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Josh Wentz IST 440W How to Become a Rainmaker 12/8/11

“Asking the Right Questions to the Right People”

What is the title on your business card in 5 years? Ask any student and very few will know.
Ask a student that same question weekly for an entire year, and he might come up with
something. That is exactly what my research professor did to me. It forced me to orchestrate a
future that I control rather than “falling into something” that someone else chooses for me.
Exploring the question further, led to the question, “What do you like?” If a student can answer
this question leaving college, they are one of the very small percentage fortunate enough to have
found it at a young age. Loving one’s career adds a very meaningful aspect to life that would
otherwise become trivial with mundane tasks. I personally answered the question of what I like by
sketching out a Venn diagram, with three core content circles: 1) buildings, 2) energy, and 3)
technology; and three support circles: 4) people, 5) business, 6) marketing. Realizing my
multidisciplinary interests, I paired my existing Architectural Engineering education at Penn State
with Information Sciences & Technology. Looking towards and beyond graduation, not one
company impressed me with their building technology solutions. Inspired by the lack of a great
solution, the title on my business card in 5 years reads: “Co-founder of Smarc” (Smart Architecture,
a tech start up that serves the building industry). Its mission is to shape the interaction between
people and building environments through the efficient use of energy and technology. After living
and breathing this idea, I’ve become convinced that a person succeeds in life & business by
Asking the Right Questions to the Right People. What are the right questions? You don’t know.
Who are the right people? You don’t know. The “rules of getting and keeping customers and
clients” in How to Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox gives insight into not only how to become a
lucrative salesman, but also how to find the right questions and the right people. Several vignettes
surround the theme of “discovering a business through questions.” Ultimately, this is a story of the
beginning stages of what I hope to be a successful business one day.

Vignette [Business Element]

Onionize. [Market ]
The Rainmaker cannot turn the customer’s need into a want until he or she knows how to
put value in the customer’s desired state. Just as a sous chef peels an onion layer by layer, so,
too, the Rainmaker helps the customer get to the “heart of the matter.” Rainmakers are akin to
investigate. This vignette reminded me of my first investigation into this business market
discovery; lets rewind three years to my research and questions. Americans spend 90 percent or
more of their time indoors. Why does the typical consumer know more about their car than their
home? Why do my parents complain about their energy bill at the end of every month? Why are
there only movies about smart homes, but no such thing? Buildings are in fact the top consumers
of electricity and contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and have been for decades.
In the information age of today, building modeling has become increasingly popular and globally
necessary to understand how a building is operating and where inefficiencies can be resolved, but
nothing is simple enough for consumers to understand. Through countless discussions with
professors, I came to the “heart of the matter” in summer 2009: The energy efficient smart home as
yet to exist will only be possible with advanced information sciences and technology, at which time
I decided to double major. Existing building modeling, automation, and controls solutions are
overly complex and outdated, leaving the building industry a decade behind most with respect to
technology and collective advancements. Buildings have similar systems to that of a human body:
structural (skeletal), lighting/electrical (nervous), HVAC (respiratory), and plumbing (digestive).
But, unlike the human body, there is no “brain” that acts as the central control point between all
systems. Last spring, two years later, the Architectural Engineering Department was awarded
$129 million by the Department of Energy, the largest grant ever given to Penn State, to lead an
initiative developing the next generation of energy efficient building technologies, designs, &
information systems. Timing couldn’t be more perfect; the national spotlight is now on the
department. Setting up my dual major education in anticipation for such an opportunity wouldn’t
have been possible without asking the right questions to peel back the layers of how a building
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Josh Wentz IST 440W How to Become a Rainmaker 12/8/11
“Asking the Right Questions to the Right People”

works. Rainmakers use “onionize” as a memory trigger to remind them to keep probing, to keep
asking questions.

