“Even the longest journey begins with one first step”
The story of Justus Technologies is the story of an urge to make a difference in the world. To try and make a change for the better. And to not forget to also have fun while doing it. It was, and will probably continue to be a anything but a straight path, and the story is still being written…
tHE FIRST IDEA
It all began in early 2015 with two friends studying Engineering Physics in the famous (and infamous) student city of Uppsala in Sweden. With the studies drawing to a close the thought of trading the freethinking, beer-drinking, bohemian lifestyle of the student for a strict white collar job in an office of some big corporation seemed like somewhat of a nightmare. So when it was time for the Master Thesis-work the two friends: Fredrik Trella and Nils Paakkonen, revolted against what they thought would be “just sitting and turning papers at some soulless, money-grabbing enterprise”. Also, the two had the strong will to produce a Master Thesis that could actually make an impact, and change the life for people all over the world. This thought seemed rebellious and revolutionary enough for them to push through with their studies.
Rebellious? Well, probably not really.
In their dreams. Naive?
Most probably so, but nevertheless
the two friends were determined
to pull off their project.
Together with the somewhat legendary electronics, embedded systems and solar power guru: PhD Uwe Zimmermann they together forged a project idea that seemed both feasible, interesting
and possibly game-changing enough to please both the two friends and their high hopes, and the people with the all mighty power of accepting a Master Thesis project.
The idea was to create a cost-effective, versatile and reliable system for monitoring and verifying the efficiency of smaller solar power installations.
These systems already existed on the market, but most of them were aimed
at large installations and thus too expensive for most private customers of solar systems, and definitely for anyone in developing countries.
The idea was to make the system using an open source and open innovation approach in order to reduce the costs and also maximize the spread and possible benefit of the system.
Since one of the main purposes was to develop a system that could be useful in developing countries, and due to the close ties of Uppsala University and the University of Nairobi, the two friends set their sights on the East African country of Kenya. The funding was secured from SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, through a grant for Minor Field Studies, and after months of preparations Fredrik and Nils boarded the plane for Nairobi. The actual project work was considered by the two to be a “piece of cake”, who had the ambition of going from first idea to finished prototype in the three months that was the planned duration of the stay in Kenya. Or more rather: “We’ll be done with the product in just a couple of weeks, and then we can sit and drink beer for the rest of the time”. The turnout proved to be very different indeed…
On the 29th of September the plane touched down in Nairobi and after the interrogation by a grumpy customs officer and the accusation of being “electronics smugglers” the friends made it out into the blazing sun of the early morning. The first encounter with Kenya and Nairobi was an intense one, which started with the awaited taxi driver being one hour late to the rendez-vous due to being randomly arrested by the police, continued with sitting in a chaotic traffic jam that inexplicably emerged out of nowhere in the middle of the day (you can NEVER predict the traffic in Nairobi!) and ended with finding a note with friendly advice in the apartment saying “PS. Monkeys WILL come in if you leave the window in the livingroom open!”. This all turned out to be quite reflecting what would be part of the everyday life two friends as they did their best to adapt to their new surroundings
Dr justus, karibe and,
“it’s just us…”
After settling in it was time to get to work. The two friends made the walk to what was to become their second home for the coming months: the Physics Department of the Chiromo Campus. Well there they were greeted by the man who was going to be the responsible supervisor for the Thesis, Dr Justus Simiyu, one of the head researchers of the Solar Energy Research Group. Justus gave the two a warm welcome and with his almost stoic calm he showed the two confused friends around campus. When he opened the door to the main electronics and embedded systems laboratory there was a young man sitting in the room and staring at a computer screen full of code syntaxes and with a strange electronic board hooked up to his computer. “This is David Karibe” said Justus, and they shook hands.
The weeks turned into months, and the two friends became accustomed to fighting off fruit-stealing monkeys in the apartment and navigating the sometimes very chaotic city. Although, neither one of them really learned how to operate the public transportation network consisting of buses called “Matatus”, painted in more or less psychedelic colours and sometimes equipped with audio systems more fit for an arena. Sitting and working in the Chiromo Campus it became more and more common that people heard about the project, some of them also coming from commercial companies outside the university. Time and time again the two friends got the question:
“who are you?”, as not so much in inquiring the identity of the two friends, but more as in “what big corporation is backing you?”. When this happened the boys could only look at each other and reply whomever was asking with: “eeehm… It’s just us…”.
in time for field testing at the Mpala Research Centre in northern Kenya.
