August 12, 2011, 11:27 AM — When Patrick Crane left LinkedIn in 2010, the social media expert was planning to take a break from the work world and the frenetic pace of Silicon Valley startup culture.
He didn't get to recharge his batteries for long. Almost as soon as Crane's open-ended sabbatical began, he was the target of a recruitment effort -- though not from another social networking company or hot new Internet-based startup. Crane's suitor was Sungevity, a solar-panel leasing company based in Oakland, Calif.
Before agreeing to sign on, however, Crane decided to check out the company in a more fundamental way -- as a customer. As SolveClimate News's Maria Gallucci writes:
He filled out a free online Sungevity iQuote, punching in his roof specifics, electricity usage and other household details. In less than 24 hours, the company calculated the roof's pitch and orientation to the sun and emailed Crane a design of his solar array without ever stepping foot in his San Francisco Bay Area home.
The quote tallied how much money the panels would save on electricity bills. And it stated that, at no cost to Crane, he could lease an installation from Sungevity, skipping out on tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs.
And like that, Crane was sold on Sungevity not only as a customer, but as the company's next chief marketing officer. He tells SolveClimate News, "I felt in my bones that solar is a social phenomenon. Solar is not a bunch of black panels on a roof. Solar is a lifestyle."
A lifestyle that Crane believes can be effectively communicated via social media. His mission is to raise Sungevity's profile by, among other things, getting current users to spread the word about the "Rooftop Revolution" in the hopes that it will attract new solar customers.
Crane -- who still has a LinkedIn profile, by the way -- tells SolveClimate News that his company plans to develop web- and mobile-based apps designed to allow customers to monitor their systems and communicate with other solar-panel owners:
"They geek out over solar. The more you empower them to have those conversations, the greater the referral rates climb," he said.
Sungevity's installations currently are centered in the Southwest part of the U.S., but the company is in the middle of a big marketing push on the East Coast. According to SolveClimate News, the company has only 5% of current solar installations in the U.S., trailing two other Bay Area companies, SunRun (with 26% market share) and SolarCity (13%).
But Sungevity is growing.