The sunny story of Solar Monkey

Solar Monkey Facts

Founded by: Jan Pieter Versluijs and Mels van Hoolwerff (Mels no longer works at Solar Monkey)
Launched in: 2014

What is Solar Monkey all about?
Solar Monkey is a software supplier in the solar panel market. Solar panel installers can use our innovative software to remotely design a complete solar panel system within one minute, making them a lot more effective. The software is based on aerial photographs combined with 3D models, which the software uses to calculate the expected yield during the quote process. After installation, the software also measures actual yield in order to monitor performance and to guarantee that the panels perform as well as expected. All of this can be done remotely.”

When did Solar Monkey join the EIT Climate-KIC Accelerator program?
Solar Monkey entered the Accelerator program in 2015 and is currently part of our Alumni network.

EIT Climate-KIC Benelux interviewed one of the founders, Jan Pieter Versluijs:

What is your ‘founders dream’?
“For me, my founder’s dream was to become a founder again. Before co-founding the company, I worked for a consultancy firm in England. I had already started 3 small companies while I was a student, so you could say I had entrepreneurship in my blood. After I met Mels, we had the idea to start Solar Money.”

Has your ‘founders dream’ / vision changed over the course of time?
“Well, our vision has largely remained the same. After all, starting a sustainable energy company is always going to be fun. If you spend most of your life working, you had better make sure that you are working towards a good cause. Every day, I make the deliberate decision to work with sustainable energy.”

Starting a company often involves ups and downs – what went well for you and what could have been better?
“We have learned an awful lot. You’re constantly learning how to create a certain corporate culture and how to motivate your employees. It is important that they all feel that they are part of the company and that they are committed to building and improving it. Each phase comes with its own challenges and lessons. You spend most of the first year figuring out who your customer is, what your customers need, how to design your product and how to be as efficient as possible.”

“Then there are questions like: how can I recruit the best people?; how can I motivate them? etc. We now have a team of 25 employees, so we have to make sure that the company has a sound structure. We have also started expanding to Belgium and Spain, where we encountered different cultures. There really is a lot to learn at every stage.

What when wrong? “A lot, I think (with a smile). The start is the most difficult part. When you only have about 20 to 30 customers, you might discover that all your customers want something slightly different, and you’ll want to meet all their wishes. Eventually, you’ll find that you’re doing 20 to 30 different things and making promises to lots of different parties, and that it’s hampering your progress. We have learned to listen carefully to customer feedback, which we then collate into a single message to focus on. It is better to develop something that is valuable to a large number of people, rather than myriad small solutions for individual customers.”

What is your current situation and what do you still need to do?
“Five years from now, we want to have developed software that people all around the world can use to rapidly develop and monitor solar panel systems.”

To what extent does Climate Impact matter to you and how do you contribute?
“We encourage our customers and the market as a whole to install solar panels better and more quickly. Contributing to improving climate impact is an inherent part of the company.” 

Have you already raised funding?
“Yes, we now have 3 investors, including 2 VCs and 1 angel investor. Raising more money from external investors has certainly helped us grow. The first year is especially hard work, and the first investment we secured was worth €200,000. It was a lot of money at the time!”

Have you been affected by the Corona crisis?
“Less than expected. At the start of the outbreak we were very concerned and drew up several crisis scenarios. Fortunately, the installation industry has continued to run smoothly. The fact that our software can be used remotely has been a tremendous help.”

Your company started on the EIT Climate-KIC Accelerator programme in 2015 – what benefits has it brought you?
“The Accelerator program certainly helped, especially in the early stages. For us, it was a school for entrepreneurship, which really is a skill of its own. There are so many different aspects to master and you have very little to fall back on. Good coaching was very valuable to us, as was sharing our good and bad experiences with other entrepreneurs. We have loved watching other startups develop and learn from their experiences, too.

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