As passionate advocates of solar technology, Max Aram and Chris Blevins want to help residential consumers make smart choices about installing solar energy systems. Their company, PickMySolar.com, is an online marketplace where solar providers bid against each other on residential installations, lowering the cost to homeowners by 25 to 30 percent.
The chaotic state of the solar market hampers widespread adoption of the technology. Residential customers do not know what factors to consider when deciding to go solar. Aram compares the marketing strategy of solar power installers to that of a “used-car-salesman,” which he believes ultimately dissuades homeowners from solar power installation. “I had the idea to create an online platform to help consumers search for the best deal on solar installation,” Aram says. “But it was just an idea I didn’t know how to execute.” He needed help in early 2013, Aram took a course held by the Small Business Development Center at Pacific Coast Regional.
PCR SBDC Business Advisors Martha G. Castro and Harold C. Hart-Nibbrig helped Aram figure out how to monetize his idea, conduct market research, develop a business plan with financial projections, incorporate the business and develop a partnership agreement once Blevins came on board.
Castro showed Aram how to do extensive market research to make sure there was a demand for his idea. “After doing more research in-depth and looking into competitors in the space, we [modified] the business a little bit,” says Aram. Doing research inspired Aram to add more features to the service, such as the ability for homeowners to upload bids they already have from solar installers outside the PickMySolar system. PickMySolar then provides up to two hours of free consultation to assess whether the bids are fair. “At this point, our service is unique-no one else is doing what we’re doing,” states Aram proudly.
After investing $40,000 of their own money in their startup, Aram and Blevins were able to raise $100,000 in convertible debt financing from friends and family. They plan to seek additional capital in the next few months to finance marketing, advertising and hiring key personnel. References from the PCR SBDC also helped PickMySolar earn a coveted space in the Los Angeles CleanTech Incubator. Without marketing, PickMySolar has grown solely on word-of-mouth. Since the beta website launched in January 2014, the company has actively expanded its network of solar installers. Currently, PickMySolar has installers in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties, with plans to expand to all seven Southern California counties by the end of June 2014. Future plans include establishing direct partnerships with financiers to facilitate sales, bringing on taxequity investors to provide their own internal financing options to customers, and expanding to serve the entire state of California by 2015.
Green Concept Group LLC, dba PickMySolar.com
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