Thoughts on the Solar Ambassador program by SolarCity

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" - Seneca

Cliche, I know.  But even behind overused, corny phrases lies some truth.  What might look like luck after the fact was likely only made possible because of many hours spent trying to better yourself in the past.  It's good to keep that in perspective because only by taking advantage of those opportunities can you create your own luck.

Full disclosure: I've worked for a solar energy provider called SolarCity for the past 4 years.  I've seen it grow from a small Silicon Valley startup to what is now a publicly traded behemoth.  I love the company and it has been a great ride so far.  I recognize this opportunity to be a part of a potentially special company from its roots is a once in a lifetime event and I don't want to take it for granted.  It has been great for me professionally too as I've had the chance to work with a lot of truly great people and feel like I have more impact than I would at a different company.

Anyways I have spent a lot of time at work and outside of it thinking about ways to help spread solar adoption, for SolarCity's benefit as well as the environment's benefit too.  One of the themes that consistently stuck out to me was enabling solar adoption to spread virally by giving more power to the public in the process.  Our old referral process involved a referrer giving someone's name and contact information for one of our salespeople to follow up with.  This was beneficial because it allowed just about anyone to get paid for recommending solar energy systems for others but I felt it didn't go far enough  to really become a monster and spread by itself without additional SolarCity resources spent on it.  

About a year ago I presented an idea to a lunchtime gathering of coworkers that was intended to be a forum to share thoughts.  This idea was to make the referral process itself more viral by making the act of sharing quicker by cutting out the salesperson from the process and allow anybody to create very basic sales proposals for anyone else themselves.  I believed that this would encourage sharing because the referrer would assume personal responsibility over spreading the message, and that our current process was too passive.  My thoughts as to the medium to use to spread it was a social media or mobile game that would simplify sharing by making the referral process more fun.  People could set up networks of additional referrers and be rewarded when they referred others.  Who wouldn't want to kill a couple minutes in line or waiting on something as well as potentially make a couple hundred bucks by promoting the spread of clean energy?

Slide explains why a distributed network of referrers is better

Slide that explains why decreasing the amount of time through the viral loop (time to share a proposal) is important

After vetting the idea with Operations leaders, I then met with the heads of our Marketing and Sales departments and presented it to them.  By this time I had done some more prep and had found viral coefficient metrics for our referral program that previously weren't known.  Basically we would improve on the virality of the program by really encouraging not only people to refer others to get a solar energy system installed but also to get those who you refer to   get more people to refer.  We would ride the inherent viral aspects of multi-level marketing to help grow the program.  They were initially intrigued but my communication with them fell off when I moved away from our HQ to work regionally.  

Slide that explains why the referral process in the early market of solar adoption doesn't work in the mainstream market of adoption

Slide that explains how we could "cross the chasm" to become an adopted technology

Recently though we rolled out a program called "Solar Ambassadors" that will allow anyone to build a referral network of up to three levels (someone you tell, someone that person tells and then someone else that THAT person tells) and be compensated if any of those referrers lead to solar energy customers.  I'm happy to see that principles of the idea are still alive and well and that it will be given a chance to prove its worth.  Some very smart people have been working on this for a long time it looks like and I think it has the makings of being a successful way to grow and acquire customers.  Even if it's not exactly the way I would've done it, I think the basic tenants of improving the viral coefficient of the referral program are still there.  This program allows for you to help promote the adoption of a technology that will change the world for the better while saving people money immediately. 

I'm sharing this story because I am proud to see something I worked hard on actually fleshed out and live, if it does turn out to be a big success I'll be able to take some small bit of credit for doing my part in the beginning, whether directly or indirectly.  

: )

//Edit, I guess employees aren't eligible for the Ambassadors program, but I encourage everyone else to join