As CEO of fast-growing solar energy company Freedom Forever, Brett Bouchy has managed rapid growth, relying on lessons learned as a private equity business leader and his experience as an executive with the Arena Football League.
Since its launch in 2011, Freedom Forever has focused on providing homeowners with as much return on investment as possible from their switch to solar energy via tax credits and rebates, as well as increases in home value. The company also offer customers a unique 25-year production guarantee, which has helped fuel the company’s impressive growth. Indeed, over the past three years, Freedom Forever has experienced a dramatic 2953.8% revenue growth.
Bouchy spoke with Chief Executive about the lessons he learned as a professional sports executive, how he’s managed Freedom Forever through a period of rapid growth, and how his personal leadership style has evolved over the years.
On managing through times of rapid growth
In 2018 we’re going to more than double our overall revenue. So as you get bigger, growing from $200,000 to $400,000 in revenue, while it’s a double, it’s a lot easier to do than go from $55 million to $110 million. And that’s what we’re going to do from 2017 to 2018. And how we’ve been able to do it is, I’ll break it down to two items: one of the things that I’m affirmed believer in is to grow a company and to grow a culture, you need to do it through processes, procedures, and servant leadership from your leadership team. I think the world has taught us as CEOs or managers that you need to tell people what to do, but the best way to lead is to serve everyone around you. If you do that throughout your managerial and your leadership team is able to do that, then your company will flourish. And if I had to boil it down to one item, it’s definitely servant leadership throughout our company.
The second item would be processes, standardized processes that we have put in place. We have over 700, as we call them, SOP standard operating procedures throughout our company. Everything is standardized. Why that’s so important is I’ve been an investor or private equity guy my whole life. And to have a sustainable product that can scale, it has to be consistent. The only way to have it consistent is to have detailed processes which really doesn’t exist in our industry. One of the things that was shocking when I bought part of Freedom Forever back in 2015 is just the lack of philosophies and competency in the contracting business in general, but specifically solar contracting and I brought my experience.
I am not a guy that fixes things, um, and it’s ironic that I’m the CEO of a contracting company because it’s just not what I do. What I’ve done is I know how to run businesses. I understand financial models and cash flow and understanding the importance of CRMs and processes and that’s been the secret to our success. And the other thing is we’re hyper-focused on a great customer experience.
On keeping both end customers and Freedom Forever’s dealer network satisfied
All of our sales are done through an independent dealer network, so we essentially have two customers—we have our customers and then our independent dealers that sell our products and we are fanatical about NPS scores or net promoter scores. And the reason we want to do that is because a lot of people are focused on Yelp or this or that, but ultimately, the best way to gauge how you’re doing from a customer service standpoint, a customer experience standpoint is the standardized NPS scores. And if your NPS is around 70, you’re world class. Apple, who I think is amazing at customer service, is a 68. So we are 42 with our customers and we are 68 with our dealers. So we actually do an NPS score on our dealers.
Those are the things that we’re trying to gauge and why that’s so important because our industry is a very young industry and I never want my staff to be comparing themselves to other people in the industry just because, quite frankly, they just were not that great as an industry. I want to compare ourselves to other companies outside the industry because that’s how we should be looking at ourselves. How do we stack up to the larger brands that have a great customer centric experience building that team as well as keeping them up?
On the importance of company culture
We’re focused on creating an incredible culture. And I know everybody says that, but then actually executing on that vision is different. If you came to our office you would understand.
We have 34,000 square feet in our corporate headquarters in Temecula, California. We have a big, 6,000-square-foot room that we call the Fun room, which has an arcade of 60 different actual, old retro video games. We have a ping pong table, we have foosball, we have shuffleboard. It looks like Dave and Buster’s without the bar.
The reality in today’s economy is that when you take out the sleep that you’re doing at home, a lot of people and your senior people are at work more than their home now. It’s really important to me for our employees to have a great life/work balance, but when they’re there, to make sure that it’s a great experience and they can have fun.
And then whenever I’m having a down day, I sit in the Fun Room and I just see the people smiling. I see them go back to their desk and know they just like it here.
I’m going to be 50 next year and I’ve bought and sold a lot of companies over my career. This is something that I really want to spend the next 50 years or whatever time I have on this earth building this company and I want to also hand it off to our employees, who are such an integral part of the success of Freedom Forever.
Lessons learned from working in professional sports
The competition aspect is healthy. And if you’re not competitive, I think that’s really, really important. Being in professional sports makes you hyper-competitive, but you also have to do it the right way. There is no doubt that it enabled me to hone my skills, and I’ve learned over the last 20 years in sports that serving the people, putting your players first, putting your staff first above your needs as an owner has taught me to be a better leader.
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