Using Entrepreneurship as a Catalyst for Change: MPOWERD

Summary of Episode

#30: John Salzinger and Seungah Jeong join Annaka and Ethan to talk about MPOWERD, a B Corp whose signature product, the solar-powered Luci Light, aims to help create a more sustainable future while providing light to those without access to electricity. John and Seungah share their story building MPOWERD, how NetSuite helped them along the way, and how to use business as a tool for change.

About the Guests: 

John Salzinger is the founder of MPOWERD, and Seungah Jeong serves as the CEO. John worked in various industries and ended up founding Mpowered while searching for a purpose in his life. Seungah joined MPOWERD as the CEO and has a background in social entrepreneurship as well as prior experience in the cosmetics industry.

Podcast Episode Notes

Using business to drive impact [1:24]

How MPOWERD developed the Luci Light, an inflatable, solar-powered light that is both safer for the environment and safer than traditional lanterns [2:21]

The relationships between innovation and the use of patents [4:24]

Trademarking your business to avoid counterfeit [6:02]

The gender gap in patent holders — why men tend to have more patents than women [8:32]

Find a good attorney inorder if you plan on patenting your idea and cast a wide net to keep your idea big and board [11:34]

How John decided to bring on an external CEO [11:38]

Seungah’s experience entering MPOWERD as the CEO [15:16]

We want to do good, so why not center business around doing good? [18:09]

How MPOWERD wields CSR (corporate social responsibility) to work with other companies  [20:51]

A benefit corporation (C - corp) is beholder to shareholders for impact and must have decisions align with values [21:24]

Building relationships with 700+ NGOs one at a time [26:26]

Seungah grew up in a home without electricity and water, and their lights help people switch from dangerous kerosene light to an alternative [29:38]

Private equity (PE) vs venture capital (VC) — PE genuinely invests later into growth while VC often invests in early-stage, higher-risk companies [34:06]

Trying to find purpose forced John to start his own company [39:08]

Having an early-stage startup or company allows you to pivot and adjust to changes [40:12]

John’s advice — work hard and work hard [42:23]

Seungah’s advice — learn from your peers around you [43:12]

Full Interview Transcript

Annaka: Hey everyone and welcome to Startup Savants, a podcast brought to you by TRUiC. I’m Annaka. 

Ethan: And I’m Ethan. 

Annaka: If you’re a returning listener, welcome back! And, if you’re new, this podcast is about the stories behind startups, the founders who run them, and the problems they are solving.

This episode we are joined by John and Seungah of MPOWERD, a certified B Corp working to make a positive change in the world through solar lights and over 700 NGO partnerships. 

John enlightened us on why bringing on an external CEO can be the right move and Seungah went on a deep dive into the impact that MPowered has on the global community, and why more companies should follow suit. 

Ethan: They also talked about the importance of patents and trademarks for protecting your ideas and ensuring that your hard-earned customers always get the quality they’re expecting.

Annaka: If you’re looking for startup guides, tools, and resources to help launch, manage, and scale your business, head over to 

Welcome to the show guys. How are we doing today?

John Salzinger: Fantastic.

Annaka: Excellent. So if you could start us off, tell us how you got started with MPOWERD and the problem you're solving.

John Salzinger: Sure. MPOWERD was founded 10 years ago, July. So this is our 10 year anniversary as a B Corp and a benefit corporation. With the idea that business can affect change and that we can use capitalism as the tracks for that change. And so what we've done is create a model whereby our retailers, our D to C, our corporations can give us healthy margins. And then we can reduce and have a healthy impact by tearing down margins and localizing pricing for people that really need our solar tools around the world.

Annaka: Yeah. As we were doing research for your company, I get excited about things just when folks are doing things differently and having an impact. So very, very excited to have you both on and kind of dig into this more. Can you walk us through how you got your primary product actually built? The Luci light, how did you develop and manufacture a product like this?

