Connecting their way to new business – Jason Duncan of Energy Lighting Services

Jason Duncan, Founder, President & CEO of Energy Lighting Services

Jason Duncan, the Founder, President & CEO of Energy Lighting Services, revenue from $1.2m in 2014 to $5.6m in 2017, a 367% increase, and now they are on track to hit $10m this year.

Energy Lighting Services designs, installs and maintains the most energy efficient lighting systems on the planet.

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Jason shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:

  • Primarily networking through connectors to find new business.  
  • Adding residential services to build their reputation and brand awareness.  
  • Ensuring that their corporate culture is maintained as they grow.  

Energy Lighting Services Interview - (computer generated transcript)

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Malcolm Lui here welcome to Today we're speaking with Jason Duncan, the Founder, President and CEO of Energy Lighting Services, a fast growing company that designs installs and maintains the most energy efficient lighting systems on the planet. We'll be discussing how he grew his company's revenue from $1.2 million in 2014 to $5.6 million in 2017, a 367% increase, and how they are on track to hit $10 million this year. Welcome to the call Jason

Thank you. Glad to be here.

So Jason how did you do it. How did you grow your company sales so fast?

Well I think it's a combination of market factors and amazing team. You know the market the market is a place right now where everybody is looking for opportunities to reduce operating expenses so that their net profit margins aren't affected. And what we do is show companies how they're effectively losing money by using inefficient lighting systems in ways that they can re re reduce their operating expenses increased their profit margins and have how it has affected not just the bottom line but how is that as a top down effect as well. And then our team is just our team has grown phenomenally over the last four to five years. We've added a lot of new new people on the bus so to speak. And we got the right people on the bus and we're Rodden in the right direction and people are doing their jobs in a great way. They love working here and they serve our customers well.

All right great. So in terms of the market certainly I could see the value and saving on your utility costs. Now are you finding is that growth driven primarily from from new business and new customers or are you upgrading your past customers as well.

A lot of our customer customers are new customers. So year over year we're just adding new customers to the mix. But some of our larger customers some that are national and international companies are coming back to us you know a year or two down the road and saying hey we have another few million square feet that we need you to look at in another state or in two or three more states or we've got more facilities that we've brought on them take a look at those. That's not a large portion of our business but it is significant enough that it's a high revenue portion of the business. So it's not a number of customers issue. For instance if you look at numbers of Gosper's just percentage of the repeat customers are a small percentage of that but when they do come back to ask us to do more work for them it's usually in the Mopar millions of dollars of opportunity.

Great. No no no you him for that you're the bulk of the growth is coming from acquiring new customers. How are you finding them.

We were part of several really good networking groups and professional organizations in the Nashville market and in the Memphis Market one of which namely is a I don't mind giving them a plug at Citi current in there. They started in the Memphis market and they now for force in the Nashville market. So we're members in both markets we've been there for 3 a little over three years and we have developed some amazing relationships with other business owners with other executives with other nonprofits. And as a result of that our brand brand awareness has grown so people know who we are because we're involved in these other networks. We've spent a lot of time investing time in local chambers of commerce. We've got a good PR company of course that helps us get our name out there. We've been in several articles the National Business Journal. We've been nominated and won several awards. And so you know our brand recognition is growing so it's not that our phone is ringing off the hook. People can't wait to do business with us but when we do put on ourselves in front of an opportunity they're like yeah okay. Yeah I think I remember reading about you guys in the National Business Journal or Yeah I saw that you were on the inkless Alkan list this year so it's helping now. Besides all that I've got an amazing sales staff you know. They're very good at their job. They're good at prospecting going out and developing relationships is showing value to people that that otherwise wouldn't thought about doing this to begin with

How are they going about finding people to contact your sales team.

Well I think a lot of that is going to be you know linked in of course unlinked and being to the place where business professionals connect. So we use LinkedIn. We also have access to a lot of networking lot of networking platforms I mentioned earlier who provide us access to a lot of people. So for instance we may be connected with 30 to 70 organizations inside the current or some of the local chambers. But those people have access to other people so we may say hey we know we need to get in touch with people who are in the hospitality or the health care business. Who do you know and we'll get a list. These are some these are 15 people that I know that would love to sit down and talk. So that's one way that they're getting that as well. So we don't they don't do a ton of just churning up cold opportunities. Most of it's going to be a warm warm opportunity through a connector of some sort.

Ok. Now the city Kernow you know can anyone join that group. Or are they very selective as to who they let in.

