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Aaron Spatz 00:00
You’re watching America’s Entrepreneur on Youtube. Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And each week we interview entrepreneurs, industry experts, and other high achievers as a detail their personal and professional journeys. Before we jump in, hit the subscribe button and be sure to hit the bell icon so you’re notified every time we release a new episode. Thank you so much for joining America’s entrepreneur this week, really excited that you’re here. Again, as the intro video showed you as the outro videos to show you as well again, use this as a great conversation starters, a great introductory piece to other people like I, again, I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve personally been introduced to simply because I’m sharing an episode or something that I know is insightful or applicable to somebody in their in their situation. So kind of file that away and use that for reference because you can do that with any of these episodes and use it to introduce yourself to some some really awesome people. So speaking of awesome people, really excited to welcome Chris Nelson to the show, Chris spent 22 years in our beloved United States Marine Corps for transitioning out into the into the civilian into the civilian world. He spent a number of years in the civilian workspace before transition, transitioning again to founding and running his own company Helios energy, which he’s been running and operating for a better part of seven years now. So really excited to have him on the show. Chris, thank you so much for making time to be with me today.
Chris Nelson 01:21
Hey, Aaron, thanks for having me. And thanks for doing this. This is a great resource for entrepreneurs and veterans and like so thanks for having me.
Aaron Spatz 01:29
Certainly, well, like I was telling you off air it’s so it’s such a tight knit and painting and oftentimes a very painful community. And so it’s great for people to be able to have resources to see examples to learn about the struggles and and the triumphs of just the of the journey that many entrepreneurs have been on. And so it’s only made possible because people like you were willing to share your story. So with that kind of help help us all kind understand a little bit of your upbringing, where you originally from what what motivated or inspired you to join our US military?
Chris Nelson 02:03
Yeah, sure. So I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts on the seacoast there, and my dad was a Marine. And my uncles had served in World War Two and service was always in the back of my my mind. I knew I wanted to do that. I spent a year going to college, like a lot of young kids, and I just wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t ready for that part of the journey yet. So I enlisted in the Marine Corps went to Parris Island, and then decided to go back to school later. So okay, kind of where I’m from and the journey in the why.
Aaron Spatz 02:39
That’s awesome. So then, I mean, you spent spent a solid 22 year career there. I mean, thank you for thank you for dedicating just a substantial chunk of your life to our country, I’d say that that’s no small sacrifice. So I really, really, really do appreciate that. But like, what, what, around that around that decision to get out? Like what was kind of what was going through your mind? I know, there’s a lot of I mean, we could talk about transitions forever related to military specific, but like, but what, what for you do you think was like the next right step as you’re, as you’re considering retirement and getting out and starting something fresh?
Chris Nelson 03:16
Yeah, you know, people ask me that question a lot. And I always say it’s not one thing. It’s never one thing. And mummy, just major decisions like that never boil down, usually don’t bow down to one thing, right. So I had spent 10 years on the enlisted side in the Marine Corps, I was fortunate enough to be selected to go back to school and get my degree through a marine commissioning program. I went back to school, I figured out, you know, our studied were directly and positively correlated with GPA. It’s amazing how that works. And, and it done well in school and studied business. And I knew then that I wanted to be in business, some someday, I just fell in love with the whole how 200 businesses work. So along the way, I was fortunate enough, again, as a captain to go back to school and get a master’s degree. And I chose adult education, the Marine credit program, where do pay back tour in education in the Marine Corps. And I was able to do that I was able to, you know, the last part of my career and have the responsibility for Marine Corps training policies and oversight of our Mo schools, the curriculum and instruction. And I was building that second life out of the Marine Corps in my last five, six years. And I tell all, I tell all Marines that if they have a chance to build a, you know, sellable, marketable skills while they’re on active duty, pick up a graduate degree, while they’re on active duty, prepare themselves for that transition, whether it comes in 20 years or 24 years at 30 years of whatever, do it because the Marine Corps offers that opportunity. So take advantage of the opportunity. So that’d be the first advice that I would give to any active duty person So listening today that consciously think about your next career while you’re on on active duty, and the Marine Corps has these programs, and they want you to participate in them, so take advantage of them. So a 19 year old drop out leaves the Marine Corps after 22 years with a bachelor’s degree in a master’s degree in a career opportunity in the corporate world that I had prepared for. So that’s kind of the journey. Why did I Why did I do it at 22 years, like a lot of us, I’d broken my body several times, I, you know, I was pretty beat up, right. My daughter was entering high school, and I didn’t want to have to move twice in high school. That was kind of a commitment I made. And I had prepared myself to do my 2021 22 years, do my service and move on with the next career. So that was always in the plan. It was tough. Leaving is tough. But all of my colleagues supported that decision, because they knew that I, I served well. And that’s how I I kind of justified and made that decision.
