Editor’s Note: This is the first of our “RoC Startup Series” where we’ll be interviewing some of the most exciting startups that are currently live on Return on Change.
Geostellar is an online marketplace where homeowners can find and compare solar energy installation and financing plans. Recent improvements in technology, increasing environmental awareness, and developing production areas indicate the advent of solar energy as an attainable standard, rather than an expensive luxury. Geostellar has caught onto this wave of interest by connecting homeowners with the best deal on solar energy by analyzing and personalizing installation and financial plans for consumers. We recently chatted with David Levine, CEO of Geostellar, to discuss the conception, execution, and future of Geostellar.
Take a look below for the interview to learn how Geostellar was born, why we should care about solar panels, and his advice for other entrepreneurs out there.
(1) Your previous entrepreneurship endeavors such as Gamebryo, Ultraprise, and HuskyLabs vary across different sectors (video game tech, financial products, web design & internet integration company). How and when did you come up with the idea for Geostellar?
Interestingly, Geostellar is really a combination of the others, and it’s largely the same team. We use 3D shading simulations based on “ray tracing” from the video game industry, evaluating solar finance options is a lot like the loan exchange we developed at Ultraprise and our UX, social & SEO experience began back at HuskyLabs, where we developed some of the first major Web sites on the budding Internet.
The missing piece was an understanding of remote sensing, geospatial technologies and big data.
At Lanworth (now part of Reuters-Thomson – a company that used satellite imagery to build acreage and yield models for corn soy and wheat crops) I ran sales & business development. I was in a meeting w/ the VP Procurement for Dean Foods. He asked if there was a way we could help him hedge energy purchases, which were higher than soft commodities. Bingo! I knew that’s what I needed to do next. That was the Eureka moment – using big data and remote sensing and geospatial analysis to model energy investments.
(2) Where is Geostellar currently available in the US?
We cover the Continental US and Hawaii.
(3) Why should people consider purchasing solar panels for their homes?
We boil it down to four reasons.
1. Money for your pocket: in most areas, on most houses, solar energy is less expensive than conventional electricity from the grid. You simply save money.
2. Power for your home: energy independence is important. It feels really good to not be dependent on the electric grid. We have solar panels and batteries in our home, so that when power goes down, we still have heat, water, refrigeration, lights and plugs to charge our phones and iPads.
3. Love for your planet: it is critical that we reduce our carbon pollution. The utility grid feedstocks such as coal and natural gas release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Our habitat matters! For all life on the planet.
4. Glory for your deeds: solar is an excellent way to show your contributing, that you’re a leader, a trendsetter. Panels on your roof says loud and clear that you stand one of the good guys.
(4) Is there a customer story you’d specifically like to highlight and the experience they had with Geostellar?
I’m a big fan of Ben from Austin, Texas. He is a software engineer for LG, and really geeked out on the whole process. He’s so articulate, we sent Pete, our social media guy, down to interview him: http://geostellar.com/solar-stories/austin
I really like the ones who challenge us – some dig into the technology (like Ben), some ask scores of questions about financing (how much money to put down, lease vs loan, term of loan, applying for incentives…) one customer sent a series of emails and by the end of it we tallied 90 questions! When the really serious financial people and the really serious technical people make the decision, we know we’ve done our job!
(5) Any exciting next steps for Geostellar?
Yes! We’re introducing some really cool partnerships, where homeowners can increase the positive impact of their purchase. One coming up in the next few weeks is a relationship with Trees for the Future, where for every home that goes solar, we plant 5,000 trees! We have other options coming online soon after we can’t talk about yet.
(6) Any suggestions for people who are thinking of having solar panels installed in their homes?
If you can afford to pay cash, you should. And if you choose to finance, look into home improvement loans from your local bank. Compare them with national loans and leases. You can often do better with a regular loan than with something marketed as “solar” loan or “solar” lease.
(7) Any suggestions for those who are raising capital online?
Raising capital online since the JOBS Act makes it much easier to spread the word, get potential investors engaged and provide information. BUT – you still have to hustle like crazy. Fundraising will always take a one-on-one touch. You need to bring your own network to bear, enroll people in your mission and cause, explain the value of your product as well as the possible returns for the investment. Return on Change really helps getting all the people organized. It just doesn’t end there. Then you have to be working as hard as you can to get people to consider the offering and address all their questions and concerns. There will be a lot of things you didn’t think of!
Interested in getting involved with Geostellar? They’re currently live on the Return on Change platform so check them out at https://www.returnonchange.com/Geostellar!