John Salzinger: Yeah, so we realized that the lantern market needed to be sort of turned upside down, so to speak. So kerosene lanterns are very harmful. They cause fires, pulmonary disease. They're actually the leading cause of disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. There's a small company called Coleman that sort of has a handle on the lantern market, but we were naive enough and brave enough to go into that market, aggregate technologies, see what was out there, better design and add solar. And we did that. And so our form factor is such that we had about 40 iterations early on in order to get an inflatable solar light that we have patented across the world, utility and design. And it was such that it would be portable. In other words, collapsible and fit into your bag or your pocket. We could fit 30,000 in a container. So logistics friendly. Waterproof, durable. You could throw it at a colleague or a talk show host if you didn't like them that day.

But seriously, we wanted to make products for people. And this was our first product, Luci original. And it's the same exact product that you would find in the MoMA or Bloomingdales or Nordstrom that you would find in Kibera in Kenya in one of the largest slums in the world. And we felt that by making those products with a wow factor, people would actually use them. And that was the key.

Ethan: So you'll have several patents on your products. Can you tell us is it required that you patent a product and if it's not required, what made you make that choice to get all these patents?

Seungah Jeong: Great question, thank you. So we're happy to share that 100% of our products are covered by one or more patents around the world. And it's not an easy process, it's not something that is essential for many companies. However, for us and the work that we are doing, we believe that part of innovation means protecting innovation. And we wanted to patent our products so that again, the person in Sub-Saharan Africa using our product knows that they're getting the exact same quality, design, materials that a hiker purchasing our light at REI might receive. And that's very important because in some of these emerging markets, there are companies that make a "like" product that is not really the genuine product. And then they flood markets with these subpar products and they basically destroy marketplaces. And having grown up in one of these emerging markets, myself, both John, and I believe that it's imperative that we protect innovation, quality, et cetera. So that consumers around the world receive the genuine, authentic product.

Ethan: Do you recommend that all startups or product companies work to patent or trademark any of their items or processes, or do you think that this is specific to certain kinds of companies?

Seungah Jeong: I think trademarks are important. They're a little bit easier to obtain. So certainly trademarking your company, certain key, brand names, things like that are very important because again, it's a global economy. There are a lot of people who will take whatever you've built and very quickly knock it down through, I'll just say essentially counterfeit items and part of building a business is around brand equity. So I think trademarks are critical. Patents are definitely a vehicle to help create, what we call a moat around what you've built. So that moat is only part of ensuring that what you've created maintains its authenticity. Other elements include branding, understanding your consumer, et cetera, because it is not an easy process to obtain patents. But if you can, we would highly recommend it because it's one aspect that protects everything you've worked so hard to build.

One quick note, and I do hope that this changes. In the US, only 12% of patent holders are women. So if any of your listeners out there are venturing into the world of technology. At this time, there's not a lot of support around female entrepreneurs, especially those trying to pursue patents. And there have been studies written about this, but it's definitely something that we found worthwhile, we would advocate for. We're really proud that in addition to the two of us, we've included several of our team members on patents as well. It's a very fulfilling process to know that you're really pushing the boundaries of what you're doing to truly bring innovation to your products.

John Salzinger: Seungah is already doing that, so that's important. Hopefully, your listeners will too. But one point to note, dependent on the objective of your business. So there are plenty of open source businesses that are fine as is, and no need to patent. If we don't patent and protect, then our impact model, volume based impact model, we can't fulfill it. And so stakeholders that we help around the world suffer. So that's why we're so defensible with what we do.

Ethan: So quickly, going back to the massive gender gap in patent holders. Do you know what the cause for that is?

