Jim Jenal earned degrees in mathematics, computer science and law. He taught math at a private high school, and then practiced as a lawyer for 10 years. But he still looked for more.
“I got to the point where I was looking not only for a new challenge, but a more satisfying legacy,” Jenal says. “I did the old ‘What color is your parachute?’ test.”
Jenal made lists of his skills, desires and priorities — he even listed things he wished to avoid.
“When I put those things together, strange as it may seem, what came out was to start a solar power company,” he says.
In 2006, Jenal and two colleagues — an MBA he successfully represented in court and a master electrician— set out to build Run on Sun, a commercial and residential solar PV installation company based in Pasadena, Calif.
Since its founding, the company has grown slowly but responsibly Jenal says. Coming into its own just as the economy fell apart in 2008, the founders of Run on Sun have worked to avoid debt by employing conservative business practices.
“Our growth has always been organic, as opposed to being funded by outside folks,” Jenal says. “That gives us the freedom to do things the way we like to do it, albeit at a slower pace and smaller scale than we may have otherwise.”
Jenal says the company has clients, not customers. Customers, he says, are involved in transactions, while Run on Sun builds relationships. It is more concerned about meeting clients’ needs than short-term sales projections, Jenal says.
“We’ve turned down jobs, telling people they’re not good candidates for projects when they aren’t, even after they’ve had other companies come in and be more than happy to sell something,” he says.
One project that proved successful was a 52-kW array at Westridge School in Pasadena. The project size was Run on Sun’s “sweet spot,” Jenal says. Plus, it reminded him of past teaching experience at a similar school.
“It performed better than expected, but what’s really nice is the faculty can take data from the Enphase system, and they can use it in the classroom as a teaching tool for physics, mathematics and economics,” Jenal says.
To stay current on the solar industry and help with marketing efforts, Run on Sun is plugged into social media much more than most other contractors.
“People who aren’t initiated often think it’s little more than photos of cats and dinners, but we have a well-developed Twitter and LinkedIn presence,” Jenal says. “The NABCEP LinkedIn group has some really smart people who are good at raising issues and answering questions.”
As an outbound marketing source, Run on Sun has amassed more than 20,000 followers on Twitter (@RunOnSun). Jenal says when the company releases blog posts or announcements on social media, the impact is immediate on the company website or blog.
“It’s a way to get our information out there so people can see it,” he says. “That indirectly contributes to leads coming through the door or website.”
Run on Sun’s Literary Side:
“During the Westridge project, I got to know the school’s facilities director very well. It occurred to me that there are a lot of folks who manage properties, and they’re looking for something that walks them through the process of adopting solar. A lot of the information out there seemed opaque. Also, I knew when someone is shopping for solar, it’s hard to know if a company is speaking to you in an unbiased fashion or giving a sales pitch. This book serves as a much-needed guide. It’s also the ultimate leave-behind for potential commercial clients.”
— Jim Jenal