0:00:45 – Dakota
Hey guys, this is Dakota from Community Solar Authority, and this is episode one of our FastPass podcast series. We’ve tried to shoot these in the past before and we’re considering this a restart. So officially launching the podcast today. Today I’m also joined by my two business partners, which I’m super excited to introduce to you guys on the phone or on Zoom Rather. I have both of my partners, andrew Shaver as well as Nathaniel Bruno, and together we created Community Solar Authority almost about five years ago now.
Guys, I just looked at my LinkedIn the other day and I saw that and it’s kind of crazy to think about. Yeah, we’re a half a decade into this already. I think a good place for us to start is to maybe talk a little bit about who we are and maybe where we came from as individuals, and then we can kind of take it into our origin story, if that’s cool, and I’m more than happy to kick it off. You know, I was born and raised in upstate New York, a little town called Hannibal, next to Lake Ontario, one of the seven Great Lakes, and over the course of my life I’m about to turn 30 in September I have moved around 40 times. In fact I was just counting yesterday moving back to St Louis, where I’m at now, and kind of currently commute back and forth to New York. It was the 41st time I’ve ever moved in my life, which is a lot of suitcases.
I actually got the opportunity to live with Andy a few times as we built our relationship. You know, andy and I have known each other for over 10 years now. But yeah, I was born in a small town and really I got my start. I handed my parents my two year degree. I asked them to leave me alone because I wanted to figure it out. I was the kid who had the bedsheets over his head at night, looking at like jobs that make six figures without a degree, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get that and for me I started knocking out doors and doing direct sales, which really built a foundational level of skills for entrepreneurship, say Alice, communication, marketing, the whole thing and from there got into the energy game, met Andrew, worked together for, you know, five years before we started CSA and it’s been an amazing right to that. So now I’ll kick it over to you.
0:03:09 – Nat
Okay, thank you, dak. I think I’m the old man of the group, I’m 41. I’ve been in this game for what feels like forever. I mean it’s almost coming up on two decades. But I grew up in Bethesda, maryland, went to school up in New Hampshire for business administration and was trained as a web developer right out of college and I was living with my parents and just ward with life and I said I cannot be stuck inside a little cubicle for the rest of my life and I had this entrepreneurship urge that was just kind of waiting to come out. My buddy from my school said hey, I’m moving to Denver. You want to come with? I said I’m in. So we moved to Denver and I bought a junk removal and moving franchise and it was called College Hunks Hauling Junk. I actually grew up with the guys in the Washington DC area and I was the third franchise in the nation.
I did not realize how one. I was almost about to go out of business, but also the franchisor was almost about to go out of business. We were always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and it was my first real business and I was aggrined. I had no idea truly what I was doing. I was learning on the job and was swimming upstream for basically four years just trying to make it, and it all switched and changed when I found my coach. His name was Chuck Blakeman and he wrote a great book called Making Money is Killing your Business and he said very simply Create Systems and then hire and train your replacement. And that’s exactly what I did and within about three months of getting him as a coach, I took off on vacation to Europe for a whole month and the business ran smoothly without me and when I came back all my friends were asking hey, how do you do this with your business? Teach me how to do that with their businesses.
So I started doing consulting and from there a whole bunch of different businesses came out of that. One was a cell phone signal boosting company. I started buying and selling raw, vacant land out in West Texas and I also at one point said, screw it all, I’m gonna sell all my businesses and go live in a van for a few years. And I basically drove around the US and saw friends, met new friends, went on Epic Ski Vacations and just really did whatever I wanted. I lived by the beach in Venice Beach and Pacific Beach in San Diego for almost two years and it was a wonderful life.
So my role within CSA is that I’m the automation’s expert. I’m the guy that’s combining all the different systems together so that we don’t end up having to hire somebody to do these tasks Oftentimes it can be done with software and I’m also the operations guy. So I’m always behind the scenes keeping everything together the payroll, finances, contractor management, hire and fire and all the stuff that’s not glamorous but needs to get done. And yeah, I’m oftentimes not in front of the camera, behind the camera. So thank you, dex.
