The San Francisco-based Sunrun Inc. is one of the most successful installers of residential solar power systems in Massachusetts, with roughly 13 megawatts worth of panels generating power on nearly 3,000 homes. Chief executive Lynn Jurich, 35, recently spoke with Globe reporter Erin Ailworth. Here’s what she found out:
1Jurich and company cofounder, Edward Fenster, came up with the idea for Sunrun while in business school at Stanford University, and launched the company in 2007. Fenster was the first customer, installing solar panels on his Queen Anne house in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Sunrun had set up offices in one of the home’s turrets.
“We made him pay for the system and it was a fortune — it was almost $10 a watt,” or about three times what the average system costs today, Jurich recalled. “The second customer, I think, was his doctor.”
Today Sunrun has more than 60,000 customers in 11 states — assets Jurich said are worth more than $2 billion. She helped build the company’s customer base by chatting up potential business at county fairs, farmers markets, and town halls.
“It was really scrappy. I just started going out to any place where I thought homeowners would be.”
That persistence meant that even the financial crisis couldn’t keep the company down. Sunrun got its big break in November 2008 — when credit markets had seized up — when US Bank provided the company with $40 million in financing.
“Once we got to critical mass [with customers] we were able to go to US Bank, our first bank, and say, ‘Hey, look this is something customers are really into.’ ”
Sunrun’s business model is simple: The company pays to put up panels on customers’ homes, then sells the power generated back to them under a 20-year contract. By owning the solar generating systems, Sunrun is able to claim subsidies aimed at encouraging the development of renewable sources of power. The power often is sold to customers at prices below the electricity provided by utilities.
“On average, we’re saving customers about 20 percent on their monthly bill.”
Though Sunrun is based in California, Jurich says she’s tied to Massachusetts. Her husband, Brad, was born in Brookline, grew up in Wellesley, went to the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, and later attended Harvard Business School.
“He’s like Massachusetts through and through,” she said, adding that if the Red Sox play the San Francisco Giants during the baseball season, “I have to go with the Sox [because] I have to go with my man.”
Jurich and her husband share an entrepreneurial spirit. When they were finishing business school on opposite coasts, the couple had an informal competition to see who could get their start-up off the ground first. She won the race with Sunrun, so her husband took a job in private equity when he graduated and moved to California.
“We knew that one of us would have to make an income and support the other,” she said, but now that Sunrun is successful, she is supporting her husband’s latest venture, a skin-care line called Tatcha.
She may sell solar systems to others, but Jurich doesn’t have panels on her own home — a unit in an apartment building. But she hasn’t given up hope.
“I’m still working on my building owner. I think I can get him there.”Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.