The energy transition at home - from the idea to operation. Experience with SENEC, Home 4 Storage, Home Assistant, and much more.

I'll start the description of my adventure into independence from oil and gas at the end. The PV modules are on the roof, the battery storage system is installed, everything is integrated into Home Assistant. And I'm delighted every day to see how cool it is to cover a very large part of my energy needs from the sun (the picture in the article shows the time curve with energy generation and consumption). The integration into Home Assistant was actually the easiest, but more on that later.

I already set out on this path when we were planning our new home in 2018. It was already clear to me at the time that I no longer wanted to be dependent on oil and gas in the foreseeable future. That's why we planned a geothermal heat pump (with appropriate subsidies). The drilling, house connection, heat generation (underfloor heating), hot water, etc. also went very smoothly. Just a quick note here: the heating circuit valves are KNX-capable and can therefore also be controlled via Home Assistant.

All those years I found the charm of PV systems ... rather suboptimal, but that has changed with the new regulations. The subsidy is right, availability has halfway normalized again after Corona, so I requested a consultation with SENEC at the end of 2022 after looking at various providers. Why SENEC? My thought was: they belong to EnBW and will certainly still be around tomorrow and should know how to do something like this. And the "SENEC Cloud", i.e. accessing energy from an account that you can call up again via your own feed-in, also makes an electric car interesting for me for the first time.

Fast Forward: everything has been running since February 12, 2024. Electricity is produced by the sun, the battery is charged and supplies electricity to the house again after sunset. But not at all as it should be. SENEC is currently throttling all storage systems to 70%, which is quite annoying. This is probably because the battery modules currently installed are not safe. And should therefore be replaced. The question is: when?

I will gradually be writing more articles about the various phases of this project and, as always, I look forward to the exchange. Let the sun shine!

30 Day Kettlebell Challenge - Mother went Shopping

I have written a lot about the idea of a healthy body as prerequisite for a healthy mind and joyful life. It was about eating properly, weight training(body weight training, calisthenics, functional training) and of course discipline. Over the last 4-5 years, kettlebell training are a key part of my weight training staying in shape. Kettlebells are more or less heavy balls with a handle and can be used for static and ballistic exercises.

Unlike the exercises with dumbbells or barbells, kettlebell exercises involve large numbers of repetitions in the sport, and can also involve large reps in normal training. Kettlebell exercises are in their nature holistic; therefore they work several muscles simultaneously and may be repeated continuously for several minutes or with short breaks. 

Wikipedia Entry

I use competition kettlebells which all have the same size regardless of their weight. That way, I'm more used to their handling even when taking heavier balls. Like many others, I have started during Covid in a time where gyms were closed and also after realising that I'm not a gym person. I started with basic exercises I found on YouTube (e.g. from Bär von Schilling, Geoff Neupert, and Johannes Kwella). If you do this by video watching only, take your time, take low weights, and film yourself or have someone watching you for improving the execution of the exercises.

I also found that I need change stimulus when I workout, that's why I bought some courses from the guys mentioned above, followed their training plans, and also some challenge. Today, I finished the 30 day workout from Johannes Kwella. This is nothing you can do immediately - you should build some strength first and be confident in executing the exercises (there are tons of training plans getting there). I'm proud that I finished the 30 days (now the 2nd time) and I feel great.

Let me show you how the last day looked like: you start with exercise 1 (1 left, 1 one right), then exercise 2 (2 left, 2 right). Then you start again, exercise 1, 2, and then 3. And then exercise 1, 2, 3 and 4, etc. until you have all 11 in a row. Each day is explained in a nice video where Johannes shows you how to do the excercises.

  • 1/1 Turkish Get Up
  • 2/2 Bottom Up Press
  • 3/3 Snatch
  • 4/4 Jerk
  • 5/5 Clean
  • 6/6 Swing
  • 7/7 Staggered Rows
  • 8/8 Cossack Squats
  • 9 Power Swings
  • 10 alternating Leg Passes to Body Catch 11/11 High Pulls
  • 12 Jump Squats

Phew. I feel like hulk now - next is Johannes' double kettlebell program (I worked on Geoff's double kettlebell programs before). Keeping you posted,

Why Asathor?

Sometimes, people ask me, what Asathor means for me. It's very simple - I'm a big comic fan (both DC and Marvel) and I liked the Thor character since I was a kid. Thor, the god of thunder, is also called Asathor. In the mythological Edda writings he was the protector of Midgard, the world of mankind against the giants from Jötunheim. A nice analogy to protecting mankind against cybercrime these days.