They are very selective and for good reason. Obviously there's a certain a certain level of person that they are in a company that they weren't represented inside the organization and it isn't. It isn't exclusive in the sense that only one company of each industry is allowed in. So there's only one insurance company. You know one one bank one company who does what we do. Cetera. And as a result you know that the there's obviously are fees to be involved in there. There are certain minimum requirements for participation but generally anyone can apply to be a part of it. Hey I want to be part of the card. But there are going to be selective in there to make sure that you know he's got obviously the ability to engage the way that he current expects and their focus is much more on philanthropy and non-profit and giving back in their hash tag power the good. Now they're really involved in the community. So it's not just for people looking for business. If that makes

Yeah. What's their number one source of new leads for your sales team to talk to and reach out to

Our number one source is just through people that we know connectors

Ok. And the connectors and your and your relationships with them. Is it all through 101 face to face communications or do you do any sort of automated outreach automated communications with them.

We we used to do quite a bit of Automator. We spent a couple of years kind of working through some some of the automated systems for lieges integration. And what we found is that it would create a lot of activity for us but it would not what it was never really delivered the because it never really delivered the bottom line of what we needed. So the automated stuff for us didn't seem to work but when we were able to do some more organic relationships using some of the automated software to follow up follow up automation et cetera that seemed to help much more than just you know cold e-mails going out or cold calls going out or cold letters going out. You know what I mean.

Yeah. So cold calls quote e-mails. We tried them out cold letters didn't work out so great

Yeah I mean there's always the exception to the rule. One of our largest international customers was a call I made from my car driving by about six years ago and that turned into a we've probably done close to seven million dollars. Eight million dollars worth of business with them. So that doesn't mean it doesn't work. It's just not. This is not what we're going to rely on

Right. OK. How about advertising. Do you any sort of advertising either online or through traditional media. And how how has that worked out for you.

We do not to do much advertising all the only advertising we have been engaged in historically has been you know just as more of a goodwill to be a part of a chamber you know a chamber magazine or a chamber ad or something like that or are we might sponsor sponsor some meeting. You know maybe an engineers association meeting or Health Care Association meeting will sponsor that. So to that degree we've done we've been been very selective. That being said we just this year in July of this year rolled out our electrical services that is which is allowing us access to not just do commercial but also residential electrical services and that type of business as a service business almost need. You almost have to have some form of traditional advertising and marketing in order to stay relevant in the marketplace. So we are currently looking at what that might look like how would we advertise in local magazines or we've looked at radio and we decided against radio at the time but we might we look at it about a year ago but now that we have this new service organization in our service division rather I think we might we might look into it but we haven't done a lot. We're considering some of it and we'll probably do more in the future.

Sure. So what's the thinking behind going into the residential business side of things.

Well it's not that when we said that we want to do residential because historically we've never really wanted to do residential because there's certainly margins are are lower the opportunities are fewer and far between and the dollar amounts you know the revenues are a lot lower as well. But when you're doing electrical service work you know it's almost it's necessary because in order to get your name built you've got to be out there serving people. So what we're trying to focus on now is to go to our current partners that we either do business with or we are event you know we're a vendor or their vendor ours or they're part of our city current platform. We're going to them and offering them deals and specials. Hey let us come service your homes let us come to your neighbors let us come to the people that you know from your church because we want to build up the reputation as being an excellent service company. So many service companies out there are really terrible at delivering the services that they do. We want to set ourselves apart. Ultimately we think that long term we want to be simply in the commercial service market. But right now we've got to residential in order to get our name and a reputation built as an intellectual service called

Right. So from 2014 to 2017 your revenue increase one point two million to five point six million over three years. Right. About a four point four million dollar growth. And then from last year five point six million to what is looking like a 10 million dollar year this year. What changes to allow you to almost double your growth and double your revenue in a year.