Aaron Spatz 06:01
Yeah, that’s really awesome. And, and super admirable of you to, to consider your family as a part of that equation as well. Right. Like, as those high school years and again, I’m thinking about the math involved in that, like, Yeah, I mean, it’s almost a perfect storm, if, if you join, if you join the military at 18, you do a 20 year career, you get, you know, if you’re having kids, you know, like all that kind of converges pretty close to the same time. So that’s a whole nother I can imagine that’s a whole nother stress level. And one other situation people have to kind of take into account right. So yeah. Well, awesome. So so. So you transitioned out if you’ve done a variety of different things, I’ll kind of let you tell the story. But share with me then just kind of your journey through the corporate world, what what were some of the big things that you were picking up and learning and and then while you’re doing that, then I guess we’ll eventually transition into what led you to wanting to go launch your your own? Your own company?
Chris Nelson 07:03
Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s, it’s a journey, I’m happy to share, you know, like everything in life, you get something, something’s really, really right, you get Something’s really wrong. I mean, you kick the ball in the stands, right? Sometimes you score the score, field goal, or kick a few goals, sometimes you you know, kick the ball in the stands, right. So the corporate journey was a, it was a good journey, lots of great mentors there. And some really great career opportunities. But that preparation, I think, was part of what afforded those opportunities or create help create those opportunities. But the network is so important, and I get the good chance now to mentor. A lot of folks transitioning from the military, and I tell them that the network is is so critical. Your resume will open a door. But your network and how you present yourself is what gets you ultimately to the career that you’re looking to, to reach. So I had a great network of military guys, civilian people that had developed through associations, you know, nationwide, international associations of colleagues in the Adult Education, Human Performance, world, whatever your industry is, whatever you’re looking to do engineering, whatever it may be, join those associations while you’re on active duty, build a network of colleagues that are out there doing the work that you hope to do, and those people that they get to know you, and you’re skilled that you’re a leader, they will help the network into the transition into the corporate world. And that’s exactly what happened. My first job at Bristol Myers Squibb was the result of being prepared. But having a civilian colleague who referenced me into the hiring manager, that that’s it. It was no big, magical formula. A guy that like me knew me thought I was capable, refer me to a hiring manager and I got an interview and I got a job. So don’t be afraid to network and don’t be afraid to utilize your network. There are so many people out there that will want to help you and your transition on all you have to do is let him know that you need a little help. As as military folks and as Marines, right, we have this I can get it done attitude because that’s what the job required of us. Right. And we get conditioned to that. And we you it’s I’m an island mentality. You’re not You’re not you may be for a minute but but Lena, your network is the first advice I’d give to people. Yeah, I
Aaron Spatz 09:41
mean, that’s it’s so solid because it’s I mean, I’ve seen that play out I’ve been more than impressed with the quality of the veterans network on the on the outside like I had, I had a whole nother vision and stereotype of what I envisioned the veterans community to look like and it was nothing what I did What I was prepared for in a in a really good way, and people are more than eager to help you. You just got to your point, right, that you’ve just got to reach out for help, like and you got to be as specific as you can also is, the more specific you can be, the more helpful people can be to actually get you where you’re trying to go. So, yeah, yeah,
Chris Nelson 10:19
yeah, it’s simply the The analogy I use is, look, you’re not looking for a handout, you’re looking for a handout, you know, you’re looking for a helping hand to pull you up. You know, in the Marine Corps, if you have to cross an obstacle, and it’s a high obstacle, there’s somebody at the top, give you a hand to pull, pull it over the top, just use that analogy. And just think about it that way. Yeah. So. So that’s the first thing that, you know, the key the mind, the second is, you know, be open to new opportunities. So I was at Bristol Myers Squibb for a year, I was working for the comptroller of the company, I was on a special team. We were rolling out Sarbanes Oxley and financial controls throughout the entire company. And it was a great job and, and we had a great team. We were doing really some really cool things. And I loved it. But an opportunity came to me unsolicited and I went to my boss and I said, Hey, boss, here’s what here’s what’s going on this company out in Minneapolis is looking to recruit me. And I’d love it here. I don’t want to go, he goes, You should go, you should go. You should you should investigate it. And come back and talk to me about it. I would not hold you back from that. So So I did. And I came back and I said hey, is it’s a great opportunity as a promotion, it’s more responsibility is financially good for my family. And he goes, I can’t give you that opportunity here right now. And I’m not going to hold you back from it. And that was the first great mentor that I had. He was a leader, he came to our company from, from General Electric, he came from a culture of stimulating, pushing people forward. And that, that I owe a lot to that man that that he was willing to do that and say, hey, you’ve you’ve done a great job here. You’ve done an awesome job. You’ve been loyal, you brought this to me, you were transparent. And I’m not holding you back. He said go. And so on that device I did and, and it was a great move for us. You know, from a family perspective. It was good timing, because my daughter and was, you know, a freshman by now. And she was a hockey player. And so we moved to the great state of Minnesota where she could play hockey in high school. No longer do we have to travel 90 miles, you know, three times a week for practice. I mean, it was just a good move all the way around. And it’s just one of the one we’ve got many ways that God’s blessed us. So so so we made that move and it was a great career move. And from there again recruited to another company where I ended up closing out my corporate career my last eight years in the corporate world with was with Ameriprise Financial and was brought in to head up and build their corporate university which they didn’t have and after three years of doing that I got the opportunity to go into direct sales leadership and coaching for my last five years and and and just really enjoyed being out there in the sales profession selling life insurance disability insurance and long term care insurance which I I really I really believe in it I have a passion for so that’s kind of kind of the journey and how I got there
Aaron Spatz 13:24
so then that that would for me that then that turns into perfect segue then as to kind of helping prime the pump I think was just kind of pressing on you have like you’re getting all these reps in in practicing difference you know sales and and learn and learning that whole world because it sounds like that was your probably your first your unless I missed it. But that sounds to me like that was your first opportunity to do anything in sales in probably, again, I’m making just broad assumptions here, please correct me but it like Did it bring something to life in you that you’re like, holy cow, like this is a whole nother world I’ve never explored. And now the possibilities are endless, right?
