YEDaily: Lee Bremer and Faizal Karmali

Lee Bremer and Faizal Karmali launched Quinzee when they each spent over a decade beyond our border and realized the amount of excess in which we live and consume. Find out how they’re contributing to creating a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle in today’s YEDaily…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Ever wonder if you’re a smarter home owner than your neighbours or friends? Do you manage your costs better? Quinzee is socializing energy use, helping you understand and manage your electricity consumption. We make living smarter easy by helping you save money and reduce your impact on the environment. With Quinzee, you can track and compare your home’s energy use and learn simple ways to be smarter about that inevitable monthly expense – the utility bill. Wasting money and energy is far from smart. Why not use the technology you have in your pocket to start living smarter today. 

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
We were both born and raised in Toronto and each left for over a decade, working and living in the US, Europe, Africa and Asia. When we returned to our dear city, we saw a society that was gluttonous in so many ways – an almost obscene culture of excess. Canadians may not be as bad as the media makes the US out to be, but are we that different? We consume excessively – without thinking about where things come from or the consequence of consuming them. Finding a society so disconnected with the world around it on so many levels was disappointing.

We’ve now both lived in places where resources are used more intelligently. Water, food, energy, housing – you name it. Outside North America, societies as a whole, no matter what economic class, seem to better understand that our resources as a society, as a planet, are limited and waste doesn’t make sense. In those places, people don’t heat or cool an empty home; they don’t live in a home that is more than twice the size they really need; when they leave the house, everything gets shut off – as a simple matter of habit. Is the quality of life any less in these places because of these behavioural differences? No. It’s a just a smarter way to live. 

Having this perspective, knowing that living smarter isn’t actually that difficult, and is ultimately good for our wallets and the environment, we decided it was time to start inspiring smarter living right here at home. This wasn’t the Toronto we wanted to live in – so we decided to team up and start driving the change we think needs to happen. Energy is a great place to start – and it’s a great business opportunity.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Figuring out different ways we can inspire change – be it subtle or direct – is invigorating. We love hearing from our users. Getting a message from someone who finds value in our product and starts to realize that their everyday choices can be smarter is great.

Unfortunately, for the most part people still don’t care at all about their energy use. We realize we’ve taken on a big challenge. Finding the right message or tools that will inspire people to start caring is incredibly challenging. For some folks, neither the environment nor their wallets seem to matter enough to start living smarter. Knowing this is what we are trying to overcome introduces new challenges everyday.

Where do you see your business going in 5 years?
We’re lucky that Ontario is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to having installed smart meters – they’re on every home and small business in the province! The utility industry around the world is heading in the same direction. Not only do we see Quinzee entering new international markets over the next five years, but we also foresee our company releasing similar products for other resources that we should be more connected to (think water, gas, housing, health services…). We’re confident the possibilities are endless but are intensely focused on electricity for now. 

What does success look like to you?
Quinzee is creating a world where individuals and institutions are conscious of their day-to-day energy use and make smart choices because they make financial and environmental sense. When most of the world is better connected to our collective resources and instinctively making informed decisions that ensure a sustainable future, we will have succeeded in a big way.

Until then, every time we connect people in the GTA with their day-to-day energy-related behaviours and choices and inform them how these choices affect their wallets and the environment, it is a wonderful victory. We’ll happily start with Toronto but plan to be part of a bigger global story. We’re looking forward to redefining what is ‘normal’ when it comes to our choices and behaviours. We’ve decided – it’s time for a new normal. 

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Faizal: Being part of the rebuilding of over 3,000 homes for returning refugees in Afghanistan or participating in projects that created access to electricity for millions in East Africa have been high points. But the best is still ahead! 

Lee: Working with a software company in New York City that had built computer vision software (a branch of artificial intelligence) was great. Our product improved the manufacturing process of clothing, and also improved the quality of people’s jobs – it was very satisfying to see blue-chip companies using our software and hearing positive reviews from our users.

With regards to Quinzee, quitting our jobs and diving into Quinzee full time a year ago was incredibly momentous. Our product launch was also a particularly memorable milestone to hit. It’s great to have gone from saying ‘someone should do this’ to doing it ourselves and now having a tangible product that people are using and getting value from.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Don’t wait for others. If you see changes you feel need to happen, or a problem you think should be solved – do it yourself. Waiting for someone else to do it gets us nowhere fast. Big or small steps are a start but the important this is to start doing something and stop waiting for someone else to take the lead. As a community of young professionals, we have the skills and resources to make some pretty incredible shit happen – let’s make sure it’s for the better.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
We are both strong supporters of charities and non-profits of various kinds. We do what we can to support them in cash and in-kind. Included in the list of charities we engage with are the Aga Khan Foundation, which funds and implements health, education, rural development and other programs in the developing world, and Tomorrows Business Leaders, which is an organization that Lee used to run in NYC. 

What is Notable to you?
Notable is a place where Toronto’s young professionals go to see what and who is new and cool in the city. It’s a source of inspiration – not only in terms of what to do with your social life but also in terms of what your peers are doing to lead and inspire change and creativity in the city. 

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Quinzee works across all platforms. If your device is web-connected, you can start being smarter about your energy use immediately!

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
Team Quinzee does push-ups in the office and finds time for yoga on our lovely deck. Out of the office, we play ultimate Frisbee often and find ourselves on the squash courts when the weather is a bit too chilly for outdoor activity! Of course, we both also actively exercise our right brains with storytelling on stage and filmmaking – you know – typical pastime activities!