Well a lot of people don't believe in momentum. They think it's just a figment of our imagination when in fact momentum is a real thing. And so companies today that have been in existence for 125 years may in fact only be in business because of momentum. They suck at delivering what they deliver. Their products are not competitive anymore but their name recognition has been so amazing over that and they may have been a commodity marketplace. Momentum is owning up in the business. Well momentum can be a kid can keep a company in business but L.M. can also excel a company like ours. That's you know we're an eight year old company to new heights. So we spent eight years developing to a point where we're up to 5 5 6 million cells but every year we're in business. Our momentum is better and better and better and where an old company may M.M. might keep him in business in spite of themselves. Momentum actually is helping us because of what we're doing so we get better you know we're better in 17 and we weren't 16 were better and 18 we weren't 17 19 is going to be a better year this year. And I'm not talking about just revenue. I've talked about our ability our knowledge our abilities to serve customers better. What we know in the marketplace how we're able to attack a problem. So momentum the momentum is the thing that's actually getting us to the next level. Momentum helps us when we get a big customer. So if we've got a national account that we land well you're one national account may only do a couple million dollars with you but once you get momentum and they realize oh wow you really do know what you're doing. Agere executing with excellence. The next year they don't give you twice as much opportunity. So it just it builds the year on year on year on

Right. So you said before about how you get better on different attributes. Execution ability knowledge. How do you keep that knowledge. I'm sure a lot of it's and you know is within the people's heads who you have working. Do you have systems in place. You have technology in place to help share that knowledge with everyone else.

Yeah we believe we're very big believers in systems because if a person is removed you can't rely on that person's presence to continue the business. You have to rely on the system and the systems are the thing that can be managed better and can be controlled better than people. So what we do is we set up the systems and we train our people to work within those systems so that they perform with excellence. And if someone is in the system and is not performing with excellence we remove them because we the system is important the system is something that keeps us going. So how we how we do business development how we do the sales how we do marketing how we do our administration how we define and how we do project management field supervision how we secure and source products to a large degree and we've got a long way to go but to a large degree most of that is we have spent years developing a system for each of those areas so that no matter who steps into the system as long as there are competent professional individual. The elegant Taggerty they're going to be able to perform with excellence inside that system.

Okay. What metrics are you tracking within your systems. Me give an example of when your systems and in how you're watching it you're measuring it and then you see your KPI for that system start dropping off. You give an example what action you might take to do to make sure the system resumes its path of excellence.

Okay. So the there's two there's two systems that are used as example. One I'll go a little more into detail. The first is are are just project management and project planning. So we have two departments that will project planning department that works on the front end that as are you know the the the auditing and the sourcing and incentive work all the things all the kind of the guts on the back end of the back into the office stuff we have to figure out what the project is going to look like and and and then the project management team wants the product is actually a live project management team steps in and takes over and they execute the project. They make sure the product is delivered on time. The installers have what they need that they know what they're supposed to be doing day in and day out and they make sure the particle project is finished on time under budget. So at the end of that project both of those teams get together and there is the KPI form that they fill out. It says Okay how do we deliver. I mean what is our audit accurate. And they give themselves a grade on accuracy was our what the quantity or the quantities delivered were they accurate was it delivered on time did we start and end the project on time. So they give themselves great Banani that they also go out into they go to the customer and there's a we do a survey and the form asks them some similar questions. Obviously they asked him questions of how did you think about our delivery and how how did we how do we do and start and end times we deliver excellence are in there. And so we combine those two great and we decided the system work was there places that we could have done better was it a performance issue on our side or is there a tweak need to be made in the system.

So that's on the project management side of things. On the sale side of thing on the sell side of things I think that and I don't go into a whole lot of detail here but we do the very same thing for our salespeople. We have a very specific system for prospecting halted delivery and there are many steps in between and we grade each salesperson is graded on how they move through that system. So you know a certain number of prospecting calls must be made every single week. And if you only did you know 90 percent of those prospecting calls and you get a certain you know you get a 90 percent or a you know if you did 80 percent to be et cetera. And we literally grade it like that so week on week they're looking at. Hey last week I had a c and prospecting. You know I need to get my prospecting up so they are watching that system and then how it works and then once I've been employed for a year we go back and in and just the assumptions. So when I first start we make some assumptions you've got to do this many Bross but the calls to get to this many such as this mini first dutches to get this many discovery calls et cetera. So we're grading all the way along and then but it was based on assumptions at the end of that first year we say well we thought you were going to do a 50 percent rate. Well actually you're doing 60 so we can change the assumptions or or or vice versa.

Right. Okay. So you're doing an assessment a year or are you doing assessments quarterly and can't just minutes

We our sales team mates every single Monday and goes over the grades of last week. So we're looking at this on a grand euro level once a quarter ourselves director sit down with the people and goes over their quarterly numbers every and then once a year we go through and look at them again and make the actual adjustments to the assumptions.

Right. OK. So for this year you're on track for ten million. What are you aiming to target in 2019.

