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 create Dvinci Energy? I hadn’t planned on starting Dvinci Energy, but my experiences led me here to solve a big problem in solar. After dropping out of college, I went to work for SolarCity (now Tesla) about seven years ago. I went all in. I was their top salesman. I made a lot of money, but I wanted more. I then founded Bright Planet Solar, my first company, and exited within a year. A year later, I started Dvinci Energy to address challenges in residential solar, such as false advertising, huge customer acquisition costs, big change orders, and poor conversion of leads. We need to make solar easier than it is today. It’s less than 2% of all U.S. power, but there’s so much room for growth. And people want to work for themselves. We give them tools to grow businesses with more efficient solar sales and installations.
Who does your company serve? We serve two customers: First, we help solar installers with lead generation and fulfillment via our software solutions. Second, we help homeowners find the right solar installers, get accurate solar designs, and find the solar solution that’s right for them, without having to be energy experts. There’s lots of confusion out there. We are simplifying the decision making process.
What problems do you solve for your customers? Customer acquisition costs are about $3,900 per solar install across the U.S. That’s crazy for an industry maturing so quickly. In contrast, we can do it for about $600.
How does your work contribute to mitigating climate change? It’s pretty simple. We are accelerating the clean energy movement. And we’re not stopping at solar. We’re also adding batteries, community solar, and community wind. We track the GHG emission reductions that we create. It’s a metric that motivates our team and our customers.
What makes your company different than its competitors? We are a full stack solution, with software solutions that cover all the bases, beyond lead generation, such as solar design tools, CRM platforms, document signing, project tracking, and financing options. We’re also trying to find creative ways to partner with our potential competitors. This problem is too important for the industry to remain siloed.
How are you rethinking your business strategy to get through the COVID crisis? How do you play both offense and defense? First, virtual appointments with homeowners and installers have helped. Because we are a software provider, this was easy. But we have noticed that this less personal touch lowers lead conversions for our solar installer partners. Second, we provide flexible financing solutions, including PPA, loans, and leases. This has helped us remain useful. If we had just one option, then it would be tougher. People don’t want loans now, so they’re going back to a PPA or a lease. Lastly, we’ve noticed that interest in solar has gone up because everyone is online more often.
What are 2-3 things that your industry needs most to succeed, but is currently missing? Aside from what our company is doing, I see fragmentation, due to low barriers to entry, as a big challenge. There is too much noise out there. Quality is hard to find sometimes. We need consolidation, digitization, and standardized permitting processes. This doesn’t have to be so hard.
How are you finding growth capital this year? So far, we’ve been self-funded. But we’re raising some seed capital now from non-solar, non-cleantech investors who see the appeal of our software solutions for an inefficient market with huge potential.
When it comes to addressing climate change, how do you remain optimistic? Personally, I meditate every day. This helps. I try to think about my goals as if there were no limits. I aim to bring that attitude to the work, to see beyond the short term, to focus on the positive progress we’re seeing.
What kinds of apps, databases, or software help you and your team excel? We love G Suite for email and document collaboration, Slack for communications, Aurora Solar for accurate solar designs, and SolarWakeup newsletter for daily trends. We’re also developing a lot of tech internally.
What kinds of personal habits, mindset, exercise, meditation, or scheduling help boost your productivity and increase your resilience to “fight the good fight”? My 20-minute meditation every morning helps me remain clear headed and mindful throughout the day. I also pray every morning and read one chapter of a business book to get the juices flowing. The night before each day, I plan out every 20-30 minutes so I’m super prepared for what’s to come.
What are 1-2 quotations that keep you focused and motivated? “You are paid in direct proportion to the difficulty of the problems you solve." -- Elon Musk. As entrepreneurs, we can work on anything, so we might as well focus on big problems that help move humanity forward in the right direction.
What are you excited about now? Before starting Dvinci, I think I had great habits, but I’ve lost some of that temporarily. I’m excited to back on track, focused on the 1% constant improvement on self, family, personal finance, etc. These compounding effects are what it’s all about. I’m also excited to see what the solar industry turns into, how resilient it is, and what the new normal of global electricity looks like in the years ahead.
Who is inspiring you now? Who can other climate change entrepreneurs learn from? It’s overused but Jeff Bezos and Amazon seem to always set the standard for modern business execution and innovation, despite growing larger. Ditto for Elon Musk. His vision to get people to buy in, before the market is ready, is remarkable.
What question did we forget to ask, but that deserves an answer? We all ask frequently ourselves, “What are we really good at?” But we need to look at it from others’ perspectives, not just our own. I find it helpful to ask people that are close to me – family, friends, business partners – about how I can improve. That said, we should not try to fix every flaw. Instead, we can hire for that. And just because we like to do something doesn’t mean it is high value to our team or customers. This kind of self-awareness is so important.