Chris Nelson 14:03
Yeah. Yeah. So So ironically, when I was considering the transition out of the Marine Corps, back in 2000 2001 2002, several organizations had approached me to come into a sales role. Okay, they saw something in me, and I just, I just had the typical view of salespeople that the misperception that they’re all like used car salesman, right salesman and in sales is really a noble profession. It really is. It’s, it’s causing people to look at things differently and take actions that they normally wouldn’t take. And nine times out of 10 is for the betterment of themselves, or their organization. So I see sales now in a totally different light. It is really, in my view, a very noble profession. And yes, you know, I was exposed to the sales aspect when I went to Medtronic Corporation. We were revamping the global sales organization and sales, training and coaching became part of our curriculum and And I fell in love with that I fell in love with the psychology of selling and the discipline of selling and the art and science of selling and the process of selling. So I did, I did another Master’s degree but through self study and I went through a bunch of professional sales training programs, you know, the Wilson learning SPIN Selling the, the Miller Heiman and all those things and, and I became a student of it. And then I became a leader of, of the training programs for it, and then a coach for the coaches. And then, quite frankly, what happened was the head of distribution came to me said, Hey, Chris, you know, you know more about sales and coaching than most of my divisional vice presidents, I’m going to make you one. But of course of the nine divisions at the time, I wasn’t getting the number one performing division, I was getting the number nine out of nine. But the good news is I had only one way to go, which was up so yeah, I felt I fell in love with it. And I had a great team of guys and gals that I tell you to this day, some of the best sales professionals I ever worked with to a man to a woman, the crew that I had, you know, Ameriprise Financial riversource distribution, were great. And I learned a ton in five years, and we had some really good years of success. And that did prime the pump it I took that and said, Okay, I knew I wanted to get in renewable energy. And I knew I want to hit up a consultative sales organization. And that’s what we purposely built Aaron for the ground up.
Aaron Spatz 16:28
Wow. Okay. So there’s, there’s 100 directions, I could take this and I’m like, now you got me like, really? My interest is really piqued in a couple different places. So what like so let’s so I mean, we, we have time, so we’re not we’re not pressed for time right now. So, yeah, so let’s so. So there’s something you said, you said, you’re really interested in the psychology of sales. So tell me more about that. Why what what interest What about psychology sales interest you?
Chris Nelson 16:56
You know, it’s it’s two things. It’s really the psychology of buying first, you know, how do people make purchase decisions, and an understanding the trepidation, and they end a cycle that they go through? From misunderstanding, misconceptions, trepidation, knowledge, knowledge gathering, analysis, synthesis, and then decision, right? And understanding how people go to going back to some Marine Corps psychology lot like OODA, loop, right, observe, orient, you know, decide and act. So. So understanding how people make decisions is, it’s one part of that. And then, if you understand that, and you understand the emotions around the attached to what you’re selling, or what you’re offering, what you’re offering, then you can back into the psychology of selling. And what I really learned, if I boil it all down to really three main things, selling it, I boil down to the client, through your interaction with them has to come to like you, right, you got to be likable. That’s the first and for for foremost thing, when’s the last time you ever did business with anybody you didn’t? Like? The answer is you never did. Right. So I mean, I tried to boil down to the basics, because there’s a coach, you got to you got to boil it down to the basics, so So you got to be likable. And then the second thing that boiled down to is you got to be trustworthy, they have to trust you. Again, once this last time you bought anything from somebody you didn’t like, or you didn’t trust, you didn’t. So So you have to you have to create an interchange and exchange between you and your client, that leads to mutual admiration and mutual respect and trust from one another, right. And I think that trust in that like, has to go both ways for a relationship, any relationship, especially one, where you might ask the client for $50 million, and, or, or any big number, right? And then and then trust, they’re gonna trust you that you’re actually delivering value on that, on that $50 million exchange, right. So that’s the third part is you have to develop value, you have to demonstrate value to them create value, they have to see value in what you do, and who you are, what you’re going to provide your what your organization is going to provide. So like trust, and value is what I boil it down to and that to me is the basic psychology of selling is that and then we know that if you can do that, demonstrate that, then you’re likely to repeat business and have substantial business with that client. So that’s what how I boil it down to the basics,
Aaron Spatz 19:41
right? I mean, because you’re, you’re trying to establish rapport, you’re trying to build that trust, you have to be able to demonstrate that there is a true value exchange out there. If you’re asking for $50 million. They’ve got to think somewhere in their mind. They’re doing some type of calculation that what they’re receiving is, is of greater value. than $50 million in that case, right? It’s like you have to, you have to kind of lay lay that out there. And if they understand that, then it’s, there’s really nothing to think about or, or really debate. It’s like, oh, yeah, it’s like, who would argue if you know, let’s say, like I offered you, Chris, I, you know, I say, Hey, Chris, give me $1. And I’ll give you 20 bucks back. Like, who wouldn’t take that trade? Right? That’s, that’s a pretty sweet deal. So
