Caleb Arthur – Founder & CEO, Sun Solar

Caleb Arthur founded Missouri Sun Solar in 2012. In its first four years, the company has grown rapidly, recently ranked as the the ninth fastest-growing energy company, and #156 overall, on the “Inc. 500” list of America’s fastest-growing companies, and is also the fastest-growing energy company in Missouri. Sun Solar now has offices in Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis, Olathe (Kansas), and one office in South Carolina, and has over 140 employees nationwide.

Caleb graduated from Houston High School in 2004, and became a local police officer. When a serious injury on the job sidelined him, he began to research alternative energy sources during his recovery. Initially, he was just looking to install solar for his own home, before realizing the serious need for a solar company in the area. He has become an avid lobbyist for the solar industry, and just completed a term as president of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA).

Caleb and his wife, Rachel, have four children: Deacon, Delaney, Eden, and Ezra.

Tell me about your early life.
I grew up in a small town called Houston (Missouri). For fifty years, my grandfather, Glenn Arthur, and father, David Arthur, ran a family-owned business called ARPCO Pump that installed water well pumps. This is how I learned to become a businessman. I thought school was boring and enjoyed riding four wheelers on the gravel roads.

How did the concept for Sun Solar come about?
I built a strawbale house in 2010 while I was a law enforcement officer. My wife agreed that I should be in business. I had installed solar panels at my house and my wife encouraged me to do something with solar panels.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
No bank would loan me money, so my grandparents loaned me $13,000 to get started.

Did you have a lot of competition?
Not a lot. It’s hard to sell solar in Missouri, compared to the rest of the United States. Our energy laws could be improved, energy costs are low, and our utilities do not like solar companies.

What was your marketing strategy?
To be the company that people dream of doing business with. Superior customer service. We started out writing every customer Christmas and birthday cards. We even sent a nice customer funeral arrangement flowers. The type of caring that blows peoples’ minds. We also donate solar panels to food banks. It saves them money, creates PR, and educates. I use Facebook a lot, to the point that I now have 38,000 followers!

How fast is the business growing?
From a little over $2 million in 2014 to $24.5 million in 2016.

How do you organize your day?
I’m not a typical, big company CEO. I have an executive assistant named Stacey. She’s like a mother figure and always keeps me lined out! 🙂 I like being engaged with my customers and employees. I participate in solar installations, from random homeowners to the huge commercial accounts that we have.

What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
Sleeping in to 7:00 AM and going to bed by midnight. I eat organic food, and walk three miles everyday (lost 100 lbs doing this). I make sure to spend as much time possible with my lovely wife, Rachel, and four kids. Work/life balance is a must.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” – Thomas Edison

What are some of your favorite books?
Hyper Sales Growth: Street-Proven Systems & Processes. How to Grow Quickly & Profitably. by Jack Daly, anything Tony Robbins, and a little bit by Dave Ramsey. I know, odd selection. I like to challenge my thought processes, daily. I like to live life in other people’s shoes to see how it feels. Sometimes, I pick up new traits that I use in my business.

How do you define success?
Growing 888%, or more like we did. Just kidding. Whatever you tell yourself success is. We all accomplish whatever we actually want to. Some accomplish money, and some people have success with other things. Mine is helping people. As long as I continue helping people, I’m successful. Once I stop putting fellow Americans in front of me, I’ve failed.

What is the key to success?
Never looking down or back. Anyone, even your own family, will sabotage you. Keep moving forward with your eye on the prize. My prize was to make enough money to help the homeless, especially the military veterans. After being a cop for five years, I realized these guys literally sacrifice their lives for a few short years serving our great nation. Half of the U.S. homeless population are military veterans.

Did you always know you would be successful?
Yes, once you believe in yourself, you are unstoppable. I was a certified fire fighter and police officer by the time I was twenty-one. I just kept telling myself I would be successful. It was a big dream that started when I was five or six.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My close friends and family. Seriously, running a business is hard. Surround yourself with good council.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Don’t go into business with family. So many people told me this, but I didn’t care. My brother helped me out so much, but at some point for some reason, brothers will have a fight. If the family fight isn’t fixed, it goes wrong at some point. My brother wanted a small company, and I want to create “Tesla 2.0”. You know Elon Musk? I’m going to be the solar Elon. Family leaving the business, even on good terms, can be hard. Be careful who you go into business with. Make sure your long term goals are the same. Only hire passionate people. Hiring bodies will burn you so bad. No telling how much money I lost giving people a try who were not passionate about solar. I like to hire military vets. If you want a successful solar company, hire veterans. If you have to ask me why, then you need to hire more veterans and let them be managers. Wow! Great things will happen.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Well, that’s tough. So many times I’ve puked and not slept because of issues from growing so fast. It’s a never-ending battle to stay profitable, keep customer service above everyone else, and have a healthy life.

How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
“Pros and Cons” list. Sharing ideas with my executives. Once they supported it and embraced it, the culture changed for the better.

What is your vision for the future of Sun Solar?
To be a $200 million a year company in three more years and to hire 300 military veterans. We currently have 125 employees, in total.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Being young is actually a benefit to starting a business. We might not have all the experience, but we make up for it with new progressive ideas, and endless energy! By the time we do have the experience, we become an unstoppable force. I have so much business experience from when I started, and I just turned thirty-one. Never slow down, never give up. Most of the older generation thinks different than us. That’s okay, just don’t give in to their valuation of success. My generation has the opportunity to end wars, feed everyone, and create a 100% sustainable plant for every human and animal. We just have to work together and understand we are all a bit different.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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