Fighting the Yoyo Effect, post Covid Thoughts.

Getting older (I think it started after 30+), I found it more difficult staying in shape. Although I exercise regularly, there were always phases (let's call that the yoyo effect) of gaining extra kilos and it became harder and harder to lose them again. For me, staying at a certain weight and staying fit is key for a fulfilling life. Why? When I add kilos, I have more pain, when I have pain, I'm getting mad at myself and others. Healthy body, healthy mind.

The entire Covid restrictions led to further difficulties in staying in form. Less contacts, less (outside) activities, getting more and more used to staying inside in front of your favourite streaming show.

While I made it to get back on track in terms of exercising, weight remained sort of an issue. Given my age, I went to the doctor for the typical health checks and they found that everything is ok. So it only could be my eating habits. While I try to eat "good" food as often as I can, something was wrong here. Cutting it short: I called my osteopath who is also a good coach for other live situations. And here is what she came up with:

  • There have to be longer breaks between eating (4-6 hours). If you don't do that, the body doesn't really consume the intake and it ends up in additional body fat (there are experts explaining that in all detail, for example Lothar Ursinus in his book "Gesund und aktiv Stoffwechselprogramm").
  • Breakfast can and should be with carbs (no devil, but needed as body fuel), then less carbs and more proteins in the subsequent meals during the day. Be careful which type of fat you have - there's good and not so good fat.
  • In order to follow such a program over time and not falling back into the yoyo effect, key to success is cheat meals where you eat what you want. I also added extra exercise sessions after such moments (e.g. the next day) to compensate.

So far, I follow this program since 8 weeks and after a difficult time really not eating anything in between, I'm getting used to it, even when being on the road for fun or business. Keeping you posted how this goes on and looking forward to your thoughts.

How to scale Product Demos

In young companies, the core team is doing everything. Development, consulting, sales, administration. While you grow, more people come on board and often you find yourself in a trap: it's always the same 2-3 people doing the demos. The downside: they quickly become a bottleneck. And on top: the demos are mostly too technical for a broader target group (not to speak of an also growing sales and marketing team that needs simple messaging). Let me summarise how we industrialised product demos once we passed the 40-50 people mark:

  1. Focus on selected use cases: software has many features. With every release, there will be additional features. This often leads to an extensive show of each and every feature and you will lose your audience (that is the enterprise buyer). It's smarter to think from the customer's end and present some compelling use cases that generate a WOW effect. 3-5 are sufficient, nobody can remember more. There's room for the feature battle ground in a later phase where the engineers are involved (proof of concept, proof of value).
  2. Don't embarrass customers: this is particularly important for security software that reveals weaknesses in a customer's environment. Show 1 or 2 examples per check and only a few checks. It's tempting to showcase how many issues your tool will find, but if you try to show them all you simply tell the customer: you are doomed, you are lost, you failed - that's what they will remember.
  3. Scaling demos: I stopped doing live demos at a certain point. It's risky because you usually need to dial in to you demo system and such connections can break. Broken connection - no demo - no pitch - you lose. Recording your demo (along the key use cases) has the following advantages: a) in your script you can work on a compelling story, b) you can highlight certain statements with callouts, c) you are getting consistent (no matter who is doing the demo), and finally: everyone can do the demo everywhere, anytime.

A closing idea: if you record new features once available and update your recordings accordingly, you'll get a nice collection of "why cool" videos for internal training, education partners (scaling, scaling, scaling), and also customers.

Strategic Selling vs. "We Needed the Money"

I think a lot when exercising. This morning I reflected my own experience from the very beginning until the end of my active role as founder and my later role in sales. So there will be some historical story telling here.

When we started my company, we were just a few guys with a joint passion for breaking SAP systems. And we had the first assignments literally over night after establishing the company. We pen-tested day for day and month for month and we grew organically. We recruited many people from my "Hacker Contest" courses at the university and grew organically (I will talk about the "pain of growth" later). And then we found out, that it was very difficult keeping heads above water because many project assignments came in late in the year. We couldn't deliver everything while suffering hardly above the line before the first 9-10 months of the year.

That's why we decided to turn the company from a consulting to a software firm (I will also talk about making and executing strategic decisions). Having left SAP after a few years as product manager, I knew what was not in SAP's portfolio. I still have the sheet of paper with ~20 ideas but we opted for what was later known as "CodeProfiler" - a security scanner for SAP's proprietary language ABAP. We funded this with cash flow and our own money and had our first prototype up and running for SAP TechEd late 2008 in Berlin. This attracted the first customers and we could grow the business from there generating a recurring revenue stream as desired.