Seungah Jeong: So again, there have been studies written about this and they think it's multifaceted. So one is just the simple lack of women in the space of technology, engineering and innovation. Also, though within it takes some resources and some understanding to even navigate the system. To hire patent attorneys, to understand what is patentable. So I think systemically there hasn't been a lot of support in this sphere and it is one of the things that I like to talk about holding multiple patents, myself, that it is possible. And if we could have more entrepreneurs in general, feeling supported by this process. I'm happy to share that one of our partners provides us pro bono assistance actually in this legal sphere because of who we are and what we do and because we're an impact company. So again, for entrepreneurs out there, especially those who are looking to make a change through their business, there are resources and capacity builders out there from other businesses, legal firms, banking firms, et cetera, who might be B Corps themselves, who would be willing to help provide some assistance.

John Salzinger: And a B Corp is not just in name only. So it has to be in practice. We are social construct blind at MPOWERD. And so Seungah was hired as a CEO because of what Seungah brings to the table. Seungah's been on every patent with me because Seungah brings to the table a P and G background. She was a founder of another startup before this and we needed it. So I would say that if people can hire and look for help based on content of character, that is how you find the best candidate. It helps everyone. 50% or so of the country are women. There should be 50% or so should catch up at the USPTO in a perfect world, but there's a lot of barriers in the past that we're overcoming.

Ethan: Totally agree. And we're going to dig into a few of those things that you mentioned, but I want to ask one more question on trademark. You all have done this a lot, and I'm sure that the process you've followed, not just trademarks, but trademarks and patents. I'm sure the process that you've followed has changed over time. If you were advising a young company who had never filed for a patent before, what would be the main thing that you would have them focus on doing to ease that process?

Seungah Jeong: Find a good attorney, for one thing.

John Salzinger: That's what I was going to say.

Seungah Jeong: And it can be a small boutique firm, someone who understands your vision and what you're trying to accomplish, be honest about the resources you have at hand and see how you can stage the process of filing. The other piece of advice that I've learned over time is to be as broad as possible with your patent because technology changes. There are many things that even when we started, we didn't know would come to fruition later. 

Like all the different types of USB ports, just as an example. So as you are working to patent your idea, be as broad and comprehensive, dream big about all the possible things in the future that could be added to your product or iterations, form factors, et cetera. So that your basic idea is as wide as possible. And it allows you later to also continue to iterate on your original innovation and creates that healthy space around you to acknowledge that as technology shifts, your original product idea or technology idea may also shift.

Annaka: I wouldn't have thought to include further future possibilities in a patent. So this is, if anyone's listening, excellent advice. And just as a total offshoot, I had to Google who the first female patent holder is in the US and her name is Mary Keys in 1809 for a bonnet.

Ethan: All right.

John Salzinger: So we should be caught up by now.

Annaka: Yeah, yes, we should.

John Salzinger: That's a while ago.

Annaka: 211 Years, yeah, we should be caught up. So John, going back to then bringing on an external CEO, how did you find her? She's brilliant. How did you find her and for other founders, how can you find someone just as excellent?

John Salzinger: Good question. Seungah went through the rigmarole of, I think, 19 interviews. I think that was her last one. I think that's the first time I got that number right. We found Seungah through a headhunter, but Seungah also found us. We had something a little different to offer than a large company like Procter & Gamble. We had a mission and we were impact focused and we bring purpose, not just to those who we serve, but to everyone who works for us, for anyone who invested in us, to our vendors, to our retailers, to our whole diaspora. And so I think it's a two way street. 

I think one, you have to have an alluring position in an alluring company with an alluring idea with somebody who's very smart, mission driven in our case, but also brave. So from going to large companies to small companies from corporations to startups, one sort of has to have the stomach for that. And that was one of the things we tested with Seungah and she sure has had that. And so that's how we chose each other, I think is a good way to put it. And it's been phenomenal as she's brought a ton of processes that we didn't have previously.

Annaka: And a great tie into what I want to know next. Seungah, you have experience with Nest Fragrances, NARS, and you are a board member for several organizations. How did you impact the mission and structure of the company if at all, when you came on, but what was your vision coming in from outside?