0:06:53 – Dakota
Amazing, yeah, and that so much pops up for me from those stories. Most of it I know, some of it I didn’t know. I feel like we could just take that down a whole rabbit hole of extra episodes of just interviewing that about his life. I feel like go ahead, andy. Yeah, no same, I admire a lot of that. I think that’s awesome. Wish I had the so-called bowls to do that and just live somewhere and just ski year round or do whatever I wanted. I was always very grounded and never took those leaps, but I think that’s awesome. So I’m a Buffalo native, hence the Buffalo Bill stuff back here and my sweet Buffalo on the wall Grew up in Western New York.
Live there followed us about 16. We’d go over Syracuse, spent some time in Central New York. My first job, I guess, is probably the best place to start. My first real job is what I would consider outside of the restaurant industry delivery pizza, which I’ve all done. I am kind of a jack-o-mall trade. I’ve done all different types of things, but my first real job that I would consider would be I opened a brand new Best Buy location and that’s when I really understood that sales were built for me or I was built for sales I’m the best way to say it. I learned very, very quickly that I had a knack for connecting with people and structuring conversations and figuring out what people’s needs were and finding the best possible solution to fulfill those needs. I’ve all types of awards and accolades within the Best Buy company on the national level and really lend the charge from a sales perspective for our store and we had a lot of cool things happen where we were number one in the company in multiple different directions that I was heading. But Best Buy really, really structured and really kind of opened the door for me to sales, which was kind of funny because it was now a commission and I was really doing it for like basically minimum wage for a long time. But I just loved the company.
I like culture, I love computers, which is really where I kind of got my start from Best Buy to home installs, to bar installs and computer installs you name it. If it was electronics I was all in. I was kind of a techie guy, I guess, in my younger age, which is actually really funny because if you know me and our business model now, I am not the tech guy. So things really kind of slipped upside down for me, which is really funny. But I stayed at Best Buy for a couple of years and I felt like I really maxed out on my pet player. I like the idea of going corporate and the more I thought about it I was off, you know, but I really want to be in a store for the rest of my life, which is really what that was going to tell me. I also have a shoes and cross back round, I went to West Jersey up in Central New York.
Now I’m in the team because, you know, I may not know West Jersey leaders of the nation, but I was a passion of mine for sure. I got the opportunity to go play college across and I literally upended my life with everything that I was doing. I said, you know what, if I’m going to do this, I was 20 years old at the time, two years off at high school, and you know, if I was going to do this, I had to make that switch. So I went to Mercyhurst up in Pennsylvania for two years, transferred to a college studying, you know, business administration and one of the school we’re off for a couple of years, got to really travel around the country, live a life in fatigue and I love that. Team, team efforts in general are really what just pushed me and kind of make me feel connected and I just love that type of environment which is also translates to sales a lot as well. I feel like athletes make a perfect transition over to sales eventually.
So after I left schooling got done with all that stuff, I didn’t finish my degree. I was three classes away from finishing. Unfortunately, life happened. It ran out of money and had to kind of jump into the business world, worked for a Colleges agency for a year, which was a grind. Was that a grind? A very negative environment, and one of my friends, ironically, was the direct sales during door and somehow taught me into making that jump and going and I have people’s doors for a living and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned more in that five or seven years five to seven years of not getting yours that I ever have in my entire life. I felt a lot about myself and how to grind, how to stay persistent and also how to provide a really great life.
And throughout that whole endeavor I ran offices at a regional level for some of the top 100 companies in the nation and managed a couple hundred people. Throughout the course of that time I broke all kinds of records, kind of followed that same footprint that I did at Best Buy. It just translated into a much higher category where we’re living at commissioned sales. I just felt very connected to people in general. I really enjoyed teaching people how to do what I did and growing organically in our offices and taking in people that had no possible experience in sales and teaching them how to go out and make more money than they had ever made in their entire lives.
