Green Light Distrikt is about entrepreneurship focused on the cleantech sector. GLD U provides cleantech courses . Edited by Chris Williams with frequent guest posts from friends, experts and industry insiders from clusters across the globe. Our goal is to provide a place where cleantech entrepreneurs in various clusters across the globe can learn from one another. Green Light Distrikt is creating the "Hitchikers Guide to Clentech" to provide a resource for cleantech entrepreneurs. Read more
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January 12th, 2013
A Simple Idea for Greentown EnergyBar Events in 2013 – Let’s Find Customers That Have Huge Budgets and Can Pay Us Lots of MoneyBOSTON -
I’m back in Boston and loving it. Boston is smaller than NYC for sure, but this helps the city. The collaboration that I’ve seen in Boston is easier, more fruitful, and happens very frequently. The same buzz words are thrown around in both places, which is very annoying, but I don’t hold it against anyone. Here are my thoughts on how to get past buzz words and start generating revenue.
Please excuse any and all typos, I’m brainstorming here, and if I waited for everything to be perfect, I’d never write anything
I’m looking forward to get back into hosting events, when Green Light District started we hosted ~12 CEOs to discuss real problems and opportunities that they were seeing. We went from the Green Roundtable on Chauncy Street (which doesn’t exist anymore) to Venture Cafe for the first Energy Bar, and then Energy Bar was moved into Greentown Labs right around when I went to Europe. Jason and the Greentown teamed turned EnergyBar into an event that is 10x better that I ever made, so I’m glad to rejoin the group and push things to the next level.
I want to push things to the next level with two themes in mind. One, stop the use of buzzwords. “customer devleopment” what exactly do you mean by that? “Value proposition” how about….how do you make more money than you spend. “Penetrate the market”, let’s call that making sales. Let’s stop trying to show how we went to super expensive collegues, we all know all the buzzwords, let’s stop talking in code and get sh%t done. Second rule, cut the genrealizations and let’s start talking with real customers that will pay us money. I’ll discuss a little more what I mean about real customers below.
You see, I get very annoyed going to the same events over and over again, hearing the same investors say the same things. Here’s what I’m always thinking “are you my customer?”, or, “are you the customer of anyone in this room?”. It’s safe that say that most of the time, investors aren’t customers. What does this mean? For most companies they’re not the bottleneck to growth. That’s not entirely true in all instances, but it is from a sales perspective. Unless I’m selling something to an investor, or I have reason to believe that they came from an operating role in a specific industry (that I already know is my customer, or I’m guessing might be my customer if I’m still working on figuring out who my customers are) and they still have close connections with said industry, their advice isn’t very valuable. The above two examples don’t happen much, due to the background of most investors.
Let’s get back to talking about speaking to real customers, and how this translates into events.
First, we should remember that cleanteach can generally be split up into three phase of a business which can apply across many different technologies and verticals (crap, buzzword! by verticals, I mean different industries).
Here they are.
- R+D of new technologies
- Commercializations of new technologies
- Deployment of existing technologies (no technology risk)
Now, let’s discuss in specific terms what these concepts means, what the business tend to need in each phase, examples of companies, and for the sake of this post, how events could be structured to help them.
1. R+D of new technologies
- Typically involves research at a university or within a large corporation
- Can be basic research, or advanced into a specific subject that might yield a technology specific breakthrough
- They need talent in the form of researchers, money, and a lot of time, because no one knows when the next breakthrough will happen.
- Hard for 2 hour event so help this crew.
Commercialization of new technologies
- These are companies that have a technology that has been proven to be effective in lab or in a pilot site, and now they are looking to sell the product or technology to more customers.
- Most commonly these are B2B companies, but they can also be B2c.
- Also, they don’t need to be creating a technology, they could be repackaging existing technologies and positioning them for a different market and/or application.
- Example of B2B companies would be:
- 1) New Way to Make Fresh Water
- 2) New LED Technology
- 3) A new type of solar PV and solar thermal module
- 4) A new way to control steam radiators.
