For Solar Entrepreneurs, the First Step Was Sensing the Opportunity
State Rebates Opened the Door to a New Business
Will Sisk wasn't on a crusade to save the world or grow a massive company.
But through a combination of hard work, great timing and a little luck, he and his business partner started a business that was profitable, fast-growing and good for the planet.
The story begins when Sisk had left an engineering company and was figuring out what to do next. Years earlier, he had paid for school by fixing up old houses, learning a great deal about residential construction.
When a new law in his home state of Colorado gave homeowners a rebate for installing solar energy systems, Sisk sensed an opportunity.
Not Doing It Alone
But he needed a partner, so he contacted Zeke Yewdall, whom he had met a few years earlier on a volunteer project in Africa when they helped to install a solar water pump for a small village. Yewdall was the project’s all-star, having been raised on solar energy in a remote part of Washington State that was disconnected from the electrical grid.
"He had solar in his blood," Sisk said. "It was almost intuitive for him."
Yewdall had just wrapped up his master's degree and was finishing a project with a solar-design company, and he was ready for a new challenge.
Their first client was an acquaintance. Sisk sold his Volkswagen Jetta to buy the solar panels. They designed the system, sought the permits and installed the panels, then reinvested the profit into buying more panels.
Their main form of advertising was word-of-mouth, and they reinvested every dime in the business. They didn’t pay themselves salaries. Sisk didn't replace the car he'd sold for seed money; he commuted by bicycle to their rented warehouse from a small bedroom in a house with six roommates.
After a few projects, they brought in two more people: A full-time salesperson, and a drafting artist who could do the work needed get city permits and create renderings for clients. As the salesperson brought in more clients, they were able to hire an administrative assistant and installers.
When the business was a year old and had eight employees, they received a cold call from a Texas energy company. Would they be interested in selling?
The company called back. Sorry, they said. But the company persisted.
They agreed to take a meeting, and the company’s offer won them over. They agreed to sell. The two founders, along with the salesman and the drafting artist, split the proceeds and stayed on board as employees.
The new parent company infused cash, allowing them to hire and train more salespeople, installers, administrators, designers, and project foremen. After a couple years, the staff had grown to “somewhere around 35” employees, Sisk said. “I can’t remember the exact number. It happened so fast.”
He left the company about a year after the sale, and the others eventually moved on as well.
What they learned: If two guys in Colorado can start a business on a shoestring that's both profitable and good for the planet, then it’s possible for anyone who combines hard work, great timing and a little bit of luck.
Photo: © Thinkstock/iStock | Paula Pant is a freelance journalist specializing in per¬sonal finance, investing, real estate and entrepreneurship. She has written for MSN Money, AARP Bulletin, DailyFinance, and Business Insider.