Crowdsourcing Funds to Power Sustainable Solar Energy in Emerging Markets
By Kathryn Sharfman
CMO COUNCIL: Tell us more about Sun Exchange. What is it all about?
SHARFMAN: Sun Exchange is a crowd-based solar leasing platform for individuals and businesses around the world to earn a monthly income while funding solar power installations in climatically warm emerging markets.
Members buy solar cells in solar projects to earn income from the electricity that is generated over 20 years, creating a positive social impact while receiving a monthly income. The sites that go solar gain access to affordable, reliable, clean energy without any capital required. Members monitor the installation and performance of the solar cells and tend to buy into several projects over time. Sun Exchange oversees the solar project installations to completion, collects and distributes earnings from the project for the energy consumer and the solar cell owner and manages the site for 20 years of the lease term.
During the past seven years, Sun Exchange has powered over 60 businesses and there are over 40,000 members in our online community across the world in 180 countries. We are using technology to solve very human problems. This year, we won top Financial Services and Web3 company in the Top Tier Impact Awards, the Oscars of sustainability and impact.
CMO COUNCIL: What is your role at Sun Exchange?
SHARFMAN: As Chief Platform Officer, my role centers on everything that happens on the platform to enable the community to operate as effectively as possible. In this context, a CMO needs to be a multi-disciplinary thinker and strategist with an ever-growing responsibility for sales results, product innovation and customer experience. It's my responsibility to listen to what the community needs and deliver on the mission to connect the world to the sun. A critical part of this is how we plan new platform features and improvements, working closely with the CTO and the executive team on the priorities we have for improving execution and business outcomes.
Sun Exchange is a platform business, blending an engaged global online community with brick-and-mortar projects, all connected, monitored, and optimized in real-time by a distributed, secure technology infrastructure.
CMO COUNCIL: What solutions do you employ in your business?
SHARFMAN: We have a diverse range of functional and governance requirements relating to personal and asset data and transactions through the lifecycle of member engagement and portfolio management. We have deployed various technologies and applications to deliver on our customer promise and value proposition.
Community development includes:
- Brand building and education using various touchpoints in a well-defined journey that we continuously test and optimise involving paid, owned and earned media.
- Community member onboarding and initial purchase and identity verification for the safety of our community.
- Managing the funding process of solar installation projects through crowd sales where over 1,000 buyers can come together to fund one project.
- The security involved with ecommerce payments, managing personal and financial data responsibly, including wallets holding fiat and bitcoin payments.
- Ongoing member communication and dashboards, customer support and satisfaction feedback and monitoring.
We are an online community engaging where our community is comfortable, be it in our highly engaged Telegram group, on community calls with our CEO and our members across the world as well as social media channels. We also use Slack for our Sun Exchange affiliates and ambassadors.
We set benchmarks for activities and understand performance using a mix of custom and off-the-shelf tools. We need to understand how to effectively communicate, how to influence purchase behaviour and how finance and security partners can enhance the experience. We also need to understand how to optimize collective crowdfunding behaviour and constantly improve business processes.
We need a consistent supply of platform-ready projects for our community to fund. Project development includes:
- Developing a pipeline of solar projects with energy consumers keen to go solar. This includes managing legal and financial due diligence processes across the business.
- Modelling the future energy profiles of a business to design appropriate solar solutions for their power needs.
- Designing solar plants and managing external installation partners through the solar plant build stage.
Once operating, we manage the solar installation, monitoring performance against forecast and are responsible for the installation’s maintenance schedules. We collect and distribute monthly electricity payments to digital wallets that members can choose to cash out or add to solar cell purchases in new projects.
CMO COUNCIL: What is your strategic view of marketing technology and how can this help improve business performance?
- Martech is a business enabler and is a core business function. It allows you to join activities together more seamlessly and better understand customer behaviour. Insights gained from distributed data help us improve our marketing performance, gain deeper understanding of our audiences, learn from simulations we can run to quickly adapt and amplify our growth plans.
- Martech is not a strategy. It should follow a strategy rather than lead. Pure martech won’t make a business successful. You need an orchestra of marketing and an appreciation for the psychology of decision making. Martech can help supercharge a strategy, whether the strategy is good or bad.
- Seek a balanced view. Raw data, information and actionable insights drawn from martech run through the overall business and influence overall company decisions. It’s our responsibility to remain objective about what the information is telling us to ensure we don’t always just look for the answers we want to see.
- Privacy for the consumer. Changes to better protect personal data should lead to better marketing, giving back consumers more control. Martech for pure promotion will need to improve with more objective algorithms and I welcome less stereotyping when it comes to targeting communication.
CMO COUNCIL: What advice do you have for those embarking on the digital marketing transformation journey?
- Automation isn’t tech only. Repeatable business processes come in many forms. Humans are involved and should be open to learning about how to improve things over time. Don’t underestimate the fact that humans power the process.
- Get started. Sometimes you just need to get started with new deployments and keep your eyes wide open. This avoids wasting valuable time in market. Keep it simple and learn as you go.
- Maintain a diverse toolkit. Sometimes you need to think creatively about how you measure the success of an activity. Just because it doesn’t form part of your classic martech suite, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. That would be very short sighted.
- It isn’t martech first. Don’t overlook the simple stuff. A well-prepared monthly statement that arrives on time and is easy to read at a glance is GREAT marketing and builds trust.
- Make informed decisions. It’s important to interrogate the data, the information and the conclusions presented to you. Understand the rationale for a result. Understand what you can learn and implement from work completed. Understand why you care about that result. What does it help you with? Better forecasting, better motivations around future projects, better execution, insight into what to change, what to improve on?
- Speak to your customers. A lot of insight can be hidden. Nothing compares to inviting frank feedback in person.
- Make time for retros. You can use much martech and frankly get lost in data in a retro. I learnt a great lesson from the CEO of 37 Signals, maker of Basecamp. (Thanks Jason Fried!). The best question to ask before looking at CAC/ROI/metrics is a simple question that leads to real honesty: Would you do it again?
P.S. Tools we use include custom platform member/project management systems, Hubspot, Slack, Trello, Google including advertising suite, Meta, Power BI, AMMP and other energy portals for real-time energy data plus system integration for KYC, payments (fiat and BTC).