- 5) Squirrel guards for solar PV installations
- 6) New ways for supermarkets to compost their organic waste
- 7) New ways for restaurants to harvest their grease
- New ways for cities to deal with trash collection
- You get the idea, what is most important for these companies is GETTING SALES. If the problem that they are solving is large enough, and their customers have large enough budget, they will pay for R+D through purchasing the product/service with a downpayments. This happened with BigBelly Solar (#8) and Feed Resource Recovery (#6). SALES are critical because they provide 1) cash and 2) credibility at the same time. As opposed to investment, which only provides cash, i.e. is not as valuable.
- Thus, how can we create events where CUSTOMERS can be found?
- What are the best customers?
- Here’s a group of customers I would love to talk with, so I’m guessing other will feel the same: They’re a business. They have an existing, large budget, they have a regular schedule for allocating said budget (so you can actually plan around it). They have huge problems that they’re looking to solve, and a specific person that spends said budget.
- How then could we structure an event to help this? An event for this could be structure easily. Get 3 to 4 panelists, each in control of a budget of at least $1,000,000 that deals with an energy/cleantech related issue. The business itself should be worth more about $20,000,000 and have been around for more then 10 years. We don’t want to be selling to other new business (sometime’s called “startups”). Make sure that the person is currently looking for solutions.
- Setting expectations in the event. Once the speakers have been found, the key will be setting the expectations of both the speakers and the attendees. The speakers need to be primed to come prepared to talk in specifics about their business, where they spend their money, and what they would be willing to pay for. As a moderator, this would mainly be my job. They key is to push them to say something specific to “I would pay $100,000 to fix this problem.” Because we’re trying to develop new technologies, it would be best to find customers that have tried to do research, but have not been able to find anything. The expectations also need to be set for the attendees. We’re not asking the attendees to sit and listen for fun, we want them to figure out how to sell to the panelists.
- Another point about this exercise, is that we can create an event series for different industries, because each type of industry will have similar yet different problems. For example, super-markets, fast food restaurants, universities, etc.
- Deployment of existing technologies means that there is no technology risk at all, in that all of the risks are known and can be reasonably quantified. The challenge in this environment is also sales and project finance.
- The most common examples of deployment of existing technologies is energy effieicny upgrades, solar pv installations, wind installations.
- The challenge to this businesses are complex but come down to 1) finding customers 2) streamlining operations profitably and 3) finding project finance investors. With each of those subject there are obviously more issues around how long sales cycles are after a customer purchases, good vs bad investors, etc.
- The other issue around finding customers mainly goes into the problem of 1) is the customer aware that they have a problem and 2) do they percieve it as a large problem. If neither are true, sales become difficult. In some case, the answer might be yes to both, but they are unaware of any solutions and don’t know where to start looking for solutions. This challenge becomes a match making dilema.
- On the project finance side, the challenge is also that of 1) finding the right project, both in size and investment criteria and 2) finding investors that are willing to invest small sums of money. Small meanings, less than hundreds of millions of dollars. For typically project finance, let’s say a $2 billion dollar building with a develop that has 40 years of experience, the process and risks are known.
- The problem with funding project finance for projects that might valued at $500,000 is that the developer might only be 6 years old, the technology has only be “risk-less” for 3 years. This compounded the impact of having a small project because it means there is less capital for due diligence.
- The impact of small projects and a new industry compounds the problem for another two reasons. First, a pipeline may or may not existing. A $500,000 project is fine with a large investor, if there are 1,000 more of them that fit the same profile. If they are materially different, due diligence must be done.
- The other issue that has a strong impact on small projects is transaction costs. $50,000 in legal fees is not much for a 10MW solar farm, it’s a lot for a 200kW project. The investment is being run driven through tax credits, the mechanism that is driving renewable energy deployment. The reason that this is a problem is that the trasnaction costs (the legal and acounting costs) are high. Cash, cash equity, debt, tax equity all need to be raised, legal structures need to be created with specific operating arrangements for partnership flips, lease pass throughs, O+M contracts established, the whole nine years.
- The challenge for new companies looking to delpoy technologies, finding legendary project investors. These are project investors that get it. They have passive income (they can use the passive losses generated by the tax credits) but they also understand the renewable energy market place. Again, this is a match making excercise.
- How could this be helped with an event? Similar to running an event for deploying new technology, the challenge we’re facing here is largely matching making. How do we find customers that are actively looking to invest a lot of cash in renewable energy and energy efficiency project?
- Setting expectations. The key to have a useful event, once we’ve found panelists, is to have them go into the specifics of their research process and tell them what they’re 1) afraid of and 2) what is the criteria of projects that will go through.