This had certainly been no cake-walk, and had taken every bit of skill, grit and dedication that the two could summon. Most of the days in Kenya turned out
to be long days of hard work, clenching fists against programme codes not compiling properly, or yelling profanities at badly soldered vias on the prototype PCBs. But despite this, the two friends managed to squeeze in a
beer or two in between all of the soldering, swearing and syntax-searching…
So in the end, even though they did not reach a fully functioning prototype,
the project proved that it could be done if some more work was put into it.
And more importantly, the most profound results were the experiences gained by the two friends after their three months, and numerous adventures and encounters in Kenya.
After returning from Kenya, the two friends ended up going separate ways. Nils moved back to his home province of Värmland, and “when in Värmland, you do as the Värmlännings”. In this case meaning that Nils met the woman of his dreams, bought a dog, built a house, took a straight job and started a family.
Fredrik on the other hand had probably listened too much to “Village People”, since all he had in his mind was the mantra “Go West” ringing in his head. He had during the summer of 2015, prior to going to Kenya been working for a hip startup company developing a wave energy converter in Gothenburg in the west of Sweden. The company was led by a certain charismatic, confident and competent CEO by the name of Sara West, and Fredrik was as much captivated by her and the company’s ambitions for building a better future, as the rock’n’roll lifestyle of the startup company. So when it was time to make the choice of what to do with his life, Fredrik jumped on the train to Gothenburg and settled down in an old apartment that was one of the apartments built for workers in the 1950s. The owner of the apartment was the widow of one of these workers, and that remained completely unchanged with regards to furniture and decorations since the 1970ies. This suited Fredrik just fine, but dark clouds were looming on the horizon with regards to his occupational ambitions. It turned out that the wave energy company that he so much wanted to work for did not quiet attract the funding that they had hoped for, and despite their best efforts Sara was forced to advice Fredrik to look for other means of income. With a rent to pay, and rapidly diminishing funds the noose was tightening. Fredrik did what he had to, and before he knew it he had signed a contract to the very same type of big, anonymous corporation that he had sworn to avoid.
REMEMBERING OLD VIRTUES…
…AND JOINING FORCES
Days turned into months, and the old ideas of rebellious and revolutionary dreams of saving the world turned into a distant memory. The seemingly endless corridor of closed office doors, the ties of the eight-to-five-life started to wear down on Fredrik. Yes, the salary landed in the bank account at the end of each month, but was still mysteriously gone one month later, and not really leaving any deeper satisfaction in the process. Just being a small cog in a huge machinery, and spending the day mostly turning papers and filling in reports.
Was this really what life was supposed to be like? Just as the last flickering flame of naivety was about to go out, a twist of fate turned the tide and completely changed everything for Fredrik. When attending a project manager course, the participants were asked to give ideas for a suitable project that could be used as a case during the course. By chance, Fredrik came to think of the old Master Thesis project in Kenya and despite the fact that it had nothing to do with his job at the time, he thought “why not”. It turned out to be the small, rolling rock that started a landslide. Not only did the person responsable for the course think that it was a great idea for a project and told Fredrik that he should be the leader for a case-group during the course, but also the time working with and now refining the old ideas from Kenya lit a spark in Fredrik.
One week later, Fredrik was seeing his old buddy Sara from the wave energy company over a glass of beer. When asking her what was going on she told him that she was on the lookout for new challenges. It was all so clear. After telling her about his new ideas she got as excited as him, and the two realised that they should create a start-up to make reality of what was once started in Kenya. In order to achieve this they needed someone with the proper skills in embedded systems, programming and open source to pull it off. Fredrik could only think of one man fit for the job. Being perhaps the most talented embedded systems developer he had ever met and already having been involved in the project, David Karibe was the obvious choice for the position. When needing someone to come up with a graphical profile to spread our gospel, Sara recommended the talented art director Susanna Ander.
Fredrik quit his job, and together the four joined forces and founded Justus Technologies.