Chris Nelson 20:24
you just sold life insurance and said, we left out you’re gonna get back tax free. Okay, so, yeah, I mean, you’re right. It’s kind of it’s kind of that it really is it boils down to that, of course, there’s a lot more that goes into that, right, the processes and, and the art of it, and the art of questioning, right. So there’s a whole nother psychology around questioning and the types of questions in the order of questions, what questions are more effective than others? So, again, you can tell I’ve been a student of selling now, since probably 2005. And I’ve been practicing it since then. And I’m not done. That’s the other thing is, we’re never done with just like anything else. It evolves. And there’s new learnings, and there’s new research. And so I’m constantly learning and reading and get in trying to get better. So
Aaron Spatz 21:16
before we jump to Helios, where what would you recommend for folks in terms of just starting out in their, in their sales knowledge base of trying to become a just just a just an awesome sales professional? Where would you recommend people start?
Chris Nelson 21:31
I? That’s a great question. And and I’ve been asked that question before many times and, and I will give the same answer to things. There’s no replacement for self study, honestly, and we’ll get to this, but I taught myself the renewable energy business who self study. But the second component is a professional training course. So many people out there in the sales roles today are not getting professional training like they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, certainly 34 years ago. I mean, my mentors were men and women who in the sales world who attended multiple training courses, and continue to train and continue to roleplay and continue to practice and refine their craft. And I see that discipline, and that formal education is a void in today’s sales world. And I think it’s extremely undervalued.
Aaron Spatz 22:32
Wow. Well, that’s I mean, that’s great to know. I think, I think some of my concern, I think I’ve probably heard this from others. And I think you could probably relate to this prior to the switch being flipped in your brain with like it not being a slimy profession. But there’s, there’s like, a million different courses out there. There’s like, there’s tons of different resources. So I, I guess I was about to ask you the question. I think I’ve already answered it myself, but happy I mean, if you have any other comment on this, but like, do your research like find out who is reputable who’s not like, what’s your testimonials? Like? What’s like, what’s working, what’s not working? I mean, but beyond that, did you? Did you have any other feedback to that?
Chris Nelson 23:11
Yeah, no, I think you can discern what’s reputable and honestly, the top the top 10 courses out there today are solid courses. But the last component and I left this off earlier, I’ll reiterate now or share it now is get a coach so many times, and I myself I bring in coaches to coach me I want someone holding up the mirror for me because when you’re in the moment, you can’t see your your hiccups. You can’t see your your nervous twitches, you can’t see what you’re doing. You don’t even hear your own questions and how bad they might be. And I’m guilty of it too. I’ve asked some horrible questions and got an act of self critique only to a degree and there’s no replacement for a trained sales coach I in the room watching you and giving you feedback afterwards role playing different ways you could have asked the question that the value of sales coaching again, it’s under appreciated. And I’ll just show you a quick story that that head of distribution I referenced earlier man named Jeffrey McGregor just absolutely amazing. Later he came came to me say Chris, I want you to sell stand up the sales training program for all of our reps. I said I will do that Jeffrey under one condition that we stand up a sales coaching program for all of your DVDs and that you require and you coach them to be in the field with their reps coaching in sales calls with your reps because I can train them all day long. If the coaches don’t ensure that the training is transferred on the job, then the training money you might as well burn it in a 50 gallon drum out back because they’ll lose 80% of what I teach them in the first month, and then we’ll lose the rest of it period. You got to have coaching. That’s how that’s how much I know, and believe in it. But also, if you do the research, every major study on this backs up my statement that I just made, it’s absolutely the data is absolutely conclusive that sales training without good sales coaching is not effective. Well, so that’s the last point.
Aaron Spatz 25:23
Yeah. No, and, and I, and I want to reiterate this to the audience, as well as realize, Chris is not here to sell you a sales training course. Right? So there’s, there there is no gotcha or anything on the backside of this that were that, that hit him or I are setting you up for like the this is purely transparent conversation. So file that away, because you’ve seen how much Chris has focused on this, and how, how important it is, and no doubt something to really take on board. So, Chris, why did you choose renewable energy? I mean, there’s, there’s a million different business business opportunities out there. Tell me about the business model itself, or, you know, share with me to the extent that you’re comfortable with how Helios was founded and like, what about the business model and the education and everything else? Really, really spoke to you?
