From Santa Cruz to Solar City

SolarCity co-founder Lyndon Rive unveils ambitious plans at online town hall meeting.

By Eric Johnson

Nov. 20, 2015—Lyndon Rive, co-founder of SolarCity, former Santa Cruzan, and passionate champion of the alternative energy movement, is one of those Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who sees business and technology as world-changing tools. Like many in tech, Rive is out to “disrupt” an industry. In his case, the industry is fossil-fuel-produced energy, and his goal is to combat climate change.

At first-ever online “town hall” meeting last week, Rive briefly told the story of SolarCity, which he founded with his brother Peter in 2006, and which has since became the biggest, and by far fastest-growing, rooftop solar company in the US.

Right from the start it’s a pretty good story.

“In 2004, on a trip to Burning Man, with my cousin Elon Musk, in an RV, with my wife, I was [saying], ‘I want to start a new business, one that can help humanity and address climate change,” Rive recalled. “And it was his suggestion: ‘Get into the solar industry.’”

This was in 2004, before everyone in the world had agreed that Elon Musk is one of the geniuses of our age. But his cousin knew the guy was bright, so he immediately shared th idea with his brother.

“I came back, discussed it with Peter—Peter is as passionate about the environment as I am—and he said, ‘absolutely.’”

A bit of background: the Rive brothers’ first business venture, started in a rented house in Santa Cruz, was an IT support company with a local spin—the brothers, plus eldest Russ Rive, made sales calls on skateboards. This evolved into a remote-support company, Everdream, which grew rapidly for eight years, until the Rives sold it to Dell Computers, reportedly for $120 million.

By the time Everdream was acquired, Lyndon and Peter Rive had already started started their new company. They launched SolarCity on July 4, 2006, “because we wanted to be independent of fossil fuels.” With Musk on board as chairman, they immediately brought a raft of innovations to the solar industry, key among them: 1) the understanding that they are not selling a hardware system, but energy, and 2) the rigorous commitment to control every aspect of the deal, from manufacturing to financing.

Follow this link to learn more about SolarCity’s innovations.

Today SolarCity has 300,000-plus customers and 14,000 employees in 19 states. Rive has set extraordinarily ambitions growth targets in place for his company—he is shooting for one million customers by 2018.

Earlier this year SolarCity launched construction on a photovoltaic panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo, NY, that will be the biggest in the western hemisphere. The main reason Rive wants to take SolarCity supernova? Five minutes into the online forum, he explained that the solar industry will not be able to do battle, politically, with the dirty-energy industry until it’s playing in the big leagues.

More on that next week.

Here’s a short recap of the town hall meeting: Lyndon's Town Hall Summary from SolarCity on Vimeo.