Well I really when we when we went into this year you know we set a goal of somewhere around you know we did five point six last year we were setting a goal to do somewhere around 7. That's really kind of where we thought that would be a realistic but we're on track with some of the accounts we've landed to maybe exceed that and maybe get it. I don't want to say I don't want to jinx myself but we might end up being there with some things next year. I think with the momentum as I mentioned earlier that we're moving into 19 where I think that we might be able to get 20 that would be amazing if we did. But I sincerely believe it'll be somewhere between.

Ok and what changes what plans. What strategies will you execute differently to get you to that level next year.

Well you know I think that we're trying to be much smarter about how we do things in the last 24 months. We've made we've grown quite a bit on just on the employee count headcount. We've expanded our space in our office. And I think there have been times if you know if I'm going to be honest with myself that we made some bad decisions about how we hired people hard maybe too fast maybe did some things quicker than we should have. And I think we've learned a lot on how to engage with our team members and how to engage with our or our our customers to make sure that we're not going too fast that we're methodical and we operate with expediency but we're not hasty. And I think that's the thing that we've learned so you know our headcount grew over two years I think 100 percent you know maybe I don't know what percentage is. Well right now we could probably keep twice as many people busy at a spurt but I want to make sure that I'm not just keeping people busy for a few weeks and then they're twiddling their thumbs for a few weeks. So we're trying to figure out how to make it long term so we're we're stretching folks as far as I can stretch before we need to add the next person into their

Right. I imagine the residential residential service side of things can help smooth out lives even if your team

I think it will. And that's a good point that you bring up because once this once this really starts going I mean are our service service electrician that we hired. I mean he's he hasn't been. He's not been sitting around a lot. I mean we've we've been able to keep him busy. And that's good. And I think you know our goal is within a year. We've we've got one service electrician one van right now and we're serving a small area. But my goal is within the next year or two. We have three four 5 means that we're running a lot of service and most of that obviously we want to be focused on commercial but we know the rest is going to be a part of that

Right. What sort of trends. Do you see unfolding over the next say five years or so that you want to get in front of the right and perhaps that there are some negative trends you know the ones you want to step out of the way and not get whacked by them.

Well. I think the negative trends are the lighting in general because of the business that we're in is becoming Bailey the part of it is becoming very come out of ties. It just the way the lighting has been for the last 70 to 80 years where we've got to be we've got to be careful that the reality is is that lighting today with OLED technology is in fact a technology and it needs to be treated with the same the same thought consideration and financial consideration that every piece of technology in any commercial business that they look at. So the difference if they're looking to telecom system they don't just give me the cheapest telephone you've got you know they want to make sure it it provides the value and meets the needs. They don't just buy the cheapest computers that are available the cheapest printer networks are you know they're making sure they're buying what they need and they're not just looking at as a simple commodity. Well with lighting because there are so many things that can be done with it. I mean you can control. You can do wayfinding with lighting because lighting can be a Wi-Fi spot in every single room and every building and the lighting can be the network. Well if that's the ability that lighting has don't just go buy the cheapest light bulb you can find on Google. You might want to talk to somebody about how can I use this light to deliver services to my customers and to my employees in a way that protects our building make it safer delivers better value etc.. So we're very much into making sure that the lights that we source are smart light that they are the most efficient possible light that the customer can use and that they meet all the international and national lighting standards so that people are safe in workplace

Right. How about some positive trends that you can take advantage



Think the positive trends go back to what I was mentioning there with the with the connectivity you know the Internet of Things IoT is becoming a buzz word and that's the big trend right now. So if everything's going to be connected if everything is going to be on a network what is the one thing that every single room and every building in the world. It's a light there's a light in every room. All right. So if you're going to connect everything it makes sense that that would be the thing that you could use to make sure that everything is connected. So if a light emitting diode and LCD light has a circuit board in it and that's how it operates all you have to do is put another circuit board a communications circuit board a Wi-Fi signal maybe Bluetooth signal on that circuit board and now you've got an activity in every single room.

Right. Is there a solution out there now that people are buying and using.

Absolutely. There are lots of opportunities right now. Just like everything else there are early adopters and there's there's your everybody that's going to kind of get in in the middle and there's the laggards. Right now we're seeing a lot of the early adopters are wanting to go head on into this connectivity with lighting. But what we're what we're we're saying too is that there are some of the folks that would kind of be in the metal on the bell curve that they're going wait a minute. I actually think this is a good idea let's look at it. The costs may still be a little high for some people but it just depends on what what function they're trying to deliver for hospitals wayfinding and being able to asset track when you can do that through your lighting system. Hospitals would really they're missing something if they're not looking at this as an opportunity right now.