While we could grow the company further, some things went wrong. Since we were funded by cash, we could often not sell strategically (executing our vision). Sometimes, we had to hunt every EUR in order to move on and we sometimes couldn't do what needed to be done. Here are three key examples:

  • Custom Development: you know the stories where one customer says "I buy your product, if you implement this ..." and we did that a lot in the beginning. While this may secure a deal (it doesn't always), it doesn't help you to build a standard product that is valuable for many customers vs. only one customer. In the worst case you will end up with a highly segmented product where no customer gets the full value. We changed that over time by implementing product management functions and agile development.
  • Consulting without focus: due to our history, we had a strong consulting division. Strong also means that there was high revenue generated. The downside was that many consulting services were not around our products (like getting it up and running, executing scans, working on results, etc.) but dozens of small service offerings somehow related to our topic SAP security. By nature that was difficult to transfer to the field organization since sales must be simple. You can only overcome this situation if you have enough funding for implementing your strategy - by being very focused and also by bringing in growth capital.
  • Too much focus on features: I'd say that we had the best product in our domain over time. However, the best product does not necessarily sell by itself. The market might value your solution - but first of all prospects need to understand WHY they need what you have. Since we sold complex products that are not explanatory like iPhones, a lot of effort needs to be put into the right messaging with a focus on customer value. Over time we succeeded and "CodeProfiler" is still used synonymously with security scanning of SAP ABAP.

I can only encourage every entrepreneur to look for growth capital being able to execute strategically. Keep in mind that finding the right partner for this will be another challenge in your life as a founder and director of your own business.

Thoughts on Value-based Selling

I have worked in or for software companies since the late 90s and found, that messaging is often very self-centered ("we are the best", "see our new 100 features", "see why our new partnership with xyz is so cool"). While this is typical thinking of leaders of software companies, this misses the viewpoint of customers. You don't given an answer to the "WHY" is this valuable for them?

I have offered a service for software companies analyzing their USP and messaging. Here are 3 key findings:

  • Very often, the USP is mixed up. You should focus on either company USPs (why is it beneficial for customers to work with you and no-one else?) and product USPs (why is it important for your customer to use your product and no other solution)? For me, it worked out many times to have thisview on USP clearly separated between company and product.
  • On the messaging, which should build on the USPs, I have observed the self-centered wording mentioned above. Instead of having a constant exchange with customers about what's perceived as value, companies often make something up. They think of USPs but customers don't see that. And if you don't understand what value means for your customers, you can never make them really happy. Examples: customers don't want to have another 100 features (they never use) but something like a dashboard for keeping management in the loop. Keep you customers close and understand their perception of value.
  • I have seen many messaging frameworks. While it is good to have a messaging framework for consistency in communication, most of them are overcomplicated and therefore inapplicable. If they are inapplicable, they are useless. As you can see in many of my articles, I usually use 3-5 statements for making a point (no-one can remember more). Do the same in your messaging framework. 3 key statements for corporate USPs and 3 key statements for the product. Apply the Golden Circle to this. Simplify your messaging.

I have written more about starting with the WHY here (Vision and Mission) and there (the typical trap for technical leaders).

New Year's resolutions

An article with good intentions - end of March?` Well, I've been pretty lax about writing articles here. It's not that I haven't been doing anything - on the contrary: there's a lot going on in all the areas I'm dabbling in here. But: I lost track of blogging a bit, especially because I had no concept what I write where (I've changed that now - all details here, abstracts e.g. on LinkedIn). I want to change that now, just in time for the end of the first quarter.

In my annual review, I found that many things are going well and others need more focus. Here's my sharpened list, first on the business topics I write about here:

  • Successful Business (Coaching): as a former owner and CEO in the cybersecurity environment, my goal is to share my experience, help avoid mistakes and support decision makers in small companies (50-300 people) on their way. In the last 1-2 years it has become very clear to me what is important to me: mutual respect, communication at eye level and a good team. This sounds simple, but it is by no means always the case (then we don't fit together). I've also found that I prefer working with software vendors - because that's what I do best and where I can contribute the most.
  • Successful Business (Consulting): another level is the technical experience I can bring as a long-time (SAP) cybersecurity expert. I stopped diving into the depths of bits and bytes here a long time ago, but rather focus on helping IT decision makers make good decisions. Why does what need to be done? Who can help? What can happen if nothing is done? Etc. Once the "WHY" question is answered, the next steps are much easier to determine.
  • Successful Business (Investment): the third and last dimension in business for me is to invest in ideas. Not with huge sums of money (which I don't have), but helping an idea to the next level with small injections of money. Here, contact with the entrepreneur behind it is important to me. Is it really an entrepreneur? Is he on fire for his idea? If so, let's talk.

