Holding the Chief Executive Officer position at iHandal, Aaron Patel, 27, has made waves in the engineering sector with his company, iHandal, and its innovative plan to recover and repurpose wasted energy.
How did you come up with the idea for a business that proposes and implements energy saving solution?
Back in 2008, at the age of 16, I was already then working in my dad’s thermal related trading business after he fell ill the year before. As it became apparent that I had to forego my further studies to support the family, I didn’t find a future in a trading business to be exciting or rewarding. Coincidentally, during my final year in high school, I was learning about heat engines and thermodynamics for both IB Physics and Chemistry.
During the course of my research, I found that thermal efficiency solutions wasn’t well-established here in Malaysia. I then decided to connect with an OEM supplier of such solutions to market their equipment. With supply of equipment in hand, I started pitching our thermal solutions, where energy savings was one of the many benefits we offered. After knocking on a few doors, we managed to secure the Tune Hotels group as our first client and iHandal was borne out of that deal.
As you began the company post high school, was it a main goal to operate a green business?
When iHandal first began, the business was borne out of a need to make ends meet for my family. However, as the business progressed, I found it difficult to keep myself motivated in growing the business with the increased pace, and it was even more difficult in attracting talent and aligning a team without a purpose and vision. As a member of the Entrepreneur’s Organization, I joined the mentorship program and journeyed with my very first mentor, Weilee. She helped me better understand my personal motivations, the purpose and values of iHandal, and in time, our vision to create a better environment for future generations. I only then began to grasp the true scale of the environmental impact we could contribute if we scaled our operations.
What do you think sets your company apart from the few other energy saving solution businesses in Malaysia?
One of the key challenges with the energy savings industry has been accountability of the savings results to Clients. Over the years, there have been many irresponsible companies that have taken advantage of people’s drive to become more sustainable. This caused many potential clients in Malaysia to go on the defensive when “energy savings” was pitched to them.
At iHandal, we offer solutions that are comprehensive and cuts across the work of several individual professions in our industry. The breadth of our offerings allow us to be one of the very few turnkey providers with a single point of contact and responsibility for the entire project, ensuring our clients only get what they were guaranteed and nothing less. It has been this confidence we provide together with our successful regional track-record of over 90 properties outfitted with our solutions that has set us apart.
What issues or challenges did the company face when it first began operations?
When we first started, it was a challenge to convince customers as everyone was more interested in the track-record and who our clients were, as opposed to what we offered regardless of the guarantee we provided. After our first break with Tune Hotels, it took us almost 2 years and more than 100 cold calls and meetings before we secured our next client, Boulevard Hotel. It was then through the power of referrals, iHandal grew across Malaysia and then regionally. We are very grateful to all our clients that 90% of our business is generated through referrals.
Where do you see iHandal headed to in the next 10 years?
In the past year, iHandal focused on establishing strong foundations for significant growth both in our team and processes. Over the next decade, iHandal has global ambitions that will take us beyond the ASEAN region, in order for us to achieve the environmental impact we envision our solutions will provide. Through active investments in R&D, we are commercialising new technologies that are in synergy with our current thermal solution offerings, that will enable us to work with more clients across new sectors and applications.
Aaron Patel was the EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2018.
TEXT NEDA AL-ASEDI & SWAROOPINI UDHAYA NAIR
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBIN LIEW
ART DIRECTION AUDREY LIM