SOLAR WAR: CEO Of Upstart Solar Company Vivint Takes A Huge Shot At Elon Musk's SolarCity

Todd pedersonVivintTodd Pederson, CEO of Vivint

Things are getting a little feisty in the world of residential solar installation.

Todd Pederson, CEO of solar installer Vivint, had some harsh words for rival SolarCity when I spoke to him on the phone last week.

He says SolarCity is constantly trying to poach his employees because it has no idea how to cost-effectively acquire customers and build out a big national solar business.

Pederson is one of the more interesting executives that we’ve come across. He started off selling pest control out of a trailer in Arizona. After doing pest control sales for a few years, he pivoted into home security. From there, he started doing home automation.

Today, Vivint is working on solar installation, wireless internet, home automation, and much more. Blackstone paid $US2 billion for Vivint in 2012.

Both SolarCity and Vivint do solar insallation. That is, installing solar panels on people’s homes, and wiring up the systems.

Over the phone, we asked Pederson how he feels about going up against Elon Musk’s solar company.

Here’s his full response:

We’ve got to where SolarCity took 8 years to get to in 2.

Elon Musk’s cousin, whatever his name is, Lyndon or whatever, he spends his entire day doing what? Recruiting Vivant’s sales guys. I’m not joking. Every day, day in, day out, trying to recruit our people away from us. Because all they know how to do is raise capital and run a company.

What we know how to do? Customer acquisition, field service expertise, installation of equipment, integration of services. They don’t know how to do — this is not what they’re good at — literally I laugh, this is the biggest form of flattery.

We’ve never tried to recruit one SolarCity person. We don’t need to. We’re incredible at recruiting, training, sales people, providing incredible service for our consumers. We dominate on SolarCity at that stuff. I’m not even kidding.

So, yesterday, five people are flying out to meet with Lyndon and Elon Musk and hear their stories. I’m like, “Sweet!” I’ve got the largest solar company — who knows what Elon’s considered, everything to every one? — recruiting my employees. That’s pretty awesome.

They realise that we’re the best in the industry at residential solar. Or else they wouldn’t be hiring my people, trying to hire my people — they’re going to get a few.

I’m not afraid of Elon Musk and SolarCity. I’m telling you right now, we will pass them up. We have 800,000 customers on a platform, they have 85. We have a sales force that dwarfs their sales force.

We have a nationwide footprint for field service and technical service. They have a teeny little, probably 15% of field service coverage in the U.S., we have 98%. We’re a substantially larger company, not by market cap, but by size, true capable size. So, [SolarCity is] no problem.

Pederson added later in our conversation:

If they wanted me to hire and train people for them, I’d do it for them, I’m that nice of a guy…

We fired our president of solar six months ago, he went to work there. Instead of trying to figure out how to do it themselves, they’re just hiring our sales managers, which is fine…

Obviously, we’re better at customer acquisition and targeted sales acquisition than they are.

The solar business is so big and so massive, it doesn’t really matter. It’s less than 3% of penetration in the residential market. They’ll probably be big, we’ll just be bigger is the bottom line.

In response to Pederson’s comments, SolarCity gave us the following comment:

This is a small industry. We compete, but we don’t take shots at our competitors. We all share the same goal — more clean energy, and the good thing is that whatever competition we inspire in one another will further that cause.

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