial cushion because it’s not necessarily true that your company will take off in the first month, or in the first six months. And women have to be able to be in control of their finances and make solid decisions. 

Catherine: What roles have you found particularly challenging, to achieve a diverse pool of candidates? 

Katherine: No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve had the hardest time filling finance and business development roles with diverse candidates. So that’s been a big issue. I found it easier to find diversity in legal, marketing and other such functions. 

Catherine: How do you handle mansplaining? So mansplaining is actually a term that I hadn’t used very often. And then someone I was interviewing recently was using the term and I was like, that is such a brilliant term. I’m just very curious how you’ve handled it. And if you’ve seen any great examples of someone combating it?

Katherine: Yeah, firstly, I would like to say it affects all of us, it doesn’t matter your age, your rank. I think we’ve all experienced it on some level. I try to take it with a grain of salt. I try not to take it personally, otherwise I’d be very sad at various points in my career. I try to assume best intentions. And, over time, I think with credibility and with really conditioning someone what your boundaries are and how you want to be spoken to, you can find a great relationship. Even with those who you didn’t start out on the right foot. 

Catherine: Thanks very much for your time. I appreciate you speaking with us today. 

Katherine: Thanks, Catherine, it’s a pleasure