In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, John Salzinger and Seungah Jeong were in Puerto Rico helping a relief organization distribute solar lights produced by MPOWERD, the small Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company they run together, when Jeong's phone died.
Lacking any access to electricity, she turned to one of the lights, which also doubled as device charger. Just like that, Jeong, who serves as CEO, had become her own customer.
"When you experience it firsthand, you realize this is something that really helps people," she said.
The scenario the pair found themselves in was a perfect example of why Salzinger, founder and chief business development officer, started MPOWERD (short for Micro Power Design) in the first place: To bring affordable, durable and carbon-neutral lighting where it’s needed, whether that's coping with a natural disaster, or in building capacity in developing nations where access to electricity is often scarce. The lights are also increasingly popular among environmentally-conscious lifestyle and outdoors enthusiasts.
Salzinger's vision has produced more than growing sales: MPOWERD's products have helped developing nations avert 3 million pounds of carbon emissions. They also helped light the way for firefighters throughout the western U.S. during the 2021 fire season.
MPOWERD's solar lights range from the tough little inflated box lights that were distributed on that Puerto Rico mission (which can literally float in water as they illuminate) to strings of lights and a newer line of bicycle lights and even a solar speaker. On deck: a line of portable power-generation products.
But as innovative and environmentally friendly as its products are, MPOWERD struggled during its early years in trying to find a technology platform that could help run the small but growing business that sells its products all over the world and operates as both a B Corporation and a Benefit Corporation (meaning it seeks to combine profitability with social and environmental consciousness).
Hamstrung by Inadequate Systems
The company tried out a series of systems, each of which hampered the business with unnecessary complexity or poor integration, or both. When Jeong joined the company in 2016, navigating metrics of the business was a challenge, from unrecorded debts to untracked expenses.
"There was no cash flow analysis I could access," said Jeong. "There was no system with cohesive enough inputs. There were constant surprises in terms of payments owed. People we owed weren't even in the system."
This wasn't tenable for a company trying to maintain its status as an organization out to do good while generating a profit, which requires being accountable to a board of directors and other stakeholders.
"You want to be able to report on what you're doing in a timely and accurate manner, and that was really difficult," said Jeong. "Sometimes the company was unable to voice accurately what we were doing, or even make plans."
NetSuite Delivers Immediate Value
By early 2017, MPOWERD had moved to NetSuite, choosing it because of the combination of how easily it integrated with other applications and its ease-of-use. And right out of the gate, the way the company reported to its board and stakeholders looked completely different. Suddenly, Jeong and Salzinger could easily provide all of the needed details on the company's finances.
"If you want to accurately speak to your shareholders, you have to track everything," said Salzinger. "NetSuite is a phenomenal tool for that. The more information, the better."
What's more, despite its size (MPOWERD currently employs 17 people), the company has had to monitor a complex web of sales channels, all of which operate differently. Today, MPOWERD sells product in 90 countries through 700 non-governmental organizations, thousands of boutique shops and larger retailers, a network of international distributors, several high-profile retail websites (such as Amazon and REI), and its own direct-to-consumer ecommerce site.
NetSuite has made it possible for MPOWERD to bring all of the resulting data together in one cohesive system for the first time, and also has helped it thrive during the pandemic. In fact, it helped to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on its business right away.
"We went 100% remote immediately, and one of the reasons we were able to do that was NetSuite," said Salzinger.
Not only did NetSuite make it easier to support remote employees, it also was easy to get those employees trained on the software quickly despite their being scattered all over the New York area.
Supply Chain Unlocked
Soon after going remote, MPOWERED saw the potential impact NetSuite could have on its supply chain when the pandemic forced a dramatic shift to online sales, altering how much product was needed for each of its channels.
At the time, the company had two warehouses, one for direct-to-consumer orders and one for business-to-business orders. The surge of online sales necessitated physically moving inventory from one channel to another on short notice, and Jeong credited NetSuite with keeping things on track.
"NetSuite allowed us to see in real time what shifts were required," she said.
All of this contributed to continued growth throughout the pandemic, including a 20% increase in revenue for a recent 12-month period, despite the ongoing economic uncertainty.
Seeing what NetSuite brings to MPOWERD during such a challenging time has Salzinger excited about its potential.
"We're small, but we could be 200 people and still be on NetSuite," he said. "At last, there is a path for growth."
Objective: Less ERP, More Mission
Looking forward, Salzinger said he's looking to work with NetSuite and Celigo, a partner, to nail down integration with its ecommerce provider, Shopify, which would help MPOWERD cut costs.
Before that, the company will be introducing a new power-generation platform, in addition to other product enhancements, and will be expanding its brand. To support that activity, the company is tapping NetSuite's inventory and supply chain automation capabilities to make sure it's ready for anything.
"The less time we spend in our ERP system, and the more automated the processes are, the more time we can focus on what we do well," said Jeong.
That means modeling what a small company can accomplish with an innovative business model. And beyond its impact on business processes, she believes NetSuite has changed the way MPOWERD looks at itself.
"NetSuite doesn't just change access to information; it changes behavior," Jeong said. "We shifted from this startup mentality into a very professional organizational demeanor."