What is it like to build a disruptive solar company? David Levine, founder of Geostellar, tells us more about the nation’s first solar marketplace and the future of renewable energy.
What is the story behind Geostellar?
I’m a three-time entrepreneur and constantly think about new ideas. The inspiration for Geostellar came while I was working for a remote sensing company. A client mentioned they spent more on energy than soft commodities and jokingly asked how they could hedge their energy expenses. A light bulb went off because it was a problem I knew how to fix. The next day, I quit my job and put together my technical team, the same team I built my previous startups with.
How did you pick a marketplace as a business model?
When it comes to solar, there’s a lot of confusion. Customers don’t know who to trust and are uncertain about solar equipment companies, installation, and financing. The industry lacks a central place for prospective customers to evaluate their options. As a marketplace, we tackle that core issue. Our slogan, “every home is different, get what’s right for you,” reflects this vision.
What was your biggest obstacle at the beginning?
The solar industry is infamous for its booms and busts, known as the “solar-coaster.” Many people, venture capitalists included, don’t know enough about solar to trust it. Our biggest hurdle was during one of those busts, when a major investor (who invested $14m) completely changed their strategy and dropped their investment.
We re-emerged in 2014 without funding, investors, customers, or assets. Determined to restart, our small team powered through and made it happen.
What is the most exciting part of running Geostellar?
Getting to know our customers. The excitement doesn’t fade—every new solar installation still brings such a rush.
What’s the top challenge of a tech company in the solar industry?
Decide whether you’re a tech company or a solar company. Otherwise, you’ll build the wrong tools and miss an opportunity to disrupt the industry.
Climate change is obviously a “hot topic” and clean energy plays a big role in it. How do politics and policies affect what you do?
You can let politics affect you, or you can focus on your mission. I’d rather engage self-interests than convince people that climate change poses serious threats. We’ve worked with investors who deny climate change as a man-made phenomenon. Learning that we can save the planet by working within people’s existing interests was enlightening.
We can’t commit to the Paris climate accord as a nation, but we can work together to be more sustainable. Geostellar gives people that power.
How do you expect perception around solar energy to change in the next decade?
“Solar energy” will just become “energy.” Solar panels have performance curves similar to Moore’s Law. When computers were first built, it was thought there was only a market for five computers. People still treat solar this way. In the next decade, I believe solar will be the default energy source, simply because of how efficient it is and how much more efficient we can make it.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while building Geostellar?
I’m still surprised at how hard it is to build a company. It doesn’t get easier. You just have to keep showing up every day.
A big learning I experienced was the importance of prioritization. In 2012, we adopted a lean philosophy. By prioritizing one thing at a time, we cut out inefficiencies and unlocked so much energy.
What is a fact about renewable energy that most people aren’t aware of?
It’s less expensive than regular electricity. Utility companies have trained people to think of solar as an upsell by framing it as a “green-up” add-on. The reality is that full solar installation can easily save you six figures over the course of its lifetime.
Why equity crowdfunding?
I want to build a company alongside investors who personally resonate with our mission. Crowdfunding is a unique opportunity for customers to also be investors.
Do you have any daily routines you share with your team that work for you?
The most important routine is our daily engineering and product standup. Each morning, we run through what is blocked and current priorities. We also have a policy to never pull the plug on a project someone is working on.
Who is a role model you look up to?
Donald Trent Jacobs, author of Primal Awareness. Everyday, he fights for indigenous justice, the planet, and a worldview that is being lost. I find that so inspiring.
What companies would you love to be able to invest in?
Crew, a co-op offering home solutions that are healthy for the planet.
I’d love to crowdfund an affordable electric motorcycle. Any takers on building such a company?
Learn more about Geostellar here.