November 6th, 2012BOSTON -
After almost two whole years, I’m headed back to the hub. I last lived in Boston in March 2012. In 2012, I quit my job at Nexamp and started working with Brian Hayden at HeatSpring again. Since my work was virtual, I decided to go to Europe for a few months for fun and to research the cleantech space out there. My time was not as useful as it could have been (from a professional perspective) and I learned a major lesson. Research is very hard, and the more specific you goal, the easier it is to perform it. My research was very vague so it was hard to gather any specific information. Thought I made some great relationships while there.
This year was spent in NY. It was a good year, I enjoyed my time in NYC, but the city is not the lifestyle for me both personally and professionally. Don’t get my wrong, there’s great stuff happening in NYC but I also enjoyed the culture in Boston better, at least as far as cleanech goes, there’s both a sense of competition and collaboration that I noticed lacking in both NYC and SF. Boston is also still small enough, and people are nice enough, to help each other out, without being ridiculous. NYC has some weirdness, there were many times I met someone at an event and they told me they’re looking to invest XX millions of dollars. Let’s be clear, if you meet someone and they tell you about their XX million dollar fund in 4.67 minutes they don’t have an XX million fund. With that said, NYC is also a place where you can be offered a job on the street. That’s how I ended up working with Voltaic Solaire.
As I brainstorm what I’ll be working on and my goals, here are my thoughts.
What I’ll be working on.
- Continuing to make sure that HeatSpring and HeatSpring Magazine are taking over the internet. Creating great articles, well cited industry research and opinion, interviews, creating new trainings, and creating really simple tools to give away. By that way, creating really simple tools is a great way to test our new business concepts.
- At HeatSpring, we’re spinning of a software product called Cammpus. So, I’ll continue to close sales and develop it. We’re focusing on developing relationships with subjective matter experts that are working around the green building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy industry because that is where our existing relationships and track record is. After we’ve dominate this, we’ll move into new verticials.
- Working with NEGPA on geothermal and renewable thermal policy in New England. We’re currently focusing on implementing the New Hampshire thermal REC program, I’m sitting on a thermal efficiency task force in Vermont and Massachusetts is releasing a new geothermal program
- Advising Ground Energy Support. GES is a company that has developed a cheap and accurate way of monitoring ground source heat pumps in real time. I’m working with them to create a performance based contract for residential geothermal contractors because I believe this will reduce significant amounts of risk for property owners and help contractors SELL MORE JOBS!
- Residential and Commercial Sales Consulting for solar thermal, solar PV, and geothermal projects. The name will remain secret for now because the details haven’t been confirmed, but I’ll talk about it later.
- Connect with businesses that are looking to sell B2B products or services to contractors that are selling and installing renewable energy products. I have a lot of relationships and contact with those companies through HeatSpring and it would be great to help those companies out.
- Start working on EnergyBar events again. I want to start building customer centric and sales centric events for people that are not looking for investment and don’t have IP. Most of the cleantech industry industry in terms of renewable energy and energy efficiency is all about customer acquisition. This has nothing to do with IP. EnergyBar started as “Cleantech Kingpins” back in the day at the NEXUS Building Resource Center. We then had an event at Venture Cafe and moved in Greentown Labs when they had just moved. I went away to Europe and Greentown made the event 10 times more awesome then I ever made it. I’m hoping to build on what they made.
- EnergyBar Event Idea #1. I’d like to get 4 people in a room that are responsible for at least $200k in energy spend per year and have them explain exactly what they’re looking to spend their money on.
- EnergyBar Event Idea #2. Applying Search Selling to Cleantech. Too many people are focusing on pitching investors blah blah blah and not doing the hard stuff, selling customers and finding things that large companies will pay lots of money for. Read more about search selling here.
- Connect with the tech scene in Boston. I’ve always been somewhat annoyed by the tech scene, namely because they’re use of buzzwords, it’s focus on investment instead of sales and profit, for tech celebrities and because they’re spending all this brainpower to…sell advertising! But they’re not that bad, namely they’re creating tools, it’s up for another group of people to use those tools to save the world. With that said, I’ve learned a lot about developing and selling tech by spinning off Cammpus from HeatSpring. I’ve always been interested in the overlap of tech and cleantech and I believe there’s a new buzzword for it.