Seungah Jeong: So coming in from the outside into this incredible company, I knew that I wanted to listen and learn, first and foremost. It's extremely hard to have a successful startup. Many brands fail, many companies fail. And I like to think that there's always some secret sauce to those companies that succeed. And when you come in from the outside, you have to listen carefully to what that secret is. And with MPOWERD, I found that it was a combination of things. Certainly the genuine ethos, the brand, the mission, the product line, the innovation. So those are the things that I wanted to rally around and to use my prior skill set, to help support, elevate and nurture.

And that's why I think John and I are such amazing partners. It's really the skill sets that we each brought to the table in pursuit of something we both believe in very much. So I was just proud to move from the "traditional business world", back into the world that I really wanted to be in, which was something, a tool to help me change the world and business had evolved in the decade since I had been in more traditional forms of business. And I was just thrilled when I learned about MPOWERD and knew that here was a company that in its very founding and ethos was doing something every day that I wanted to be doing. So I couldn't be a bigger brand ambassador in some ways.

Champion of what we're doing. And we both very much want to demonstrate that it is possible to have a for-profit business where every single thing that we do is also in service of helping those around the world.

Ethan: So if I were to read back all of your answers so far, I would hear impact, mission, belief, service, all of these terms that are a little bit different language than a lot of the companies that we have on the show are. So can you tell us what those words really mean to you? Why they drive you and how that might have led you to form a B Corp instead of the standard C Corp?

John Salzinger: Yeah. So I had done a lot of things in my life before, from the Associated Press to ABC, to payment systems. My resume is very long. If you want to bore yourself, you can look at it on LinkedIn, but it's varied. Right? I had a progressive upbringing from my parents. Progressive in the true sense, actionable, and felt that there was most of my time, my waking time was being utilized in what I felt was sort of vapid exploits. My job wasn't changing the world or my jobs were not changing the world in the way I wanted to. And that's your life when you work a lot and most people work a lot. And so if you're lucky enough to have a choice and have an opportunity or build an opportunity, I think that's key. So it's important to live what you believe. And if work is life for most of the time, then you might have to make some tough choices in the beginning.

But as Seungah said, I think it's an advantage, actually. I think when you are a B Corp, when you are an impact company or for purpose and for profit, you are a tool for other people's morality. You're a tool for other companies CSR, end of year reports. You're actually very useful to consumers who make choices based on what type of company they buy from. So actually it's an advantage if you can add morality, environment, humanity to your business, because everyone in their core, they want to do good. If one's own grandmother is walking across the street, everyone wants to help her out and help her across the street. So this is just sort of a manifestation of that on a macro scale, without really any heavy political aspects to it. We take less expensive, abundant solar energy and help the planet and help people all in one. And it helps everyone involved in the MPOWERD community. Everyone we touch, including our consumers most of all.

Ethan: Could you give us a quick definition of CSR?

John Salzinger: Corporate social responsibility. So many larger corporations have a different arm that they utilize in order to do good. With MPOWERD, it's all in one, but because our lights can be co-branded, we’re able to take a corporation's mission, add our lights to it, and really help them out with their CSR report and make it actionable.

Ethan: Thank you. So, what is the difference in scaling B Corp versus a C Corp?

John Salzinger: And Seungah can attest, there's really no difference. Please.

Seungah Jeong: So B Corp is a certification that we receive every now three years. We are technically a C Corp. Technically, we're a benefit corporation though on top of a C Corp, not to be too confusing, but what that means is there's a legal designation in addition to the B Corp marketing designation. And that benefit corporation, legal definition means that we are beholden to our shareholders not only for standard profits, but also for our impact.

And so in terms of scaling, it means that separate from a corporation that has CSR as John indicated as a separate arm, everything that we do, all of our decision making needs to be consistent with our values. So as an example, if we have a choice between two factories and one factory employs, good practices, when it comes to paying employees and the environment, et cetera, and the other factory just gives us a good price. While we as a B Corp need to look very hard at all of the other practices at the factory. So that's just a simple answer, but those decision gateways are everywhere in a business. And so we strive with every decision that we make to take into account the human factor and the environmental factor.

