Jonathan Doochin | Building the Nation’s Largest Solar Distributor & The Clean Energy Economy

John Corcoran  5:00  

Right, right. And it’s selling, you know, something that’s transportation, but it’s also someone’s dream, you know, and so dealing with I imagine these big egos you had to deal with that as well.

Jonathan Doochin  5:12  

Yeah, I mean, I think it was just, it was just a different scale of life. And what I was used to as a 19 year old, it was somebody who was making $10 million a day, the difference in getting the car by end of week. If it was $10,000, they would easily pay $10,000 to the car by end the week because they wanted to have the car. And they were making 10,000 $10,000 a day, it’s as if we went and made X number of dollars for our weekly day and gave that to get, you know, to get the car faster. And it was just so much money being moved around. And a lot of it there was you know, there was ego, but there was also pride. And there was a lot of joy around this, this was something that people really wanted to have in their life really appreciate it, we’re super excited about getting, I learned about a product that actually got people really geared up to want to own it. And they were so passionate about it, they wanted to now and I think

John Corcoran  6:01  

there are parallels to what you do now.

Jonathan Doochin  6:04  

Which is we try to get everybody to love solar these days. So it’s great right now. Well, but it’s uh, yeah, so I think it’s there are more parallels in that experience from starting up the business from scratch, never knowing how to do it, the carrying around a fax machine in my backpack, so they could get contract sign because that’s what it was back then.

Unknown Speaker  6:20  

No, DocuSign

Jonathan Doochin  6:22  

no DocuSign whatsoever. And, you know, and then to actually trying to sell cold calls over the phone or inbound calls and convert people over from what they want in one situation to another thing that we have. I mean, it was all those aspects, I had $200,000 coming into my bank account without a contract at time. So then I learned how to write contracts. You know, so and those got edited by people who were pretty important, which I thought was pretty hilarious as a 19 year old. So I feel like when you start a business from scratch, if you have any revenue coming through you, you learn so many different skill sets. And you know, it’s just it’s it’s a phenomenal experience for me. And then for everybody else I know who’s been an entrepreneur.

John Corcoran  6:59  

Okay, so the dates on your LinkedIn profile RO 1203, which is a little bit of a shaky time in the economy, what happens with that business?

Jonathan Doochin  7:08  

So I ended up selling that business to another broker, which was great. What was really interesting is a lot of the money that was coming in that business, actually, it was, before there was that big downturn, you could actually see that a lot of individuals who were coming my way were were guys who were brokering loans, and they were making over a million dollars a year and they were buying Ferrari. So you want an early predictor to a economic crisis, who’s building

Unknown Speaker  7:31  

Ferrari?

Jonathan Doochin  7:36  

They got a good ideas. Oh, you know, that was fascinating to me. I made me question if I should be in the loan business of the Ferrari business. But, but yeah, so you know, and I got lucky, I was able to sell that business. And and went back to school, as my, as my parents said, Do you want to go get your, you know, college degree or you want to keep selling selling cars? And I said, You know what, it’s a good point, I’ll, I’ll take you all that, and I will go get the rest of my college degree.

John Corcoran  8:02  

Right. And so from that point, you go back, you get your college degree, you work in venture capital, you work in financial services, your find your way into energy, Clark energy group, how did you develop an interest in energy?

Jonathan Doochin  8:18  

So I think, I mean, ever since I was a kid, when we found a American chestnut tree in our backyard, that was way above average, and American, Justin is one of those weird trees that is become extinct, or at least at risk of being extinct, he used to populate all the forest in North America. Then there was this blight, which is like a fungus type thing that comes and kills them off. And it used to produce all of the wood for pretty much a lot of the beautiful wood that you would see in the US. And then it was just gone. And that storyline, that tree, and that exposure of sharing that with the American chestnut Association. And some of the other pieces became kind of a driver for me in the environmental space and a desire do that I became my president of the environmental club in in high school, and was just always very much involved in the environmental side. And one day when I was working for Clark, my partner and I, at the time, had a contract that came across our desk for a $5 billion idea IQ which is like indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery contract, which basically made us a super energy company that would service, the service, the Department of Energy and the government if we were to win. And so we this, by the way, is in is this around oh nine when this comes across comes along? Yeah, this is roughly Oh, seven to eight time period. Okay. This was this idea that, you know, hey, there’s a lot of government buildings that need to be retrofit energy efficiency is important, not only from comfort and quality of the environment for people, but it also creates pretty substantial savings for the government, if done, right. And they said, Okay, how do we find the big guys who can bid this and so my partner and I took a look at that contract, we had three weeks to bid, we had almost no chance of winning it. But we put together a team, we qualified as an energy services company, which is a longer story. We, we built it and I don’t think we slept for three weeks, we had 380 page, pages of technical proposal, in addition to a full other part of the proposal that it took to be a winner of that contract. And that contract in itself is what started us off in in energy, really kind of doing more projects of that nature doing solar doing retrofits,

John Corcoran  10:37  

so Clark wasn’t doing energy before. And then they get a $5 billion contract for energy retrofitting.

