Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Alex K Williams, the founding partner at Solar Energy Partners (SEP). Our focus is to provide the best customer and consultant experience in the solar industry. We provide more premium options for customers and consultants alike.
From a customer perspective, our clients benefit from start to finish with a customized, individually-tailored approach. It’s no secret that there is no shortage of headaches and hassles that can come with home improvement projects, but by streamlining each project’s progress, we work to mitigate any issues throughout.
We work with a number of the best installers, providers, and partners in the solar ecosystem. Our consultants can offer customers features unique to their own personalized needs, which ultimately leads to more conversions, more happy customers, and better business overall.
Our overall growth has skyrocketed from more than 400% growth since inception.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
From my youth, I’ve always carried an axiom about life with me, “life is what you make it”. Think of the alchemist creating gold from dirt, any individual is the captain of their ship. You can choose to live a fantastic, memorable life if that’s what you want. That’s what I’ve always believed. I’ve been a proponent of cutting-edge business and always looking to the horizon for what could be next. After paving the way with my own business in the oil industry, I knew that fossil fuels were a limited resource, and renewables were the future.
In early 2015, it had become apparent that the oil industry was about to hit the "bust" part of the "boom/ bust" cycle that the oil industry in the United States is constantly subject to. Upon this realization, I began to have conversations with my brother Clint about returning to work with him- Clint had switched from Vivint Smart Home to Vivint Solar (the third largest residential solar installer in the United States at the time) in 2014 and was managing a district in central California with the aforementioned company.
I always knew I wanted to stay in the energy industry, as I had found my fascination with power hadn't waned since I jumped into the business; I just knew that oil and gas were a collapsing tide. It was clear that my business success had to inevitably be married to an industry that had no ceiling, so I pivoted to the solar energy space and gained an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of the industry from all aspects.
At the time, the company I was working for had become so large, it was like trying to turn the Titanic; through frustration and a never-ending entrepreneurial spirit, we found ourselves once again, starting fresh. That’s where Solar Energy Partners began.
I've always believed that power should be in the hands of the people, no pun intended: the inherent benefit of distributed rooftop solar is passed from the sun directly to the homeowner. In any other sector of the energy industry, it goes from energy source to giant conglomerate, to the customer. The fact that we could connect the benefits directly to the customer primarily, and giant corporations secondarily was very attractive to me.
Take us through the process of designing your training program
We’re a sales company dealing with nothing that’s truly proprietary. We didn’t have to develop a product outside of our in-house training program. Our entire program is built on the teachings of Dr. Craig Manning and his series, “The Fearless Mind”.
In “The Fearless Mind”, Dr. Manning discusses the 10,000-hour rule, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell. It is theorized that it requires 10,000 hours to reach a mastery level in any chosen field. Dr. Manning summarizes that if one can find a mentor to mirror and model, 10,000 hours of mastery can be achieved in 1/10 of the time. We had discovered we had paid the 10,000 hours required and rolled out a program where we could translate that to as many consultants as possible.
We facilitated our partnerships through extensive trial and error. It was our existential vision to provide the best customer service available in the solar industry; we understood that starts on a foundational level, so we knew that any installer partner or product we were offering would have to be of premium quality.
We developed our first installer partnership through good luck and a pedigreed repertoire in the smart home industry. By the time we were ready to leave Vivint Solar, some gentlemen that we had done business with in residential home security in the early 2000s had gone on to build Infinity Energy. We have since developed a multitude of partnerships with thoroughly vetted installers in all of the states we service.
My brother Clint and I had spent years working in the sales force at several companies. We identified over time that there wasn’t enough emphasis on training.
When we started our own business we wanted to do so with two ideas in mind: to create a world-class training program, and an environment where the best option always wins.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our approach to solar has been fairly unique in that for us, it’s not just about sales- we have a mantra here, “we’re here to serve not to sell”- I think that’s very transparent to the clients we work with. Ultimately, the goal is to provide exceptional service, from beginning to end; that includes a detailed webinar that covers the depths of solar, how it functions, how the homeowner will benefit, and answers any questions they may have to put them at ease.
The truth is some people will benefit more from program to program in solar, it’s paramount to have an understanding of what will best suit the customer’s needs, and inform them how and why that’s the case. We do a vast majority of our business off of referrals simply because we take tremendous pride in the work we do and strive for a top-shelf experience with every interaction.
In terms of ancillary marketing, we have also not completely departed from tried and tested methods, like direct to consumer, however as we’ve rolled into 2022, post-pandemic, we’ve found that there are other pieces of the pie worth capitalizing on as well. Ultimately as a business owner, it’s important to know when and how to pivot when a situation rears its head- leaving no stone unturned when it comes to revenue-generating ideas.
You may want it to happen fast, but nothing great indeed comes quick or easy; like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It's not the destination, It's the journey.”
