Monday, May 5, 2014

Useful Solar Power for Everyone

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Harold Tan who is here to talk to us about his invention the SunJack® Solar Charger.  Thank you for joining us today Harold.

Thanks for having me!

SunJack at first just looks like another portable solar panel USB charging system like I’ve seen at ThinkGeek for years.  What makes SunJack different and why should people take notice?  

Solar panels have been around for years - and are not certainly not new.  The difference that we bring to the table is the amount of power you get out of our panels.  The ThinkGeek solar charger is only 2.5 Watts, and our solar panels are 14 and 20 Watts.  “Watt” does this mean?  If you look at a standard Apple wall charger (, you'll see that the small plug is 5 Watts, and the large plug is 12 Watts. The 2.5 Watt panel would take twice as long to charge an iPhone as a standard 5 Watt wall plug, and would have no hope of charging an iPad in any reasonable time.  Many solar chargers on the market are gimmicks and toys - they would take an unreasonably long time to charge your mobile device (especially if it isn’t in direct sun).  The SunJack has so much power, than even if conditions aren’t optimal, it’ll continue to charge.  People should take notice of our charger, because if they really want their devices powered, “size matters”.

Power all your adventures with up to 20 Watts of solar - SIZE MATTERS!
Most of my experience with solar panels are in non-terrestrial uses, how are you seeing folks using your beta versions of these panels?  What are some of the most interesting uses you’ve heard of?  Will I be able to trickle charge larger batteries like my car or motorcycle with them?

Interesting!  I’d love to hear (and learn more about) your non-terrestrial uses!  

Our most common sociographics are:
* Camping
* Disaster Prep
* Travelling

One of the most interesting uses I’ve heard is with trickle charging, which segways nicely into our next question - whether you can trickle charger larger batteries.  It’s an interesting concept, kinda like a lightweight fighting in a middleweight division.

Currently the SunJack is optimized for USB charging, however we are working on a model which will be able to trickle charge via a 12V output.  So no, a car or motorcycle battery can’t be trickle charged right now.  

What made you create the SunJack?  

Multiple reasons.  The most prevailing one is my interest with the nature of energy.  Secondarily for humanitarian purposes.  Thirdly for first-world convenience.

SunJack 14W (top) and 20W (bottom) next to an iPhone 5S
How did you and Greg Cooper come up with trying to help Papua New Guinea with the SunJack?  Just how will it help those people as I doubt they have a lot of iPhones over there?  Do you hope to expand your outreach beyond Papua New Guinea?  

Hahaha, yes certainly the use-case in Papua New Guinea and other third-world countries is beyond the purpose of powering iPhones.  Energy (in non-electrified areas) can be the difference between life and death.  We currently take electricity for guaranteed, but try living without it and you’ll understand how difficult life can be.  There are several critical benefits from electronics including communication, education, and longevity.  We’ve gotten a lot of interest from Sub-Saharan Africa, and are looking for the right partner there.

Here’s an example of our lighting solution:

One of the first things I look for in any Kickstarter project is the budget breakdown.  With lawsuits starting to fly and more and more people coming to the Kickstarter scene the savvy backer is looking for more assurances that there’s a full plan for these funds in place.  Why do you not include a budget breakdown?  What are the $33,000 going to be used for?  Are you going to produce only as many SunJacks as are ordered in during the campaign or are you going for a full production run of some number of units?  

Great question!  Good thing we are solar professionals that have been in the business since 2006 (lookup  99% of the R&D has already invested, so all that risk is removed.  There isn’t much of a budget breakdown because all the budget is simply going toward a full production run of at least 300 units.  Distributors will likely contribute a significant percentage of units.  But it is a good point to note, and I will include a budget breakdown that Kickstarter supporters are used to seeing.

SunJack 14W with 2 proprietary USB ports and removable battery (blue lights indicate current battery capacity).
How did you discover Kickstarter?

Through my Brewery neighbor Jesse Genet.  She’s really talented - ran two successful kickstarters for Lumi Co (a new method of leather printing).  Thank you Jesse!

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Hahaha I’m not quite sure yet.  I’m trying everything.  We recently seemed to hit a tipping point, and I’m still deciphering what the root of it is.  Seems to be a synergistic effect of multiple things.

Ultimately, I just try to be true and transparent.  Those who resonate will do so, and those who we aren’t the best fit for will move on to a better match (which is great!)

SunJack® at Coachella Music Festival
What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

We currently have three main initiatives to spread the word:
3. Sierra + Intern (In house-team)

Our main two media coverages have been and, which have both been cultivated by the in-house team.  The other two have not yet produced any results.  All three have all channels of marketing at their disposal.
We use KickTraq more for “competitor analysis” than to track our own stats.  We have our own tools for that (tracking our own stats).

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Yes - talk to me.

SunJack® on car dashboard powering an iPad
Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Yes - consider what it means to be energy independent.  I’m not talking just about electricity or charging your devices, but what it means to consume energy from the external environment.  Examine and understand the difference between energy consumption and energy creation.  Join the “light” side - create energy.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

You’ve asked some great questions - thank you for your depth.  No hope needed, you just heard some great things from our Kickstarter ;)

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