Jonathan Doochin  10:43  

Yes, so essentially, the part of Clark I was in and I think you could say that construction in general, when you have these codes, and these standards are doing energy by nature. Yeah. It might not be as evident, it might not be considered energy company. But, but that is kind of how those, you know, where we’re at progress, but there was no really energy arm of that business. And we became that energy group. And that was basically there. We were part of a bigger company called Clark realty capital, we became the energy arm of that, and that company is going on do very well, with the person I admire quite a bit named Brian, who was my old partner. Got it.

John Corcoran  11:20  

Okay. And so does that would lead you to then join the Obama administration, you joined the Department of Energy. This is I believe, your first foray into working for the government leading the private sector. What was that experience? Like? And this is early in the Obama years, usually?

Jonathan Doochin  11:38  

Oh, yeah. So I remember I was I was there a few, a few months after he came into office. And as as that team was being built out, and for me, what I saw when I walked in the doors, I saw this great opportunity, they’re giving out $36 billion, or Recovery Act money, how do we actually make sure that money counts if we’re going to spend it? And so how do we actually and then how do we end up going about making the impact as well as stimulating the economy. And that, to me was a great challenge, because I already knew it was going to happen, no matter what now is up to us to actually add value to making that happen in a meaningful way and execute properly. And so when I walked in there, that team had been formed, it was just getting off and running, I felt very lucky to be a part of it. And I looked out for about $13 billion of that with a few other people on energy efficiency and renewable energy. And the private side, where I’d come from, and really given me an idea of what the contracts look like from that side, with the impact I can make was as as a business owner, and a driver of energy in, you know, in the corporate side, but I really hadn’t experienced what it was like to work in, in public office in any sort of fashion, or in a government entity in any sort of fashion. That gave me a huge purview. I mean, there were times where people did not want our money, the state level, because it did came with certain obligations, it came with, you know, one day you’re dispensing, you know, $50,000, the next day or dispensing 300 million, where do you get the staff to do that? How do you actually put that out there, that’s a that’s a heck of a bigger job. And so you run into a whole bunch of these balance points, but it gave me a really good idea of just kind of both views of the world and how I can actually use those to make a positive impact and energy.

John Corcoran  13:19  

Yeah. And the work that you do today, I imagine that that comes into play, how involved are you? Are you involved in legislation? Are you involved in policy making or influencing legislators? And does that experience having been at the Federal Department of Energy and form the work that you do today?

Jonathan Doochin  13:36  

It does. 100%. I mean, I think we’re made up of only our experiences, and we try to be as objective as possible, but by nature is subjective. So I keep keep myself as objective as possible. But at a high level, those experiences formulated both how I think about government, knowing full well, I don’t know everything, how I think about some of the private sector aspects and how I think about combining those two an impact. And it comes down to how I interact with governors and how I interact at the state level, as well as the federal level and policy. It also comes down to how I believe, essentially, much more in walking a middle line of conservation, and protection of the environment and having a place to live, as well as the economics around how actually solar can deliver really large savings, and provide us the substantial long term place we want to live in, that’s actually clean, not polluted. And while doing all that is also creating jobs and saving people money, which gets me pretty excited. So I like focusing on the economic benefits of these things. And the path to those economic benefits, which I know decent about,

John Corcoran  14:47  

right? In the end. Let’s talk about that a little bit more, because the the changing shifting economics have been pretty striking over the years, and just recently, England announced that they’re obtaining more power from zero carbon sources, then from fossil fuels, which which is amazing. And in the US, the American ruin, renewable energy capacity has overtaken coal, for the first time ever that recently was announced as well. So it really is kind of it seems like a real shift, you know, those, those are two really big changes.

