Electric cars, green homes and the future of smart living

SenatorKehoe, electric cars and green homes

Had a great meeting this week with former State Senator,  Christine Kehoe, who is the Executive Director of the California Plug-In Vehicle Collaborative. We met with her, the electric car people at FORD, a rep from NRG and a local solar company.  We talked about how the construction and development business is similar to the auto business in that both are woefully behind in leading/launching green initiatives. There seem to be a lot of people talking and not a ton of action.  My impressions after the meeting:

  • Senator Kehoe gets and likes our concept of healthy green homes.  She seemed fascinated by the vision of putting electric cars into near net-zero homes.
  • FORD guys completely get it.  They see the electric car opportunity as one that could be a game changer for them and are more than happy to help us put cars in our projects.
  • The biggest challenge seemed to be determining who’s ready to lead this push and from what direction.  Senator Kehoe is a big advocate for building consensus through a variety of groups (BIA, FORD, etc) and taking a well thought out plan to city/state planning depts with requests for incentives for green builders like us.
  • I shared with Senator Kehoe that rather than smaller monetary incentives (which seems to be an uphill battle for little gain) I’d prefer building incentives.  Incentives that allowed me to reduce parking requirements or get our plans checked quicker, etc.  Those would be much more beneficial and valuable to us and they would be a soft cost to a city planning dept.

I’m looking forward to next steps with this group.  Everyone seems highly motivated to get this rolling.

The financials of a green real estate development

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Here are the projected financials on a deal we’re doing in Encinitas, Ca.  This project is a 3 house ecovillage with detached bungalows, utilizing steel frames (95% recycled).  The houses will feature near net-zero energy, solar, electric car charging ports and possibly electric cars [Currently working with Ford to see if we should include their Cmax with the houses]. There will be a central courtyard around a shared organic garden where neighbors can hang out and watch movies and kids can play without the fear of cars driving by.  We’re also installing a patent-pending integrated storm-water, grey-water and rainwater system to collect, retain and use 85% of all water (except black water which cannot be used) on site. This system will alleviate many of the drought issues that most California homeowners face.

Our team is very excited about the project and happy to answer any questions you may have.  Feel free to email or give me a call with questions.  For now check out the financials:

Three questions that guide us

Simcoe Green Homes

All deals are not created equal.
When I first started in the impact investing world I chased a lot of deals and wasted a ton of time.  I took deals (and chose investors) based on opportunity and not alignment.  Big mistake.  Now, every deal our company pursues goes through a simple 3 question filter.  If I can’t get a ‘yes’ to all three questions then I don’t pursue the deal, no matter how good it looks.

My three questions:

1.    Is it high vibe?
2.    Does it make money?
3.    Are we good at it?

1. High vibe simply means that the deal makes the world a better place on some level. A strip joint/gun shop might make money and be a great opportunity but isn’t high vibe to  me.
For example, we build green homes and EcoVillages.  Homes that conserve energy and water and hopefully serve as an example of how great we as a society could build homes if everyone was willing to do so. High vibe all the way.

2. Does it make money is easy to determine, either something is profitable or it’s not. A truly sustainable business, no matter the industry, is profitable. Simple.

3. Are we good at it?  This is the toughest one to decipher.  As a typical Type A idealist, I used to think our company was good at everything. “Yep, we can do that.” was the most often heard mantra around the office. Over time I came to the realization that while we can do a lot, we’re better off sticking to the things we know best. Now, we only do deals that we are experts in.  We choose to do what we do really well and that’s it.

These are the three questions that drive our business.  By distilling it down to three questions, our business can be more effective, go faster and focus on what we do best.

What questions drive yours?

Automatic Green (for the people)

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I believe in the Red Sox.

The New York Yankees have been the hated rivals of my beloved Sox long before I discovered the rivalry when I was 6 years old growing up in Attleboro, MA. The chances of me wearing a Yankees hat are virtually zero.  I’d rather sit through an entire Justin Bieber concert than wear a Yankees hat.

The point is that changing beliefs and behavior is hard.  It takes education, cajoling and a constant “what’s in it for me?” for people to change.  Even then most diehards probably aren’t going to change.

[Read more...]

How we got here…

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For some reason I’ve never written about how our company started.  At some point I’ll probably write something much more detailed but for now here are a few highlights about the start of our company:

  • The birth of my oldest daughter, Kaya and the movie Inconvenient Truth were the two major factors that launched our business.  I always wanted to make a difference in my career and now had an opportunity.  At the time (2006) the concept of green building/green living were unheard of.  I got a lot of quizzical looks when I told people what our company did.  Now everyone and their mother is a HERS rater:)
  • The idea for the business came smack dab in the middle of the desert on a drive back from Phoenix to San Diego while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn on the radio.  We had just made a client a significant profit on a few green remodels and thought, why don’t we just do this ourselves?
  • I wrote our entire business plan at a coffee place by the beach in 5 straight, 10 hour days fueled by double espressos and bagels.  Since I’m not a great typer my hands were literally swollen by the end of the week. Unlike many other start-up founders you might read about, I absolutely loved writing our plan.  It felt like I was writing something with the potential to change the world. Sounds cheesy but it’s the truth.
  • Our first projects were in largely non-green minded areas like Detroit, throughout Texas and Phoenix.  Our success on these projects proved that if ‘green’ worked there it would work just about anywhere.
  • A few years ago we did a deal with a huge international firm that committed $50M to us (to start) to launch green homes on a national level.  After 6 months of working with them I ended the partnership. Without going into details, I was not comfortable with their business practices and wasn’t going to put our name on something I didn’t believe in.  That said, I’m the only person I know who walked away from $50M.
  • From the very beginning (and to this day) I have been committed to the alignment between green and profit. I have based our business on the belief that green should be more profitable, not less. Our slogan has always been, “Do good, make money”. The more good we do, the more money we (and our investors) make.
  • We’ve never taken (and won’t ever take) venture capital money. We will only work with true impact investors who care about investing in a socially responsible business.  Our investors are are true angel investors.  They believe in our mission and our vision and are the most supportive, positive people I know.  They inspire me on a daily basis and I am honored just to know them.