John Salzinger: I would even add to that. The choices you have in business are always the same. And actually, if we don't do good, we can't do well. One example of that is we chose NetSuite from Oracle to be our ERP system. And we would've done that whether we were a B Corp or not. But as a startup, it was really scalable. And so that's just one vendor and one example that's enabled us to grow. But again, if we don't grow, we don't help. And so that's an important relationship as an example. And as well, because it was Oracle and NetSuite, they've helped us get press out, they've helped us in other ways on pricing with preferred pricing because of our mission. This is not unique when you're a B Corp. This again, you're intentionally tugging on heartstrings. So as a world, we as people, we as humanity can actually make a difference and everyone wants to. So shout out to NetSuite and Oracle, such a large company with such great people that actually care.

Annaka: And I want to go back a little bit to something that you said about consumers having the choice now between... I mean, they choose with their money, they vote with their money. And me personally, choosing a company that has an impact in the overall health and beauty of the world, I'm going to want to buy that. Is that becoming more of a trend recently or has it always been that way?

Seungah Jeong: It is definitely becoming more of a trend. It hasn't always been that way. Sometimes when I tell my story about my background and the other businesses I worked for, I came from the beauty industry. I remember, we used to tell people what they needed in order to feel more beautiful, to smell better, et cetera. With MPOWERD, we're not telling people what they need. We're being transparent about who we are, what we offer and how they can engage with us. And we are finding that today's very educated consumer is looking for that. They care about how their products are made, they care about how the team behind the products is treated, they care about the supply chain, they care about so much more than just the product. Because we have so much choice and we have so much information now at our fingertips. We don't need to be told anymore what we need to purchase.

We can decide, and we can create content around it. We can champion the brands and the companies that we think are doing well. It's one way that we have some power to be able to shift things in a way that's more harmonious in terms of, again, people and planet.

John Salzinger: It's modern and it's the positive polar opposite of a boycott, right? You're choosing, it's sort of voting in a consumer fashion.

Annaka: In talking about your partnerships, you work with over 700 NGOs, which is a lot. How did you build those relationships and what do those relationships look like?

John Salzinger: One by one, I think our first major NGO or global NGO was Save the Children, they've been with us since. But we've worked with everyone from React, World Vision. Most recently, we've worked with Save the Children, but also World Central Kitchen in Kentucky. We're working with a great group of Marines, US Marines called Waves for Water and the Numi Foundation and Good360 that connects corporates with NGOs. 

And we have lights in basements in Ukraine today. There's not really a single scenario in reference to a natural or humanitarian disaster that MPOWERD hasn't been in. We work with corporates to fund the NGOs, we work with NGOs to procure. We even give our consumers the ability through our give program on our website, which if you just Google Ukraine and MPOWERD, you'll be able to contribute to either our water and light program or just our light program.

But we built them out one at a time and we built them out by researching what they did, was light going to be helpful was communication. Because we also have mobile charging on our lights. Was that going to be helpful to their programming? And if it was, could they pay for it? If they couldn't pay for it, we'd find a corporate that also aligned in their CSR. And so then it would be gift in kind to that NGO. Otherwise, they would procure it, but one at a time and it goes all the way down to a very small organization in Papua New Guinea for a women's buying group. And sometimes those hyper-localized organizations are best because they know the community and the customs very well.

Lastly, I would just say, we're always looking for new corporations and we are extremely effective because when there is a disaster, it's in the news and therefore that corporation's giving is in the news cycle too, which helps them. Frankly, we are not an NGO and we want to make sure it is truly sustainable in a capitalistic manner. We track our impact through [inaudible] Statistics, which is an organization that measures solar impact. And so we've impacted 4 million lives to date. The people that did not have clean electricity, we're only 17 people in our company and we've averted 3 million tons of CO2. And we are able to track that through our ERP system, measure that.