Right. That sounds really interesting and I could see the application for asset tracking in hospitals especially right. They have


A lot of things there that they need to account for especially


In the pharmacy section.


So very interesting. What do you think. The one from an operational level. You know what's your biggest challenge for growing your sales and taking it to the next level I know before. Earlier you mentioned about being a bit more careful in your decision making not moving too fast not hiring too quickly. Is that your biggest challenge or is there another challenge that that you that you're most mindful of.

Well I think a lot of the folks listening they may sympathize with this when you get when you grow a company. You know I was I was the eighth grade American History schoolteacher before I started this company. I didn't know anything about lighting and I quite frankly didn't know a whole lot about running the business. But when you're when you're trying to make it you figure things out pretty quickly. What I've learned over the years of running this company is that culture is my number one priority as a as a CEO as a president as a business leader. I want to make sure that culture is perfect because the way I teach my team is that there are five pillars to excellence and culture is the first pillar. Doesn't matter how the other pillars are if the bridge was perfect on those last four pillars. If culture is not the best is not in the place then the bridge is worthless if you can't get on the bridge. So we teach excellent and culture data management cost management communication service and that order in so culture for me is important here but here's the here's the trick. You know when you grow a company from zero people up to 10 people five you know 10 15 people. Culture is easy right because I mean involved in everything I can pay attention to everybody you know that everybody everybody is involved in every decision.

But as we've gotten past the 20 employee Mark you'll lose the ability as a CEO as the founder to influence that culture as strongly as you did before. So we've gone through those growing pains over the last 12 months and I've had to make some very very difficult and hard decisions about some of the members that I would if it were only 10 of us I might not have had to make. But when there's 25 30 of us I'm having to make some difficult decisions and my decisions are made primarily based on the fact I'm trying to protect culture. I want to make sure that people feel fun safe feel like they're accomplishing something they're fulfilled. And you know I'm a Jesus follower and I pray every single day for my employees by name because I want them to enjoy what they do that they can deliver the services to my customers in a way that makes them better and that they're fulfilled in their job. So culture are so important and so operationally one of my one of my challenges is moving out of working in the business every day doing what everybody what I used to do from sitting in my chair trying to figure out ways how to engage and run this company so that everybody is operating at 110 percent and they're doing it with excellence and they're loving it as they're doing it.

So how well have you done that year assessment the past four years how well have you hit that target of everyone working with excellence and loving what the daily

I think that if I had to grade myself like I like we write everybody on our systems and I'm proud probably give myself a B. I think I I think just in the growing process we grew so fast in the last couple of years. And I didn't know that moving past that 20 20 person mark there would be such a dramatic shift and just the feel of everything. So had I known that had somebody told me hey when you get past 20 watch this I would probably have done a much better job in a way told me I didn't know. And I've read tons of business books and only ever remember any of them telling me hey when you get past the 20 mark got to be careful. But I think a B. You know we're reeling from some recent things that have gone on and said our company as far as employees are concerned we've had to make a few cuts and they were painful. They were difficult. So we're but what I sense in the faces and in the comments I'm hearing around the conference room table in their training rooms at lunch and what I'm hearing I'm sensing is that there's a renewed sense of vitality because they realize and he was serious. Culture is important and the changes that he made while difficult are protecting our culture and the company is going to be better as a result.

Fantastic. So I think you've really done well executing your plan Jason for the listeners out there who are interested in doing business with energy lighting services. What's the best way for them to contact your team.

Well as always we've got we've got a Web site that energy lighting services dot com. And there's a significant amount of information out there we've got case studies factsheets we believe in video so there's a lot of video testimonials there's a lot of other videos of just me explaining some of the things that we do and then we have a phone number 8 5 5 2 7 0 30 300 May 5 5 2 7 0 0 30 300 and you can ring right and talk. Any of us and extension Cixous for electrical service in the national market

Thanks so much for joining us today Jason for sharing how you grew your company so fast.

Well I appreciate it. You've done a great job of asking good questions so that always makes my job answering them much easier. So thank you

All right. Next time I want to give even tougher questions.

All right. Looking forward to.

We've been speaking with Jason Duncan, the Founder, President and CEO of Energy Lighting Services about his company's rapid growth. For other interviews with fast growing companies or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation, visit

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