VoyageLA: Meet Zain Jan of Sungrade Solar

Original Story From VoyageLA: Find The Original Story Here


Today we’d like to introduce you to Zain Jan.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am an only child and a first-generation immigrant, all stakes were on me. Like any middle-class family, my parents thought that the only way I could succeed and build a life for myself in this free nation is by pursuing a higher education and climbing up the traditional corporate ladder.

However, academia and no matter how much it taught me, was not the right fit for my psychological makeup. I learn and thrive in an environment of practical training, and so do a lot of people.

This is where the idea of “the force of opportunity is greater than the force of culture” came first to me.

However, I wasn’t presented with opportunities, I created them for myself. Thus breaking free from the influence of traditionalism and culture, and this is only when I could do what I really wanted.

I took the idea of hustling that I was brought up with and the pressure of being an only child, and that of fresh immigrants, and channeled it towards being pro-active.

One opportunity to another helped me develop a skill-set few people at my age or even older had access to. I cut down on the years spent in college and used them to absorb every practical trading and selling tactic I could get why hands on.

At 20 years old, I had been following my intuition and was used to do what my instincts told me to do. With an ever developing network of professionals that I cultivated from my multiple interactions, I met a select few that trusted my abilities enough to count on me to start a business.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
If there is a middle line between smooth and bumpy, then that would describe how the road has been for me. On a personal level, I had gambled everything that my family wanted me to do. Disappointing them was off the table for me.

It was a huge stress generator, but thankfully one of my mentors taught me to direct stress towards empowering myself instead of self-sabotage and crippling anxiety. On a professional level, it is extremely challenging to prove yourself in any industry when you are 19, 20 years old, with no college degree and only your charisma to do the talking for you. So yes, it was bumpy on many levels, but it was also smooth because I had surrounded myself with people who mentored me into reaching the first levels of success I wanted to reach. One factor that helped me walk down a very ambiguous path without losing vision and the prospect of reward, is self-confidence. Trusting my gut feeling, and the fact that no matter where I would end up, either a college dropout or a mass influencer, I will always find a way to pick myself up.

The moment I got rid of my fears, I had nothing to lose. My head was completely in the game.

Please tell us about Sungrade Solar.
The thing we are the proudest of is the fact that our company, Sungrade Solar, is operating in a noble industry. We are not only making a move to salvage what we have destroyed of our environment, we are also giving families who are stuck in a vicious cycle of Utility monopoly and high energy costs, cut down on their bills. Over time these savings amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine if this is directed to a fund, it could finance their children’s education, medical bills, mortgages etc..

As any rational human being would think, what is the trade-off? The deal is too good to be true. The Solar Systems we are offering them must either be expensive, ineffective or worst, defective. The biggest rejection our company receives is not that Americans don’t want to cut down on their Utility Expenses. They do not believe that their government has set up a whole political and financing structure for this to be possible. It really does sound too good to be true.

Now, to explain this in the appropriate terminology, we are a Residential Solar Company. This means that our client base is composed of American Families and Households.

About a decade ago, it was time to push persistently and constantly for renewable power, but to push in a more intelligent way. As the impact of environmental crisis the world was and is still continuously suffering from becomes more and more prominent, we had to establish the foundation to substitute fossil fuels with clean energy sources.

Technological advances have made renewable power more competitive than ever. But for this alternative power to fulfill its potential, the approach we were taking had to change. We had to build a self-operating infrastructure both politically and economically for Solar to get to where it is right now.

For Solar to exercise power and presence in the energy market, it had to be available to the public. This is how Photovoltaic (PV) technology was used in a particular market segment that supplies energy for Residential Solar.

To understand how our industry works, we must acknowledge that in order to support the growth of renewable energy the United States’ Federal Government was generous enough to provide federal tax incentives to support the financing process of Solar energy systems, which are very expensive in comparison with other energy sources.

With those federal taxes being the driving incentive for the growth of this industry, at least implicitly. One prominent example is The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which is a federal income tax credit valued at 30% of the cost of solar energy systems.