Dare to be Dumb. [Competitors]
The biggest criticism of salespeople by customers is that salespeople don’t ask enough
questions. If you don’t do a proper diagnosis, you won’t have the correct prescription. Ineffective
salespeople assume they already know the answers. Along the same lines as salesmen in this
vignette, too many students either assume they already know certain topics or accept them at face
value. Through asking questions to friends about starting a business that challenges the status-
quo building processes, I stumbled upon the Small Business Development Center (a free resource
of Penn State). I created a great relationship with a business consultant that made me aware of
their team that will conduct free market & competitor research. This research, along with my
numerous class projects geared towards this idea of a smart home, narrowed key competitors to
Autodesk and IBM. At this point, I leveraged my professors as a way to gauge the history and
offerings of competitors. I am thoroughly interested in both Autodesk and IBM, but in a way, I acted
dumb to get inside information about each. Objectively, Penn State’s Architectural Engineering
Department is the oldest (dating back to 1910) and largest (graduating twice as many students
every year in comparison to the second largest AE program) in the nation. Subjectively, it is the
most well respected program in the building industry with the most influential and talented faculty.
PSU AE professors have had a hand in nearly every advance in buildings since 1910. In 1982,
Autodesk’s AutoCAD progressed sketching / hand drafting of buildings intoto 2D computer aided
drafting. A PSU AE professor, Dr. Kevin Parfitt, had a hand in packaging their CAD software for the
building industry. Through him, I learned that a Penn State AE of 1985, John Ulmer, was involved
in the original development of the progression to 3D surface modeling software, Sketchup (later
acquired by Google). In 1997, the next and largest advance to modeling was Revit (later acquired
by Autodesk) which employs intelligent 3D objects and back end database to represent real
physical building components such as walls and doors. It’s currently a success, yet with many
integration issues among disciplines and systems (reasons I believe can be attributed to its
founders having no background in the building industry). I next met Dr. James Freihaut, who is the
executive director of the $129 million grant that Penn State is leading. He meets with Autodesk
and IBM representatives on a weekly basis and I have him in class three times a week this fall
2011 semester. During or after class, I’ve casually asked him what each company is working on in
relation to building technologies. Autodesk is currently working on middleware to assist the data
transfer from a Building Information Model to a Building Energy Model. Interesting to hear, but not
impressive yet. After asking further questions about IBM to another professor, Dr. Jelena Srebric, I
was given the chance to represent her on a grant initiative conference call given by IBM, which
highlighted around 30 slides of the inner workings of IBM in this building software market. The
biggest issue seems to be that building engineers and IT people do not currently understand each
other, which I predict will hold them back for years. Only then did it make sense why other large
competitors in the building energy consumption realm including Microsoft Hohm, Google
Powermeter, and Cisco Mediator all discontinued their products this past summer: they do not fully
understand a building. In my opinion, there no such thing as a dumb question or too many
questions. At the very least, you learn something, and if you’re lucky you’ll ask that right person
that can open the door to a new opportunity. Without asking the right people, I would not have
been able to look into the major players in the market or find where this new business can find its
niche.

Always Taste the Wine Before a Wine Tasting. [Product]
This is a lesson on planning to prevent failure. Pay attention to details. Roll up your
sleeves & get your hands dirty. Customers demand unprecedented value in products. They do not
want bitter wine that is not tested first by rainmakers. This vignette reminded me of my next
question in the business discovery: what type of product would create unprecedented value to the
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Josh Wentz IST 440W How to Become a Rainmaker 12/8/11
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customer (a building or home owner)? It was impossible for me to have the intuition to answer this
without a few experiences. The summer out of high school, I was a software intern at ANSYS Inc.
(an engineering simulation software company with customers such as Toyota, NASA, and Siemens
and profits soaring to $172 million). It was here that I learned the incredible potential of computers
as yet to be leveraged within the building industry. Having been a part of the testing team, I
learned the amount of time that goes into testing software before going public with it. Rainmakers
always test in private what they are going to sell in public. Later, I researched under Dr. Jelena
Srebric in the Penn State Architectural Engineering Department in collaboration with Harvard
University on an Urban Energy Model Simulation Platform. Here, the envisioned product of the
developing company shifted to something strictly building energy simulation based. Last spring, I
was one of twelve students chosen in my major to become a part of a new multidisciplinary
Building Information Modeling (BIM) studio. Here, through struggling with technology to design
every system of the building collaboratively, it opened my eyes to a product that could serve the
entire Architectural Engineering Construction (AEC). It wasn’t until this past summer at GE Energy,
working on a web 2.0 development project deployed to over 5,000 employees, that something
clicked. The building industry is on the verge of a great change in building software. Current
information transfers are inefficient. While competitors have building engineers and IT people who
are trying to understand each other as they focus on older development languages, I hope this
newly discovered company will surpass them through a new fully collaborative online, web 3.0
(which some are predicting to be the complete convergence of the virtual world and the physical
world) 3D building modeling software. I’ve intertwined the topic of my fifth year architectural
engineering thesis with this idea of creating initial value for such a product. Once fully developed
and tested, I have no doubts that such a solution will create value far beyond existing building
software solutions. Question the value to the customer by first testing it yourself.