And throughout that process really transformed lives and I really believed in that and gave people a new fold, I guess, especially to some of the people that we trained and managed. They came from really tough backgrounds, like myself, which we’ll get into in later episodes but I felt a lot of value in that and passing that torch to other people and kind of teaching them that no matter what your background looks like, no matter where you came from, you can really put the weight of the world on your shoulders and transform your life at a very short amount of time. And you look at progressing and picking up your skill sets and applying those to life in various different directions. So I did that for a while. It was fun, I got to travel and probably seven or eight different cities all across the northeast and west. I made the switch to Bernoux and we started CSA. I got into Solard and I really kind of became more invigorated again.
I feel like seven years in the energy space was a grind and eventually I kind of lost that edge. I guess is the best way to say it. I needed something new that was going to uplift me and give you really back engaged into the whole sales process. When you reach plateaus it’s important to find new things that kind of rethlight your fire, and when we started CSA, that really kind of lit that fire for me again and ironically I’ve never had to rely on it again and I feel more fulfilled than what we’re doing now. I think it’s really cool. That’s a little bit about me. Obviously, the Irish sports aren’t very competitive super into sales, super into personal development and development of other people and obviously making a bigger impact on sustainability and muscle strength.
So yeah it’s a little bit of me. Love it, yeah, oh, wow. So much comes up for me there as well. Andy, I think about a few things Just after getting an introduction from us three and kind of realizing when people ask about who CSA is and what it looks like. I think about us three and how we inject our personalities, our personal stories, into the spirit of what our organization is.
One of the things I like to talk about is EFG, which is entities as a force for good, and I think about, probably more than I should, how we call corporations entities and at the same time, an entity is essentially a spirit and the ability to utilize entrepreneurship to make a positive impact in the world. I think about that a lot and I think that’s where a lot of fulfillment comes from. Csa is we’re always having that conversation based on those things the spirit of making a positive impact, really helping others, passing down resources or helping people think about things in new ways. You know, again, we can get into the whole sustainability piece, but when people think sustainability, we’re not talking about, like, just recycling here, which you know shocker, most recycling efforts are bullshits and you know it doesn’t actually get recycled and it ends up in a landfill somewhere, but that’s like the baseline of how people think about sustainability. And when I think about what we do at Community Solar Authority, we utilize all four pillars of sustainability, which is human, social, business and environmental. So sure, we’re a commercial solar company at heart and again we can kind of get into that stuff, but really what it boils down to is all the stuff that we’ve been doing for over a decade now, whether it was Nat, teaching other people how to implement systems to have a better lifestyle or Andy, you know which I share those experience with you of training people from you know the most different parts of the world based on what city we were in at any given time and then teaching them a skill set.
You know, one of the things that Alex Hermosi says is, once you run a gym, you basically have every skill you need to run and build big businesses, because you touch the sales, you touch the customer service, you touch the marketing, you touch the budgeting, you touch the payroll, and it’s really the same thing in door-to-door, Andy, and what I hear from you is like dude people would come to us with nothing and they would walk away with an entire foundational skill set, plus the mindset, you know, plus the belief, which is like the most important part is. They went from, you know, having zero belief in themselves to holy shit, like I can’t go. You know, talk to a stranger, get them to buy something from me, utilize that paycheck to build a budget, take myself out of circumstances that I’ve never been able to like. That is life-changing stuff and you know from some of the most terrible situations being able to buy a brand new car or, you know, being able to go to a penthouse downtown all obviously not the most important things in life, but being able to show that for yourself when all you’re surrounded by is negativity in a lot of these neighborhoods, I mean, let’s just be honest, you don’t see too many people come up and be able to change their circumstances like that in a very short amount of time. And we got to see that and live through that and enjoy that when alongside with them, just because we showed them a new way, even believed in themselves to do it. Uh, yeah, I just think that was incredibly powerful and I walked away from that whole experience just long and away. You know what I mean? It’s just completely long. Yeah, yeah, I think about.
If you want to have an uncommon life or an uncommon organization, you have to do uncommon things. And I think about, you know, waking up at five to catch the train to get to the office, staying out and selling until eight o’clock at night, when it’s, you know, pitch dark outside, doing that for five to seven years in a row. Um, and of course, like that Seven days a week. Yeah. And you know, you talk about changing life very quickly and it’s like, well, you know, I do believe that when you put the work in like you know, if you do uncommon things, you will create an uncommon path.