Chris Nelson 26:13
Yeah, it’s a, again, a question that I get a lot. So you know, being a student of business, and having been in the financial services world, and, and and meeting with portfolio managers, and talking about the underlying investments in our insurance products, or annuity projects, products, I was I was always intrigued by what industries are working, what makes them work. What makes one company better than another company, what makes one industry hotter than another? And, and then I was, I was just intrigued with the potential for renewable energy. And I’m talking now, my research started 15 years ago, when LED light bulbs weren’t even a thing in America, when solar energy had wasn’t even going in the ground. And not only people had solar in America with these doomsday planners out in the middle of nowhere, or, or quite frankly, people living off the grid, they had to have it right. Sure. So so. So, you know, I watched the spread of renewable energy across Europe, and I watched LED lighting just become the norm over there. And I traveled a lot over there as well. And so I was in tune with what was going on. And I was following it, and I saw it look that this is not going to go away. And it’s going to come to America, and it’s going to sweep across America, and someday everyone will have an LED light bulb in their home. And that alone is enough to get excited about I mean, there’s trillions of light bulbs in America. And I’ll give you a frame of reference. Today, we’re only about 20%, LED market penetration in commercial industrial, we’re somewhere around 40% in residential. So there’s this even though we’re now about, you know, 810 years in, there’s still huge market opportunity. So, you know, I just, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist. And I’m not to figure out the math of that, and the economics of that, and the opportunity of that. So I saw it coming before it came. That’s one thing. And then. And then I saw what was going on the solar energy. And I was talking to portfolio managers and saying, Hey, what do you think of renewable energy? And they kept on saying for several years, doesn’t make sense in America yet? Yeah, we’ve seen it go across Europe, but it’s heavily subsidized. It doesn’t pencil out financially. We don’t see it right now. But then, about nine, nine years ago, that tune started to change. And then I knew that the timing would be good. So I had been studying back to studying, I had been reading anything and everything I could get my hands on around anything to do with renewable energy and energy efficiency. And I had watched the major manufacturers of LED light bulbs globally, start to sell in America and invest in America, the cost, the costs were this high, and it still didn’t make a lot of financial sense. But there were some early adapters, right? There were some people that were going to have it because it was the new shiny thing. Yeah, had to slip one in there. And the light bulb came on to slip another one in and I said, Okay, it’s time it’s time to make a jump. Right? If you’re going to do this, now’s the time. And so I started to put together the business plan. And, and then I got serious about it. And and the timing was good. I had a good, good run. We had done well. And I probably had reached, you know, somewhat of a glass ceiling because of my age, and how where I was in the organization relative to the top and I realized it was going to be probably a long while before I was going to advance in that in that organization. And I was ready I was prepared, and I was ready for that challenge in the risk of entrepreneurship. So
Aaron Spatz 30:04
Oh, wow, thanks. Thanks for sharing that. That’s so the takeaway for me, as I’m hearing you share, this is just the importance of, of studying. I mean, this is a common theme that I’ve that I’ve noticed with you. So like, even going all the way back your, your comment, which is hilariously accurate, which is, you know, your GPA is a direct correlation to your hours spent studying. Imagine that, right? But they, but then you go forward and like, Okay, you’re, you’re, you’re definitely a perennial student, I think anybody who’s successful in business is a is a perennial student, like you’re, you’re learning more about sales. Now, you’re learning more about this industry. It’s not just, it’s not just like leisurely reading, but then you’re also engaging with people to understand the trends. What are your what are the people who would know a little bit more than the average person? What are they seeing? And so you’re kind of doing that analysis and thinking about all that, and then you just kind of identified the timing of it all. So you put together your business plan? Again, as a first time entrepreneur, going through that? What What were some things that I guess, you know, looking back on it now, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of getting started?
Chris Nelson 31:16
Ah, the answer is, I don’t think so. I look back, and then some reflection on this. I don’t think I would have done anything different getting started, I surely certainly would have done a lot of things differently over the last seven years. You know, and it’s, it’s not a tard adage, you know, if you’re not making if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not leading it hard enough. And that’s so true. And if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning because all of our most valuable learning have not been through the successes, it’s been through the mistakes we’ve made. Luckily, we’ve been able to avoid most of the big major mistakes. Sure. But we’ve we’ve learned a lot. So the I guess the only thing that I might consider doing differently is, is maybe going to the capital world and bringing capital into the company, external capital. And maybe earlier, I decided to self capitalize the company, a lot of a lot of people I’ve read had done that. And, and I thought it was wise at the time. And but we’ve, we’ve avoided and resisted bringing external capital to grow. We’ve just been trying to grow organically. And that’s a challenge. It’s a slog, you have to be ready for it. But that might be the only thing I can think of really
Aaron Spatz 32:42
sure. Well, share, share with everybody a little bit, just a little bit of the detail of the business. So we can all kind of understand conceptually, what like what it is you’re selling, what’s the what’s the product with the service that you’re that you’re in?
