Interview with Joel Walsman – Jefferson Electric

Updated on May 9, 2023

In today’s interview we have Joel Walsman, CEO and founder of Jefferson Electric.

Can you introduce yourself and maybe tell us something about yourself?

<span style="color: #0d64ba;">| </span>Can you introduce yourself and maybe tell us something about yourself?My name is Joel Walsman. I’m the CEO of Jefferson Electric, also the founder. I’m a master electrician. I hold 34 professional licenses, licensed in multiple states, and I’ve enjoyed being an electrician for 17 years and a business owner for 13.

Did you work in solar before starting your company?

Yes, I pioneered in solar in 2012. I was already an established business owner, and was able to receive grant funding for formal solar education, for me and four of my key team members. This was our launch! We became subcontractors in solar energy for a larger EPC. It was an incredible foundation to expand on our educational knowledge base. The primary tenets of education are; 

  1. Experience
  2. Relationship
  3. formal education

So, it was really good to have that partnership early on.

So, that’s what helped you get your company off the ground?

It did and it’s been growing ever since. In 2012, we did zero in solar revenue. And in 2013 we had our very first solar project. And then we started to grow. We have over 500 deployed projects for which we have done design, construction, and continue with ongoing maintenance in both residential and commercial, with some higher profile customers like the Indiana Pacers. We have the privilege of actively maintaining those sites for our customers.

| Were you a “mastermind” of the company, or was it a combined effort between more people?

I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my team. I love my team. That’s my greatest pleasure and privilege in being a business owner, is the people I work with and serve. I am 100% owner of Jefferson Electric, and made the decision to steer the company in that direction. And it’s been a successful and profitable direction for us.

Can you maybe expand just a bit on that initial process of starting a company and getting you off the ground? I mean, it must have been tough!

It is a tremendous undertaking. One of my favorite phrases puts it well: “We’re minders and grinders.” Meaning we work smart and we work hard. And that’s exactly what it takes, as well as a support network that’ll stand with you… and also a good foundation in your personal life. 

I think being a business owner of a growing company requires solid foundation and a careful awareness on all fronts; your relationships, your health, your personal life, your finances, as well as everything that pertains to the business. So, it’s extremely rigorous. I’ve probably wanted to give up a hundred times. But every time I stop and look back, I say, it’s been a thousand percent worth it.

How big was your initial team and how big is it now?

When we started in solar energy, our team had six team members. Last year, 2022, solar was 70% of our revenues and we operated across the entire state of Indiana with 55 team members.

Do you want to go over all the services your company provides? I see there’s a lot of them…

We have two divisions, solar and electrical. And then within those divisions, we have multiple categories. 

With solar, we have the Tesla solar roof, which is a building integrated photovoltaic product. We are the only Tesla certified installers in this state of Indiana. We work in partnership with SPG Roofing; and together, the two of us compose the Tesla certified installer. In addition, we have energy storage, Tesla power walls, Franklin whole home battery, which is also a very impressive product. 

We also take pride in our off-grid division. We created a solar and energy storage system that is disconnected from the grid. It’s an emergency backup system for a home ventilator. 

There’s actually an interesting story tied to this system… In the middle of the night, a month ago, the power went out. And the homeowner we installed the system for, has a health problem which requires her to be dependent on her oxygen supply. When she woke up the following morning, she saw her clocks lost power in the middle of the night, but her home ventilator was still functioning. Needless to say, she was incredibly grateful for our system and said “I woke up and I’m still alive today, and I’m very thankful for Jefferson Electric and their off-grid resilient energy solution!” So, that was a super proud moment for myself and our entire team.

We also do hunting cabins, RVs, travel vans, and things of that nature.

What about the competition? Do you even view other companies as your competition?

<span style="color: #0d64ba;">| </span>What about the competition? Do you even view other companies as your competition?It’s interesting. I would say with confidence that there’s not a single contractor in the state of Indiana that resembles who we are, where we straddle two divisions with excellence. And the reason that’s significant is because when you’re installing a solar array on a customer’s roof, typically, a contractor has solar technicians doing the job. 

And our thought process is, ‘but wait, if you’re installing a power plant on your roof above your kid’s bedroom, wouldn’t you want a master electrician to be involved in that process as well?’ So, we have both the highest certified solar professionals working in tandem with certified, master electricians to execute the design, installation and service of the work. That’s really significant and that’s rarely, almost never the case. So, that’s our unique recipe.

We had a customer just yesterday, who’s a retired mechanical engineer. He’s very proficient in electrical engineering and a SpaceX, Tesla energy storage aficionado. He is both willing and able to spend $75,000 on a home energy portfolio that has three forms of energy; solar, battery, and grid. As well as add in backup generators

What we found, during our years in the industry, is that many solar installers are called that for a reason – because they’re not solar maintainers. They slap and go. And that’s a really important feature, I feel, in a solar contractor that they’re going to support you long-term. So, we have a forever workmanship warranty and we have extensive product warranties at the highest level – 25 years. So, it’s very important to us to establish a long, healthy, long-term relationship with every customer.

What does “forever warranty” mean exactly?

When my grandkids are running the business, you give me a call and we’ll come fix it and make it right. Integrity requires it. That’s our perspective on life. If we did something wrong, we need to fix it regardless.

We hear from customers that the warranty that we’re offering on labor and equipment is one of the top three decision making criteria almost every single time, and why they selected us to work with.

Can you talk about the future of your company? What are your future plans?

To be shaping the expectations around energy. We exist to invest in people and to advance energy infrastructure. And that means if we’re rewiring an older home and making a transition from knob and tube with a scarcity of outlets in underlit rooms, jumping into the 21st century with smart lighting controls and outlets exceeding code minimum standards with arc fault and ground fault protection, that’s a pleasure for us. 

In addition to that, we’d like to be setting a gold standard that other contractors are looking to. And that’s what we found, is that we have some competitors in the market who we think would like to be us. When we set a standard, they often make some kind of gesture to attempt to come close to that. That is what we’re looking for, because when we elevate the common standard, everybody wins. Employees get better employment, they get better compensation, they’re better trained, and safety is improved. 

Our insurance underwriter comes and makes an appearance on our job sites once a year, and he said, Jefferson Electric is the gold standard, and I wish all of our contractors would elevate to this level. He inspects our warehouse and communicates the same. So, a rising tide raises all ships. We’re seeing that in renewable energy. However, the standard always needs to far exceed the waterline to avoid tragedy.

Couldn’t agree more. We’re right about at the end of the interview, is there something you’d like to add, something we haven’t mentioned up until this point?

I’ll expand that last thought about elevating the common standard. I kind of hit on the employment aspect on how an employee wins. An employer wins when they’re trusted by the customer and that customer becomes more willing to spend their valuable, hard-earned resources with a company when that company is a trusted advisor. That trust is built slowly over time. 

Reputations are gold, and compromises are non-existence and non-negotiable. A customer wins when they have the right long-term solutions, to where at no point do they say, “I regret having made this decision.” It’s always the proper foundation, transparency and clarity we rely on. 

Unfortunately, we’ve not always seen that in the solar industry. We could all throw a couple names out there where energy projections are overstated, financial projections are overstated, and there’s a trail of tears. So, it’s important to guard the integrity of the solar industry, because it is complex; the systems, the modeling, the number of disciplines, IT and communications. It’s solar energy, electrical, mechanical engineering, structural engineering. It’s a set of complex professional disciplines that have to be united and synthesized into an accurate solar array that’s going to perform as expected long term, and it’s beyond almost every customer’s skillset to determine that on the front end. 

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So, we enjoy what we do. Our electricians and technicians experience a tremendous amount of satisfaction. One of the call outs in our monthly meeting is, who’s gotten a new certification in the last 30 days? And it’s great to see personnel standing up with big smiles on their faces because of what they’ve just accomplished. Being in the renewable energy market, it is such an on-mission industry. The people who are in it have a belief, a reason, a rationale that’s usually pretty significant to them, very deep for why they’re there. And the advancement is exciting. The rewards are satisfying. The impact is real. And I see it on my team, I see it on their faces as we march forward together. That, to me, comes back to my number one reason and my greatest reward. And that’s my team and the quality of life that they get to experience at Jefferson Electric.

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