Solar energy is a volatile, rapidly evolving industry. As a result, many solar companies are merging. Portable solar company Goal Zero, for example, was recently purchased by commercial solar company NRG, in a move that company executives hope will help the company build on its past success.
After the buyout, Lee Fromson took over as of Goal Zero CEO. Goal Zero created a strong solar brand by focusing on a mission to do good. In following the company culture of doing good deeds, the company separated its brand from the pack.
We recently spoke to Fromson (pictured) about Goal Zero to hear his thoughts on what companies in any industry can do to set themselves apart from the competition.
Small Business Center: To what do you attribute Goal Zero’s past successes?
Fromson: Founder and former CEO Robert Workman was successful because he was dedicated to a mission and he was agile in how he achieved it. Today, Goal Zero is successful because we retain the agility necessary to create portable power products in a constantly changing market of tech gadgets.
Keep your mission written on a wall, on your desktop, and remind yourself why you’re doing it daily. Don’t be afraid to stray from the path you set for yourself as long your end goal is the same. Sometimes a bump in the road and a different path is all you need to create something incredible.
What advantages do small businesses have over larger competitors?
One of the best things about being a small business is your ability to maneuver [around] roadblocks and take advantage of opportunities without the restrictions that come with being a big business. Agility is a hard thing to hold onto when you start growing. However, it can be one of your greatest strengths in the future.
Big business is notorious for being faceless. As a small company, you can speak to customers on a deeper level and have meaningful interactions. Create your brand voice now, before too many hands get involved.
What advice would you give small businesses in other industries looking to learn from Goal Zero’s success?
Have a mission that you would do anything to achieve. Before Goal Zero became a solar company, Robert worked tirelessly on ways to empower Congolese people to lift themselves out of poverty. When he realized how essential power was to the solution, he tried different means to provide reliable, sustainable power. Solar happened to be the perfect blend of portability, reliability, and cost.
We spend a great deal of time analyzing the marketplace, watching trends. We take all that information and create products for specific price points. Our design team spends months debating nuances of products to ensure the look and feel is where it needs to be. That dedication to products is what separates us.
While Robert came from a volunteer background, you come from retail. What lessons did you bring to the company from REI?
Be personal with your customer service. Ditch the cold, nameless (and expensive) customer service robot for a real human. You’ll be amazed at the response you get from your customers. It’s amazing how many people will tell their friends and family about their experience with customer service, it can make or break you right out of the gate — not to mention that personal referrals make for easy sales.