Annaka: That's just impressive. And I want to break out of the really business specific nitty gritty and talk a little bit about the importance of what you are actually bringing to these communities. What kind of impact does your product actually have? I read all about it, but I just want to hear it again because it's amazing.

John Salzinger: I think Seungah should take it because of her background actually.

Seungah Jeong: So John is referring to the fact that I grew up in a home without electricity or running water. So we did have a kerosene lantern. And I remember my grandmother telling me to please stay away from it. It was the black monster because she was afraid I would get burned. And that is a fear that many families live with all around the world. Over 3 billion people have either intermittent access to electricity or lack electricity altogether. So in those situations we work with the various NGO partners we mentioned to build capacity. So our lights may be used in female entrepreneur networks, whereby women sell the lights to each other so that the lights are used instead of harmful kerosene or firewood. We've also had our lights keep mobile medical clinics open, or our lights be used as incentives for vaccinations, for families who are hesitant to be vaccinated.

There's so many examples of entrepreneurs who are able to work. We had one amazing story from a fishing village in the Philippines whereby the fishing stocks had become depleted. And so this entire village was not able to sustain their living. And then they noticed that one of our color lights attracted plankton and so through... True story. Through using our lights, they were able to actually earn enough money to employ more sustainable fishing practices. And we learned about all of this from one of our NGO partners who sent us a letter and photos of this initiative. So sometimes it's really our customers who write in and tell us amazing stories. Our lights have been there at fires, floods, you name it. We've had people whose lives have been saved by our lights. It's really, I cannot explain how rewarding it is. We've talked about some of our metrics, but when you hear real stories of real people using solar lights, mobile chargers to enhance their lives or in reaction to a natural disaster, it's just so difficult to convey how rewarding it is.

John Salzinger: I want to gloss over one thing Seungah said. One and a half million children in Sub-Saharan Africa die of kerosene related fires yearly. And that's nothing compared to the amount of people that have lung issues because of kerosene lanterns or burn firewood without ventilation. So it's really, really basic, the necessity and the need that we're trying to fulfill. I do want to shout out our corporate partners that help us, whether it's the Walmart Foundation with International Medical Corps or Amazon Disaster Relief with everyone. You can imagine as a gentleman over there called Abe Diaz who runs the program, he should get a shout out. They've been absolutely phenomenal. Sunlight Financial, Citizen Watch, we have so many corporates that help in these sorts of relationships and they do it because they know they're solving a really avoidable but tragic problem and Seungah grew up at it. So now she's serving herself as a child in a sense, which is really a cool cyclical journey that she's taken. And we're proud to have her with us.

Annaka: Yeah, absolutely. What an amazing impact.

Ethan: So Annaka took us out of the business mindedness, and I'm going to just reel us right back into it and talk a little bit about your funding. So MPOWERD is actually funded with private equity dollars, which is not something that we see very often on this show. So I'm going to ask you one of my famous three part questions, and if you get stuck anywhere, just let me know and we'll fix it. So with private equity versus venture capital specifically, is there any major difference in how you raise that capital, how you are able to deploy that capital and is the private equity, something that you would recommend to other startups?

Seungah Jeong: Happy to take that question and I'll speak generally. We actually have VC and PE backing the company. I would say generally speaking, VC and PE are different. So private equity typically comes in during the later stage of a company. They have very specific metrics that they look for, most likely around EBITDA and the ability to grow and convert within a certain timeframe, generally anywhere from three to seven years. VC typically invests in a broader range of companies. They're looking for entrepreneurs and maybe one out of 10 of their companies will provide a return. And so they factor that typically into their calculations of who they invest in. So just from that overall perspective, they have a different thesis when they come into the companies. Generally, PE is looking for greater efficiencies, the ability to scale, et cetera. Whereas VC is hoping for that blockbuster idea.