We’ve also made a tremendous impact by serving the respectful communities we work in. We do regular cleanups and givebacks to those in need, as philanthropy is a fundamental belief of ours. Nowadays, it’s simply not enough to be in business to make money- it’s all about making a difference. With everything we do, the underlying question, “How will this bring value?” perpetually exists.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As a company, we’re very excited to continue our growth and anticipate adding Arizona, Illinois, and two or three new potential states on the east coast in 2022. We currently operate a very recruiting-intensive business- we have a business model on initiating individuals with little to no sales experience and training them to a mastery level. With that focus in mind, we operate on a local office basis with 16 current locations- each of which has a District Manager, Assistant District Manager, and several mentors, all of whom are focused and engaged in training and developing the new talent.
We don’t anticipate developing any new products but are very excited about several new partnerships, key among those, “Lomi” by Pela, which is a revolutionary home composting solution. Pela’s philosophy is aligned with ours in doing the most good for the planet and our communities on a fundamental level. We’ve also adopted a partnership to bring our clients additional value when going solar with proprietary programs and technology that unlock additional tax incentives in their local area.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We’ve learned at least two major lessons at this point.
#1: Nothing happens as fast, or grows as fast as you want it to.
When we originally launched the solar company, we expected to exist in multiple states in three years- we came to find that the state of California alone would be a three-year undertaking. However, that being said, only two years later, we were able to expand into seven additional states. You may want it to happen fast, but nothing great indeed comes quick or easy; like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It's not the destination, It's the journey.”
If one can get started, get going, and get comfortable working harder than ever, you can find yourself living a life that will fulfill you more and push you to places you would never have dreamed of going.
#2: None of us are fortune tellers.
There’s no person out there that can tell the future, so in business, one must be adaptive to flow with whatever may get thrown your way.
A great example would be the pandemic of 2020/2021; it’s not only something nobody could have predicted, but it’s something nobody could have imagined. What a difference it made from March of 2019 to December of 2020, and we only know now that that was only the beginning. In a business dominated by the person; in-home meetings, we found ourselves with a need to quickly pivot.
Luckily with technology like Zoom and Skype, we were able to rapidly adapt our salesforce to a more online model and continue the task at hand. Ultimately, this has been something that has been wrapped into our current business model and still serves us today.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We’ve been huge adopters of platforms like Basecamp, which has been fundamental in keeping our business organized. There are great things to say about Slack, TimeTree, Acuity, Google Sheets, et cetera. We’ve found ourselves trying so many things, and it seems like there’s always a newer, more efficient option on the tech side of running a business. What matters at the end of the day is if the technology you use benefits you and your team.
Of course on the infrastructural side, we use our installer partners' platforms to generate proposals, calculate savings, and manage all projects to completion.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most profound book for me was As A Man Thinketh by James Allen. The basic premise of the book is that everything we create in our world is created first within our minds. If you want a better life, you need to get a better imagination. My favorite quote from the book, which is a fantastic read from beginning to end, is,
“In the armory of thought, man forges the weapons which will destroy him. He also creates the tools with which he will build for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and their master.’- to me, that means that I must vigilantly watch my thoughts to ensure I’m creating tools for growth rather than weapons for destruction.
The only consistent producer of inspirational content that I follow is Tony Robbins- I’m a huge fan and try to attend at least one in-person event per year. I am a believer in the power of continual education, though not a fan of formal education systems because I find the idea that everyone needs to study and test the same way to be incredibly antiquated, simplistic, and naïve. If we can have customized shoes, cell phones, and hairstyles, we all surely have different ways of learning and consuming information. I’ve always found I learn best when I’m free to do it my way, on my terms- I’d assume the same is true for most.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice for any entrepreneur is to get started, get busy, and get comfortable working more hours for less money in the beginning. Though I would also say that if one can get started, get going, and get comfortable working harder than ever, you can find yourself living a life that will fulfill you more and push you to places you would never have dreamed of going.
We started the solar business in March of 2017 and had not paid ourselves by October of 2017- I was living off of savings that I had stockpiled with my previous job, with a steadfast belief that we were going to get this off the ground.
By early 2018, we were experiencing the all-too-familiar joy of growing a business we had worked so hard to get started, but unfortunately, with growth came expenses, and 2018 remained one of the leanest years of our careers.
Heading into 2019, the wind was at our backs and we were starting to make progress on what was ultimately a 200% growth year. To now look back, in 2022 in those early days without much in our pockets, I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade a second of it for all the money in the world. Organic growth is better than anything.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Solar Energy Partners is now hiring Solar Energy Consultants.
This fast-paced position requires someone upbeat who loves people and is passionate about saving the planet through the power of the sun.
We currently have positions in all 16 markets and anticipate more than 20 by the end of the year.
Resumes can be submitted to email.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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