Arthur Souritzidis: CEO, Momentum Solar

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Arthur Souritzidis is the Chief Executive Officer of Momentum Solar, one of the nation’s fastest-growing privately held solar energy companies. Arthur joined Momentum in 2010, became a partner in 2011 and CEO in 2012. He quickly transformed Momentum from a local New Jersey business to a top tier national player.  Momentum’s footprint servicing homeowners and business owners now expands into New York and Southern California, with plans for several additional territories earmarked for the near future. Momentum Solar, which has grown to over 550+ employees since its inception, was named on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the nation and one of Solar Power World’s Top 500 North American Solar Contractors. More recently, Arthur was recognized by Forbes as one of their “30 Under 30 Energy” entrepreneurs. According to Forbes, Arthur stood out as one of “The Best Minds Planning How to Power Our Country”.

How did you get into the industry?

I ended up exposing myself to the industry after college. I had studied Finance to prepare me for a career on Wall Street but when I graduated in 2010 during the height of the recession, the clean energy space was showing economic growth. It was then that I met Cameron Christensen who was a sole proprietor of a small solar company. I immediately identified an opportunity to bring renewable power to the mass market, and we joined forces. I became a student of the industry, educated myself on the solar incentives available, and then helped engineer a financial product that quadrupled the company’s revenue within just a few months. This is when I knew I wanted to help the business takeoff, ended up earning 50% ownership, and helped grow the business to where it is today. We’re currently operating in New Jersey, New York, and California, with two additional territories to be launched inside the next quarter and more markets throughout the balance of the year.

Any emerging industry trends?

One thing is for certain in the solar industry today and going forward— the cost of materials (panels in particular), is continually dropping. In parallel, we have evidence that points towards commodity costs, and therefore utility prices that will be rising in all the regions that we operate. With the price of panels dropping more than 20% just in the last year, more homeowners will start leaning towards purchase and loan options when switching to solar. This trend paves the way for solar firms to restructure their business models to cater to the emerging trends. Commercial businesses will benefit from it as well, as business owners will have a shorter return on investment without having to depend on overinflated and highly volatile incentives. This will help businesses save even more money over time by adopting greener operations.

Another emerging trend will be the future of solar: Microgrids. The implementation of battery storage will allow microgrids to operate autonomously from the grid and be crucial in helping insulate us from the exposure to net metering being compromised. It’s a practical solution to an inevitable energy evolution. The industry still has a long road ahead before a surge in this kind of harnessing, but it’s unavoidable as solar continues to edge out traditional energy generation.  

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

In addition to solar panels becoming more affordable, which is beginning to shift the overall business model throughout the industry, technological advancements have been made which serve as a window into the future of solar as we know it. Panels are more efficient which allows customers to have a higher portion of their electric bill offset by solar and heightens our value proposition. There is an increase in customer demand now that more people are aware of the benefits of solar, with adoptions steadily increasing year over year. Depending on the markets, we need to make sure we bring the right product to the table that has the appropriate measure of value for our customer base. This will vary based on state and utility incentives and the cost of electricity in a particular region.  

As utility prices increase and procurement costs continue to decline, many new markets that previously did not make sense are becoming increasingly more viable. As this scenario comes to light, the economics of solar make sense in the absence of heavy state and utility subsidies that the industry once depended on. It’s critical for any business that will succeed in this space to have a high degree of financial sophistication and strong operational throughput to earn the scarce capital being deployed in our industry.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

When I joined the team, Cameron was a sole proprietor of the business. I took over the sales process while he focused on operations. In our first few years together we purposely operated lean, while envisioning what we wanted the perfect solar company to be. With this vision, we strategically positioned our business for organic growth. The inspiration, aside from the desire to run a successful business, comes from the environmental impact it has on society. Solar is proven to materially reduce carbon emissions. Why not conduct a successful business where we’re able to not only challenge the current cost of power, but also mitigate the pollution crisis with a cleaner energy solution? This is what inspires us. We are making a difference, while employing some of the most passionate people I know — the Momentum team lives and breathes solar every day.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

For the first 7 years we were in business, we focused on leveraging residential and commercial solar in our home state of New Jersey. In 2016 we expanded into New York, beginning with Long Island and the five boroughs, which was an exciting expansion for us. We also now have a strong presence in Southern California which is positioning us for further West Coast Expansion, and several other territories are earmarked for the near future. We plan to double our workforce by the end of this year, and look forward to offering affordable solar to homeowners and business owners throughout the nation. We have a diligent team working to analyze state incentives throughout the solar market and pinpoint where we will find the most sustainable value for our customer base and underlined business. This is only the tip of the iceberg for Momentum Solar.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

