Being from the Midwest, I’m pretty familiar with wind mills. Driving through Iowa, Indiana or southern Illinois, they’re pretty hard to miss towering and turning on the horizon. In contrast, the only solar panel I’ve seen in real life was in Forest City, Iowa, a town I’d be hard-pressed to find a handful of people who have heard of it.
The folks over at PVPower are trying to change this disparity. Founded in 2009 by three long-time renewable energy supporters, PVPower functions as an e-commerce distributor of solar components– including solar panels. From 2009 – 2010, the company grew 750%, a testament to both rising consumer interest and company vision. With green technology becoming more and more in demand, many homeowners are struggling to connect with companies that sell products like solar panels, but also contractors who can design and install the systems. Recognizing the need for connecting contractors with buyers, the founders of PVPower recently embarked on SolarBear, a web platform for bringing the two together.
PVPower co-founder Nick Yecke answered some questions I had:
1. How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?
PVPower sells solar panels to contractors and homeowners across the U.S. through our website at pvpower.com. We’re also building a website that’s going to make it as easy to plan and buy a home solar system as it is to plan a trip on Kayak.com.
2. What are some industry specific challenges you faced?
Residential solar installations are much more prevalent in other parts of the country, not necessarily Chicago or the Midwest. This has been something that has definitely challenged us as we’ve grown, especially as we’ve networked and raised money predominantly in and around the Midwest.
Solar is also growing at an alarming pace, something that most in the Midwest probably don’t realize. Today it’s growing at nearly 40% year over year, that’s faster than mobile phones ever did in the U.S. – now that’s staggering. So keeping up with demand, pricing, inventory, customers… you name it is both challenging and also a lot of fun. We’re literally in the eye of the storm as this new energy infrastructure is being created. Exciting times.
3. What made you use crowdSPRING?
PVPower has used crowdSPRING four times now! In early 2009 for our PVPower and in 2010 for our SolarBear and Soltastic! logos and now we’re working on website and UI design of SolarBear through crowdSPRING. We love to get a wide range of ideas, things we would never think of in-house, and tap into cS’s network of talented designers. Timing and budget are also big considerations for us. As a startup things always happen last minute and we can’t break the bank on them. We’re by no means cheap with our cS awards, but having a budget and timeline that is adhered-to is very important to us.
4. What was your biggest learning curve/experience?
There have been quite a few. But I have to say that seeing how powerful a strong, loyal network of advisors and mentors is has been quite eye opening. These smart, experienced and above all good people have helped us steer the business in the right ways, much more quickly than we would have without their advice. I’ve always known that coaching and advisors are important, but in the startup world it’s magnified 10000x. Learning from those who have themselves been worried about making payroll, burned the midnight oil, raised money, built a successful company, enjoyed the ups and downs and successfully exited or maintained their company is truly invaluable. Luckily we’ve had the great fortune of growing a network of incredible friends and mentors who help us on a daily basis. Much of that momentum was created by the Excelerate Labs family here in Chicago.
5. If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?
This may be counter to what a lot of people say, at least on the surface, but I would have jumped in full time a bit earlier. Doing the nights and weekends thing was great, it provided a lot of time to learn about an industry new to my partners and I. And allowed this learning at a very low risk/ cost. But on the flipside it’s really hard to accomplish much or create momentum in a partially-focused setting.
6. Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.
Start now, everything takes longer than-expected. (Oops, I cheated).
7. How do you see your company growing in the future?
We’re going to enable solar to be installed on the roofs of 1 million homes in the U.S., which will save homeowners money and provide clean energy for decades to come. We’re going to do this by providing an incredible web-based service through SolarBear, to help both solar contractors and homeowners go solar in a simple way.
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