Jonathan Doochin  15:20  

Yeah, no, it’s exceedingly large. And to give you an example, the cost of a solar panel, when I was buying these in 2007, it was like $8 a watt, maybe a little bit less, but it was it was pretty expensive, depending on what solar panel you bought. And and today, you know, we’re seeing I think, in China, is probably the best example to use China. But in the United States, let’s say what I see by prices for on the markets is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of mid 30 cents a lot, mid 40 cents a watt. So, you know, it’s an exceedingly large difference. And, and I guess, you know, that a dollars was excuse me was was more towards the system, large scale system, dollar cost. And the total price today for that same dollar cost is that same system is probably in the neighborhood of, I want to say it’s getting installed today at $1, something a lot, versus $8 a watt. And the panels, then were roughly, I want to say a few bucks. And today or roughly 30 something cents produced. If you look at raw cost in China, it’s somewhere around 22 cents a lot, which is just an amazing, startling, you know, drop in cost.

John Corcoran  16:36  

Yeah, I remember one of the exciting things for me was, I worked for a visionary named Charles McGlashan, who was a local county supervisor here in Marin County, where I live and big mentor, to me and big environmentalist. And I remember him saying years ago, probably 10 years ago that we’re going to start seeing parking lots will have solar array, you know, that will shade the cards, bullet cars blow and, and produce profit once the cost of these installations drops. And then over the last five years or so you start to see that happen, you know, government institutions and schools and businesses where they’re making money off of what used to be dead space before. So talk a little bit about that, that those types of new innovations that are happening in the economy or businesses or even been able to make money off of what was dead space for them before?

Jonathan Doochin  17:29  

Yeah, so I’ll start with some of the economics of what this means. So today, like I guess, two weeks ago, there was an announcement made, that there was a utility contract bid bid by a private developer for solar, and it was about I want to call it 150 megawatts in California maybe was 250. But not that important for this. But basically, they were signing a 25 year power agreement with utility, where they were supplying under $2 per kilowatt power. So when you look at production of coal power, you’re looking at three plus three plus cents per kilowatt hour, when you’re looking at nuclear, it’s a little bit higher, depending on how you map it, but it’s basically higher. And and so you’re we’re seeing even in a place like California, is the lowest cost of power is coming from renewables in a meaningful way. Now, that’s the lowest contract, I’ve seen bid. But when we think about it being under two cents of water, that’s actually phenomenal. We see that across the world in different areas as well. And so even if it’s three to four cents, it’s pretty phenomenal economics. So just start there is substantial economics around that make a lot of sense. And I think that’s really, really relevant. And I think the other part of it is, then you look at where are these applications? And how does it impact us in our built environment? Well, there are a lot of roofs that are completely nobody’s using the roof, right, but the building’s buying power, and it’s getting charged quite a bit of money for power, especially when the power grid is being drawn down fully, during you know, midday, or towards the afternoon is pull comes. And essentially, those rooms can be used. And you can see paybacks that are anywhere between three years and eight years in California and the system last for 25 years. So it’s producing free power for you, after you paid it off for at least 25 years, I would say can actually exist 35 years, a lot of models do that. But now you’ve got this annuity that just kind of pays you and if you look at the cost of power, power has gone up between four and 5% every year for like two decades. So when you actually add that up, if you can get solar power without having an escalator in it, and you get to the prices today, it’s like a it’s like a gallon of gasoline, would you buy a $1 gallon of gasoline if you in perpetuity for 25 years, you know, 10 years ago? Or you know, 15 years ago? And that would be great deal. Yeah. And that’s and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with solar today. versus the other sorts of power.

John Corcoran  19:56  

One of the downsides. You mentioned nuclear, one of the downsides of solar is that the sun doesn’t shine at all times, or at least not on our side of the planet. So you can’t unless you can capture it the you you have times a day when you need energy, but the sun isn’t shining on your panels. Some people are advocates of nuclear, what do you say to that?

