Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth: Page 6 of 6

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    Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth
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    Since Borrego Solar does not use in-house labor to install PV systems—its business model is to use subcontractors—it can be challenging for the company to realize labor cost savings associated with...
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    As a Certified B Corp with a commitment to socially responsible business practices, ReVision Energy shares the values of many of its customers, such as Throwback Brewery (shown below), a woman-owned...
  • Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth
  • Borrego Solar's subscontractors
  • Inovateus Solar is Structured for success
  • Namasté Solar’ has a Succession plan
  • Safety First
  • Throwback Brewery

Leveraging Technology to Fulfill a Shared Mission

By James Hasselbeck, ReVision Energy

ReVision Energy, founded in 2003, installs more solar in Maine and New Hampshire than any other integrator. The company designs, engineers and installs all of its systems using in-house solar specialists with proper licensure and an equity stake in the company. James Hasselbeck joined ReVision Energy in 2013, and oversees design, project management and commissioning for all construction operations for the Maine and New Hampshire installation teams. Hasselbeck is a NABCEP Certified Installation Professional and a member of the NABCEP PVIP Technical Committee.

In most of the years since its founding, ReVision Energy has seen a year-over-year growth of 20% or more. As all solar veterans understand, achieving a 20% revenue growth in an environment where costs are declining rapidly actually means that everything else—such as project volume and capacity—is scaling even faster. Sustained rapid growth is typically a good problem to have, but it comes with its share of challenges. Along with that growth comes the need to hire exceptional talent for sales, installation and support roles. Growth also forces installation companies to purchase new trucks and equipment and to increase warehouse capacity.

At ReVision, the fact that we’ve grown to operate out of five offices in three states has amplified these scaling challenges. Our business does more than just install rooftop PV. Our basic mission and challenge is to provide comprehensive, carbon-free and cost-effective energy solutions to diverse clients, which include residential, commercial, industrial and community solar customers, as well as those requiring energy storage, electric vehicle charging infrastructures, or the installation of solar-powered heat pumps for heating, cooling or domestic hot water systems.

Shared Mission, Values and Goals

As a Certified B Corp, ReVision Energy has always considered its explicit commitment to multiple groups of stakeholders an asset, not a liability. While many view B Corps or socially responsible business practices as inherently concessionary in terms of financial success, we explicitly reject this view and believe that we succeed because of our values, not in spite of them. As a result, one of the first and most critical components of managing our growth has been to ensure that we never dilute the shared sense of mission and values that binds the company together. Ensuring that we maintain our company culture of respect, legendary customer service and technical excellence while physically spreading across five offices and expanding the size of the team 30% or more in a single year can be a real challenge and certainly doesn’t happen on its own.

Our first strategy to manage this scenario is simple: hire only exceptional people who share our values. By hiring and retaining extraordinary individuals, we have kept employee turnover near zero, which creates a solid institutional memory and foundation upon which to scale and build additional crews.

A second strategy is to deliberately and consistently articulate the company’s shared mission, vision and values. We use every opportunity that we can, internally and externally, to discuss our broader mission and to demonstrate our values. This is the lens through which we approach and discuss everything that we do. Having that language and belief in common creates a strong sense of cohesion for the rapidly expanding group.

Using Technology to Stay in Touch

Beyond taking a very deliberate approach to maintaining a strong and coherent company culture and targeted business goals, we employ several more-concrete tactics to manage the growing business. Many of them relate to leveraging technology to ensure that our team can stay connected and on the same page while running in opposite directions across multiple states.

salesElement. Like many small local solar companies, we started out using a customized Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for pricing projects, and then transferred these prices and key project details into a Microsoft Word template to generate customer proposals. As we achieved some scale, we found that system unsustainable and investigated the proposal generation software platforms specifically targeting the solar installer market. While many had some impressive features, none was capable of pricing and producing proposals for the broad variety of project types that we design and install across a range of different markets. In addition, we were skeptical about giving up design control of the proposal document and ending up with a result that would look more or less like every other solar proposal our clients might see.

