If they were going to save the world, there was something missing from the equation. Gary Grossman was having lunch with longtime friends and colleagues Robert Tatsumi, Peter Santangeli and Jonathan Gay. It was 2006, and the four had recently left their jobs at Macromedia, the company that eventually took over Flash before it was purchased by Adobe Systems in late 2005. Self-proclaimed tech geeks (and world-proclaimed tech geniuses), the creators of Flash could hardly be expected to spend a future sequestered to family life. Each had come from vastly different backgrounds, yet they'd spent most of their lives up to this point devoted to the same goal: making Flash a success. Now they had a new problem to solve: build a system to combat the energy crisis, save people money and educate them on the power of energy awareness, roll it out to utilities and millions of other clients around the country, watch the dough roll in and possibly save the world. All they needed was Grossman's OK, and Greenbox would officially begin.
Blocks away, Matthew Smith was mulling over a similar quandary. He had spent his career introducing revolutionary technology to an eager public, but he wanted something more. "I had worked on some really cool products, but they weren't necessarily making the world a better place," says Smith. "Some were probably even part of the problem." Now, with an MBA in sustainable management, he wondered how he could apply his background in technology to sustainability. Then the light went on.
The (Not So) Secret Lair
"We like it when people take public transportation," says Smith, 41, as he pulls up to the San Bruno, California, BART station. At 11:30 a.m., the station seems more akin to a scene from a Western than a bustling transportation hub for Silicon Valley startups. Within minutes, we arrive at the Greenbox building. The surroundings are humble compared with how the company aims to change the future of energy. The conference room, just days old when I arrive, is outfitted with a small brown couch, two white chairs and a coffee table, plus a projector that disappears every Halloween for Santangeli's neighborhood house decorating contest. It's as if they're constantly moving into this space, which they've actually occupied for two years now.
There are more important matters than redecorating at stake here: for one, changing the way people use and understand energy. "We're calling it interactive energy management," says Smith, Greenbox's vice president of marketing. "How do you get [homeowners] more engaged with how, where and when they use energy and give them the tools to make better decisions?"
Smith was the last to join the Greenbox team. While each member of the team plays a critical role in the success of this technology, Smith's contribution is perhaps the most vital. It's his job to make sure Greenbox is picked up not only by Flash proportions (which Santangeli tells me is now installed on more than 1 billion PCs and devices) but also nationwide--perhaps even worldwide. We settle into the conference room, and with a confidence that says he's done this many times before, Smith begins to impart to me exactly how Greenbox plans to save the world.
The 2-year-old company is at the far end of the problem of turning energy awareness into consumer action. "Utilities have their backs against the wall in looking at what the demand for electricity is over the next five to 10 years," Smith says. "In most cases, it's outstripping what they have planned in terms of their generational capacity. There's a general feeling that they can't build their way out of this problem."
Greenbox's solution is much like a game, meant to help consumers understand their energy usage and how they can save money. To do this, the company is partnering with various utilities around the country to provide real-time data to consumers. A simple user interface at getgreenbox.com lets users choose between various functions, including a basic overview of the energy being used in their home, the price of electricity, usage by day and month, an interactive timeline, rate structures and usage alerts.