A Day in the Life of a Solar CEO
For OneRoof Energy’s David Field, success in the competitive third- party financing industry depends as much on innovation and risk as on solid investors.
By MARY BETH MCCABE, D.B.A.
San Diego-based OneRoof Energy may be less well known than residential solar-leasing competitors like SolarCity, SunRun and Clean Energy Finance, but that won’t be the case for long if CEO David Field has his way.
In January OneRoof raised $100 million in funding toward its 2013 goal of $300 million to support sales and residential leases, plus an additional $30 million in development financing from its partner, Hanwha International. The firm previously raised more than $65 million in financing and leased more than 2,000 residential systems since its launch in 2011. In Arizona alone, it leased more than half the photovoltaic systems installed since last spring. By early 2014, Field projects OneRoof will have tripled its leases and expanded into another four states. It now serves California, Hawaii, Arizona and Colorado.
Field is no stranger to starting up new businesses and nurturing business cultures. He led the reorganization and turnaround of Applied Solar (formerly Open Energy) in 2009 and worked in the leasing business with four start-ups before that.
Last fall we followed Field around his San Diego office in order to learn about a day in the life of a solar CEO.
Building a Culture of Innovation
Field’s typical day begins at 6 a.m. with a call from New York, often while he’s shaving at home. By mid-morning, he’ll have spoken to his bankers, lawyers, board members and management teams about finance and sales issues. “We’re always raising capital and planning the next capital raises,” he says. That activity usually accounts for about a third of his day. He spends another 30 percent of his time in sales, 30 percent in operations and 10 percent on strategy — “which is never enough,” says Field. By 9 p.m., Hawaii will be calling to talk about business conditions.For OneRoof Energy’s David Field, success in the competitive third- party financing industry depends as much on innovation and risk as on solid investors.For OneRoof Energy’s David Field, success in the competitive third- party financing industry depends as much on innovation and risk as on solid investors.
Field travels often in the course of raising capital. When he’s at home, he likes to spend time with his wife and his high school-age daughters, or talk to his sons, who live in San Jose, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz.
At the office, Field takes a hands-on role in developing the people and culture of his business and operations — a process he calls building a learning organization. Between meetings, he walks the building, interacting with employees.
The day we visited, Field met with Hussein Yahfoufi, senior director of technology and corporate services, to discuss OneRoof’s forth-coming app for select dealers to use in their on-site sales calls.
Yahfoufi showed Field how the app works on his iPad. The app enables the sales rep to enter a customer’s address and the direction and tilt of the roof in order to determine how much solar output a panel could generate, and therefore determine if the investment would be worthwhile.
Next Field met with Heather Hurley, human resources director, to talk about how to maintain a supportive environment within this fast- growing organization. OneRoof moved into new offices last June, and by September staff were feeling space shortages due to rapid growth.
Experimentation and a willingness to risk failure are key to Field’s management philosophy — one he gained through his experiences at startups. The solar leasing industry is in an extremely early stage, he notes. “You really have a paradigm shift in the market, where in many states it’s less expensive to lease a solar system than it often is to buy power from the local electric utility. That being the case, the question is, how do you approach the maximum number of homeowners — and you don’t do that knocking on doors selling solar,” Field says. “What I try to encourage, and what I try to lead with, is understanding buying behaviors and market dynamics, and experimenting with alternative sales strategies. And it’s not just on the sales side, but it’s on the project execution side, as well.”
Differentiating the Business Model
OneRoof Energy leases solar electric systems through its SolarSelect financing program, with customers saving 5 to 25 percent on their electricity bills. According to Field, “We can deliver most components up to thirty per- cent cheaper than typical integrators, mostly because we’re vertically structured and flexible in our operations.”
He shared a bit about the complicated work of getting the financing right for the customer. A lease may include more than 15 documents, including technical specs, purchase orders and financing papers that can be stacked 4 inches high, he says. He has worked to streamline the process of docu-signing, automated title verification and credit approvals.
In this capital-intensive business, institutional investors commit financing for 20 years. OneRoof’s investors include Black Coral Capital and Hanwha Group, a South Korean industrial conglomerate. Hanwha, which owns solar-panel manufacturer Hanwha SolarOne and Q Cells, bought an $8 million stake in OneRoof in 2011 and invested another $30 million in development financing in January. The latest cash infusion will bootstrap further growth, says Field.
The company differentiates itself in two ways from other solar leasing companies, according to Field. First, he says, “When we work with traditional solar dealers that offer our solar leases, we provide them with different support services. We give them, for example, sales leads, we finance their inventory, as well as provide accelerated payments once a lease contract is signed with a homeowner. Those are things that significantly support their business growth, which also grows ours.”
Second, OneRoof Energy offers leasing through financial advisors and others that sell financial products to consumers. It began when OneRoof noticed a financial advising firm in Hawaii recommending solar leases to its home-owning clients for the financial benefits alone. Says Field, “We found it to be a very effective model for reaching the consumer and reducing our sales costs, thus saving consumers more money.”
He continues, “What I’m seeing is that this is more like a financial services business, and we’ll see greater growth of this type of arrangement. As more and more financial advisors and others selling traditional financial products see this as purely a savings tool for homeowners, you’ll see more viral sales techniques.”
Photos courtesy of Dr. Mary Beth McCabe
Dr. Mary Beth McCabe (email@example.com) is a full-time professor at the School of Business and Management at National University, where she is lead faculty for marketing. Her research is concentrated in the field of solar energy marketing. She speaks at national solar conferences and is active in social media.