Note: THE TORCH is an interview series from Entrepreneurs for Impact. We profile CEOs mitigating climate change. Our goal is to highlight their work and inspire others. As we deal with multiple crisis, from COVID and racial injustice to climate change and economic recession, we need some of this positive light in what seem like dark times. Onward and upward.
Why did you decide to start Sofdesk to begin with? The original idea was I used to be a solar installer. And from there I realized there were a lot of problems in the software world. I needed about 12 different programs to complete an installation. We started to reinvest in software. At some point, I realized that it was a big, big problem in the market. So I just shifted from installing to a software company. And now we have around 1,500 dealers (installers) that are using the platform. We've also launched an application for the roofing industry. So roofers can also design roofs and create proposals on the fly from their phones.
Who does Sofdesk serve? We generally serve solar dealers. But last year we started serving manufacturers, distributors and financing companies because they have a network of dealers, and they want to provide them with added value. We customize our software for their products and services, and then they offer that in return to their bank of dealers. Now we're having some very interesting conversations with roofing companies looking to expand. Some have a solar department and want to leverage their 35,000 roofers that are selling roofing, so this can create some big new opportunities.
What kind of problems do you solve for these various customers? It's mainly on the soft cost. So that’s anything that has to do with residential site assessment, financing permitting, design proposal, and the cost of generating a sale and the management costs. These soft costs are actually equivalent to a large portion of what eats away at their profit. If we reduce these costs, their profit goes from about 15% to 40%.
How does your work contribute to mitigating climate change? I think that the fact that we're making it easy for anyone to start a solar company, and have all the tools they need to run their business in one place, creates a huge incentive for any entrepreneur to start a solar business and to thrive locally. We want to spread the word that solar is a great alternative. And now with storage becoming a huge market, we have some storage features on our software, and this helps folks who really want the option to disconnect completely from the grid.
How are you guys different than your competitors? We are known as the only end-to-end software provider. Many of our competitors offer design tools, like a proposal tool or a financing tool. But we've combined everything into one. We have the lead management, design, shading analysis, proposal generation, financing, permitting, project management, and the virtual site assessment tools, which are super relevant now. So, with us they don't have to use multiple programs. That's really one of our main competitive advantages I would say. The other thing is that we're the only company that is fully mobile friendly.
How has COVID made you guys rethink your strategy, such as playing offense versus playing defense? We've been fortunate since we've always pushed the idea of having the capabilities to sell remotely, even before COVID. But during the COVID pandemic, we've hired 12 new employees. So, we haven't had any layoffs or anything. In fact, we had a little spike in demand because a lot of the guys that were doing door-to-door canvasing began to look for digital tools to help run their businesses. Essentially, we became the choice for these installers because of our tools and robust features for virtual side assessment that really helps them. Essentially a dealer doesn’t have to go to a property until installation.
What are two or three things that this industry needs most but is currently missing. For the local jurisdictions, they need to ease up or harmonize the process on permitting because there's so many different jurisdictions with different rules. It's not like one size fits all. There have been some changes recently, so we’re moving in the right direction on that front, but right now this part of solar suffers from too much delay in the application and review process.
The next thing is to make it easier for homeowners to go online, get five different local quotes, find the optimal solution, schedule their installation, and just pay online, with just a few clicks. I believe that's the future. There is just too much friction currently.
How are you finding growth capital this year? I think there's a huge interest in our sector right now because venture capital firms love recurring revenue, low CapEx (capital expense) businesses, and big untapped markets. Every day I get offers from venture capitalists looking to make an investment. But our last round closed around last October, so we're not in need of capital. We're growing. It's been going pretty smoothly so far.
These days, there is a lot of bad news out there, especially as it relates to climate. How do you and your team remain optimistic? We believe that as long as we serve the local guys, the small and medium businesses, that we and the world will be better for it. I know there's always this effort to try to centralize power in a few big companies like Sunrun, but this is a local game. Local contractors want to remain independent. They want to serve their community, build on their reputation, and use word of mouth to sell solar. They don’t want or need to boil the ocean. So regardless of where all of this goes, there's always going to be that market that we believe is solid. Do you have personal habits, mindset, exercise, meditation, or other practices that help you personally stay productive and resilient to fight the good fight? Absolutely. That's the first thing on my list. I became an entrepreneur a long, long time ago and at the same time I started Muay Thai boxing. That's one of the things that gave me confidence, stamina, and the right mindset. More recently in the last two years, I have gotten into meditation and breathing (including Wim Hof). I do a lot of running and practice good eating habits. All of that is super important.
I also have an outlet where I rap and do hip hop music production, too. We promote this kind of individuality in our company values. If you look at our top three company values, the main line is that we want you to truly be yourself. And if I am being too politically correct, or too vanilla, then what is that going to say about our values? I'm creating the opportunity for everyone to be themselves. And when they come to the office, as long as you perform, we allow you to do whatever you want, and we will support it as long as it's respectful.
Do you have books that you'd recommend folks read? Oh yeah, for sure. The list is long, but what comes to mind is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, who was a samurai legend. He never lost a battle, and the book details a lot of the tricks of his mental preparation.
What are you excited most about now? I would say that we've put in place a structure in the company that enables us to scale to a point that we can reach all of the different targets, not only in solar, but in roofing. And we're getting a lot of interest from a lot of the big players. I think it's the land of opportunity. I don't believe that any one task is the end point for me. I think it's just a stepping stone. I'm an eternal optimist. And I believe that even if there are dark times, and there's complications with COVID, we're still in a position where we can find opportunity. I think that society is going to rise into a new awakening, and it's going to bring the entire world forward on a broader scale. So, I'm looking forward to that. I think a lot of people are sleeping right now, and it's only a matter of time before many new opportunities will arise.
Who is inspiring you or one who can other entrepreneurs learn from? I don't have idols. I take bits and pieces here and there, but I’m my own man. A lot of people deeply admire Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos because they have money, and they've started interesting companies. But I don't see it. I see that they are controlled by their specific consciousness, and I'm in my own world and my own consciousness.
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