Justin Kaiser, Co-founder & CEO
The solar sales representative felt he was losing the sale. In a last-ditch effort, he offered to knock another $15,000 off the price if the customer agreed to close the deal that day, but the customer was not impressed. The customer was also no ordinary customer: he was a franchisee in the Orlando, Florida area for the solar energy company Solar Grids, posing as a customer to see what the industry was like. The pushy sales rep and arbitrary pricing rubbed the franchisee the wrong way and he knew there was a huge opportunity in the industry. “That’s not how you create a long-lasting relationship with your customers,” says company Co-founder Larry Schroder, referring to the sales culture that dominates much of the burgeoning solar market. He describes a scenario in which sales teams prioritize a quick buck over anything, where prices are jacked sky high in response to increasing demand and murky sales commissions give an unseemly cast to it all. All of this seemed even more distasteful to Schroder when contrasted with the bright future of the solar industry, its promise of efficiency, affordability, and energy freedom. The time was ripe to forge a new path for solar.
“We are also here to make a difference”
In January of 2020, Solar Grids officially launched its mission to disrupt the solar industry. Prior to that, fellow co-founder and CEO Justin Kaiser had managed several private equity funds, raising private capital for a solar company. But after raising over $30 million dollars for the company, he realized they were highly unorganized and wouldn’t be able to scale to the capacity he’d envisioned. That’s when he joined forces with Schroder.
As solar continues to disrupt the energy industry, Solar Grids is relentlessly focused on disrupting the solar industry. Their primary ethos is a focus on customer satisfaction — an idea that may not sound revolutionary, but is a big departure for most solar companies today. Kaiser and Schroder prioritize creating happy customers by improving the entire solar process. This includes more affordable energy at a locked-in rate, a 25-year warranty, guaranteed professional installation and maintenance, and top-notch customer service. They want to be diametrically opposed to that pushy sales representative, with the customer’s happiness far above sales numbers on the priority list. “We’re trying to be as disruptive as Apple in solar,” says Schroder.
It’s a tall order to create universally happy customers in such a complex and logistically challenging industry, but the leadership at Solar Grids knows that it’s possible. And they know that to achieve this goal, they need to start from within.
Building an Industry-Changing Culture
We only want win-win people
With Kaiser and Schroder at the helm, Solar Grids is disrupting the solar market on a grand scale through franchising, setting up trade operations, and carrying out installations across the United States. Soon, the company will be franchising in all 50 states. “We’re not just doing solar projects in our local community, but also trying to affect an industry for the better,” says Schroder.
Of course, having so many franchisees across such a large geographic expanse can make it difficult to maintain a strong company culture. This, too, is a challenge that Schroder and Kaiser are taking head-on. When vetting professional franchisees, they’re extremely careful about who they bring on board. “We only want win-win people,” says Schroder, explaining that most sales professionals have the mindset that they need to “win” at all costs. While this can lead to more sales, it also sets up a dynamic where there is a loser. That’s not a mentality they want at Solar Grids.
Kaiser and Schroder believe in creating a culture where everyone on the team wants both sides — the company and the customer — to come out on top. “That is the culture and people that we are looking for,” says Schroder. Unlike most solar companies bent on just closing deals, at Solar Grids, the emphasis is on building customer relationships anchored on the core values of transparency, sustainability, and reliability.
Because of these principles, reputation is incredibly important to the Solar Grids team. Their ultimate goal is to create customers who are not simply happy with the product, but also happy with Solar Grids the company — happy enough that they’ll spread the word to the people in their network. “We want to create advocates,” says Schroder.
Coming from outside the industry, both co-founders could look at the solar landscape objectively and take stock of what needed to change in order to build a better industry. One of those changes was to equip each team member with the expertise they needed in order to fully understand the customer’s needs and how to meet them. In their market research, they found that most solar sales representatives knew little more than price, failing to inform potential clients about their saving potential or understand the unique demands of each house.
As a counter to that, Kaiser and Schroder prioritize training their franchisees, ensuring that they can have an intelligent conversation with each customer and develop a custom-fit approach for each house. They do this largely through Solar School, a 4-day virtual training in which franchisees with zero previous solar sales experience dive headfirst into the business. The training is led by national sales director Jeramie Rose, a solar industry veteran, who coaches and mentors new franchisees so everyone is set up for success.
A Freeing Franchise Model
From the franchisee standpoint, Solar Grids offers an attractive franchise fee of $40,000. The company’s proven model ensures a hassle-free approach for franchisees, as they can focus solely on closing leads without being saddled by the stress of running a business. At the same time, the company’s expertise and resources arm them with everything they need to be a successful solar business owner.
Nor are the franchisees saddled by the operational hassles of installing the solar systems they sell. Though Solar Grids has franchisees focused on both residential and commercial installations, they don’t carry out the installations themselves. Rather, their independent contractor network carries out the installations, freeing up franchisees to focus on what they do best: selling.
This approach also gives Solar Grids an advantage when it comes to nimbleness: “Even if new technologies, like solar paint, drastically change the solar landscape in the coming decade, we are never going to be outdated on the technology front because we’re on the sales side of it. We can evolve with the industry,” says Kaiser.
Their nimbleness allows for rapid expansion, with goals to reach four or five hundred locations within the next five years. But even as Solar Grids charts robust growth plans, they’re cautious about growing so fast that it harms the rock-solid culture they’ve painstakingly developed. “Somebody isn’t going to run a location for us unless they understand and fit into our culture,” says Kaiser. “If we have 400 locations but don’t have consistency of culture, we have nothing.”
Making A Difference
In line with the company’s history of leaving no stone unturned to defy expectations and delight customers, Solar Grids is set to unveil a slew of benefits to investors and consumers alike.
First, they’re putting the final touches on a peer-to-peer financing platform, which will match Power Purchase Agreement customers with Power Partners. In this arrangement, the Power Partner pays for the solar system and its related costs, collecting all of the tax benefits, while the Power Purchase Agreement customer gains savings on their energy bills. They’re also gearing up to set in motion private equity solar funds for residential and commercial deals by the first of the year, plus beta testing for their new proprietary marketing platform, which will generate leads and provide a back-office system for all of their franchisee locations.
Underlying all of these business plans, however, is the primary goal of solar energy, a goal that seems to have been lost among most big solar companies today: to have a positive impact on the world. On top of delivering savings to customers and environmental benefits to the planet, the company also donates seven percent of their net corporate profits every quarter to charities supporting worthy causes. Following the ethos of their parent entity, a public benefit corporation, Solar Grids is doing its bit to give back. “We are also here to make a difference and leave a legacy,” says Kaiser.