“Expect Peaks And Valleys” With Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun
“We’re turning rooftops green to keep the earth green, and we’re continuing to advocate, educate and innovate for a cleaner future. And we can do it while saving homeowners money and not asking them to sacrifice any comfort.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Jurich. Lynn is chief executive officer and co-founder of Sunrun (Nasdaq: RUN), the largest dedicated residential solar, storage and energy services company in the United States. Today, with more than $3 billion in installed solar systems across 22+ states, Sunrun is revolutionizing how consumers get electricity. Through its solar-as-a-service model, Sunrun provides clean energy to homeowners at little to no upfront cost and at a savings to traditional electricity.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started my career as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley at a growth equity firm where I spent my days evaluating hundreds of business models and financing structures. However, I felt like something was missing. At Stanford the focus of my degree was how science and technology can change big societal institutions, and I knew I ultimately wanted to have more direct involvement leveraging technology to create simple solutions to difficult problems. That combined with my lifelong passion for nature and the environment set me on the path toward solar.
It was in my second year of business school when I made a bet with my then husband-to-be to see who could get their startup off the ground first. We decided whoever had the best opportunity would pursue it, while the other took a steady job. That opportunity turned out to be Sunrun.
Together with my former classmate, Edward Fenster, Sunrun was born out of the idea to offer solar as a service to homeowners as a way to provide affordable clean energy to the masses. We launched the company in Ed’s tiny attic in 2007, eventually went on to raise $300 million in venture capital and went public in 2015. We now employ more than 3,000 employees and provide reliable, clean energy to about 150,000 families across the country.
Yitzi: What is the most memorable or most interesting experience you’ve had since you started your company?
My most memorable experience was only six months after starting Sunrun. Meeting with local homeowners to discuss the product directly was the best way to get insights, so I was at the Yolo County Fair in Sacramento in the Sunrun booth next to a giant pumpkin. I was trying to flag down families for their attention. After a countless number of no’s and general lack of eye contact, I finally convinced a woman who ran a trucking company to give solar a try. I never imagined this was where I would sign one of my first customers, but in the early days of the company, county fairs and farmer’s markets proved to be a gold mine for quick and direct feedback.
Yitzi: What does your company do?
Sunrun is the largest dedicated residential rooftop solar company in the country. We pioneered the solar as a service model, which helps people go solar for little or no money down. Sunrun owns, installs and maintains the system and customers only pay for the energy the system generates. Customers not only save money on their energy bills with Sunrun, but can also prepare for outages with Sunrun Brightbox, a home battery that stores energy and helps keep the lights on during utility outages.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness or positivity into the world?
I am a bonafide clean air freak. I grew up in the woods of the Northwest and relish in nature. When I went to China for a summer internship, I saw the impact of pollution first hand. The skyline was perpetually obscured by smog and people would wear white masks that would quickly turn gray from all the soot and dust in the air. This experience made me realize that a clean environment should be a basic human right. As of 2017, Sunrun has deployed more than one gigawatt of clean, renewable energy. We’re turning rooftops green to keep the earth green, and we’re continuing to advocate, educate and innovate for a cleaner future. And we can do it while saving homeowners money and not asking them to sacrifice any comfort.
Yitzi: What are five things you wish someone had told you when you first started your business?
Ignore the naysayers
When Sunrun was just getting off the ground, we knew smart businesses like Walmart were already buying solar-as-a-service, but we realized that Sunrun could be the first to focus on homeowners. I ran our idea by several industry experts and each person flat out said it would never work. Doubt filled my mind, but it also kicked my competitiveness into overdrive. Banks can deny your loans and investors can dismiss your pitch all they want, but if you know you have a disruptive idea you also need to have the confidence to push it forward. We got our start in an attic, but today Sunrun sits on the rooftops of thousands of homes.
Leave your ego at the door
Founding a company doesn’t mean sitting in a cushy chair and giving orders. It means being in the trenches and spending your Saturday afternoons staffing a booth at a county fair to recruit customers. While it may not seem like a glorified task at the beginning, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I got to speak with my customers face-to-face, hear their input directly and lead my company more effectively as a result.
Cultivate diversity of thought
Welcoming diverse perspectives is crucial to any successful venture. Starting a new company takes creativity. Sometimes you need to get scrappy. Having a team of people from various backgrounds with a variety of viewpoints can only help uncover new ways of approaching difficult challenges.
Expect peaks and valleys
You can plan all you want, but nothing can prepare you for the unexpected. Once we established our foothold in the solar market, Sunrun became the leader in residential solar and it became very difficult for any competitors to fast-follow. But then in 2011, the government dramatically changed the tax credits that incentivized solar power. We went from 100 new customers a month to just nine a month. While it was a scary time, we pulled through by remembering the enthusiasm and excitement we heard from customers in the early days of Sunrun. So we stuck it out. Was it easy? No. But now Sunrun is in a place where we can sell power to tens of millions of households. Sometimes surviving the rollercoaster sets you up for success down the road.
Find your happy place
Starting a new business will be hard work. It’s exciting, challenging and nerve-wracking all at once. It’s important to stay grounded by allocating time for the things you love. For me, I use meditation to reflect and bring myself to a place of creativity. It’s become a crucial business tool in helping me focus on what’s most important, greet others with openness, and improve my performance and positivity.
Yitzi: Who in the world would you most like to talk to/share a meal with? He or she might just see this.
I would love to grab dinner with Tina Fey. She’s the entire package — humor, wit, creativity, intelligence and confidence. And sometimes you just need to laugh.
Yitzi: This was fantastic. Thank you!