- Doing a series of interviews with the investment community in Boston. I’d like to do some good angel investor interviews to learn what they’re seeing in the space, I’m less interested in the VC perspective, but I’m super interested in what project financiers are looking at. There are SO MANY projects ready to go, and they just need capital. Anyone with cash and a tax appetite should be killing it out there.
If you’re around, let me know.
October 19th, 2012BOSTON -
Next week, I’ll be hosting an event in Boston for homeowners interested in renewable energy. There’s a lot of confusion around which technology is the best, the most efficient, and what exactly the incentives and financials actually look like. Needless to say, the answers to all those questions are “it depends”.
The event is specifically for homeowners. We’re have a few great event partners and contractor who will be there to answer any questions. It’s happening on Thursday afternoon in Cambridge.
Here are more details:
The goal of the workshop is to clearly and blunty address many of the questions that homeowners have about investing in renewable energy in Massachusetts.
The workshop is for property owners that are looking to invest in renewable energy and get basic questions answered.
The workshop will be capped at 20 people.
Focus will be on three technologies
- Solar PV
- Solar Thermal
- Ground Source Heat Pumps
- How each technology works
- What are the best properties and homes for each technology. How do you know if your home works?
- What are the risks for each technology and how are they eliminated
- Top 5 questions to ask any contractor that is doing work
- Detailed construction timelines and project photos so you can see how each technology is actually installed
Finance and Government Incentives
- A Quick review of government incentives available
- Rebates vs tax credits vs production based incentives
- Buying solar cash vs debt vs 3rd party leases. What are the pros and cons of each
- Typicall returns for each technology based on the property
Questions and Answer: Bring them all!
About your Speaker
Chris Williams will be your host. He has designed and installed 300kW of solar PV and plenty of solar thermal and geothermal systems as well. He’s the Chairman of the Government Relations Committee at NEGPA, a consultant at Voltaic Solaire in NYC that recently completed the cities first 100% solar powered building, the Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring, a leading national renewable energy training company and frequently writes and has been quoted in Greentech Media, Renewable Energy World, Forbes, Climate Progress, Cleantechies, and Alternative Energy Stocks.
- Energy Sage
- Green Light Distrikt
- HeatSpring Magazine
- New England Renewable Energy Systems
- S+H Construction
- 360 Chestnut
May 9th, 2012BOSTON -
Basic technical training is key for anyone interested in the renewable energy industry. Whether you are an entrepreneur who wants to sell energy services, a student looking for a job after graduation, a professional career changer, an existing business looking to expand into renewable energy, or a product or service provider that wants to sell products to EPC contractors, you MUST understand the basics of how the technology works.
For this reason, I want to give Green Light Distrikt readers some discounts on geothermal and solar training. Read more about this below.
I firmly believe that the bottleneck in the cleantech industry is NOT technical in nature. The real challenges are policy, marketing, sales and business model innovations. This is what is holding us back. However, basic technical training is extremely useful and needed to understand WHO is the best customer for a specific technology and how to sell them.
The reason I feel confident when talking about, marketing, and selling these technology is because I’ve installed them with my own hands. I’d encourage others in the industry to gain the same experience, in whatever way you can. If you’re in Massachusetts, give Co-op power a call. They have an apprenticeship program for solar thermal, and energy audit field work.
In New England, the Massachusetts Solar PV market is on fire, the thermal renewable industry (solar thermal and geothermal) are also picking up steam in Massachusetts.
Here are a few trainings coming up quickly in Massachusetts that would be useful to anyone who is serious about the industry.
Use the code “GLD” to get $100 off any of the below trainings.
NABCEP Solar Training Boston: This training course is made for people who are new to solar. You’ll learn how to design a solar PV array from a to z, how to quote a project, the installation process, and solar code.
Solar Sales Training: Learn how to sell solar from an expert, Keith Cronin. Keith build and sold his solar company to SunEdison. Keith knows how to sell jobs profitably.
IGSHPA Geothermal Training: The IGSHPA certification is the standard in the industry. In this training, you’ll learn how to design and quote residential and light commercial projects by 1) determining building loading 2) sizing equipment 3) sizing the group loop 4) sizing the distribution system and controls 5) and what sort of equipment so spec in each of the prior steps.