Chris Nelson 32:55
Yeah, so we looked at the marketplace. So one of the first things I did is look at the marketplace and look at the competition, what are they offering and what’s their what’s their go to market strategy. And what I saw was was a bunch of lightbulbs, salesmen or salespeople, and I saw a bunch of solar salespeople and other technology salespeople, and there weren’t, there wasn’t anyone that was really approaching this from the clients perspective. So what I did is that, but I’ve done what I’ve done before, you know, in other roles in sales roles, I turn the table around, I’ve gotten the client see, and I looked at from the clients because we I say I did, but but myself, my partner of theirs on the team, we turn around and we look there for the clients perspective, we said when the client gets the power bill, right, what do they do? They look at this thing. First of all, it’s in Greek. And unless you’re an E and an MBA, you probably can’t even make sense of the day thing. Because the utility companies make it purposely complicated. And then they change the rates, you know, annually, sometimes twice a year. And, and so most clients look at this thing and go, Well, I don’t know what to do with this thing. I’ll just
Aaron Spatz 34:14
pay it. Yeah.
Chris Nelson 34:17
And we said, well, the opportunity from that angle, not selling anything, is to go get hired as the energy consultant, the chief energy advisor for that client to first make sense of the power bill, and then look for opportunities to cut that thing by 10% 20% 30% 40%. And recently we’ve achieved 100% With with to the to industrial sites, imagine having no cost of energy other than the capital expenditure for renewable energy and a set of energies efficiency solutions. So So we saw that opportunity So that’s what we do. That’s our go to market. That’s our Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s, that’s our this. Our differentiator is we don’t try to sell anything when we engage with a client other than our expertise, our expertise and the opportunity to help the client make sense of their utility expenses, and cut them substantially and drive all that savings right to the bottom line. Wow. So that’s our, that’s our that’s a differentiator. That’s, that’s how we go to market. That’s what we try to do. That’s really
Aaron Spatz 35:29
cool. And I think that’s something powerful in putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. Right? Again, it goes back to your sales training, but like, but how important that is, right? I mean, even into some of the business dealings that I’m doing, it’s like, I’ve got to put myself in the shoes of somebody who may not understand the different things that I do, or people who don’t understand what all what you do. And they’re I mean, you just use any example, right? People don’t necessarily understand what it is you do, because they don’t really care what you do. They, they just want to understand how to get a resolution to their problem. And so you’re simply you’re changing your mindset and kind of challenging your team as well as like, okay, let’s, let’s look at this from the from a client’s perspective, what like, what trouble, like, what pain point? What issue? Are they are they having that they’re aware of, or maybe not even aware of, that we can, that we can remedy for them? And so like, you’ve come up with a really brilliant solution? And I mean, no doubt, there’s probably some type of like time trade off, like, you know, if they’re assuming that they’re going to be in that lease, or in that in that property for at least another five to 10 years. And it’s like, it pays itself after a few years. For sure. Right?
Chris Nelson 36:36
Yeah. Well, you say something really critical just a second ago. Okay? And, and the key is the problem, right? And you said something to the effect of the problem that they have, or they might not even know they have. So the the other key differentiator, I’ve always said, this is, okay, it’s great to be a problem solver. But you know, what’s better than be better than than being a problem solver, being a problem identifier, and solver. So what we really do is many cases, we identify the problem that the client did not have cognition of. And that problem is, is I’m way overpaying for energy, I’m consuming way more than I could or should. And they don’t even know that they have that problem, what we’re really trying to do through a consultative series of really great interactions and questions, and dialogue is good for them to go, Holy smokes, I have a problem here, you tell me that I can do LED lighting and cut my lighting consumption by 70%, on average. And I can improve my lighting that I didn’t even know, it’s substandard. And I can improve morale, and I can improve productivity and I can improve safety in my facility and security in my house makes your facility you telling me I can do all that I didn’t even know I had that problem. Oh, by the way, you can solve it for me. So that to me, the highest form of selling is to be a problem identifier, and a problem solver and do it in a consultative way that the client actually feels like they’re in control. You’re not trying to sell them something you are a true partner with them. That is to me the highest form of selling. So that’s powerful. Yeah. Yeah. You said that intuitively? Yeah.
Aaron Spatz 38:22
Yeah, well, cuz I’m just I’m just thinking it’s like, because now not that you should ever be like selling. Right? But you’re, you’re totally changing the tune of things. Like it’s different when I like, you know, I have like a transmission problem with my vehicle, right? Like, there’s really nothing to sell. I know I’ve got a problem. And so I know ballpark what that’s gonna cost me or what some of my decision was. So my options are gonna be but like, in that may not be a really good example. But like, but but in this case, right, you’re, you’re you’re taking a situation where, like, there’s you’re not, you’re not like strong arming, arming them. You’re not You’re not persuading anybody. You’re simply like helping them see a problem. And I mean, I couldn’t agree more like that, that it’s so powerful, because it’s like, they discover it for themselves, so to speak, as you just kind of shone a light on it. And they’re like, holy crap, like, I’ve got these issues. Yeah.