Always Be on “High Receive.” [Customers / Team]
The Rainmaker’s job is to listen to the customer. Watch, ask, and listen to the customer as
sensitively and intently as military spy equipment monitoring enemy communication. Let nothing
get by you; even the casual, offhand remark may offer clues. Mediocre salesmen hear customers,
good salesmen listen to customers, and great salesmen listen on high receive, knowing what they
are looking for, remembering it, and leveraging it. Customers for this business are luckily all
around me. Penn State Architectural Engineering holds the largest department organized career
fair on University Park’s campus, attracting over 160 companies for AE career fair. I played typical
student part at this past career fair, wearing a suit and giving out resumes, but my main goal was to
guage architectural engineering design firms about how software is being used in the industry. At
company information sessions, I casually attend to take notes and ask questions, mostly about
software used. This past spring I was elected National Student President of the Architectural
Engineering Institute (the only overarching organization connecting all undergraduate AE programs
throughout the nation). After learning about other AE programs through dropping questions to
officers at other universities, it is evident that Penn State AE is years ahead of others with respect
to leveraging building information modeling. Throughout my thesis work, I study my classmates
(future customers): which software they use, how they use it, what they don’t like about it, what
could make it easier? Afterwards I meticulously take notes about anything discovered to
remember and leverage it when the time comes. Due to my thesis building conveniently being
across the street from Carnegie Mellon University, it has allowed me to foster a relationship created
from a business card exchange to the Civil & Environmental Engineering department head back in
April. This leads me to the development of team for the business. In parallel to understanding
customers, I am always on high receive for potential collaborators. I learn as much about the
person as possible to see where they see themselves in the future. A company is only as good as
its people. I’ve been listening for certain teammates with similar ambitions but complementing
personalities and skill. After noticing an email from the College of IST, I entered into a hackathon
with an electrical engineering teammate to meet the best developers throughout campus. Hosted
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Josh Wentz IST 440W How to Become a Rainmaker 12/8/11
“Asking the Right Questions to the Right People”

by past Penn State IST grads who have gone on to found start ups, the hackathon gave me a
chance to meet some extremely successful people well connected to venture capitalists. Asking
interesting questions led me to both customers and a team. Listen carefully and do so on “high
receive.”

A theme can be a strength. And a strength can be a weakness. I’m a strong believer that
time is our greatest asset. I’m spending a great deal of my time on this dream, yet the risks are
extremely high. Realizing and reflecting on the fact that a business may not happen immediately, I
have created relationships with professors at two graduate programs (including Carnegie Mellon
and Penn State) willing to fully fund my master’s work.

Inspired by a few of the points in the last vignette “10 Things to do today to get business,” I
decided to end on “5 Things I’ve done within this past week to develop a business.”

1. Sent an article on interest to my bosses at GE Energy (Potential board members).
2. Called a client (employer) I haven’t talked to in two years. (Over Christmas break I will be
meeting with my ANSYS supervisor, who was one of the first ten employees, about its start
up days before reaching its hundreds of millions of dollars of success last quarter)
3. Gave my business card to someone with influence (a potential Carnegie Mellon PhD
student collaborator).
4. Made a follow up appointment with the Small Business Development Center (who recently
partnered with the Ben Franklin Group to provide a higher level of commercialization
assistance to PSU faculty, staff and students)
5. Made a video conferencing appointment with CEO of OneSchool (a spring 2011 start up out
of Penn State who was funded and now works out of Mountain View California).

Being curious is one of the best ways to question how things are currently done and
synthesize something new. I ask a lot of questions, am obsessively organized, and encourage &
appreciate objections to the building industry, but the author of How to Become a Rainmaker [Fox]
stressed that what matters over everything else is the Rainmaker’s ability to ring the cash register.
We’re a part of the start up generation, yet there are many businesses that fail for not being able
to make money. I have every intention of using nearly all vignettes on my journey to a lucrative
building technology business. Asking the right questions to the right people allowed me to learn
the market history and the potential for a unique business. Throughout history, building modeling
has progressed from hand drafting, to 2D computer drafting, to 3D computer modeling. Today, new
web technologies have the functionality to create this same 3D building information modeling
experience through a web browser. This new company will do just that, allowing full collaboration
among the design team, providing an online model for the owner throughout a building’s life, and in
essence create the smart nervous system of a home. I’ve met a laundry list of people throughout
asking questions and discovering something new, doing what I love most: working with people and
buildings towards a greater goal. What will the title on my business card be in 5 years? Time will
only tell.

As a time capsule type message to myself in the future:
I look forward to reading this paper to look back on my thoughts, ambitions, & experiences as of
December 2011. Parts of it are likely wildly naive and may very well change, but I’m happy to have
connected a few dots of the past and projected into the future.

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