Being an ‘Essential’ Human and WorkerBy Jonah Greenberger | Tue, 06/16/2020 - 09:16
Let's start with a truth: value is predominantly created in later years, both professionally and personally. You mentor, raise children and gain meaningful income when you become older and gain the ability to do so, which takes time. Also, companies create most of their value in later years. In fact, the value of a company is determined with present value calculation on expected dividends and given that businesses are expected to grow over time, real value is created 20-plus years out, when meaningful dividends are paid to shareholders.
This means in many important aspects of life, we have to be thinking over 20 years out. Given that recessions happen every four to 10 years, this means we have to be thinking about doing things that will survive multiple dips and economic uncertainties.
So how should we then think about creating things that actually survive in the long run?
Like many other business owners, COVID-19 caught us off guard. I help run Bright, the leading residential solar energy company in Mexico and frankly, given the circumstance, no one wants strangers in their home right now. Solar energy is also still considered to be a discretionary investment; yes, many homeowners are passionate about it, but is it an “essential” need during a pandemic? Were we going to survive? Our plan was to prepare for the worst. What happened instead is that the last month was the biggest sales month in our history; COVID-19 made our solar panel installation sales stronger.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned:
1) Ensure your product can be made “essential”
We realized solar energy may not be an essential need by itself in Mexico, feelings of safety and security are, and so this is where we focused. Our customers across every city in Mexico wanted control and predictability and home energy consumption was actually up 20 percent since the mandatory stay-at-home order was implemented (more folks were home more often, and so using more electricity).
We quickly refined a product that delivers cost savings to homeowners on their electricity bill with no upfront cost and we delivered it over a video call versus in-person visits. This allowed customers to risk none of their own money, and with 100 percent video call sales and service, there’s no COVID-19 risk. Naturally, customers had concerns about whether it is safe to invest right now and whether it is the right time. But given no requirement to pay upfront and no in-person interaction needed, we were able to eliminate almost all these concerns.
2) Be adaptable (always)
Second, while creating an essential product was Step 1, Step 2 was adapting as an organization to deliver it. As I mentioned earlier, pivoting from 100 percent in-person sales to 100 percent video sales created a safer environment for our customers. But another really important aspect was that we wanted to keep all our employees safe as well. Also, video calls are faster to schedule, easier to reschedule, easier to involve both decision-makers, and enables faster customer service turnaround for any follow-up questions. And to further create organizational capability around doing so faster, we actually eliminated all our offices across Mexico so that folks quickly got used to working 100 percent over video calls for all they do. This enabled all our other groups (operations, customer service, etc.) to fluidly interact with our sales team as well because they were using the same tools.
We started this business because we believe solving global warming is critical for our long-term survival and solar energy is one of the best ways to do so today. But our efforts only matter if we survive in the long run. I never expected a global pandemic would strengthen my conviction that we would survive but, in many ways, this was a great early stress test. And I’ve learned these lessons while learned in a business setting apply equally as well in other aspects of life. During COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to care for others, be honest, and always, always strive to learn (all aspects of society we consider essential). And we need to adapt to new ways of learning for our kids over video calls, new ways of socializing with our friends and new ways of entertaining ourselves with less mobility. So, let's use this crisis to remind ourselves of the fundamentals that we likely lose sight of during good times: unless we want a short life or business, create something that is essential and adapt intentionally along the way.
I hope this is useful, and good luck!