In this week’s episode, John Striebel joins the show. He is the CEO of Apollo Energy.
John has been an active participant in the solar industry for the past seven years. However, over the last four years, John has worked effortlessly to establish Apollo Energy as a high-quality solar electricity provider. From someone who conducts both non-profitable and profitable businesses, his key advice is to regulate cash flow into the business and plan for catastrophe. He believes that investing too much too quickly is possibly the biggest mistake new business owners make, so he relies on a smaller circle and keeps himself flexible for adjusting in almost any role.
Furthermore, Striebel speaks about maintaining a good reputation online and what he does to spark his audience’s interest in the field.
John’s website: https://www.harnessoursun.com/
Katie Brinkley 0:02
Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode Welcome back to the podcast. My guest this week is John Struble. John is the CEO of Apollo energy. He has been in solar for about seven years and has been working at Apollo energy for about four years now. Apollo energy began with just him knocking on doors. Today, Apollo energy employs over 20 people and they are viewed as a high quality solar electricity provider. They boast all five star reviews on Google and an A plus with the BBB no customer complaints. They are still growing even through this Coronavirus madness. They’re also extremely fortunate to have not had to layoff anyone or furlough anyone which is rare for solar and preconstruction. Right now. John, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
John Striebel 1:03
Thanks for having me. I appreciate your time.
Katie Brinkley 1:05
So, John, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us where you grew up and what your life was like growing up, for sure.
John Striebel 1:11
So actually appreciate our conversation right before this goes, we have a lot of similarities. My parents weren’t in business at all. I’m actually from rural Nebraska. My dad’s a psychologist, and my mom worked in nonprofits like recycling, nonprofits, that kind of stuff. They were supportive of me and that kind of stuff. But I never really wanted to own my own business or thought that was an important thing to do. I studied psychology in undergrad and played sports and that kind of stuff. So I just really have tried to kind of take advantage of as many opportunities that could along the way more for just experience sort of thing. And honestly, I was of the mindset I worked in nonprofits only. I was the mindset that actually businesses were kind of just taking money from people and that kind of stuff. And maybe just not the best way that I could spend my time I guess, wanted to do like help people actually. So I did a lot of volunteering, actually, right out of undergraduate, I went and lived abroad in Romania, for about six months, designing behavioral interventions for kids with intellectual disabilities, actually, kids who are locked up in the Romanian orphanages and stuff, working with a nonprofit for them. There’s some special olympics stuff too. But they had a couple of different social business realms, we’re delivering wheelchairs and a couple of different things like that, that helped us sustain the nonprofit and then also did good for the community came back after six months of that it worked in Denver for a while, got married. And then my wife and I went to Tanzania with the same company, it’s most Vegas called for a year, designing like social businesses, working on a microcredit loan and doing some behavioral or sorry, programmatic things for the nonprofit and that kind of stuff, just consultants, I guess. And that’s where I started to be able to see studying things like Muhammad Yunus and love the social business kind of things, and see how business could really be done for good. And how it can directly make an impact for a lot of people through that then went to Colorado State, got a master’s in social business there, and then just start working. My only actually for profit job ever is in the solar industry, started working for a solar startup, that subcontracted with Solar City, basically. And then kind of like you said, did well doing that. And because of a couple different reasons, we’ll probably get into later things like sustainability planning for tough times, and that kind of stuff. So to start my own company. And so far, we’ve been successful on our journey,
Katie Brinkley 3:47
yet. So talk to us a little bit about starting your own company, and how you decided to take that leap. And some of the things that you’ve kind of had to learn along the way,
John Striebel 3:56
for sure, it was so even armed with what I thought was a good MBA and some pretty good experience in the industry. It was still really scary, not sure how you felt with it. But I was kind of terrified. And even having started several businesses, for other people to actually do that for yourself just as varied, intimidating. I felt just a lot of worried concerned, that kind of stuff, but was totally worth the leap. There’s a lot of backend work you really don’t think about when starting a business. So planning for that gap time before actually like marketing and doing that kind of stuff to set everything up was important, but realistically experienced. So it was my message thing. Experience mattered much more than the business education. Once everything’s all said and done. I think I was able to or have been able to succeed to this point because of the experience in successful marketing that kind of stuff, too.
Katie Brinkley 4:49
If someone is listening right now, who is an aspiring or new business owner, what is the single biggest piece of advice that you’d want to give him or her as their journey starts?