I will write about the other main topics of my blog, health and having fun, in the coming weeks.

No surprise at the closing: "Closing Plan

I recently wrote about a few unpleasant experiences at one closing or another. One of the sales tools mentioned there is the sgt. "Closing Plan". It sounds simple, is effective, but is often not used. Maybe I can encourage you to try it at least a few times.

I'll start with an experience here as well. We had a sales colleague who was very successful in his previous company. Accordingly, we had great confidence in his numerous contacts at potential customers, but above all in his skills to design and close a deal. In fact, we had a deal in the high 6-digit range in front of the shotgun, which, however, could not be won at first.

What happened there? The colleague spoke with many departments in order to determine the customer's overall requirements. However, he failed to realize that purchasing, the legal department, etc. also had to be involved. In addition, a multi-stage approval process usually has to be followed even for higher sums. In his old company, there was a team that almost automatically ensured that everything ran synchronously. Unfortunately, that was not the case with us - smaller company, often still in a startup mode. In the end, we didn't lose the deal, but there was a significant delay, which in turn impacted all other dimensions of the company's strategy.

We have therefore introduced the concept of the Closing Plan, especially for larger deals. A Closing Plan means that you plan with your contact person on the customer side what all has to happen until the launch of the product and, if necessary, afterwards. After all, there has to be exactly this common goal: we want to get started in January in order to achieve goal xyz (if this does not exist, there is usually nothing else to do apart from drinking coffee together on a regular basis).

Such backward planning can help both sides to do the necessary things at the right time. This can be, for example, the contract review, onboarding as a supplier beforehand, naming technical contacts, agreeing the purchase price with purchasing, etc. I have also not yet experienced a customer resisting to create a joint closing plan. Depending on the customer, things can work differently, and an open, joint agreement helps everyone to also achieve the goal or to determine if there is a sticking point somewhere. Another positive result is that CRM-based reporting becomes much more reliable when there is not just wishful thinking and hope behind the individual CRM stages, but a solid plan.

Preparing for the close. Or: some, mean buyer tricks

During one of my larger product deals, I experienced a negotiation situation that has remained in my memory for a long time. Once upon a time ...

... the appointment was shortly before Christmas, it was cold and wet outside, so we were dressed "storm-proof". We were made to wait in a very warm hallway. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. Then at some point the customer's negotiation manager came and said: "my boss can't come and I only have 15 minutes". Our timely inquiries regarding a review of the contractual terms were dismissed with reference to *the* deadline. Only to tell us: their terms and conditions must fit on 2 DINA4 pages, otherwise our lawyers won't look at it. Of course, it was also not allowed to simply change the font size, as a first spontaneous thought suggested. Actually, price and discount had already been pre-negotiated, but then came the final trick of the buyers: they tried to hold a carrot in front of our noses and negotiate corporate discounts right away, even though only part of the company actually wanted to take the first step.

Our sales manager actually wanted to go home after the first two tricks, and in retrospect I admit to myself that this would probably have been the better way. After all, the purchase was to take place in the calendar year on the part of the specialist department, so that a certain counter-pressure could have been built up here.

I myself feel that the above tricks are unfair, because you don't meet the supplier at eye level. This may also be one of the reasons why I have relied on sales professionals and tried to coach them from the background and develop negotiation tactics.

And that leads to the insights I have gained:

  1. The owner/manager should not (immediately) join in the negotiation, otherwise there is no possibility of escalation.
  2. Furthermore, it is advisable to draw up a "closing plan" together with the customer, in which all relevant milestones up to go-live are jointly defined. This then also includes the commercial and legal negotiations, as well as a realistic time schedule.
  3. If all this is not given, a clear NO can also be right at the bottom line. You should not sell at any price (if you can afford it - that is sometimes easier said than done). Often the real negotiation starts only after a NO.

Of course, that's not the end of it. From a current coaching I have collected some more topics, which I will write down in the next weeks and months. Good luck and never give up!