Um, and again, you know Andy and I were working to kind of talk about how we all came together. Andy and I were in the energy space. Um, we were essentially managing contracts and, you know, running marketing channels across the country and we kind of saw the writing on the wall with renewables. You know, community Solar was coming into the play. Andy and I were collectively making the decision that we wanted to go online. So we were going from this one-on-one service um done with you at the door, and the only opportunity we had to make money was selling in person and not speaking to the lifestyle opportunity which is like when you work on your business and you can step away from it and it still runs itself. We didn’t have that ability. We had a very highly leveraged skill set and we wanted to take that online. And so, you know, andy and I eventually got hooked up with someone named Gary who was a former partner of ours.
Um, nathaniel was a part of the package of people who worked with Gary and it’s really, you know, we came together with the intention of pairing that Our skill set with the collective skill set of being able to do everything on the back end automations, online, etc. And we matched those two things together to form a brand new company which we titled Community Solar Authority. And, again, really, at the spirit of that was being able to create a positive impact, be able to create a ripple effect and then use the principles of sustainability from the top down to be able to grow as big and as wide as possible. And so, you know, after a couple iterations of Community Solar Authority, our first couple of years, we simply decided that it wasn’t a good fit with some of the other partners and really, we had a conversation with Nathaniel and said, hey, we think we have something really beautiful here. Um, what can we do to really reiterate it? Make it our own, burn down a lot of the stuff that wasn’t working and really just start fresh. And, um, you know again, five years later, community Solar Authority I tell people, you know, when people ask about, kind of, how we operate and what we do, we’re obviously bootstrapped, um, but I tell people that we’re highly lean, it’s us three and we’re also highly leveraged.
And you know, we work with some of the biggest solar developers in the country. We work with the best community solar asset manager in the country. We have the ability to extend our relationships through our partnership channels to be able to have a massive collection of people working with us in partnership. And that’s how we leverage the fact that it’s literally just us three running this organization. And so, again, I think it’s really unique because you can’t replicate what we’re doing. You know you can look at our systems and you can try to be Andy, but it’s it’s not going to work. You know you can’t take the spirit of us three, the work that we’ve put in, and even if, again, you were to be highly lean and highly leverage, you wouldn’t be able to do it in a way that we do it, which is what I’m most proud of. And, again, it’s all based on the fact that behind the spirit of what we’re doing is this massive wave of impact.
And I think over the last couple of years we’ve kind of been under the radar. We didn’t want to get on podcasts and talk about what we were doing, we didn’t want to bring our brand into the limelight just yet because, again, you know, planting things right, we plant the seeds of sustainability. And so, when you think about that from a business perspective and using business sustainability, well, the same way, when you plant seeds which, nat, you can probably talk about way better than I can as far as gardenation, agriculture but when you plan to see, um, there is a period of gestation when the seed actually needs to sprout, and during that time, you know, I think again, a good analogy is like the bamboo. Uh, when you grow bamboo, it takes like eight years to just grow a few inches off the ground and then, year nine, it just sprouts feet and feet and feet tall. And so I really think about our brand in the same exact way where we were very careful of our baby over the last five years to make sure that it moved in the direction that it needed to. We really got our start by coming together online and you know that timeline is like.
Over the last five years we’ve just been working to scale this idea Right and again, because there’s only the three of us, that’s part of being hyper lean and bootstrapped, as we have to think through very carefully about where we want this direction to go. You know, we’re not a massive company with series A and B money backed by investors with millions of dollars in banks. That’s not our path. We compete in that space and we’re building an organization from that space, but in a very unique way, and that’s why I thought it was finally time to kind of get the podcast started, talk about a little bit what we do, what that actually looks like, and really just let people know that we’re active, we’re building, we’re looking to grow and really just sharing a lot of the stories that come up, but through the lens of sustainability.
So I want to take these podcasts episodes and I want to talk about the human aspects of it, really how we help other people in our local communities.
I want to talk about the social aspects of this, you know, which we can get into, because, um, by the way, we need to get like a bell, like in, uh, commercial other, like commercial brokerages, like real estate, when they ring the bell when deals are closed.