I think that's probably why you haven't seen very many PE backed startups because they generally don't get involved very early on. I think we're unique in that again because of the mission driven nature of what we do. We also understand that in order for us to be successful and scale, we need to be profitable. So, PE is taking a greater interest in some unique areas of growth and opportunity with that said, my advice to any entrepreneur is to be really cognizant of alignment around your funding. So I know that's such a difficult thing to say, when as a startup, you feel like you always need 10 times more money than you have, and you needed it 12 months ago. But those initial choices you make will reflect on your ability to fulfill your vision. And so the more that you can retain some control over your company, be very careful about funding, ensure there's a lot of values alignment in terms of the go forward plan, the better., With the understanding that sometimes you don't have those choices.

But here, I think it's so important for any entrepreneur who has ever had experience in various realms of fundraising to be able to share and support each other. I know, sorry to revert to my gender again, as a female in the tech industry, it is challenging. And so I am more willing to talk about the challenges that I've faced, because if I can help another entrepreneur, I'd love to be able to do so.

Ethan: Well and it seems like you're out here making things happen. So investors, if you're listening to this, I mean, just look at this example, it is working. John, I want to go to you for one more question. Back way in the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that when you started MPOWERD, you were young and naive. Do you think that those two factors, the age, the naivete, maybe the lack of business and lesser life experience, do you think that gave you any advantage in starting this company over somebody who may have been more experienced?

John Salzinger: I wasn't that young, fortunately. I'm dating myself now. And I had had a lot of jobs. What I would say it's probably akin to an artist that never went to art school or photographer that never went to photography school. I mean, I learned through the fire and I made mistakes and I think mistakes are important. If you get an MBA, you learn what to do. You don't quite learn what to do when everything goes wrong, absolutely everything. And so I think it was sort of priceless to learn as I went. And I think everyone that's ever been in a founding position at a startup will tell you, oh, if you ask them what went wrong, they would just say, “do you have all day? everything.” It's not just easy. I would say what pushed me into doing it was just trying to find purpose in my life.

It's not really fear based. It's not really bravery. It's neither. It might be stupidity. It's very hard to start your own company. It's increasingly hard these days with corporations getting gobbled up and competition getting tougher against big corporations. That said, I think it's increasingly important to support independent businesses. So if there are any investors out there supporting startups is very American. It's at the core of innovation. It's at the core of what this country does and what has done. I think that one advantage you have when you start a company is you are small and you can pivot and you can make a mistake and your stock price doesn't go down to the point where everyone's fired and you're thrown out of business. You're actually in essence, a true business. You're like a lemonade stand. You have to buy the lemons, you have to know how much they cost, you have to sell them for more than you buy them. It's very simple.

It's actually just about your business. It's not about a market or anything like that. And I think that plus being sort of your own, I won't say your own boss, because that doesn't last forever. But being your own pathway to your own strategy, to what you want to do, you can really actualize that and it's hard work and it's always hard work, whether you work for someone or you work for yourself, but I think it's drive. And if you have that and you have an idea, if something in your life is bothering you like your toothbrush, you got to go like this too much. And you made it electric, look at you. Now there's so many things that the world needs to do better, cleaner, more humanely. There's a gazillion ideas. I recommend it to anyone. Why I would recommend it to someone that's young and younger than me would be the same way you might have a kid when you're young, you'll have more energy or the same way that your investment portfolio would take on more risk because you have time on your side.

I think it's really important, the last thing I'll say, because I can go on and on obviously and I'm sorry. The last thing I'll say is naivety is a two way street. So yes, you should do it, but yes you should learn and listen from people around you that have done it. You're not reinventing fire or the wheel, you're reinventing your new electric toothbrush that's cleaner for the environment or whatever it is with a rechargeable source. In our case, it was lights and mobile charging. 