John Striebel 4:57
Yeah, so first is like I would say Believe in yourself would be kind of right along with that, take that leap, believe in yourself do a lot of the research and back in work, but you can definitely do it. You shouldn’t do it. That’s the intangible one, the tangible one is pay attention to cash flows, those going to most banks want to see two to three years of profit before they’ll even give you a loan. And I’m in the construction industry. So a lot of it is cash, heavy equipment, and supplies and projects and stuff. And IV. Very good companies, well managed companies have failed, but just because of cash flow, especially in the first year or two, because something weird like this happens. So that’s the tangible advice is be honest about cash flow, we had to for about a year and a half, two years, just pay everything on credit cards to get an extra 30 days to until everything was due. And so there’s just a dance you have to have with that. And I would redo cash flow charts, honestly, sometimes a couple times a day to make sure I was right. That’s my tangible advice is cash flows are important.
Katie Brinkley 6:05
Now, you brought up a good point when I was doing your introduction, you brought it up just now with cash flow and employees in the construction industry. And how have you been able to not furlough any of your employees and still remain successful during these uncertain times of Coronavirus work, so many construction industries and companies are having to put everything on pause unless they’re an essential business. Talk to us a little bit about how you’ve been able to keep everyone on and care for your employees. Yeah,
John Striebel 6:35
so it’s part of why we’ve been successful is just the nature of the solar industry. In my experience, they call it the solar coaster. So there’s a lot of boom and bust kind of situations. Back in my first year, actually, in my first three months in the industry, we sold a product that really relied on the utility giving a lot of money to a customer. And they ended that program suddenly, with no warning or anything. And we had to lay off like 40 people, suddenly, what again, at a time where everywhere else, and construction was booming, we had no product to sell. And that was the first of like many instances where the rules have changed just because solar is such a new industry. So that kind of gave us an advantage going into I would say this situation. But I would also say it’s a really good lesson learned to is just plan for catastrophe, especially when you’re starting new when even like with social media marketing, you know, all of a sudden now everybody’s using tick tock so how can you use that to market and taking advantage and figure something out? Right that, you know, there’s just everything’s always changing. So if you’re not willing to be agile, to learn new things, to create a new product, essentially, you’re often going to fail as well, just in the startup environment, just in general to
Katie Brinkley 7:50
Oh, absolutely. I’m sure that you brought up tic toc. And it is so true. A lot of businesses are wondering if they should even invest in it. And it’s one of those platforms where you know, it’s video, which everyone loves video, and if you before you know it, if you are on Tik Tok, you’re watching a 15 second video, which then turns into 15 minutes of 15 second videos. So Well, let’s talk a little bit more about your business. If you could go back and do anything differently on your journey, you’ve done a lot of non entrepreneur, nonprofit work. Yeah. And you know, that’s amazing. And I’m sure that you wouldn’t trade that for anything. But if you could go back and do anything differently to where you are now, what would you change?
John Striebel 8:33
Yes, that’s actually a really good question. I honestly do that one. So sorry. I was thinking through that one. Nothing really like stands out, for me or for that, that I would change or anything. There’s a lot of things like obviously, we play out things, you’d be different or whatever. One thing, though, that I wanted to touch on that I absolutely would change is kind of in business. And as an entrepreneur, there can be, you can experience a lot of self out, and that type of stuff, especially when you be cash. Like your wife supporting you, you know what I mean? So you just you can just experience a lot of that. So that’s one thing, I wish I would have been more confident in some of my decisions and remove some of that self doubt, because I would help with some of the sleepless nights. But again, without knowing how things are going to turn out. How are you going to do that? But it’s still it’s, that’s one thing I would have changed.
Katie Brinkley 9:29
What do you think that some of the biggest mistakes that business owners make when they’re trying to grow and sustain a business?
John Striebel 9:35
Yeah, so we’ve had, it’s investing too much too quickly. We how we came off our last year, we could easily have like 80 employees run around four or five different install teams and that kind of stuff. We just had a killer end of the year. And we wanted to come into this year running lean because there’s just gaps and sales and that kind of stuff. Had we done what everybody else in the industry do. invested in everybody hired people away from other companies and that kind of stuff became a pretty competitive hiring environment, then we would have been hurt to just like everybody else. But we didn’t do that we stuck true to our idea of running lean, of investing in the right people paying the right people well, and trying to work that way. I guess. I don’t know if that answers your question. No, it does.
Katie Brinkley 10:24
It does. And, you know, I mean, I think that a lot of business owners, especially small businesses, it’s hard because they see things are going well. And so they want to, okay, well, I gotta bring more people on I, you know, let’s grow, let’s grow. And before you know, you’ve, you’ve grown too fast. And now you have to let you know some help.
