Each quarter, we sit down with female leaders in the solar industry to learn more about their paths to success, their careers, and we ask for their advice to our network. This quarter, we sat down with Kirstin Hoefer, Senior Vice President of Customer Solutions at Clean Power Finance. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you get into the solar industry?
I started my career in recruiting. I thought it would be helpful to go back to business school to rise up the ranks and be successful, and I assumed afterwards I would get back into recruiting. When I was at Stanford, the Internet was just getting going, and I was really attracted to that industry. After school, I went to Excite@Home and then later to EBay for a total of almost ten years doing marketing, product management, and general management. I moved up the ranks there and became a senior leader helping with growth strategies. EBay was a big company that provided me with amazing training, and after some time, I wanted to take those skills to a smaller company. It was natural for me to start looking at consumer internet start-ups – that was about the time when LinkedIn and Facebook were starting – but they didn’t appeal to me on a personal level. I knew that if I was going to do product and marketing, I needed to be passionate about what the company was doing.
Later, a friend of mine from business school started Sungevity and introduced me to CEO Andrew Birch and Senior Vice President and Co-founder Danny Kennedy. I knew I wanted to do something that made the world a better place, and thought Sungevity gave me that opportunity. I joined the company when they had twenty people as their first Chief Marketing Officer. We were so small that]we used to take out our own trash, and that was back when Sungevity was still installing their own systems. I loved their culture, and I knew that we were going to make a difference in the world
After Sungevity, I went to Sunrun through another Stanford connection, and ran their marketing team for a year. What most appealed to me about them at the time is that they were very strong operationally, and they had success with obtaining project financing to do more solar deals.
Tell us about how you started at Clean Power Finance (CPF).
I joined Clean Power Finance in March of 2011 just after Google and Kleiner invested in the company. By that time, I had three kids, and I wanted more flexibility than Sunrun was able to provide. Nat Kreamer, my boss, had just joined Clean Power Finance as CEO, and there were 35 people when we started. I was the first marketing person, and I built the marketing team. After two years, I added responsibility for the customer support team and then shortly after that, the product management team. I became Senior Vice President of Customer Solutions in December of 2013, managing the team responsible for the complete end-to-end product lifecycle: from product definition through build, launch and support.
Clean Power Finance was my first B2B company, and I was happy to give up the very difficult consumer lead generation component that I had previously managed at Sunrun and Sungevity. I like the impact that we have at CPF. We essentially make solar more affordable, which makes the planet a better place. We are a residential solar finance marketplace, and we have two customers: investors who bring the capital and want to invest in solar, and installers and integrators who use CPF quoting tools to present solar finance options to homeowners, giving them affordable options to go solar. We connect installers to sources of capital and allow them to sell solar to more homeowners. Having a marketplace in the middle manages much of the risk for investors, and we enable installers to build their businesses more successfully.
What aspects of your job interest you the most?
I joined CPF in the first place because I love the mission of the company: to make a difference in the world by making solar more affordable. It is a very fast-paced, competitive industry with a lot of innovation. Many of the things we are figuring out are for the first time. We have a lot of smart people working together under a shared mission. It is sometimes hard, but it is also very exciting and interesting. It is satisfying to see the progress we’ve made over the last three and a half years. There’s always something new to work on. The team here is awesome.
How does CPF feel about loans for residential solar?
Loans are a current industry trend that has its general merits and facts. With the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) potentially going away and the debate over whether the Federal Government will extend it, lots of people believe we need additional options other than solar leases and PPAs. CPF agrees and will offer a competitive loan product early next year. We are agnostic to what type of solar financing a homeowner chooses. We will provide leases and PPAs, options to utilize Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, and even cash: the more options that make solar more affordable and give homeowners choice, the better for our customers.
Will CPF ever do commercial?
I think we could. There is lots of opportunity in residential solar in the U.S. Commercial would be the easiest next step, and international would be the next step after that, and then we could move onto other renewable energy sources. In the near-term, we will focus on residential solar. We have to focus, and if we start exploring commercial, it would take away from residential.
What are you most proud of about working at CPF?
I am very proud of the collaboration across the team. From product managers to engineers, everything we work on touches other groups. We are successful due to teamwork. We have a cultural focus called “high TIDE”, which promotes being Trusted, Innovative, Dedicated, and Empowered. To be believed as ‘high TIDE’ by our customers, we have to be that in the company as well. I learned that lesson from Ebay: culture has to be built early and thoughtfully. We have a great culture and great teamwork.
When we started we wanted to be a solar finance marketplace with a bunch of investors, but at first, we had only one investor and one channel partner. Now we have grown and have utilities and banks such as Integrys and Morgan Stanley working with us. Diversity in investors means diversity in the financial products we can offer. We have raised over a billion dollars now for project finance. We’re on our 9th project finance fund, and we have hundreds of installers who actively sell financing we make available on the CPF Market. I’m proud of that growth.
Do you have any advice for women starting a career in the solar industry?
Definitely pursue a career in solar! It is amazing for our industry to get the intellect and perspectives of women working on the challenge. It is satisfying to work on a world problem that needs to be solved and help figure out how to provide energy to the world versus how to get the next selfie on the internet.
I’d also suggest women seek out companies that embody what’s important to them. What’s important to me is flexibility. I have a big job and work a ton of hours, but I can do that flexibly. Another example – I have an MBA, and my company values that educational background. Seek out a company that values things that you value.
And when you select the company you work for, I am a huge proponent of finding team first, even over strategy. If the people aren’t strong, you’re not going to make it. Seek a great boss, but remember that bosses can change, so your peer set and also people who will be working for you is super important.
There are more and more opportunities for women to meet other women in the solar industry. When looking for a solar job six years ago, it was early. I got into the industry through business school connections. If you’re looking to just get started in the industry, try a quick search on Google and check “women in solar” to pull up a few different networking opportunities and groups that are very open and helpful. Or try LinkedIn for connections to companies. I am a mom of three with a big job and don’t go to a lot of stuff, but when I do make the time, I meet great people and find women to be positive and supportive of each other.
Anything else that we should know?
I think women – or anyone really – can make a difference and do way more than they think. I mostly experience that with women who are worried that they won’t find the right balance, and won’t have enough time at home and work too much. I encourage people to push their limits. I have been really satisfied and surprised by how much we can get done by working with a great team.
Last, I want to leave readers with a word of encouragement. Try and make a difference. Thank you.