Finally, on a biweekly basis, I try to think of 100 ways to answer big questions in life or business. For example, how could I get in front of 1,000 podcasters to tell our story, or generate $250M in the next 24 months? We often don’t ask specific enough questions to get what we want.
Apply to our join our Executive Masterminds, invite-only peer groups for entrepreneurs and investors tackling climate change. Founded by Dr. Chris Wedding — with $1B of investment experience, 30,000 professional students taught, 25 years of meditation practice, and certification as a Mastermind Professional — our cohorts are like your own personal Board of Directors to catalyze personal growth and leadership development in order to scale world-changing businesses.
In times of crisis, we initially focus on fear and worry.
The same is true for me. My recent sleeping habits sometimes tell me that I'm more anxious than my head leads me to believe.
But it's helpful to remind ourselves that we are not helpless, remaining victim to what "the market" offers us.
In the beginning of the COVID crisis, the dominant, and correct, response was retraction and playing defense. Being cautious. Cutting back. Protecting what we could hold on to.
As the pandemic drags on, perhaps with a reduction in "normal activities" persisting through mid-2021, it's time to start thinking about being more proactive. Playing offense. Taking calculated risks. Considering where the "puck will be," and skating in that direction.
Running a business is tough under normal circumstances.
But it's even harder in these crazy times.
So, imagine joining an Executive Mastermind to get honest and frequent input from 15-20 other high performance, purpose-driven executives and trusted confidants on questions like the following important business questions:
How do you hire and retain the right people-- e.g., talent, diversity, culture?
How do you find growth capital-- e.g., lines of credit, corporate equity, project debt?
How are you preparing for the recession-- e.g., defensive vs. offensive tactics?
How do you measure and communicate impacts-- e.g. social, environmental, other?
What does your governance look like-- e.g., Advisory Board, Board of Directors, open book?
What are your KPIs and how do you measure them -- e.g., numbers, systems, apps?
What is your exit strategy-- e.g., why, when, how? Or don’t ever sell?
How do you monitor and plan for regulatory changes-- e.g. state, federal, global?
What’s your data strategy-- e.g., CRM, web, social media, predictive?
How do you delegate and outsource in order to work on, not in, the business?
How do you buildthought leadership and brand-- e.g., writing, speaking, podcasts?
How do you manage work-life balance— e.g., self care, routines, tools?
As I write this, the world is already in a recession and perhaps heading towards an economic depression.
We've been playing defense, cutting costs and trying to manage uncertainties.
Accordingly, when you think about developing C-suite leadership potential via an executive mastermind, you might be thinking:
"I can't justify the cost."
In a world of high unemployment, that makes sense for a while.
But at some point soon, it will be time for thinking about going on offense, and developing a contrarian leadership approach to the doom and gloom of the masses.
It's a little like taking care of our personal well-being. If we don't make time for it (e.g., exercise, meditation, good food), then it will make time for itself (e.g., sick days, malaise, unhappiness). "
The practice of mastermind groups has been around for centuries. It was most recently popularized by author Napoleon Hill in the 1920’s and 1930’s in his books, The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich, which is often ranked among the most popular business + self-help books ever, with 15+ million copies sold. Through his research, he purportedly interviewed over 500 self-made millionaires (were there that many 100 years ago?) to learn about their secrets to success. In this process, he learned that many of them — including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Theodore Roosevelt, John Rockefeller, and Charles Schwab — relied on masterminds as a key to their personal growth and business success. If it worked for them, then my hope is that it can also help Entrepreneurs for Impact solve big problems in energy and the environment, while maybe even becoming household names to hungry entrepreneurs 100 years from now.
There are lots of ways to boost your leadership skills and grow professionally in order to increase profits and organizational impacts.
Why is our E+I Executive Mastermind different than other masterminds, accelerators, or university continuing education programs?
More Diverse Membership Roughly 30-50 years old, from many ethnic backgrounds, genders, specialties, and regions. Insight into Investor Perspectives Why might investors be interesting in funding your company's growth, or buying your company down the road? No Initiation Fees Join the club without additional application costs. Discussions Beyond Just Business Lifestyle, mission, and legacy, too. Geographic Flexibility As a (mostly) remote program, you can live anywhere. Smaller Time Commitments 75-90 minute video calls each month, focused on C-suite peer discussions. Flexible Revenue Requirements You do NOT need to be a millionaire (yet) to join this Mastermind group. All Cities We want entrepreneurs from everywhere, not just Silicon Valley. (#LoveYou) Private Discussion Forum Because monthly discussion are not enough for rapid and sustained growth and improvement. Accountability Tools Research shows that we’re more likely to reach our goals if we share them with others, along with regular progress reports. Cheaper than Another University Degree Growing your company and investing in yourself via Mastermind group coaching is more affordable than a $100,000+ graduate degree.