Chris Nelson 39:15
Yeah, you’re getting in there. We shine a light on it. Another one. Yeah. No, no, that’s exactly right. And, and our best relationships are always the ones where we have the opportunity to do that. Now. Make no mistake about it. Some clients contact us to say, Hey, Chris, I need new lighting. Come in and give me a quote for the lighting. And then we go in and we ask questions, and we still try to value engineer the right solution for the facility that’s going to optimize things we still try to add value. So some of our client interactions, they know what they want. We offer what they want. We give them what they want, but it’s still then we try to stretch them we try to stretch their thinking we talk to them about other things that they may not be considering in their almost all of our lives. Relationships evolve into some form of consultative relationships. But we still do some what I call one and done lighting projects or maybe a one and done solar project, because maybe they’ve done lighting already. And then other energy efficiency things. But the vast majority of our clients are this, this, what we call total energy. So we trademarked our go to market process is called Total your total energy. And it’s this notion of to optimize any organization’s investment in energy consumption, reduction and energy efficiency, you should start with energy efficiency, you should lower the power bill with deploying lighting, smart thermostats, building automation systems, efficient HVAC systems, smart transformers is all these technologies now that are proven to reduce the power bill and pay off, like you mentioned earlier, with a three to five year ROI on the investment, right. And so if I can reduce the power bill from the client from, you know, from here down, cut it by 50%, or 60%. Now, if they can add and want to add solar energy, now I’m designing a much smaller solar system, because I’m designing it for 50 or 60 70%. Less energy consumption. Yes. So so now I’m optimizing the client spend across what we call the total energy spectrum, assumption reduction, energy management, consumption reduction, and then renewable energy. If I was just selling solar energy, and I walked into the client, and only thing I had in my bag of tricks was solar, I wouldn’t want to sell for a lower consumption level, I’d want to sell for the highest consumption. Right? And is that the best thing for the client? absolutely hands down? No, it is, it is an inefficient financial solution and an inefficient energy, just efficiency solution to the, to the novel problem. So our model, again, is smart consumption reduction, then right sized clean energy production. And that equals total energy solution and total value for the customer. And we believe that, along with our consultative engagement model is again a differentiator in the marketplace. But here’s the last point on this, it doesn’t matter what I believe. I learned that early on in life and in sales, what matters is what the client believes. And what matters is what the client values because the value is in I always say this value is in the eyes of the beholder, it’s in the client size, it’s not in my eyes. So So I say this, but more importantly, you know, what our customers tell us this, the customers once they get the total energy thing, and they get that they’re going to maximize their investment. They go, man, that’s frickin brilliant. That’s awesome. We’re so glad that we met you guys, we’re so glad that we’re working with you guys. And and if I can figure this stuff out, people way smarter than me should be able to figure it out. But we did. And that’s, that is our go to market strategy.
Aaron Spatz 43:01
That’s really cool. Man, that was really, really cool. Makes me that makes total sense. As you’re explaining it to me, and I’m, you know, I’m, I’m not a long term student of this of this space. And so just hearing you lay all that out, I’m like, Yeah, I mean, you know, like, I can imagine just like a solar sales rep, just salivating when he sees like, you know, a massive like warehouse complex using like, old outdated lighting, and you’re really inefficient HVAC systems. And he’s like, we got to build a freakin solar farm out here, man to make this even, to even get this going. And you’re, you’re taking a whole different approach is like we we can address the total, the total problem here and do it in a much more efficient manner. And I think, I think it’s absolutely brilliant, like seriously, really, really brilliant. So
Chris Nelson 43:49
it’s not only that, and last planar, it’s absolutely essential, in many cases, essential, and here’s why. So if you’re, if you’re a Lowe’s, or if you’re a manufacturing plant, you have only a limited amount of roof real real estate, and you don’t have a whole lot of dirt around you. So So in many cases, your consumption at at the as is state is too high, you could never get enough solar on your property to offset the energy. That’s true. So the only solution to get where you want to go, which is maybe netzero, or maybe it’s 70% reduction, the only solution is total energy, you have to reduce consumption because you don’t have enough room for solar production. So it’s not only a great bench and financial benefit, but it’s it can be be just as essential, it just has to go that way. Right just happens to be that that’s what we do.
Aaron Spatz 44:43
That’s really cool. So you know, as we’re kind of winding down our time together like what you don’t like I I was wanting to spend more time because I’d love to understand the business model because you mentioned consultative, so I that to me says there’s some type of retained model there. But then there’s also project like there’s probably there’s probably a project revenue component and a retained consultative agreement of some flavor. But then you’re, you know, then you’re employing, either you’ve got all the manpower and equipment yourself or you’re outsourcing that and like, subcontracting these different projects out, like, if you’re, well, if you’re if you’d like to share about that, great. If not, that’s okay. I can I can move on.
