By Louis Hansen
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Lyn Jurich, the Co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, a leading residential solar energy system provider.
Lynn Jurich was in somewhat of a hurry to start a company. The second-year Stanford Business School student wanted to try starting a business from scratch after working at an investment bank.
Her then-fiance, Brad Murray, was across the country at Harvard Business School and also itching to launch a startup. The couple agreed that the first one to launch would be the entrepreneur — at least in the short-term — while the other partner took a stable job to pay the bills.
Jurich won the race. In 2007, she joined fellow Stanford graduate student Ed Fenster to co-found Sunrun, a residential solar system provider. They wanted to tackle a potentially huge market. Jurich became one of the few women CEOs in the renewable energy industry. Sunrun has about 100,000 customers in 15 states, including California. It’s one of the leading residential solar providers in the U.S.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Q How has your business changed?
A We had a big vision when we started. It’s fun to see how much of that has been realized. The original thesis was: Solar is getting really cheap, technology is getting more and more distributed (and) the whole energy industry can be reshaped with renewables and distributed renewables.
At the time, it was fairly controversial because most people saw our focus on the residential rooftop market as just a small niche market. There were many years where we were just getting it up and running, plugging it along in one house at a time. It was very stressful in the early days.
Now, I think we feel very proud that that vision has played out. Many others now recognize that rooftop solar and distributed solar may be one of the fastest ways to switch the energy away from fossil and on to renewable. It’s working and consumers want it.
Q At other solar companies, the move is away perhaps from leasing and on to buying. Is that what you see? Where is the consumer now?
A The consumer is starting to get comfortable with the inevitability of rooftop solar. In the early days, you were really counting on early adopters. Now, I think we see this really appealing more to a mainstream consumer. They are comfortable with it.
In terms of leasing versus owning, we still believe that for the most part, delivering energy as a service is the mainstream way consumers want to buy it. Your average consumer doesn’t necessarily want to take care of the equipment — use their equity, debt capacity for buying.
We sell both ways. The majority still choose to go with the lease.
In the future, we also believe the system will likely get more complex. It’s not just going to be solar panels. We’ll also start to incorporate storage. We’ll also start to incorporate technologies that are happening in the smart home.
Q What happens in the regulatory climate with President-elect Donald Trump?
A Speaking for our industry, distributed solar, I don’t think much changes. It’s being played out at the state level. If you look at the most recent election, take Florida for example. In Florida, the voters elected (Sen. Marco) Rubio and Trump. Republican administration. The same voters also defeated a ballot (measure) where the utility was trying to block rooftop solar. The interesting thing about rooftop solar is it has about 85 percent public support. Of Republicans, it’s 84 percent. It’s actually quite nonpartisan.
The tax credit we benefit from at the federal level was passed by a Republican-led Congress. It was enacted under (President) George W. Bush. There’s really strong bipartisan support.
Our energy source is very “of the moment.” It’s very “of the people.” It’s a massive job creator. The theme of the administration so far has been, we want to create jobs, we want to create jobs in the country. The solar industry has created about 200,000 jobs. It’s been a huge win. You can’t export those jobs.
Q Are there advantages to being a woman in a mostly male environment?
A (Laughs) On balance, probably not. No.
Q (Laughs) I guess I was looking for a silver lining.
A I’ve written a lot about this. There’s no question, in an operating company, and in trying to build something, a diversity of views is massively important. And different ways of approaching things — that is definitely an advantage. Just a different world perspective.
Q What do you tell young women who want to become entrepreneurs?
A My advice to women typically is two things: One is to get really comfortable with money and finances and not to be intimidated by it.
You have to just recognize that, hey, I can just ask questions. I don’t have to be an expert in this. These people across the table from me, they are all men and that can be intimidating — you don’t see examples that look like yourself. You just have to have confidence. Some of the smartest people I ever worked for played dumb and asked the questions. Just get your hands in there and get really comfortable with the money side of it.
The other piece of advice I give is, if you are honest and you work hard, there’s no shame in any outcome. It’s very freeing if that’s your philosophy. Be straightforward. Work hard. Be honest. Get yourself in uncomfortable situations, because that’s where you grow. There’s no shame in any outcome after that.
Five things about Lynn Jurich
1. Jurich was recruited by Harvard and MIT for multiple sports, including volleyball and basketball.
2. She met her husband while working for Summit Partners, a growth equity firm. The two kept the relationship together through graduate school on opposite coasts: Jurich went to Stanford, Murray went to Harvard Business School. They married in the middle of their second year.
3. Jurich meditates to help balance her life.
4. She has returned to Stanford as a guest lecturer, talking about Sunrun and growing a company from the ground up.
5. She’s an avid reader of biographies, nonfiction and fiction. She recently finished the novel “The Sellout.”
Position: Co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, a leading residential solar energy system provider
Born: Tacoma, Washington
Education: Stanford University, bachelor’s in science, technology and society; MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business
Experience: Associate at Summit Partners, investment company. Co-founder, CEO of Sunrun
Family: Husband, Brad Murray, co-founder and president of cosmetics company Tatcha; and a 1-year-old daughter
Home: San Francisco