NABCEP Solar Thermal Training Boot Camp: The solar thermal boot camp is similar to the PV boot camp, but just that it’s based on solar thermal systems.
Selling Clean Energy to the Government: The federal government, and specifically the military, has become the largest single renewable energy customer in the US with a goal of 3GW of installed capacity, among various technologies, by 202.
Other Free Resources
Free NABCEP Study Guide. If you’re studying for the NABCEP Solar PV installer or just want an in-depth review of solar basics this will be a good resource for you. If you want to buy the full guide, you can find it here NABCEP Study Guide.
Solar Reading List 101: A useful list of free article on solar sales, marketing, design, installation, policy and finance.
Geothermal Reading List 101: A useful life of free articles on solar sales, marketing, design, inst
April 18th, 2012BOSTON -
This event has already happened, but we’re constantly adding courses and workshop to Green Light Distrikt University. Our 1 day Renewable Energy Workshop is similar to this meetup.
The seminar is for 4 specific groups
- Companies that are or want to be selling energy services to property owners and learn best practices for creating a rockstar sales machine.
- Companies that are developing new B2B products for renewable energy EPC contractors and need to get specific customer feedback, first sales, and access to distribution.
- Companies that need to build cleantech prototypes for investors or beta customers
- Companies that feel their future is in selling their services to the federal government
Here is who will be at the seminar and what they will be discussing.
Chris Williams – That’s me! I’ll be discussing best EPC best practices for creating new business, establish a referral business and making sure projects are profitable. The materials will be based from best practice research completed at HeatSpring. I’ll also be discussing what EPC contractors are looking for in terms of new products and service to help them with their business. This will be useful for companies looking to build products or services and sell directly to EPC contractors.
Ethan Labowitz – Ethan is the founder of the Boston Institute for Clean Energy Prototyping. He’s held workshops in the past and specializes in getting products built fast and much cheaper then private shops. If you need to build an actual physical product, Ethan is your man.
Ben Dunay - Ben is a former Air Force acquisition officer, and he has worked in the defense industry for ten years. Ben now runs bootcampus.com and teaches a course on selling clean energy to the government. He knows exactly how the Defense Department works and what cleantech companies need to do to be successful in the industry.
Background and Demand for the Event
6 Months ago, I created a free HeatSpring course called “How to Make Money in the Renewable Energy Industry”. It’s been a huge success with over 400 attendees.
The basics of the course were 1) technology overview 2) industry dynamics and 3) where the opportunities are.
The training was made for two main groups 1) career changers looking to quickly understand the new market and who want to jumpstart their learning and 2) new and existing contracting companies looking to expand into renewable energy but that need help learning the skills they needed, certifications, licenses, and typical installed costs and profits for solar and geothermal projects.
The reason I’ve decided to do a live seminar is that the level of interaction and ability to answer more specific questions in detail is difficult. Also, a lot of the advice is very nuanced and depends on the situation of the specific person and company, which again is not suited for online material well.
Here’s what’s expected from attendees
We do not want attendee that are going to sit and listen the whole time. We want you to tell us about your business and product in details, and ask good questions so we can help you. We need questions to be asked, products to be displayed. The reason I chose the other instructors along with myself is that a lot of these areas overlap.
- We want a lot of questions to be asked
- We want to hear about the projects or products you’ve already created
- We want to help you make introductions and establish relationships with other participants and people in the industry that can help grow your company.
Here is specifically we all of us (me, Ethan and Ben) want to share with you.
- A technology overview. How solar PV, solar thermal and geothermal systems work. What is the basic design and installation concepts
- The skills a company needs to design and install these projects.
- Typical installed costs for these projects in New England and where you can buy equipment.
- The profile of the best customers for these services and best practices for profitable sales machines.
- Where is the opportunity for new products, tools and services for EPC contractors. What will EPC contractors PAY FOR that will help them with their business
- The most common mistakes companies make when prototyping cleantech products
- Best practices for prototyping
- The most common mistakes companies make when selling products to the federal government
- Why the federal government is the LARGEST customer in the US for renewable energy services
- What a company needs to do to successfully and profitable sell to the government
- An overview of the govt’ RFP process
If you have any questions about the event, please leave a comment below, or feel free to call me at 617 702 2676. And yes, I prefer phone over email.