Randy Zechman, CEO of Clean Solar in San Jose, Calif., refers to himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” In addition to owning Clean Solar, he also operates a publishing company focused on highlighting hotels, restaurants and attractions in Silicon Valley. He also owns CityChocolateFountains.com, which looks just as delicious as it sounds.
Zechman’s philosophy is simple: Business is business, and you don’t have to be an expert in an industry to start a business.
“I had two businesses, and I was looking for a third one to start,” Zechman says. “I looked at many different businesses, and solar seemed like a great opportunity.”
When Zechman examined solar, he saw the major contractors weren’t run as businesses — he saw individual contractors who had to stumbled into a good industry without the know-how to sustain their growth. Before he started his business, Zechman called eight of the major players in the California industry to install a system on his home.
Of those companies, four called him back, three actually showed up to do their scheduled site survey and only one of them gave him a quote without having to bug them. It was then that Zechman realized there was a huge opportunity in solar.
Clean Solar’s business is 90% residential and 10% commercial. Zechman believes what set his company apart from others when it started was the residential production guarantee (meaning that the panels will produce X amount of energy for a given period), a 15-year panel warranty (five years longer than the government-mandated standard) and a 15-year roof warranty.
Most companies offer these benefits today, but they didn’t five years ago. Zechman says his company also reached out to a local vocational school. After he became a NABCEP-certified instructor, Zechman helped the school launch its solar installation program.
“We were worried that solar would take off and there wouldn’t be enough employees to serve the needs,” Zechman says. “Part of our goal is to help the industry get from 10 people installing solar to 1 million.”
Zechman says he believes the national installers will drive interest in the market, but it’s the smaller contractors who pay attention to details who will benefit most.
“There’s an interesting divide happening in the solar space,” Zechman says. “We’re pretty happy to be where we are — and we expect to continue growing.” SPW
Clean Solar Vital Statistics:
3-year growth: 220%
2008 Sales: $1 million
2011 Sales: $3.2 million