The solution we landed on was salesElement (saleselement.com), a cloud-based pricing and proposal generation platform with a specific implementation that we highly customized for our business. The software interfaces with our customer relationship management (CRM) and inventory software to capture customer and component pricing information; this allows the platform to work as both a pricing engine and a proposal generation tool. It is capable of generating highly customized proposals. Though building this custom tool required a substantial financial and labor investment, it has proven to be amazingly flexible and scalable as our business has grown and our product mix has evolved.

Basecamp. Another tool we use to facilitate communications and information sharing is Basecamp (basecamp.com), a cloud-based project management and internal communications platform. We have a number of Basecamp projects geared toward different departments, employee groups and goals. We also utilize Basecamp’s to-do list functionality to maximize productivity for our different teams. For example, we have a centralized system for designing and estimating commercial projects. Using Basecamp, a commercial sales representative can assign a new project to the engineering team. Depending on the desired turnaround time, that design may or may not come from the branch where the sales person is physically located. From our perspective, this system provides the benefits of both centralized and decentralized engineering team approaches. On the one hand, our engineering team can share the workload for maximum productivity; on the other, our branches all benefit from local engineering support, which requires in-person communications.

Egnyte. With so many crews and projects going on, the ability to quickly find relevant information—be it a system proposal or job photograph—is important. For this functionality, we rely on Egnyte Enterprise File Sharing (egnyte.com), which provides access to our server data from anywhere. The platform is easy to use and navigate via smartphone or laptop and is a great way to search for, upload or download information. One benefit of this platform is that it enables our installation crews to immediately upload job photos or permit signatures to the server while on-site; this allows the operations team back in the office to submit utility paperwork the same day we complete an installation, without getting bogged down by the need to physically transfer data.

Company wiki. We use a wiki in Basecamp to outline our internal resources and share process diagrams and flowcharts. A key part of streamlining operations is enabling different people and departments, potentially in different locations, to work together, while ensuring that they accomplish all critical steps with minimal overlap. While we have worked hard to standardize processes and streamline installations, we also needed to maintain a degree of flexibility that would allow for a regionally specific focus. In other words, our back-end systems and processes are critical, but just as important is the ability of those systems and processes to match the unique local demands and requirements of each of our market segments.

A key advantage of using a wiki is that it allows us to embed links in our diagrams. For example, our commercial, institutional and industrial teams consist of representatives from multiple departments. To provide a clear path of responsibilities as our projects progress, we have developed flowcharts that not only outline the step-by-step process, but also provide hyperlinks for some milestones that take users to relevant Basecamp or wiki resources.

Weekly newsletter. Our multiple-location operational structure makes it difficult to maintain group culture and connectivity, as well as share success stories. Therefore, we have instituted shop-specific weekly newsletters with the goal of sharing our many victories, however small they may seem. In addition to letting everyone know what is going on, we strive to use this forum as another opportunity to highlight our mission and values, to inspire conversations about best practices and to recognize team excellence publicly.

Performance metrics. The final, and perhaps most critical, piece of our company initiatives for efficient streamlined growth is identifying and leveraging key performance metrics. ReVision Energy is a data-driven company. All of our system design, installation and business decisions are fact- and science-based. We pull metrics from our CRM database and use these to generate customizable charts and reports. At any given moment, we can review our new project leads for the month; conversion efficiency; sales closing ratios; projects under contract, awaiting design, permit and interconnection approval; procurement; and ultimately scheduling status. Measuring, reviewing and acting upon these and other metrics is crucial, as it can show—in no uncertain terms—where we need to put additional focus.

CONTACT:

Chris Anderson / Borrego Solar / Lowell, MA / borregosolar.com

Amanda Bybee / Namasté Solar / Boulder, CO / namastesolar.com

James Hasselbeck / ReVision Energy / Exeter, NH / revisionenergy.com

T.J. Kanczuzewski / Inovateus Solar / South Bend, IN / inovateus.com

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