John Striebel 10:39
And there’s, there’s just so many ebbs and flows with any industry in any world, especially as you’re new into it in your first year or two, investing in in too many people too quickly, even though, something else I’ll say is, you said some advice, they kind of sticking a mini step back, maybe don’t start a business if you’re not willing to work every position in what that company will create or be an expert in every aspect of that, because you might not succeed in those areas that you don’t want to do well, and you know, unless you want to pay well and hire that spot. But that’s a lot of cash, you know. So being an expert in each little area, doing a lot of due diligence in each aspect of your, of your company, I would say that stuff helps out a lot too, especially when you’re newer company when you’re starting because things in every every position, every detail changed so much so rapidly, and everything in any industry, just be prepared for that being able to anticipate some of those changes, and keeping yourself ineligible. It’s almost your best defense as a small business owner.
Katie Brinkley 11:40
What does your model look like for finding and engaging and selling to your ideal clients and customers these days?
John Striebel 11:46
Yeah, so we have a had pretty much mostly go. Well, now we have a bit of a good online reputation, like on the first page of Google when you looked up solar companies, Denver, and some of those kind of like little wins for small companies. But we a lot of what we do is just face to face conversations,
Katie Brinkley 12:05
I want to dive into that a little bit about that small line of being it’s so important to be that very first organic search or your industry. And it’s so hard to get that What are you guys doing on your website to help get that that number one spot? Yeah,
John Striebel 12:20
that’s a really good question. So we have just lots and lots of fine tuning, honestly, making sure our keywords are right, making sure that the explanation of that basically like an explanation of what makes us different than the competitor shows up in the right searches, and doesn’t necessarily sell the product but sparked some interest in people meeting with us. Electricity is boring, solar’s kind of confusing. So these are really just best conversations face to face, or virtually like this, actually, we call it a screen share. And it works just as well. But it needs to be a personal conversation. And so just kind of trying to guide everything towards that it really helps to be honest with you streamline our marketing efforts, and became became a branch of what we do.
Katie Brinkley 13:06
I know you guys are active on Facebook and posting a lot of different articles and on the solar industry and projects that you’ve completed. Can you talk to us a little bit about the importance of doing that for a company?
John Striebel 13:21
Yeah, it’s I mean, that was essentially those are like the first baby steps to building an online platform is good website, and then start an online blog start conversations like this, things like this, expanding your reach and your searchability getting as connected as you can with enough tags and things everywhere. Even if you’re doing it yourself, honestly, because you just have to start somewhere. So as weird and elementary, whatever is it as it sounds, you got to tag yourself and share your own stuff. And it’s just that’s what she has to Yes.
Katie Brinkley 13:54
Yeah. And I think that especially, you know, for businesses that are just getting started on platforms like LinkedIn, and with their business pages, one of the struggles that many businesses might run into is like, Oh, well, no one’s following my business page on LinkedIn, and it’s all reliant on on the employees that work there to let people know about the content, I mean, hashtags, and in the content are going to go so far, but to really get the, you know, momentum going, the employees need to engage with the content to increase the algorithm.
John Striebel 14:25
Totally. Yeah, totally. And it’s, especially initially and then, and then eventually, over time, you know, we’ve missed, we established a strong customer base, we do get a good amount of referrals, many more. And that’s a lot of how we’ve been doing sales and staying open over this downtime. And again, extending that to an online reputation where your customers can engage online and get reviews and that kind of stuff on various websites or whatever. So that’s just like almost the second step of branching out your footprint, I guess.
Katie Brinkley 14:55
So let’s talk about Colorado here for a little bit because you’ve gotten to live in some really interesting places throughout the world, what do you like best about living and working in Colorado? What’s the appeal to having your business and life here?
John Striebel 15:08
Yeah, so Colorado is actually awesome. And we all know it’s it’s a lot of why a lot of us are here. I did grow up in Nebraska. But the part of Nebraska I grew up in, it’s the panhandle, so it’s actually closer to Denver than anywhere reputable in Nebraska. And my parents lived here in the 70s. So we always like, would come back, I actually spent spent some years in elementary school in Pueblo a little bit too, so. But it’s, I mean, the weather’s just awesome. It’s so humid in Nebraska, it’s windy all the time. It’s just you can be outside. Everybody’s cool, wants to hang out. Great culture, great vibes. Something that helps us is this, I don’t wanna say small town mentality. But you know, if you tried knocking on doors in Los Angeles, people will freak out, which I have I have gone door to door in LA. It’s not good. But here people will have a conversation with you. You know, some people are friendly. They say hi. And I really liked that aspect, too.