For many years, we operated lean and decided to never grow on debt but rather our own previous profits to fuel future organic growth. We were a steward of every dollar which kept us grounded and was a major driving force behind how we’ve experienced notable growth over the past year and a half. There are multiple reasons for this growth which required carefully crafting a structure that would position us for success. We established operational foundations to fine-tune our overall business process, which required extensive vetting of the right vendors to procure a seamless supply chain and secure the most competitive and sustainable landscape to set us apart from our competitors, all while ensuring the quality of our products and services were never compromised.

We started out slow but steady, studied our product, and eventually found ourselves in the position to greatly increase our impact on both the environment and our customer base. We started seeing our workforce double and at times even triple quarter over quarter, from 2015 through 2016. We gradually expanded after quadrupling our revenue between 2014 and 2015, and then catapulted an increase of about 360% by the end of 2016. Before we knew it, we had become a disrupter in the industry.

Ultimately, success is about running a business with integrity and how many people you can elevate. The more people we make successful, the more successful we in turn will be.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

It was very difficult in the beginning to establish myself as a legitimate professional while working closely with large commercial contracts. At 22 years old, I was selling 7-figures worth of contracts to a single client with no support from any other sales professionals, engineers, or anyone with industry experience. I soon realized that I had to be highly informed about the solar industry and create pithy presentations to circumvent clients’ initial perception — that youth and inexperience would result in a poor investment in solar, or worse — that I may end up out of business. My youth never worked against me after this, as I made sure that I was well informed and prepared to bring the best product and financing options to the table. Age became less of a factor as time went on because it was a very young industry where most professionals had less than a decade of experience. Our track records quickly gained credibility in the marketplace as more and more people became educated on the subject.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

As energy rates rise, we offer cleaner, more affordable power to homeowners and business owners, with the only way to achieve long-term price protection.  What sets us apart is that as we continue to grow, we still treat all homes as our own and all customers as family. We customize every system to ensure it achieves the maximum possible offset; in fact, 95% of our customers achieve a 100% offset with our product offering. We also offer roofing at-cost if a repair or replacement is needed prior to completing a solar installation. Solar is about the customer and future generations — it’s not about us.  Our goal is to help homeowners and business owners go solar, and we will help them overcome obstacles to get there. We're in it for the long haul, providing the right product for each specific home with a personalized customer experience.

How do you motivate others?

As I’ve seen the company grow over the years, there’s one thing that never changes: Momentum Solar employs some of the most passionate individuals I’ve ever encountered. Many of us have been in solar for a long time, and there’s something to be said for that. We truly believe in helping reduce reliance on fossil fuels, which ultimately reduces our carbon footprint and helps preserve our Earth for generations. To be able to achieve this while helping consumers save money and achieve long-term price protection on their power bills is what resonates as a "no-brainer" with our customer base, and is truly inspiring for me and my team. The reality is — sometimes work DOES feel like work, but when we mapped out the plans for our new headquarters, we kept that in mind. We have gym facilities on site, as well as a basketball court and putting green if anyone here ever needs to relieve some stress. Last summer, we treated the whole company to a river cruise around the Hudson to celebrate how far we’d come. At Momentum, everyone knows they can work hard and reap the fruits of their labor. Our leadership here believes in rewarding our employees for the work they do day in and day out. It helps us maintain a level of office morale that’s second-to-none.

Career advice to those in your industry?

You need to be able to get up and go to work every day knowing that you’re making a difference, and that you love what you do — which should go without saying. Know your product, study it, and collaborate with other passionate individuals that are just as driven as you are to build the business successfully. There will be hurdles along the way, but power through.

This is what I learned from the obstacles I faced as a young entrepreneur in a newer industry:   Be confident and do not recognize failure. There will be numerous setbacks when building a business, and at many times, it will feel debilitating. It is critical not to recognize challenging times as failure, which implies a permanent fate, but instead as a necessary learning curve — each obstacle is a stepping stone towards success. It is very difficult at times and takes mental conditioning to edge out doubt in the wake of adversity, but it is imperative. Success can only exist in the absence of doubt. Once you truly believe these simple principles, I genuinely believe the sky is the limit. You will be able to create great things and provoke meaningful change to hundreds if not thousands of lives, including your own.