Clean Solar is on The Mercury News Front Page!

Clean Solar is on The Mercury News Front Page!

Clean Solar is honored to be displayed on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News! The front page feature, written by Louis Hansen, highlights how Clean Solar’s Co-Founder and CEO, Randy Zechman, helped his business persevere through the coronavirus lockdown.

Read the article below:

Randy Zechman figured he had enough cash to keep his small San Jose construction company open for maybe a couple of months into a coronavirus lockdown.

When shelter-in-place orders came down in March, Zechman told the 45 employees of Clean Solar to expect layoffs or worse. Solar panel installers and roofers couldn’t work, the company couldn’t make money, and it certainly couldn’t pay several hundred thousand dollars in monthly overhead expenses.

Zechman thought this might be the end.

For the last two months, small businesses, often run on tight margins with little room for error, have been tapping any and all resources to keep their lights on. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened a flurry of private deals, discounts and contingencies that, in a digital age, lean heavily on throwback values — personal connections, handshakes, goodwill and sometimes, luck.

Zechman began cold-calling vendors — suppliers, tech support, insurance companies and business software providers — begging for discounts. He felt he owed it to his workers. “My mindset going in was, they’re going to be difficult,” the owner said. “I didn’t perceive I was going to get anything for it.”

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 11: Clean Solar CEO Randy Zechman works in front of a mosaic wall art depicting Clean Solar’s employees on May 11, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Small business owners report feeling especially vulnerable during the economic upheaval, which has thrown millions out of jobs.

In the past two weeks, about one-third of the country’s small companies have temporarily shut down, in addition to earlier closings in the first month of the pandemic, according to a survey conducted in May by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. About 1 in 5 small businesses say they are two months or less away from closing permanently.

In the Bay Area, business advocates have begun to lobby to loosen shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Many businesses that were thriving just weeks ago are now on the brink of bankruptcy and may never open their doors again,” leaders of the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition wrote earlier this month to Santa Clara County officials. The coalition of small and mid-sized companies urged the reopening of small retailers to compete with big box stores.

Matt Mahood, CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization, said his members have been fighting for survival. The group’s webinars — spotlighting how to get federal aid and employment law — have drawn hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners.

Some members report productive negotiations with landlords, and large vendors, including Comcast and PG&E, have provided uninterrupted service even when they are unable to pay bills, he said. “I think people are in a greater understanding that we’re all in this together,” Mahood said.

Experts say the moment of crisis could bring more long-term strategic planning, and perhaps humanity, into the marketplace. The long-term benefits of keeping business clients open are clear — as well as a sense of community and deeper relationship building.

Berkeley business professor Robert Strand said it’s usually better for parties in the midst of a crisis to extend terms of a contract rather than deal with a default.

Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at the Haas School of Business, believes the challenges brought by the crisis could foster solidarity.  “I sometimes think we go out of our way in business to beat the humanness out of us,” he wrote in an email. “Most people want to help others with whom we have a connection if we possibly can.”

The crisis is forcing people to think beyond their own interests. “Everything is a bit more fragile nowadays,” said Stanford finance professor Anat Admati.

Zechman took the steps many entrepreneurs have been taking to save their companies — look for income and ask creditors for leniency while thecompany and country work through the chaos.

He logged on to his bank’s website at night on April 13, when it began taking applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans. He wanted to act quickly because he assumed the federal money would run out in no time.

He got lucky and secured a $650,000 forgivable federal loan.  “It was simple,” he said. “Get the money while it’s still there.”

Zechman reached out to the company supplying solar panels and electrical equipment. They agreed to wait for payment until Clean Solar was up and running again.

He called Salesforce, the $150 billion enterprise software company that serves many of the world’s largest corporations — and also Clean Solar. The company pays Salesforce about $3,000 a month to manage its sales and projects. “I was expecting it not to go very well,” Zechman said. Instead, the software giant offered his company two months of free service.

Clean Solar’s insurance providers extended discounts. The company’s IT provider cut their bill by 85 percent. Zechman said they’ve cinched his business for years.

He thought he was naive asking other businesses for help in the midst of a crisis battering every industry. But most of the conversations were filled with empathy. No one asked to put the new terms down in writing. “The feel to it was all very authentic,” he said.

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 11: Clean Solar CEO Randy Zechman, right, works at the company’s warehouse on May 11, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Now the state has green-lighted solar installers as an essential business. But the slow return to work is still dependent on city permits and state regulations.

Clean Solar has seven jobs lined up, and Zechman expects to stay busy for the rest of the year if the pandemic doesn’t force another shutdown. But now he’s got enough support and funding, he said, to last another six months.

– Louis Hansen, The Mercury News  05/18/2020

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *