Yoga Intelligence : A Downward Dog Pose for the Taxpayer
Yoga Corporation, also known as Yoga Intelligence Corporation, Yoga Intelligence Limited, Yoga Limited, Estomatic Solutions Limited, and Mokomat Limited (more on the name fun later), is a company providing "intelligent control for all buildings."
|"Oh Yoga, you complete me!"|
The company has ambitious plans. In a presentation given by their managing director (Priit Vimberg) in 2010, he spoke of their plans to have an IPO by 2015, while raising 4 separate rounds of venture capital funding prior to that (see slide 19).
Mr. Vimberg is indeed a dreamer. In 2008, he told the Äripäev newspaper that his company had a valuation of 1 billion Estonian Kroons (64 million euros), and needed to raise 150 million kroons (9.5 million euros) from investors. They had it all planned out too: of the 150 million, 100 million would be spent to enter new markets, 40 million on product development, and the remaining 10 million on "other expenses" (Hookers and blow? Fast cars? We can only speculate.).
|"We're worth one BILLION kroons!"|
Building Intelligence for All
Bear with us here, as their product is a bit difficult to understand, which is why they have numerous pages on their website dedicated to explaining what it is.
So the general idea with an "intelligent building" (also known as building automation) is that the building has feelings. It can tell you when it's too cold or hot, turn on the lights for you, and try not to use too many resources (power). It's like a good wife, but without the nagging and with much worse cooking skills. Some of the more intelligent buildings can even ask you if they look fat in this dress.
|"Care to join me, or would you rather just discuss building automation?"|
The building develops feelings reminiscent of a middle-aged women's book club after 2 bottles of wine, through the use of sensors. Just like your thermostat at home or in your car, various sensors report about room temperature, who is in it (through motion sensors), and so on.
The idea is this: why bother to heat, cool or light a room if no one is in it? That's a waste!
You must be thinking that Yoga then makes the sensors and hooks it all together, for a happy building that needs no antidepressants. Nope, they don't make sensors. They don't make lights. They don't make thermostats. They only make the software that controls all of it.
That's not so bad in itself (though we wonder why they needed a further 40 million kroons for product development). Let's have a look at their two markets, consumer (residential) and commercial buildings.
Let's start off with the easy one - residential.
First, there's price. According to this article, the price for an average apartment would be 1,500 - 4,000 euros to make the apartment into a "smart home". We're not sure if that's just for the software, or also all the sensors and installation, but let's assume it's fully inclusive. Remember, savings are marginal, so if your energy bill is 100 euros a month and they save you 10%, you're saving 10 euros a month or 120 euros per year. Even the yearly number is hard to predict, since heating and cooling needs vary drastically depending on the time of year. Who is going to spend 4,000 euros for such modest savings? Not many.. and here's another reason why:
Think of the last time you were out with friends, and talked about your house. Was it about energy savings? Probably not. It's just not an interesting topic. Do your friends (or you) care that you saved 10 euros a month? What's the motivation to go through all the hassle and effort to get this product, have it installed, and set it up?
Then, there are the alternatives for people who want to save money. Programmable thermostats have been around for years, and cost 20-100 euros. With those, you just program what day and time you want it to be a certain temperature, and it takes care of the rest. So it can basically turn off while you're at work, then have things all ready and cozy when you return in the evening. Simple solution, good savings, and low cost. Some vendors even make wifi-enabled thermostats so you can adjust it on the go. Who needs Yoga?
Now let's move on to business. Envision a large building, with the accompanying large costs to keep it heated, cooled and lit. Yoga would be great for this, right? Well... maybe not. Large buildings are usually staffed by a maintenance person (building engineer) at least while it's occupied. This is often for insurance reasons -- someone needs to be on hand to fix anything that breaks, and in a large building, maintenance needs arise pretty much every day.
But surely the Yoga system can solve problems, right? It can adjust the temperatures automatically. Sure, it can, but so can the building engineer. What makes it even easier is that buildings lead a fairly boring life. They open at a certain time every day, and close at the same time. Usage is very predictable, so it's easy to plan ahead and warm the building up for Monday morning, turn off the system on Friday evenings, and so on. Easy tasks for a building engineer.
Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe every building and home needs this great technology, and we're just idiots. Ultimately, the measure of that would be the results, right? Now let's have a look at those.
Taxpayer : Take Your Downward Dog Position!
|Poor taxpayer. They thought it was just a yoga position.|
Time for our history lesson of the day. Yoga Intelligence Corporation (business registration 10681001) started out back on July 2000. Yes, more than 13 years ago.
They got millions of kroons in investment from private investors, including a prominent investor from the UK. They also took on numerous company names during this time, including Yoga Intelligence Limited, Estomatic Solutions Limited, and Mokomat Limited, before finally settling on Yoga Intelligence Corporation.
|The many faces of Yoga.|
If the story were to stop here, we'd have nothing to complain about. Private investors invested into a startup company, and they changed names a lot (is this what they call a "pivot"?). Typical stuff.
Now let's move forward 8 years from their founding in 2000. Yoga Intelligence Corporation declares bankruptcy in 2008. They weren't meeting sales targets, ran out of money, and the current investors decided it wasn't worth putting any more money into this company.
Still OK in our book. The professional investors analyzed the company and the market, and decided it was not worth further investment. Totally normal.
Then things start to get messed up.
First, the bankrupt company shuts down with a tax debt of 99,809 euros. (The bankruptcy is so old this information is not readily available -- we verified it directly with someone at the tax authority.)
Then, the original founders of Yoga create a new company (Yoga Limited, registration number 11486721), transfer over all the intellectual property from the bankrupt company (without compensating the original investors, is our understanding), and.. get money from Enterprise Estonia (EAS)! How much money? Yoga received 442,624 euros of taxpayer money from EAS:
So let's review: a company is doing so poorly that professional investors decide it's not worth it to dump more money into. Instead, the founders run off with a tax debt and the intellectual property, create a new company, and get money from EAS. So, EAS is dumping money into a company that professional investors deemed to be a dud. Brilliant!
Was it just a matter of timing? Perhaps Yoga was just a technology too advanced for its time back in 2008 when they went bankrupt, and now they're flourishing. We don't think so. A review of their recent (2012) financial report shows a company that has racked up losses for each of the last 3 years (as far back as we have data), is heavily in debt to its investors, and has few sales to show for it.
This company is a dud, and EAS should never have dumped money into it.
Total loss to taxpayer: 544,433 euros.
Lessons LearnedThere are lessons to be learned here. First, if a company has gone bankrupt, they shouldn't be allowed to just create a new one to run away from tax debt. On top of that, they certainly shouldn't be allowed to receive EAS money if they're not paying their tax bills.
Is Google blocked in EAS offices? A quick search would have revealed numerous articles about the first company's bankruptcy (they even had a similar name - Yoga!). A quick search of the commercial register would also reveal the questionable situation.
Our suggestion for EAS: before handing out money, type the company name and its founders' names into Google first.