Chris Nelson 45:28
No, I can. Sure. Sure about that real quickly. So there is there is a consultative component and it’s simple project, we can come and do the energy audit, produce a proposal, there’s typically there’s no fee for that, if it’s a large complex, I did it a university 30,000 lights, right. We had, we had to charge upfront for that audit, for the analysis for the proposals for that work, that consultative work, yeah. But we we reimbursed in the project. So we just said, Hey, you pay us the $100,000. Consultant fee. If you choose to go forward with us, we will just return that money to you write your check back for and it’d be absorbed inside the project. So that’s how we operate. I think that’s extremely fair to us and to our clients. So that’s that’s one aspect of it. And then, as far as the the comprehensive model, yeah, we try to we try to manage the entire value chain as much as we can. So we we consult, we analyze, we design we develop, we even arrange financing, we renew going in the marketplace, that financing, whether it be lease, loan, service, contract, whatever the client situation, whatever the financial, financial is best for them from a tax perspective, we help them with that. We have tax professionals, not our team, but we have associate relationships. And so we did that, yeah, we did finance it, we we source the materials, we will we will either self perform an install, depending upon the size and scope and location, or at a moment, at a minimum, we always have a Helios hardhat, as you say we have a Helios hardhat, project manager on site to manage our subcontractors that we bring in to perform that work. Because the project dictates that, and then, and then we’re around and we’ll do the service and maintenance on the back end if the client desires as well. We’ll do the measurement and verification that the systems are working. So whatever the client and the project desires, we can be a complete full circle service for the client.
Aaron Spatz 47:41
And that’s really, really cool. Well, thank you.
Chris Nelson 47:46
Sure, two more components of that real quick, please understand, we were doing a project right now in the US Virgin Islands. And so one of the other things we do is we see businesses a mission. So while we’re down there, we are using 95% local labor, which means we’re pumping money into the local economy. We are also looking to do volunteer work down there, with with nonprofits, for example, we have the opportunity to donate some solar panels to local charitable organizations down there, not only did we don’t donate the panels, but we donated time to help them install them. So we’re looking to do more than just earn a living, we’re looking to have impact in our world. So that’s another just another component of what the Helius value proper story is.
Aaron Spatz 48:40
That’s really really cool. Yeah, no, I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s really amazing. I mean, so you’ve, you’ve consolidated the entire, you know, the, the entire value chain from top to bottom, and then beyond that, you’re also giving back and contribute to the local economy or, or any, any other like, well, that’s not charitable work. You’re just that’s that’s just goodwill, but then but charitable work in terms of, you know, donations of, of solar panels or things of that nature. So, you know, as we wrap up, Chris, I mean, this time has flown by, and I would, I would love to spend another two hours with you. But you know, but looking back on it, like what, like somebody who’s maybe listening to this, who’s either in corporate America now and considering their journey, or somebody who’s maybe early on in their entrepreneurial journey? Again, I’m not, I’m going to ask you to like any parting shots or advice for people that are considering embark on the journey? I know there’s like a, an infinite amount of things that that we could cover, but are there any things that just you have found to be critically important to you and that you’d kind of attribute to your kind of success and make sales of course I would, I would say is probably a lay up there, but maybe something outside of sales
Chris Nelson 50:00
Yeah. That you like you said they’re they’re just does is that they? They’re right. I mean, again, it’s no one thing. It’s never one thing. There are some important things, important lessons learned. One, it’s way harder than you think it is. We do any financial forecasting, add 10% Just because that’s the Murphy factor, right? Yeah. And sometimes you might have to add more than 10% or another 10%. People in relationships matter most, that your, your reputation in the marketplace will precede you, good or bad. And so do everything you can to make it good and protect it. There’s no right way to do a wrong thing. That that stuck with me, my mentor, Jim McCarty, God bless him, he. And he pounded that in my head, there’s no right way to do the wrong thing. And, and it took me a while to learn that honestly, especially in the corporate world that where I saw some, some things that were not right. So there’s no right way to do the wrong thing. And your business is key to lead by. So let’s just a couple, those are a few big ones that come to mind. And And lastly, if you really, if you really have a passion for it, go do it. But be ready to work harder and be ready to be smart with these things I’ve shared with you guys. It is worth it. But it is a lot of work. It really is.
Aaron Spatz 51:36
Yeah. Wow. Well, what’s the best way for people to follow you learn more about you what what it is that you’re doing to company and so forth.
Chris Nelson 51:44
I appreciate that, you know, www healios energy, u s.com. There are other Helios energies out there in the industry. I’m not gonna say anything about them other than there are some other ones. But our says to us at the end of it, I’m on LinkedIn, got a really nice LinkedIn, both personal and in our business. And we have a pretty big following for the business on Facebook and YouTube. We do a lot of testimonial videos and client case study videos, we have a collection of those out there. Just go check those out. And again, I this is not me telling you about what we do. It’s our clients telling you about what we do and how we do it. So I think that’s the best way to get us. And I’d welcome the opportunity to chat with anybody. Anybody, any any of your listeners that want to learn more or ask questions, I’d be happy to share that with them. Just get back.
Aaron Spatz 52:42
Okay. That’s terrific, Chris. I really, really again, I just want to thank you for spending some time with me today. I really, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. And so just again, thank you so much.
Chris Nelson 52:52
And thank you for doing this for other veterans, other entrepreneurs. This is a great forum. So thank you.
Aaron Spatz 53:01
Thanks for listening to America’s entrepreneur. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review or comment on your preferred social media platform. share it out with friends, family, coworkers, others in your network. And of course, you can write me directly at Erin at Bold media.us That’s a Ron at Bold media.us Till next time