Ahmed Owiess thought he found his calling when selling solar panels door-to-door in 2017. The solar industry fascinated him, he loved talking to customers, and he fully believed in the benefits of the product he sold.
But after selling panels for a few years, Ahmed noticed that his employers never offered to help customers post-installation. Sudden power outages or connection delays? Not their problem. This didn’t sit right with Ahmed. He’d convinced people to invest in solar face-to-face and wanted to support them. But if his role in the sale was over, how could he?
Rather than contribute to the issue, Ahmed left his sales job in September 2020 to create The Energy Company. He now sells domestic solar panels with a thoughtful after-care process to battle the solar stigma: that it’s an expensive, unnecessary source of energy.
But it took three broken dreams before Ahmed built his multimillion-dollar business.
How Do You Know When You’ve Found Your Calling?
Born and raised in Egypt, Ahmed knew from childhood that his future lay across the globe in the United States, where he dreamed of living and working. After a decade of pestering his family to move overseas, he decided to pursue his dream alone at 18.
“I’m a bit impulsive, so if I want to do something, I’ll do it. If you think too deeply about something, you’ll convince yourself not to do it,” Ahmed says. “The fear didn’t sink in until I arrived here and was alone. But I knew that my calling was to be in the US.”
Ahmed started studying industrial engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2013. But after two years, he had to withdraw from the private university due to rising costs. Feeling aimless, Ahmed returned to Egypt and took a gap year to figure out his next steps.
Since money had forced him back home, Ahmed thought of a cheaper alternative: studying supply chain management at Iowa State University. That way, if he couldn’t find work in the US, he could return to Egypt and apply what he’d learned at his father’s trucking company.
After graduating in 2017, Ahmed was offered a supply chain job in Chicago. He turned it down. Home beckoned. All his friends and family were there. Perhaps all this American talk was a pipe dream – a child’s fantasy. But it only took six months for Ahmed to return to his original plan.
“I gave myself six months to try living and working in Egypt, and it just never worked out. The culture and everything were just not for me, you know?” Ahmed says. “I didn’t have a job lined up, but I moved to California to see the West Coast for the first time. I thought, hey, I’m going to go to LA and see what happens.”
What happened was a few dead-end jobs and one lucky break that led Ahmed to start a business.
Battling Solar Stigma
After arriving in Los Angeles, Ahmed worked at a beach store for several months. He scraped just enough money together to pay his bills and live in a hostel on the city outskirts. Scouring job sites for open positions, Ahmed eventually stumbled upon a solar panel sales job.
“I didn’t know anything about the solar industry or going door-to-door. I didn’t even know door-to-door existed, because being born and raised in Egypt, no one comes knocking on your door trying to sell you anything,” Ahmed says.
For $100 a week, Ahmed worked ten to twelve hours a day walking LA neighborhoods. Despite the low pay, he learned that he was good at convincing people to switch to solar. He soon cared less about his paycheck and more about solar and sales knowledge.
Ahmed’s employers, on the other hand, only cared about his sales numbers. No one followed up with these customers, even though solar panels require regular maintenance. Some panels would fail days after installation, and his company wouldn’t go out to fix them until weeks or months later.
For the next three years, Ahmed noted customer complaints and experimented with different sales tactics.
“Solar is such a great product and benefit to everything – the environment, humanity, our way of life. But it has stigma behind it because of pressure selling and a lack of customer care,” Ahmed says. “I thought I could do so much better. That’s why I started The Energy Company.”
Rather than focus on the sale, Ahmed emphasizes after-sales support and maintenance to troubleshoot performance issues.
“It shouldn’t be a huge decision for you to go clean energy. Whether you believe in climate change or not, it’s not about politics. It’s a human right. Especially in the US, there shouldn’t be power outages,” Ahmed says.
“You don’t need to be rich or to believe in climate change to use solar. We want to make the process easier by providing clean energy solutions with The Energy Company.”
Turning the Typical “Sales Mentality” on Its Head
A few months before his 25th birthday, Ahmed spent hours each day writing his goals for The Energy Company and how to achieve them. He invested thousands of dollars from his savings into building a website and developing a marketing plan.
The founder also used his connections in the industry to contract solar installation companies. In his mind, The Energy Company would sell panels to residential buyers and then send professionals to install them.
“You can’t start a company without people. You can have a good idea and all the money in the world, but if you don’t have people that believe in what you’re trying to do, it won’t succeed.”
Ahmed could handle some of the sales himself, but to earn dozens of contracts, he’d need a sales team to help him. After The Energy Company launched in March 2021, Ahmed hired a customer acquisition team who cared as much about his clean energy mission as he did.
“You can’t start a company without people. You can have a good idea and all the money in the world, but if you don’t have people that believe in what you’re trying to do, it won’t succeed,” Ahmed says.
“Running a startup is challenging, and I didn’t understand the full scope of that challenge at first. It’s a lot of work, it’s stressful, and there are times when you won’t make any money. Everything goes into growing the company. So you have to find people who want to be a part of this and take the risk with you.”
Ahmed’s employees believed in his mission and appreciated his instruction. He turned the lessons he’d learned as a door-to-door salesman into constructive advice for his sales team.
“I dislike the sales mentality. So instead of selling to our customers, we educate them on the benefits of solar,” Ahmed says. “Selling is such an old way of doing things. In this age, no one wants to feel like you forced their hand. You want them to come to a decision themselves. So we provide the information for them to make the right decision.”
Customers who sign up for The Energy Company also receive continued clean energy service. Rather than sell the product and abandon customers, Ahmed established a customer service line to help people troubleshoot issues as soon as possible.
In the last two years, Ahmed’s also built his own installation team so everything stays in-house. The Energy Company now handles panel sales, installation, and education. A customer success team writes about the benefits of clean energy for the website too.
Launch Quickly and Then Upgrade
Ahmed’s impulsiveness helped him launch The Energy Company quickly. But looking back, he’s learned a lot about patience. The founder doesn’t want the business to grow too fast and lose its customer-centric focus.
“Sometimes I want things done fast, but I have to just let it happen,” Ahmed says. “My new mantra is, if I can’t sleep on it, it’s not a good idea. I’ll sleep on it for one or two nights max. But if the opportunity is not there in two days, it wasn’t even a real opportunity in the first place.”
But Ahmed admits that speed and execution trump patience when launching your startup.
“Don’t sit on ideas. It’s better to execute and then fix later.”
“Don’t sit on ideas. It’s better to execute and then fix later,” Ahmed says. “When you join an established startup, policies and systems are already in place. But when you join a new startup, you’re building it from scratch. And that benefits us because we can make changes quicker and more effectively than a corporation.”
Ahmed hopes The Energy Company will eventually sell other clean energy solutions. Charging stations for electric cars are next on his radar, and he hopes to launch the new product next year. The founder also wants to expand his market beyond the 15 states he currently services. Within three to five years, The Energy Company will hopefully operate nationwide.
At 27 years old, Ahmed has taken almost a decade to find his calling. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Everything I went through in life led me to be in this position. If you want to be a founder, do it because you believe that you can build and make a difference in people’s lives,” Ahmed says. “It will take every second of your life to make it happen, so you have to believe in yourself and your vision.”
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