Pierre Vermeulen, founder of Solease, a company that rents out solar panels, sees himself as one of the richest men in the world. “I do what I believe in, I do what I think is important, I work with nice people and I am creating an impact. But, it’s definitely not a cakewalk. It’s hard work and I put in a lot of hours.”
Before Pierre started Solease he worked at LeasePlan for 15 years – the biggest car lease company in the world. After a successful project Pierre got sent to India to make a loss-making branch profitable again. In New Delhi, one of the worst polluted cities in the world, he became father of a son.
“I then asked myself: ‘what world am I leaving behind for my son?’ I was in a beautiful expat apartment. It was 45 degrees Celsius and six air conditioners were roaring. The power went out because the energy company could not handle the demand. A diesel generator took over and black clouds of smoke went past the window of my apartment. I thought to myself: this is strange, there must be a technical solution for all this.” Pierre thought solar power could be a big part of the solution.
Saving money immediately
Pierre later took part in an electrical vehicle project where they explored the option of also leasing the charging stations and solar panels. To prepare, Pierre read a lot about solar panels. He soon got an idea that eventually would become Solease.
“The time it takes to earn back the investment of your solar panels is between 6 and 8 years. That is a pretty long wait. We however are giving our customers the profits right away.”
Solease customers don’t have to pay thousands of euros to buy the panels – they can rent them. That means customers can save euros and CO2 instantly, with the additional flexibility to at any time handover the rental contract to a new homeowner, outright purchase it or give back the system to Solease.
Solar panels or savings account?
Pierre found out that people are hesitant to purchase solar panels because of three things: investment, hassle and risk. “At LeasePlan it was my job to take away those same obstacles in car lease. I implemented the LeasePlan-model in the solar industry.”
Why would you put your money in the bank when you’ll get a far better return by installing solar panels on your roof?
According to Pierre there is no reason not to put solar panels on your roof. “Do you have any idea what the returns are on solar panels? You earn back your investment in six years, which means that you get a return on your investment of (100 divided by 6) around 16%. That is a way higher percentage than you’ll get on your savings account. Why would you put your money in the bank when you’ll get a far better return by installing solar panels on your roof?”
More than a cash machine
Solease tries to do more than making money. “Of course, you cannot run a business without money, but a company can add value in other ways as well. It can for example also be a place where handicapped people can work. Despite the fact that we are a small company (seven employees) we facilitated several internships. Students get to do challenging assignments. We do not see them as cheap labor for dull jobs. We ourselves can also learn a lot from the fresh perspective of an intern.”
“Our dream is for us to become an international company that keeps on making a positive impact in all kinds of ways. For example, we will invest part of the profits back in sustainable projects.”
“I always hire people who are better than me. I think it is great when I hire someone who wants to be in my position from day one. That is the best way to find a more challenging job or role for yourself. Because if there is not a suitable replacement for you, you’ll be stuck yourself.
I think it is great when I hire someone who wants to be in my position from day one
Having a drink with customers
Solease recently organised a drink with customers in the building of UtrechtInc. Pierre considers it to be one of the most fun activities he did in his time with the company. “We bought some crates of beer and a friend of mine was willing to spin some records. Our customers came here all the way from Zeeland! I was so proud! I realized how much we had accomplished already.”
Leap of faith
In Pierre’s experience there are too many people who don’t like their job. Usually they stick with that job because it is steady. Pierre wonders why they wouldn’t start their own company so they can really do what they believe in? “There are a thousand rational reasons against starting your own company. But the one in favour is the most important, that is to be able to do what you are truly passionate about.”
Pierre frequently gets asked if he is not bothered by the financial risk of starting a company. “What have I got to lose? As a Dutch citizen I’m ensured to have food, a roof over my head and a decent school for my kids. So what is the real risk?”