Scott Nguyen is co-founder and CEO of 17TeraWatts, a designed focus clean energy software company ushering in the next wave of wide-scale solar adoption. He has spent his career inventing technology and business models to accelerate our transformation to a cleaner, more efficient energy economy. Previously, he’s helped spur Austin's 1st low-income solar program, sent robots to explore the oceans, and introduced renewable energy technology into Shell’s portfolio. Scott is the holder of 17 USPTO patents and received a PhD in Physics from Harvard University and a BS in Physics from the University of Texas at Austin.
> What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Life doesn't follow plan A or plan B. Opportunities will always be presenting themselves, and you'll be zigzagging all the way to Plan Z. At 20, I would never have guessed I'd return to Houston let alone live in Israel for 3 years. I believe that as long as you do good work and build a supportive professional network, the downside risks are low and the reward can be high. So when life presents you with a decision, take the option that will give you the best story no matter the outcome.
> What is the one piece of advice you would give to first-time founders or entrepreneurs?
Your customers are your most important asset. Try to get them onboard (informally or formally) as early as possible and continuously ask for their input and feedback, both on the product but also the business model. For example, before I even officially started 17TeraWatts, I spoke with potential customers just to gauge the validity of my idea for the business. One CEO told me he's been wanting this solution for his company for the past two years. I got away from this "customer discovery meeting" with my 1st customer (his company) and 1st investor (him).
> To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of?
Being able to hire people. I'm most proud of it but it also gives me the most anxiety. Being able to bring others onto the team means that they've bought into your idea, into your vision of the future and that they want to help you make it a reality. It also means, however, that you have a responsibility to them. Their job is part of their identity. You can leverage this to get the best out of them. In return, you have to make sure that the paychecks keep coming which isn't the easiest thing in a startup.
Being able to bring others onto the team means that they've bought into your idea, into your vision of the future and that they want to help you make it a reality.
> What personal achievement are you most proud of?
Completing and defending my PhD dissertation. Graduate school was a 6-year roller coaster. Going in, I was filled with excitement and ambition. I wanted to solve the mysteries of the universe, discover the next big breakthrough. And then reality hits. I struggled to make inroads on my research. My experiments didn't work. My advisor said I had to improve my performance even though I thought I was trying my hardest.
It was definitely a low point, but I did realize that I needed to take more initiative on my research. Slowly, things started to turn around. I caught some lucky breaks and made noteworthy contributions in my area of research. On the day of my defense, when the professors came out and said, "Congratulations Dr. Nguyen," it was one of the happiest days of my life.
> What invention do you hope to see in your lifetime?
Quantum teleportation - The Star Trek kind. Unfortunately, that's not realistic in my lifetime. A close second would be inexpensive space flight. When I was growing up in the 80's, space exploration captured the public's imagination. It was the natural extension of the manifest destiny. But then NASA and space exploration went dormant in the 90's and 00's, and with it, any collective mission that transcended national identity or politics. The current revitalization of the space industry once again gives us hope and reason to look for something beyond ourselves.
> What changes do you hope to see for Vietnam in the coming years?
I would be arrogant to even try to answer this question. Since emigrating Vietnam in 1980, I've only been back once in 1996. I visited family on the outskirts of Can Tho and remember the dirt paths and boat taxis on the Mekong. It's been 22 years since, and I always hear of the amazing transformation that has taken place. I hope to have the chance to bring my wife and two boys to see Vietnam soon, and maybe then I might be better informed to answer this.
> What is your favorite book?
Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from the Underground. I'm a sucker for tragic romance, and this book, as short as it is, beautifully captures the sometimes tragic interplay between human thought and emotion.
> What is a lesson you learned the hard way?
Board politics is not for the naive. I was on the leadership team and board of a small startup. We had team dynamic issues that stemmed from the very top that threatened the success of the company. I proposed a solution that was drastic but rational, believing the others on the board would rationally see what needed to be done. Boy was I wrong. That day, I learned not to underestimate the value of playing politics.
Bonus > What is your favorite Vietnamese food?
> Website: https://17terawatts.com
> LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/scottvinhnguyen/