First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
James Neal: The COVID-19 times have been tough, although I am extremely lucky and grateful to say that my loved ones have been healthy. Since the beginning, I have thought that the COVID-19 era and the new normal is certainly both a health and economic struggle for the world, but, more subtly, it is also a mental health struggle. Feeling more disconnected and detached from a community can make life less enjoyable and more difficult. That added layer of stress has certainly hit my family and me, yet overall we are glad to be healthy and well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Team Solar.
James Neal: I have had an interesting career, to say the least. Coming out of my MBA, I, like most people, got a job. I, also like most people, hated it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when a close friend recommended I pursue a career aligned with my personal passions and highlighted my skills. The passion was clean energy, and the skill was sales. The solar industry was just budding, and although I was a top sales performer, I worked for 9 companies in 6 years. Acquisitions, layoffs, companies going out of business, and others are changing directions, or models… The “solar coaster” was interesting.
After 6 years in the industry, I saw a lot of gaps in the market. The products available were aligned with only two different customer profiles, and there were many others left without valuable products and services. This is where my company was born. We wanted to expand the solar market and create new products that make the economic and environmental impacts of solar more available. So far, we have done just that and are continuing along that mindset every day.
How does Team Solar innovate?
James Neal: We have a very simple method of innovation that drives around two main points.
1. What do customers want?
2. What should exist?
With a booming industry as young as the solar market, the corporations often tell and teach the customers what is available. We disagree with that premise. We think about what a client truly wants, and then we are left with problems to solve for in order to create our product. This, we believe, is the basis of innovation; Solving problems to create something new that has value.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
James Neal: The virus affects our business in a number of ways. It can affect anything from capital availability to customer objections. Ultimately, we have adapted to Coronaviruses life pretty seamlessly. We immediately leveraged available software technology to be able to be 100% remote, and the process went quite well. We were able to continue sales, and our operational efficiency has continued to be effective.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
James Neal: Any founder has to make difficult choices. The main lesson I have learned is to make sure the net of your choices is positive. You will make bad choices, but if you also make enough good choices, you come out on top. As a company grows, the quantity of choices reduces but the importance of those choices can increase. When you are smaller and leaner, you just need to be able to pivot away from bad choices efficiently. I think that has helped us grow and take the pressure off making a bad choice.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Team Solar in the future?
James Neal: Stress and anxiety are always present, but I believe they come from one thing: fear. Fear of the unknown or a lack of knowledge
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
James Neal: Competition is an interesting topic because it isn’t always someone that sells what you sell. Competition is really a customer-related expense choice in many ways. If our product is solar, we have to compete with other solar companies, but we might also have to compete with insulation companies or other home efficiency products. The way we stay in the game is by designing products that are at the top of clients’ interest and attention span and educating our clients about our products. At the end of our process, our clients are typically loyal and result in a higher lifetime value.
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