But I want to talk about the social aspects of our business, how we help housing authorities and actually help bring energy equity into the space, um, across the country. The business aspect which is super special to all of our hearts as entrepreneurs we believe that businesses should be built to be resilient and sustainable. Right, and the reality is is that most people have no idea what that looks like. And then, obviously, making an environmental impact, uh, and really spreading the gamut across that, and so I hope that kind of lays the foundation for what we want this to kind of be about who CSA actually is. And, andy Nat, if, if you guys want to throw anything else in there, um, just trying to kind of set the table for what this looks like, I also want to throw it out there that, uh, throughout all of this, and the pandemic and COVID.
0:24:27 – Nat
I’ve never met you all in person, so we are a virtual company. I’m in Texas, dakota is in St Louis, slash us, we go, yeah, like a state in New York and then Andy’s in Chicago. So we are completely virtual. So we are a virtual, virtual, virtual, virtual, virtual, virtual, virtual. Uh, and ironically, I’ve never met you all in person.
0:24:58 – Dakota
Yep. So, although we are due for a company trip now, yeah, and man doesn’t that feel crazy. Um, I guess there’s been so much negativity around this whole COVID situation that we all live through and you know how crazy that was in general, like how it really just transformed life. That, um, this was a very beautiful thing to sprout from such a negative situation. Um, and honestly, I walked away feeling very grateful. Um, obviously, covid was terrible and it affected a lot of people’s lives and a lot of people were, you know, um, forever changed by that. But it kind of gave our company and us as people the ability to completely transform our lifestyles and be able to forge our own path in our own way and truly have location, independence and be able to do what we love. And that is the beautiful seed that sprouted from such a negative, negative situation. Um, so it’s hard for me to kind of talk about that because I, you know, I I walk away feeling the felt from it, which is really a scene to say and throughout that whole process I had a baby right in the middle of COVID. We’re praying through the whole thing and, by God, was it a crazy couple of years. But here we are on the other side, never really been in person, but I feel like you know Nat, I don’t know Dakota for years, so it’s really nothing crazy to me, but for you, I feel like I know you better than I know most people and we’ve never even come out in real life. It’s just crazy to me. It’s really, really cool and you really kind of take a step back and think about it. So that’s a good point. Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a great point to make too.
Going back to the brotherhood, that makes community solar authority and really speaks to the spirit of what we’re doing. You know, andy taught me the gift of brotherhood, and I say it as a gift because how I not met Andy. When I think about most men today and I think about how most relationships are today, again, it’s uncommon to have brotherhood later in life. Right, you just keep most of your friends that you have from childhood and that’s how most people do it. And I met Andy. He had obviously graduated from college. I had graduated from college. We happened to work together. But you know, andy taught me the spirit of brotherhood and what it means to have that kind of trust for another person outside of business, like all encompassing in life. And then, nat, like you coming into the equation, like I obviously see it and we’ve had conversations on it, but the spirit of brotherhood is so strong in you as well, like I look at you both and I’m just like dude, this is my tribe, this is my community, these guys get it. And to have that full trust and to build a big company without ever meeting one of our partners in person, like I’m perfectly okay with it and I’m truly rested because I know that brotherhood like goes far beyond business, which again we don’t. You know I won’t go crazy on the first episode, I won’t say it like lifetimes if we don’t have to go that far. But yeah, it feels so good to be able to build a big business with you guys and it does come completely natural, like it’s tough guys.
Shall we yeah, shall we talk about a little bit about what we do now, just to kind of wrap it up, maybe catch some people up on some projects we’re working on real quick For sure, sweet, well, current day, which we can get into it later episodes, but right now, you know, our company helps municipalities, investors, large organizations, think, people who are using the most electricity across the country, universities, housing, etc. We help those people Exactly Right. We help the largest consumers of electricity access lower electric costs for no cost, and we obviously you know that sounds very simply put again at the spirit of what we do, being that there’s three of us building an organization that works with large organizations is we have to keep things simple, and so our tagline has always been simple sustainability. And that’s how we’re able to boil down our marketing messaging to the very bare bones minimum stuff, so that we can show people hey, you can take steps towards sustainability, we can help you plant these seeds without you having to make a single investment, without you having to necessarily install anything on your property. Right, and we can get into that different bits of stuff later, but essentially our flagship product for the last five years, speaking directly to our brand, has been community solar, and so, very briefly, there are different parts to community solar.