Jonathan Doochin  20:16  

Look, I like nuclear, because I like the concept of it. And I think just like everything, when you have something like solar solar to most people didn’t make any sense whatsoever, it was called on, you know, not not economic, you know, how could this ever reach something that could be deployed everywhere, the price is too high, it won’t ever make sense. And I think that same sort of thesis could apply to pretty much any fuel source, until you actually spend the time developing it and you get more as laws effect in kind of how the costs come down. And so I really believe with with a lot of these things, there’s there’s a theoretical, really good return on them. If enough research and development is put into them to actually make them suitable. There’s a lot of companies that are working on this today, I know a few actually who are working on, you know, micro nuclear, which is actually phenomenal, using spent fuel rods. So to actually produce power at very low cost. So there’s a lot of good stuff around it, I would say two things one, high level, like I’m a believer in nuclear. And I think there’s a lot of potential around it. It just it’s it’s it needs work still. And it’s as a waste problem as well, with this bent rods. And I think the second part is when I go to solar, and I think about what solar is, today, we’re seeing an emergence of a massive storage industry. And that’s not being brought about because the solar guys are going out and doing it, it’s actually being brought about because the car guys are going out and economically replacing their internals of the car with a battery, which gives higher performance and also make costs less, and it’s starting to cost less than what it’s replacing inside these cars. And so that’s driving an enormous battery industry, which is substantially lowering the vertically integrated cost essentially a batteries, we don’t see it necessarily reflected in the market today because of demand. But on that same, you know, under two cents per kilowatt power project I was mentioning there was being built for this or bid slash will be built for this utility in California storage was also attached to it. And they only added an incremental point one three cents per kilowatt hour for for that storage. So you know, those numbers are the lowest I’ve ever seen. And really, really impressive, but just gives you an idea. Let’s say that it’s just that directional sense, that’s not much money to have a solar plus storage, which then does essentially, very similarly, you know, to what what you need for from nuclear provides a base load at that stage, right,

John Corcoran  22:32  

which is pretty impressive. I want to turn we’re running a little low on time. But I want to turn to asking you a little bit about some of the challenges for you personally, leading a company got 100 employees underneath you, its company’s been around for 40 years. What is it like for you personally, with the challenges of of taking on that that particular role?

Jonathan Doochin  22:52  

Yeah, I mean, to be frank, I’m inspired every day by my team, we spend a lot of time doing our best to build the best and the smartest team we can have. And each, each person brings something very unique and different. Each one of them knows something I do not know and is way better at what they do than I could be. And I think we as a team know that about each other and try to complement and catch the different pieces and drive forward. So one, it takes a special type of person in my view to go and drive a company and the ups and downs of what is been solar for the last five years where you just get hit with a tariff or you get hit with a tariff going away, or you get hit with prices declining 30% a year, and we hold inventory. So what does that mean for Griffin, Tori, and managing all these pieces, and you know, and even just down to the helping our installers grow, and then watching their cycles of cash, and helping them make sure they make it through and the fact that we care so deeply each person, that company cares about what we do. It’s just inspirational to me. So I think the nice part is, you know, I tell everybody, I’m like, Look, if you can run a business and solar like us, not only is it going to be the future, I believe it is the future and is starting to really happen in a substantial fashion. But you can really run any business because you could see every cycle possible. And so I get I get excited by everybody in our business, because they are entrepreneurs and survivors in every role.

John Corcoran  24:15  

That’s a great point. And you made a great point about the cost going down as a business owner. You know, that’s a challenging thing. But costs going down, especially as you said, holding inventory, as someone who believes in preserving the environment believes in solar, you want more people to have the opportunity. And so lower cost means greater opportunity, greater proliferation. How do you reconcile those two different tendencies?

Jonathan Doochin  24:41  

Yeah, I mean, I think so when it comes to my point of view on bro solar, so whatever it means, if that means that utilities go out and do solar, and you know, and change the economics of solar for the residential space, I’m pro because it means that we’re doing the right thing for the world, we’re producing lower costs power for everybody, we’re saving everybody in the United States, and hopefully every other country money that they can put towards their families or education or whatever it might be. And we’re creating cleaner environment. I’m also very pro helping all of my installers are thousands of installers across the United States we work with actually grow their business and and the interesting part is like all products, you know it when solar goes where the cost of power essentially goes to zero, it changes the economy of all all sorts. And we can get into that to some point down the road. But there’s almost a tertiary effects. But there’s also a bunch of new products that start to get paired with it. So as solar decreases in costs, storage gets paired with it as solar is storage decreases in costs, the two of those are applicable on a much larger scale, then you get home automation. And now all the sudden, you’re automating buildings, and you’re putting full solutions around it, you get grid services. So you’re not only taking the battery that you have at home for your own power, but you’re putting your right back on the grid and making money by essentially being a small little power producer, one of thousands of potential power producers. And there’s a ton of these guys doing this today. And that’s just an emerging field. And now, your grid shifts from just large coal facilities, to all bunch of these little guys all over the place, balancing your grid for you, which is actually a much lower cost. So there’s a whole bunch of things that start to exist, and new businesses that come from the advent of these technologies, proliferating the prices coming down?