Annaka: What is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

John Salzinger: All right, I'll start and Seungah can finish, work hard. And then number two is work hard and number three is work hard. Nothing is given to you in life. Nothing at all. I use an analogy that a baby, a little kid, gets hit on the back so that they can breathe and they cry, right away. The second you're born. You know how to cry, you know how to complain, how to talk about problems. Do you know how to get up? Do you know how to solve those problems? You know how to offer a solution so to me that's just one, two and three. Suck it up. If you're living in a developed world economy like we are, realize how grateful you are and make a difference.

Seungah Jeong: I think my advice would be to learn from everyone around you who's willing to offer their thoughts, advice, expertise in whatever area they may reside in. Because oftentimes in a startup, there are a lot of things that you may encounter that you've never encountered before that you didn't even know you would have to contend with. And that ability to understand all facets of running a business from insurance to legal requirements and whatever it may be. And all you need is just a little bit of knowledge, but more importantly, the understanding of who to call when you need help, advice, et cetera. Because as we've seen the last couple of years, it can be a pandemic, it can be an impending recession. You don't know what you're going to encounter as a business. Even if you have a very solid idea of what you're trying to accomplish. So having a full roster of people you can talk to, ask advice of, et cetera, is something that I'd recommend. So things like your podcast are fantastic because these sources of information are super critical.

Ethan: Well, thanks for coming on and sharing them. We really appreciate that. So, we have one last question for you both and then we will wrap it up. Where can people find you online and how can our listeners support MPOWERD and the impact it's trying to make?

John Salzinger: Oh, it's twofold. One, you can buy a light at, If you buy a light, you're automatically helping us out by reducing margins and pricing. Making our lights affordable for everyone that needs them around the world, no matter who they are or where they are. And I would say that's the first way to do it. 

The second way to do it is we do have a give program. So on our site, if you want to buy a light for our fully agnostic NGO and nonprofit deployment program, in other words, we hit every disaster imaginable. You can do that directly. So when you buy a light for yourself and for your sister, buy another light for somebody who doesn't need it, that doubles your efforts and our impact.

Ethan: Awesome. Thank you so very much both of you for coming on the show.

John Salzinger: Thank you.

Ethan: This has been a whole lot of fun and I think your advice is going to help tons and tons of people. And listeners, if you want to see the demonstration of the Luci Light, you can check out the video on our YouTube channel. We’ll put a link to that, to John’s very long and boring LinkedIn page, and everything else in the show notes over at 

And that’s going to be it for today’s episode of the Startup Savants podcast. Thanks for hanging out with us. So, listeners, what would you say if I told you that you could be the next guest on this very podcast? Well, if I were you, I would probably say, “what? No way! I get to talk to Annaka about my startup? Dude, where do I sign up?” 

Well dude, I’ll tell you where. Over here at, just navigate yourself to the site, fill out the form and you’re off to the races. Know someone else who would make a great guest? Share the URL with them! and they can hang out too. Personally, I can’t wait to chat with y’all on the pod. 

For tools, guides, videos, startup stories, and more, head over to That’s, See you folks! 

Expand to view full transcript

Tell Us Your Startup Story

Are you a startup founder and want to share your entrepreneurial journey withh our readers? Click below to contact us today!

Request an Interview


MPOWERD founder.

Founder of Sustainable Startup MPOWERD Shares Their Top Insights

John Salzinger & Seungah Jeong of sustainable startup MPOWERD shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.

Read More

MPOWERD's Luci Light being given out in Africa.

Here’s How You Can Support Sustainable Startup MPOWERD

We asked John Salzinger & Seungah Jeong of MPOWERD to share the most impactful ways to support their startup, and this is what they had to say. 

Read More

MPOWERD's Luci Light being carried by a child at sunset.

Bringing Sustainable Light to the Masses

MPOWERD wants to help change that with its Luci inflatable solar light and other products. This is MPOWERD's origin story.

Read More



MPOWERD is a sustainable startup providing energy solutions for underserved communities around the world through their primary product, Luci. 

Read More