Last week I sat down with Tim Padden, founder of Austin-based Revolve Solar to find out what's up with his fast-growing company. With 500% year-over year growth there's something good going on. Revolve has been named one of the Top 10 solar installers in California and has had a lot of press attention in the last six weeks. I wanted to be the first to interview Tim, on his home turf in Austin.
Tim launched Revolve Solar in Austin in Feb 2012 and a month later he brought on his first staff person, long-time friend and colleague Jerrett Goodale. "I've known Jerrett and his wife since they were teenagers. They are like my family." Oh, and Jerrett was also the top salesman at Tim's last company. In Revolve's first year, which was mostly focused on developing systems and structures, they hired 10 people and did just under $2M in business. In the last 6 months? They jumped to over 75 people on staff and are on target to finish the year with 85 staffers and $10M in revenue. Tim says he expects to have a staff of 150 by end of next year and to increase sales by yet another 500% to $50M in revenue.
I had heard a fraction of these details in passing over the last year and had mentioned to Tim early in 2013 that he should contact Austin Business Journal's Fast 50 group, which recognizes the fastest-growing companies in Austin. When I brought up the just-published 2013 list during our interview he said, "I know. You told me I should apply for the Fast 50, but we were too busy growing to pursue anything that wasn't taking care of business! When the Fast 50 came out I was bummed knowing where we would have landed, but we'll still be growing fast next year."
Tim revealed that the keys to their success and rapid growth, (besides a LOT of hard work), are having a team with deep solar industry experience (average 8 years each) and being a customer-centric company. He said, "The customer focus is a big difference with us. Most of us come from a companies where if the customers aren't happy you don't go very far." Revolve makes it easy for everyone to understand the value of solar and gives them a variety of ways to access it: outright purchase, leasing or other financing.
"Our goal as a company is to get our pricing down to grid parity as fast as possible and blow away any roadblocks to adoption-whether they are cost, information, or financing. The price of solar has dropped dramatically in the last year and a half, from $4 a watt to $3 a watt, and we are continually working to push that price down. The lower it is, the more markets are available to us nationally, and the more customers win."
"Commercial solar is an easy next step for us because a lot of the crew came from a commercial background." Tim adds, they are currently quoting about $8M worth of commercial jobs. When asked if they are going to get into the community solar game Tim answered, "Yes! I especially like the concept of solar gardens for subdivision builders."
Revolve Solar has really been attracting talent the last couple of month. Senior staff at major solar brands are quitting their high-salary jobs to join Tim's startup. He shares, with surprise, "We have some of the top players in the industry coming on board in Q4. These people are coming to us and saying 'We want to work with you.'" It's not hard for me to believe. People who love solar and want to be in a company with real opportunities for growth and broad impact will be angling to get on teams demonstrating market momentum.
Revolve Solar now has offices in Austin, TX (also serving San Antonio), Vacaville, CA, and Redding, CA. They are currently in the process of opening offices in Chico, CA and in the Bay Area, and in the first quarter of 2014 they will be opening in other states (to be announced). They are quickly becoming a national company and have plans to open 60 markets over the next three years.
Actually, national may not be the limit for Revolve Solar. Tim and several members of his team have a solid background in international business and he sees, "huge international opportunities ahead. Asian countries are realizing that energy is, and will be, an even worse bottleneck in the future and therefore they are responding to renewable programs. We are starting to see feed-in-tariffs in southeast Asian countries."
Of course I love hearing about a fast-growing company that is helping the planet get off of fossil-fuel energy, and it's even cooler when it's owned by a friend. But I still probed to ask some tough questions about their operations and was pleased with both Tim's answers and openness to expanding what they do to be a socially and environmentally responsible business.
- First, Revolve Solar is committed to being a low-emissions company. The sales people all drive the 50-mpg Prius. Besides being eco-friendly, it pays for itself," he quips, "In our first month we were using Jerrett's Tahoe to do sales calls and burned through $1,800 worth of gas. The next month we got our first Prius." Padden estimates they save $1000/month having salespeople drive the Prius. They plan to add electric vehicles to the fleet – vehicles with solar marketing power built right in.
- Though it is not required in Texas, Revolve carries worker's compensation insurance for its staff and it is working on expanding benefits packages right now. "Most of our staff have families, and we want to make sure they are taken care of," said Tim.
- They are in dialog with the Austin Aquarium about installing a solar education area to reach the thousands of kids that will go through the attraction.
- Revolve also minimizes carbon-intensive travel by using Skype — a lot. "Any business can do more Skyping and less traveling without investing a penny," says Tim.
- His staff (at my suggestion) is looking into becoming certified as an Austin Green Business Leader and even possibly writing his corporate charter to become an official B-Corporation.
Tim says they are finally at a point where they can hire someone to take on non cash-flow-generating and non-installation projects, like looking into certifications, community engagement, and garnering recognition for the company, such as the Fast 50. No doubt there will be more positive recognition for Revolve Solar in the years to come.
[Full disclosure, Tim is a life-long-friend of my husband's, but Revolve Solar is a partner of Austin EcoNetwork and also happens to be the fastest-growing company I've heard of in Austin's green space.]