Reflections on Greenbacker, ten years in
All businesses begin with a dream. Greenbacker’s began in 2011, when a group of founders came together around a common goal: to create an investment vehicle that would enable ordinary American investors to participate in the burgeoning revolution in renewable energy. Little did we know that after a decade of sacrifice, sweat, and toil, we’d create not just a successful business, but a business with a gross investment value of $1+ billion1 and 1+ gigawatt of clean power generation capacity. It really does take years to become an overnight success.
It’s always fun to reminisce about the old days and recall the wild path that led us to where we are now. One time, we packed up all of our stuff on the spur of the moment and left our offices in the old GE building on 51st Street to avoid accepting a bad investment. Then there was the roof leak in our one-room Lexington Avenue office that damaged our equipment and forced us to circle our desks in the middle of the office to stay dry.
We remember our first deal, Sunny Mountain in Colorado; and our second deal—a portfolio of Ontario feed-in tariff assets on individual residences—which we purchased from Jigar Shah, who has since become one of the largest voices in renewables in the US. At that time, we had no hope of tax equity or debt. Whatever we raised from individual investors, sometimes less than $1 million a month, was what we had to invest.
All of this and so much more is the story of Greenbacker. The founders of the company—Charles Wheeler, David Sher, Robert Sher, Spencer Mash, and Jim Weiner (who unfortunately had to retire due to health issues)—will always remember those indelible moments, when we constantly had to ask ourselves why in the world we started this thing in the first place. Yet, the mission of Greenbacker not only endured, but has expanded significantly.
As founders, you quickly realize that you cannot do everything on your own, and that the way forward is to consistently bring in the best people—individuals with the right skills and specializations to take on key roles and build departments. We were lucky enough to bring on Mehul Mehta to supply rocket fuel to our deal team. Matt Murphy left a huge job at an established solar leader to embrace our vision and join our merry band. Marcus Marcuson came on to help us raise money through broker dealers. Brandon Praznik joined our one-room office to sell from our “headquarters,” and then Jeff Sheridan came on board to lead our sales efforts with him. Richard Butt, who joined the firm when we were still small, began to bring on top-level people in Portland, and our second office was born. With the addition of Mike Landenberger, we are now in the process of expanding and refining the entirety of our reporting capabilities.
Our approach has been to build an organization rooted in the Socratic-method, where everyone has a voice, and everybody has an impact. Lately, we’ve ramped up our efforts to be even more sustainable, be an active member in our communities, and achieve greater inclusion and diversity—priorities that were always part of the mission. Our success is powered by an extremely talented community of more than 100 employees, drawn together under the Greenbacker banner. However, without our investors and their belief in our mission, none of our accomplishments would be possible—past, present, or future.
Past as Prologue
Going from struggling start-up to successful small business in 10 years is a wonderful achievement. But from our perspective, it’s really only the beginning. We have already made an impact during our tenure in sustainable infrastructure investing, but there is still so much more ahead of us.
Today, the opportunities are endless, and we now have the resources to take our business to the next level. Imagine what we will become over the next 10 years, as we stand at a confluence of megatrends in the global economy:
- Electrification of everything – We are rapidly moving toward a world in which electricity is the cheapest, most flexible way of powering things. It’s already the best way to light our homes, and soon it will be the best way to move our vehicles, heat our homes, and power our mass-transit.
- Fighting climate change – With the world’s critical need to decrease carbon emissions, renewable energy has emerged as the replacement for traditional fossil fuel power plants—a transition that is accelerating globally.
- Investors putting their money where their values are – The rise of socially responsible investing and Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics to measure outcomes is a rapidly growing movement in the market. While Greenbacker was always built with environmental responsibility as one of its core missions, large asset managers are now also coming around to the idea of investing responsibly.
- Retirees needing uncorrelated income – As the baby boomer generation reaches peak retirement, their investment goals are shifting from growth to preservation. They need investments that produce steady, stable income, and they need those investments to be uncorrelated to the other investments they may hold (e.g., real estate).
The fact that Greenbacker operates at the intersection of so many gigantic global trends is incredibly exciting, if also a touch daunting. We need to find ways of expanding in all of these areas without becoming defocused. As a company, we want the next 10 years to mark our passage from a small business to a global one, demonstrating our ability to sustain our positive momentum, adapt in the face of challenges, and continue to grow at every level. Flexibility will be key, constant learning will be key, and, yes, managing effectively will be key.
We have an incredible team of people who improve on their own amazing efforts every month and every year. We are confident that we can continue to create a great company in Greenbacker—a company that was built to make a real impact in the world, and a company that is built to last.
Congratulations to everyone on our 10-year anniversary. We appreciate your trust in our vision and look forward to growing this little company into something extraordinary.
From the Founders,
Charles Wheeler, David Sher, Spencer Mash, Robert Sher
1 GIV reflects the FMV of our assets and cash, as well as project-level debt related to our projects. GIV amounts are unreported, unaudited and subject to change.