Community solar is essentially legislation that states make as a way to meet their renewable energy requirements, and these solar farms allow different people from the community. Sometimes it’s actual residents, also known as mass market, sometimes it’s these large consumers of electricity, sometimes known as anchor clients. It helps people within the community and organizations participate in shared solar and receive benefits in exchange. And so current day, we’re just helping people do that across the country. You know, primarily we do work in New York, illinois, but really that expands into a multitude of states at any given time. We have major corporations following up with us as we’re working on getting them carport solutions on their HQ, for example. Or universities were working with us because they have land that they want to lease out and turn into sustainable guaranteed income so that they can invest it to other things.
And you know, recently just closing a project again I wish we had the belt to ring it today closing up working with Lawrence County Housing Authority, which is a affordable housing community in Southern Illinois. We are working with them to get them enrolled into the Illinois solar for all program, which is like the grand slam of community solar opportunity. It is super exclusive. You know there’s I could count on one hand, the number of Illinois solar for all projects that are available, but they come with a 50, up to a 50% discount on your electricity costs, which is massive. And so this is going to be the first opportunity that we subscribe to the Illinois solar for all program, which is. You know, I’m super proud of us for being able to do that Because, again, there’s a lot of community solar companies that have not been able to say the same and for us to be able to subscribe Lawrence County Housing Authority.
We got them access to over $40,000 in year one as their savings, and that compounds over the length of their agreement. So, for free, they’re going to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Shall they stay involved in the subscription program? And to me that’s just amazing because we know that those savings are going to be utilized to invest back into the people that live in that housing authority, which goes back to the social sustainability and the environmental. So that’s just something we’re currently working on that I’m super pumped about. And, of course, we have many other things to celebrate as well, and that comes on the back from posing the first housing authority for one of our premier developers in the state of New York.
All of this happened within the same three weeks and got that access to a really fantastic low income project in the state of New York, and it really comes back to there’s a lot of talk about equity these days going all the way around and being able to truly fight for people that need these programs the most. That would really make the largest impact in the biggest footprint possible is really fulfilling to me and I’m just I’m very proud of us for being able to do that, being those trendsetters in the market. A lot of people talk about getting all of my projects and going resident to resident and blah, blah blah. But being able to get entire organizations access to something that’s so exclusive that it almost doesn’t exist, because as soon as it’s available it’s gone, and a lot of that stuff is done behind closed doors and and being one of the first, you know community solar sales companies to really do that out of a big level back to back in New York and Illinois, is awesome, and I’m just really happy that we were able to help those communities and specifically access these savings and really, you know, do something that cost them zero dollars. That will make a huge impact for the organization and improve the quality of life of every one of those tenants. So that’s really cool, yep, you know I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. You know we’re bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars to be reinvested back into the people that need it the most, and I mean again kind of speaking to who we are and what we’re doing. That’s the everyday mission. It just happens to be. That’s what’s going on this week and I’m looking forward to the next episode to kind of keep talking about this stuff, and we will certainly expand on many of the things we talked about today.
Any closing thoughts or final words before we wrap up episode one? I don’t think so, man. I think that was a great first episode, obviously one of many. I’m excited at what the possibilities here and using these types of platforms to really, you know, increase our reach. Really, you know, that’s the only thing that’s limiting our organization and it doesn’t even sound like a limiting factor, but reach is always a limiting factor, you know. It’s only you only go so far as what you can bring something, and a platform like this will really allow us to take these efforts and magnify them and help more people. So I’m excited and hopefully I hope that this takes off in our community and we’re gonna get a lot of support here and people can help us make a bigger impact just by giving us a simple follow. So smash that bell button. I love it. Thanks so much for tuning into the first episode of the community solar authority. Fast-pass podcast, guys, and we will see you all on the next episode.