 

Porch-to-Porch Communities

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You deserve more.

You deserve more from your home and your neighborhood. You deserve to live in a home that is comfortable, improves your health and costs less to operate. A house that is safe, sturdy and strong and adapts to your family’s ever changing needs.

You deserve to live in a community where you actually know your neighbors and hang out with them occasionally. A community specifically designed to support and contribute to the happiness of your life. A community that is fun to live in and collectively improves the lives of everyone who lives within.

Unfortunately real estate developers don’t build communities that way. Maximizing house size and room count are the major factors in their design. The front porch, once the dominant feature of a typical home’s entrance way, has been replaced with the monster garage. Their logic is, the bigger the house, the more profit we make. And until the last 5 years or so, they were right.

Now the tide has turned.

[Read more...]

Building Green Homes and helping Non-Profits

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One of the things we’ve done recently is partner with a few non-profits in our business. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the success of the program and wanted to share how it came about and how we’re moving it forward.

A few years ago I was approached to be on the Board of Directors for Jeans 4 Justice, a non-profit in San Diego that educates kids about sexual abuse and sexual violence. I believe strongly in their mission and joined their board.

Fast forward a year.

The J4J work was going well but I saw that they continued to have the same problems that many other non-profits face. They have to spend tons of time raising money which takes away from fulfilling their true work. Raising $ was their constant focus.

This bothered me enough (I hate broken systems) to come up with a plan to help them out. We designed a plan to put a profit-sharing program in place so that as our company earned revenues, we’d donate 5% to them. We actually wrote it into our corporate by-laws and it’s worked beautifully so far. They know that as we close deals they get checks.

Still, the whole non-profit donation model bothers me. It seems like non-profits are constantly asking for money and not able to provide much in return to their donors.
Below is plan that we’re doing to help a few non-profits in the area. I believe it can be good for the non-profit and good for us. I’m hoping other businesses blatantly steal my idea on this because if so, a lot more non-profits doing great work can thrive.

Company video (with outtakes)

Check out our company intro video (1st video) and then please enjoy the outtakes (2nd video).  I never realized how long it would take me to shoot a 1 minute video without swearing…

And now for the outtakes…

 

 

 

Summer Driveway Dinners

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During one of the best summers of my life I spent numerous nights eating dinner sitting in my driveway. I would come home from work and my wife and kids would be playing with our neighbors in the yard.  The kids would all be playing and the wives would be drinking wine and talking.

Each of us dads would get home, pop a beer and join the party.  After a couple of hours the sun would be going down and we’d all head inside.  There would be times where I’d get home at 5:30 and not step inside my house until 8pm.

What I love about those times is how spontaneous and easy it was to hang out and be part of a community of friends*.  There was no agenda, no planning, no driving. It was easy, enjoyable and made living in that particular house fantastic.

If I could I would happily live in a shack in a neighborhood where my family could enjoy that sense of community again.  Most people would.

In fact, in designing the ‘Healthy Home Method’, one of the biggest impacts we considered was the societal impacts of homes.  Sure, we want our houses to be green and cost less to run, etc.  We also want them to be designed in a way that makes it easier for people to be neighbors and build a sense of community.

Most current house designs make that virtually impossible – huge houses, with monster garage doors and no front porches.  All of the activity takes place in the backyard and the front is largely for decoration.  Because of this many of us barely know our neighbors.

We’re designing healthy homes with big front porches to make it easy for you to know your neighbors and create hassle-free community.   Don’t worry, our houses still offer a ton of privacy, we’re just making it easier for you to hang out with your neighbors when you want to.  We believe that our healthy homes can make people’s lives healthier, happier and more rewarding.

*We still get together with those friends every month for pizza night.  We moved from that neighborhood more than 4 years ago but the bond with them is strong enough that we see each other once a month.

 

Photo: Flickr

Impact Investors as Early Adoptors

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When we launched our company and raised money from our 1st investors (2007) the concept of ‘green’ homes was far from commonplace.  In fact, no one really knew what we meant by green and the industry really hadn’t taken off yet.  Our team (our company and our investors) enjoyed success because we were in the early adoption stage.  Green homes were new and the desirability for green homes buoyed our success.   Being early adopters was good for us and for our investors.

Fast forward to today and the concept of healthy homes is very new.  We again are at the early adoption stage of the growth in this sector of the housing market.  Again, our team (our investors and us) expect to enjoy success because we’re at the beginning of the curve on the upswing.  The sector hasn’t matured yet and is continuing to grow and expand.

Since we’re one of the only companies focused on healthy green homes as a model we’ve got the double benefit of:

  1. Increasing demand for our product (healthy homes).
  2. Little competition.

I’m glad we seem to be ahead of the curve (again). Also, I’m very happy that our business model gives our investors the greatest opportunity for long-term growth.