Another advantage is that businesses investing in Solar energy projects have the privilege to claim the accelerated depreciation deduction. It is an income tax deduction that gives the taxpayer the opportunity to re-obtain the cost of a certain property, for example, deterioration or obsolescence of the property. This depreciation deduction lies under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), and applying it to Solar systems as the property concerned, this means that businesses can recover the investment in Solar systems through this deduction.

With these advantages existing on a federal level, there exist different state-level incentives to aid homeowners with installation costs. Unsurprisingly, the states with the biggest solar markets are the ones responsible for the most efficient Solar policies. Which explains why California is leading the residential Solar market.

Because of the fact that most cannot directly benefit from the advantages listed above, they are forced to incorporate third-party partners. These are investors that help with the system cost. This is called a Tax Equity Financing which is usually performed by insurance companies and large corporations and hedge funds. These institutions supply direct capital prior to the installation in return for the Tax Credits and depreciation deduction associated with the Solar energy properties.

The residential Solar Leasing model surfaced to provide homeowners and sales companies with an alternative financing method. This new structure has allowed the PV residential industry to access easy financing and therefore grow exponentially in the past few years. The leasing model came into play because a lot of homeowners cannot afford the upfront cost of PV Solar systems. Now that I have covered the foundation of our industry, let me introduce the history of the product that made it possible for the homeowner to go green for free.

The Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) intervened to allow homeowners to enter into a long-term contract with a third party financing company, where the customer agrees to provide the financier with small monthly payments under the condition that they are lower than the Utility Bill payment. While the homeowner consumes the Solar energy produced by the system and with no cost upfront.

Now we must establish the difference between a typical Solar Lease and the PPA. The lease functions similarly to a loan agreement, where the monthly payments are stable and constant. The PPA functions in parallel with the lease except that the payments are delivered based on the system performance (a certain amount of cents per KWH produced, keeping in mind that the payment rate must be lower than the Utility company’s rate. For example, PG&E’s – The Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco – the rate is .189 cents, the PPA will then be at a rate of .169 and in some cases drop as low as .149 cents per KHW.

What sets us apart from most Residential Solar companies and I dare to say, sales companies, in general, is our process. We were able to reduce the sales cycle from 2 months on average to 3 weeks maximum. This is not only thanks to our highly trained and informed sales team, it is also because our logistics system is designed to not view the solar energy industry in general as a “One Size Fits All” case.

Our CEO Aaron Katz has been in the industry for over 10 years. He says “Solar is not a linear curve, every single customer is a special case and will have either a specific requirement to fulfill or a technical problem to overcome.”

Understanding this helped us develop a versatile and robust system designed to cover all aspect of the sale and to treat every single customer as a unique case.

To be honest, our success mostly comes down to our human resources and the approach we take to value all members of our company as assets. Not dispensable and replaceable employees.

We open the door to empowerments, communication and to most importantly growth. We came to see that the singular problem capable of ruining our company is losing its members. From the initial team of executives to the most recent new hires, everyone in Sungrade is valuable, and any manager will tell you that stagnation is the biggest reason for unsatisfaction in one’s job.

In Sungrade, we have managed to create a family, a support system, and an open-door policy. We don’t believe in the hierarchy in Sungrade, we believe that anyone can present their ideas, concerns, and contributions to us at any time. With utmost respect and consideration.

This, in my opinion, is why we are growing so fast. Our teams do not want to stop working, they have taken on our mission and made it theirs. It’s no longer a matter of making money for yourself. Our family members display a beautiful sense of selflessness and view their success and Sungrade’s as one.

What role has luck (good luck or bad luck) played in your life and business?
I am not a big believer in luck. I, however, believe in personal capabilities and mental strength. Monk-like discipline gets you wherever you want and attracts people who are able to identify it. Many people said that Sungrade was lucky to have started at the time it did, by the team who did it. It was simply a carefully calculated market examination that revealed the convenience of the time. When it comes to our team, it is because of our life choices and our work ethics that brought us together.

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