Katie Brinkley 16:05
One passion that so many business owners and entrepreneurs have is to build a business around their lifestyle. How has that played out in your story and approach to running your business? Yeah, so
John Striebel 16:14
I think I actually really liked that question, because I was thinking about it. And this 100% is my lifestyle. Like, I really like just walking around talking to people about solar. I really like installing it, every aspect of it, I really enjoy it. I do feel like we’re helping people. I believe that it’s it is energy independence, I believe, till the bills that but it’s just that you can’t control. And it’s, I mean, honestly, it just really represents a lot of what I’ve been searching for to do as a career too. As well as does that weird thing where it meets a market need, you know, the environmental laughs That was solar, even when you include end of life and that kind of stuff, and manufacturing, just unbelievable. Colorado, still a pretty cool, heavy state. And as we’ve seen, with just three weeks of people not driving, all the mountains look a little clearer. So there’s, there’s all those things that are important that you can do pretty easily for your offset. And so I feel like it’s it is an aspect of me making a difference in the world, that I’m crazy. I believe utilities are monopolies. So there’s that aspect.
Katie Brinkley 17:16
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received? How has that impacted your business?
John Striebel 17:21
Well, so there’s a couple different pieces of advice that I thought were pretty valuable. The first is you don’t always get paid money. Sometimes you can pay with experience. And honestly, our first year, we were essentially doing jobs, just a cost to get a reputation and to get some sort of business. We expected that and got lucky with some of the timing on that. But it’s and also throughout my career, a lot of that stuff has been volunteering, you know. So it’s a lot of experience, you can gain just branch out, do things you’re afraid of maybe even because you’ll be surprised what you can learn and where skills are transferable different things. I also think that, like you said, to start a business to be successful just has to become your whatever. And I also think there is an element of just it is, not only is it your hobby, but it’s just what you do. I always wear an Apollo t shirt because I’m always advertising Apollo people in the store asked me what Apollo is on my sweatshirt and everything might look like a cartoon character, because I’m sweating the same thing every day.
Katie Brinkley 18:23
It easy to pick out your outfit every day, that’s for sure
John Striebel 18:26
exactly what that is. There’s an element of that. But I also think I’m always looking for an opportunity. I’m always looking for a customer. And sometimes luck is when hard work meets opportunity. There is some luck, that’s just dumb luck. But that’s been So my best advice to His luck is when hard work meets opportunity.
Katie Brinkley 18:44
Now, before we finish up, is there anything that I didn’t ask you about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share?
John Striebel 18:50
One thing I would like to share on the end, and it’s just it’s less less the value of necessarily a face to face conversation, but more the value of understanding customers is understand exactly who your customer is. And actually talk to that person. One of the businesses that I started to no longer with that’s how we learned the business wasn’t going to work was actually just directly talking to our customers about hey, how do you use this? How do you prescribe medications, that kind of stuff. And that’s why I think Apollo is successful is because every day we have several people, I mean, not now but usually every day we have several people talking to people about what they think about energy, what they think about electricity, how can solar help fill their needs? And how can we help with that? Those are our conversations every day. And that’s really how we approach it. And I think also not being afraid to ask because people slam doors in people’s faces, people hang up on you all the time. You everybody has to cold call bidden business and cold call everybody. If you can get past that and know that you have something that’s going to change someone’s life that is going to make them better and is going to improve their business or themselves or their situation. Know that in your heart of hearts and believe it and you’ll get through it you make it happen.
Katie Brinkley 19:59
I love that And you know, you’re also fortunate to because you are going out and talking to your potential clients and customers and people that will never be a customer. But you’re asking them questions. And every answer or follow up question that they have is a potential blog post that you can write for your website, and then repurpose, you know, in an email or repurpose for social media. And by having these conversations and opening the door for dialogue, that you’re just going to be able to better serve new customers and again, help your own websites with their SEO.
John Striebel 20:31
Yeah, no, totally. And with that also, every a lot of times when we leave doors, people Google us, they search us and so having a pretty solid and very well reputable online presentation, even though a lot of what we’re doing conversations, we have phone calls from people days after, because we handed them a flyer, whatever that looks good. We have good website and good reviews, positive reviews. So all that stuff does work together years on all that hard work does pay off, that makes kind of a little arrow to a little point you’ve had to make the marketing.
Katie Brinkley 20:59
Absolutely. Well, John, this has been such a great conversation. Where can we find out more about you and your business online?
John Striebel 21:07
Thank you. Yes. So we are Apollo energy. We tried to be cute with the marketing. So the website’s harness our sun.com side of things. That’s www.hr ESSOUR es un calm. And you can look us up Apollo energy, Denver, Colorado or something like that. We’re also at all sorts of home shows, trade shows all kinds of stuff. So we just talked about energy, no high pressure sales will talk to
Katie Brinkley 21:33
you. Great. Well, thank you again, so much for coming on the show today.
John Striebel 21:37
Thank you again for having me. Thank you for everything you’re doing for small businesses.
Katie Brinkley 21:41
And if you’re ready to take your social media to the next level for your small business, head over to my website and check out my free video training the three biggest mistakes small businesses make with social media and how to avoid them. Discover how to make your social media marketing stand out from the crowd online. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.