John Corcoran  26:24  

Well, you answered the question I was just going to ask, which was some of the other areas in which we’re going to see impacts and affecting the economy and different businesses. Anything else that you haven’t mentioned those pretty? That’s pretty in depth answer right there. But any other, you know, impacts effects that you see happening socially in the years ahead.

Jonathan Doochin  26:43  

Yeah, so I guess I mean, twofold. One is this creates jobs, which is great and drives the economy. And it also makes more disposable income, which we’ve talked about, which means anybody who works with solar can hopefully save some money, which they can put into stimulating the economy as well. And having a brighter future creates entrepreneurs who are actually building businesses around things that make a positive impact, and that those individuals are in the communities helping those communities develop in a meaningful way and a big communities guy, I think everything we do in the United States rotates around strong communities without strong communities, we don’t actually have an identity and then our talent migrates away from us, and we get weak communities. And when then we get strongholds, like San Francisco is a stronghold of talent that were that all come from right, I’m from Nashville, and I went to, you know, I went to I went to San Francisco. So I think there’s, there’s these bigger effects of how we can think about these entrepreneurs creating these businesses and all the opportunity they have in their local markets, there’s a huge retrofit market for all these buildings that need this help and need these these aspects. But at an even higher level, if we think about the whole move of energy going to zero dollars, and we’re going to very fast and topically low prices, well, that changes, you know, all of the computing cost, it changes the essentially, you know, when when humans made fire and could eat more calories, our brains developed pretty massively. And we became who we are today, when the cost of power is very little, and you can plug tons of power in computing power. And you get this huge advent of technology, which doesn’t exist as much today. But it actually goes on a on a growth streak. And that’s all driven by essentially a food source called power. And it’s a bigger concept. But that changes tech substantially as well.

John Corcoran  28:26  

Hmm. Fascinating. Well, john, this is really interesting. I want to wrap things up because we’re low on time. With the question I was asked, which is we let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars of the Emmys and you’re receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything you’ve done up until this point? And who do you think who are the of course, family and friends? But beyond that, where the mentors are the friends were the peers? Who are the professors? Who are the people that you would acknowledge?

Jonathan Doochin  28:51  

Yeah, I look. It’s a long list of people that helped me because I’m a dyslexic kid who was never supposed to go to college, learn to read and went to a special school, and they’re great. So, you know, for me, the only reason why I exist is because people took time out of their day to help me become me. And that started I mean, I can, I can, you know, I think give some highlights my fifth grade teacher, Miss Jackson, who’s no longer with us if she had taken me under her wing, and actually, you know, coach me through life in a meaningful way. Even that was a year of my life in our classroom, the care she took in the belief, she had helped me get my Tennessee assessment test scores from 30% down, because I really couldn’t read the test to 90 something percent, because I could read the test and the difference and how people view view you is astronomical. There were camp counselors that I had at certain points, who took me under their wing. And literally, as a young kid taught me how to set tables and made a pivot point in what I thought I could do. I mean, from the simplest things, they didn’t necessarily remember me, but I remembered them for the rest of my life. And that goes down to my current mentor. You know, I have one mentor of mine from Harvard Business School name, Arthur. And just the fact that I know I can pick up the phone that he will discuss with me, help me through anything that comes to mind that closed circle, that that that just that safety, I guess, is such a big deal to me, it means it means the world. And I can say that I’ve got a close group of friends that are all doing different business things, or impacting the world in different way, or just even stay at home moms, but just awesome people who support me and everything I do. And then obviously, there’s no doubt that my family is a huge piece of it. And I work with my brother for seven years as a partner business. So you know, to have to have a close brother, Jeremy, and to have a close sister Ariel, who I’ve always grown up with, not to mention parents who made sure that you know, as a dyslexic kid not supposed to go anywhere. And literally, that’s what a tutor told them at one point in my life. That they still believed in me that undying belief, right? It’s not it’s, I think it’s the most powerful thing you can have in a child because I didn’t always believe in myself. But the rest of my family made it very clear. They believed in me and that transformed I think, my potential in life, because I just kept getting back up and my head and then kept going forward. And sooner or later, I made it.

John Corcoran  31:03  

A great story. Solo agent.net solignt.net is the website. Where can people learn a little bit more about you there anywhere else?

Jonathan Doochin  31:14  

I think there, there’s some blogs out there. You’re welcome to friend me on LinkedIn. Reach out anytime more than happy to be as useful as I can to anybody.

John Corcoran  31:23  

Sounds great. Alright. Thanks so much, Jonathan.

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