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June 2018

Calendar Calendar

The Woman-Led Company That Reinvented Solar For Homeowners

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The Woman-Led Company That Reinvented Solar For Homeowners

Post by AlleyRose on Tue Nov 08, 2016 10:27 am

Two months after getting her MBA at Stanford, Lynn Jurich stood next to a giant pumpkin at a county fair near Sacramento, Calif. She tried to flag down families ambling toward the horseshoe pitching contest or the demolition derby in the dusty August heat. Compared to the cushy private equity job she’d held before business school, it felt like another planet.
Finally, a woman who ran a trucking company stopped by. Jurich made her pitch: Her six-month-old startup, Sunrun, would install solar panels on the woman’s roof and charge a fixed monthly rate for energy. She would save up to 20% on energy bills and lock in the rate for 20 years, without having to buy or maintain the panels. At the time, the idea—selling solar power to homeowners as a service—was one no one else had tried and few thought would work.
The woman was nervous about trusting a startup, but Jurich eventually convinced her the returns were worth the risk. Sunrun signed one of its first customers.
Nine years later, the solar-as-a-service model has become the industry norm, and Sunrun has survived a capital squeeze and shifting regulations to emerge as one of the market leaders. It went public in August 2015, when it raised $251 million, and is growing faster than its chief rivals by some measures. Still, with ever-changing rules, tough competitors and jitters on Wall Street, the business continues to run into challenges. Since December 2015, which brought an adverse regulatory ruling in Nevada, Sunrun’s stock price has fallen from a peak of $13.74 to an all-time low of $4.63 last week, cutting the company’s market capitalization from $1.4 billion to $485 million.
On a recent Monday morning, 37-year-old Jurich, Sunrun’s CEO, settled into a chair in her office overlooking San Francisco’s sun-drenched downtown, with champagne bottles left over from the IPO celebration still congregating in a corner, and talked about Sunrun’s rocky journey. “All those people who are just selling something on the Internet? That’s a sales channel, not ‘disruption.’ We’re actually disrupting an industry,” said Jurich, whose laid-back manner betrays her Pacific Northwest roots. She studied science and technology at Stanford, then spent three years investing in financial services and tech companies at private equity firm Summit Partners. She went to business school hoping to become an entrepreneur.

There she met Ed Fenster, now 40, who had worked in private equity for Blackstone and as an executive at a phone insurance company. By early 2007, he was a few months into partnering with his friend Nat Kreamer, a former energy consultant, to start a business selling solar through “power purchase agreements.” Consumers would pay only for energy they used, without paying to install and maintain rooftop panels. (Kreamer left Sunrun in 2009 because the partners had what he called “different visions of how the company would evolve.” He retains a small stake and is now CEO of Spruce, which provides consumer financing for renewable energy systems.)
When Fenster told Jurich about the idea, she signed on. Some companies were already buying solar as a service, but the team realized Sunrun could be the first to focus on homeowners, bringing clean energy to the masses. Homeowners paid more per unit for energy than companies did, and the cofounders predicted that rivals would have a harder time entering the residential market in the long run. Then as now, solar equipment costs were plummeting and electricity prices were rising.

Starting out, Sunrun would finance, monitor and maintain the rooftop panels, while outsourcing sales and installation to existing local solar companies. The economics made sense thanks to a 30% federal solar tax credit. From the beginning, Jurich says, the goal was to become “a huge energy company.”

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