Here is my journey:
A fork in the road is a common metaphor for important decisions in one’s life.
For me, a roof (not a fork) is a good symbol. When on a roof, you are standing on the work done by others, you have an expansive view of world around you, and there are risks for making the wrong decision.
And for me, the course of my life changed on a roof.
I was volunteering with other dads at my kids’ school to build an expansion on a class room. While up on the roof with hammers in hand, a couple of the dads and I brainstormed ideas new companies. A lot of bad ideas were discussed, but eventually, the hot sun inspired this idea: a solar company.
Soon after, so we launched First Light Solar Energy (FLS Energy) in 2007, and I began my journey as a sustainable entrepreneur.
With some good initial luck, we secured the Proximity Hotel as an early client. The owner, Dennis Quaintance, was building what would become the first LEED Platinum hotel in the United States. Initially, Dennis wanted us restrict the size of the roof-top solar system so guests would not be able to see the solar panels from the ground.
As reporters from National Geographic, the New York Times, and others wrote about Dennis’ sustainable hotel, they were drawn to the solar energy project on the roof. Although energy efficiency is cost-effective, it can’t be seen or touched. The solar energy system became a symbol of the owner’s commitment to sustainability and the crown jewel atop the hotel.
So Dennis had a change of heart, and he instructed us to bring the solar panels out to the edge of the roof so guests could see them as they drove up to the hotel. In fact, the solar panels became a key part of the hotel’s brand.
From Good to Great
It was two years into our company, when a friend gave me a copy of Jim Collin’s famous book on business, Good to Great. The book opened me up to the world of entrepreneurship and good business practices. It sparked the realization that I needed a community – mentors, teachers, and other entrepreneurs to guide me in the process of growing a fast-growth company.
Once I began to seek assistance, I experienced the incredible support of the entrepreneurial community. With advice and guidance from our network, our company doubled in size year after year.
And, we continued to soak up advice from others. My partners and I found coaching from a local small business accelerator. I joined a mastermind group sponsored by the CEO Project and Inc Magazine. We got coaching from our investors. And I read entrepreneur books and magazines voraciously, drinking up the collective wisdom of business leaders from across the globe.
By 2011, we ranked as the 46th fastest growing company in the United States according to the Inc 500 list. Under my tenure as CEO, we grew the company to nearly $100 million in annual revenue, before we sold a majority stake of the company in 2013. I am proud to say that the founders, early employees, partner companies, and investors all did very well.
Our success is directly attributable to the support, coaching, and challenges that we received from our network of experienced entrepreneurs. In fact, I have never been part of a more generous community.
My Personal Tipping Point, Passion, and Purpose
After my experience leading a fast-growth sustainable company, I began advising and sometimes investing in entrepreneurial companies. My philosophy is that sustainable entrepreneurs are changing the world. Through my company, Tipping Point Renewable Strategies, I help them do it faster and better.
Over the last 5 years, I have found a sense of purpose in cultivating young entrepreneurial companies in the same way that I was supported by the entrepreneurial network. Through Tipping Point, I have helped dozens of wind, solar, electric vehicle, biofuel, climate, and software companies to become more profitable and resilient. Sometime I even step in as a “TEO” or temporary executive officer, where I join a management team for a period of time to help them break through the barriers to their growth.
I am inspired to launch the Heart of Waraba to facilitate connection, support, and community among sustainable entrepreneurs. I look forward to shining the light on outstanding sustainable companies across the globe. Here is just one example. James McMahon started an incredibly cool company, The Climate Service, which has created the discipline of the Climanomics. The company analyzes the risk and benefit of climate change in an investment or real-estate portfolio.
I began advising James in the fall of 2017, and eventually joined the company as a TEO for ten months. I helped James establish and maintain scalable systems, raised capital, oversaw a fruitful early sales process, and played a critical role in the company’s early success.
I believe I learned as much from James as I contributed to his company. This shared learning is true for my interactions with all of my clients. Through my roles as advisor, board member, TEO, and investor, I have had the privilege of seeing entrepreneurial companies from many different angles.
And I have had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs from all over the world from Australia to Uzbekistan and Ghana to Great Britain.
The Global Sustainability Network
In 2014, a mentor, David Love, introduced me to the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF), a business networking organization with impressive members from all over the world. On its landing page, here is how SIBF describes itself: We speak 60 different languages – the chief one is business.
Although SIBF is made up of business people with diverse perspectives, I found that there was a strong interest is sustainable business and entrepreneurship across national and political boundaries. In response, I pulled together members active is sustainable businesses to launch a Global Sustainability Network within SIBF.
The purpose of a Global Sustainability Network is to connect SIBF members worldwide to facilitate the creation and growth of business opportunities related to renewable energy and sustainability.
The Global Sustainability Network has created something surprising: magic. In its first six months, network members met every other week on a Zoom video conference call to create connections and plan activities. We created a virtual summit to find areas of common interest and a spotlight series to shares members’ entrepreneurial stories.
The magic happens every time the group convenes. The entrepreneurs on the video conference calls are all deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be “face to face” in real time with people who shared a common interest in global sustainable business. This magic was my inspiration for the Heart of Waraba so that we could create more connections and support among sustainable entrepreneurs at every stage of business.
Entrepreneur’s Candy and Wrapper
In 2018, I participated in a Middle East Learning Academy (MELA) in Jordan as a facilitator. As that event, I heard Victor Antonio, a world renown keynote speaker on sales and influence. Victor likened culture to the wrapper of a candy in his sales presentation to entrepreneurs from across the Middle East. Underneath the wrapper, there is a core to all of us as humans that is not dependent on culture.
I would like to borrow Victor’s metaphor. The Global Sustainability Network dialogue led me to the insight that there are core principles of entrepreneurship. The wrapper is the process of entrepreneurship which changes from culture to culture and country to country. But I am interested in the candy which represents the core truth of entrepreneurship wherever you are in the world.
The Heart of the Matter
I am on journey. I want to be in dialogue and better understand sustainable entrepreneurs across the globe. I don’t care so much about the process of entrepreneurship or business statistics related job growth or economic forecasting.
I am interested in issues at heart of sustainable entrepreneurship, the core truths that speak to entrepreneurs everywhere. I am not just interested in the heart of the issues, but the heart of the entrepreneur.
I hope to learn about issues at the heart of the entrepreneur with a community of sustainable innovators worldwide. As I discovered early in my career, we entrepreneurs are an extremely generous community. We are each carrying a torch and we want to use the warmth and light to help others to succeed.
Our world today has many challenges and there is so much that seems to divide us. Business and international commerce is a common thread that ties us together. The more that we can help sustainable entrepreneurs to fulfill their dream the more this world will be connected, prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to your collaboration on this journey.