We had the good fortune of connecting with Andrew Ehrnstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Andrew, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I started my first business at age 26, and it quickly grew from 3 people to 8, then to a dozen and more. One quarter I had two good months and one bad one when I lost $5,000. Working hard and losing money is dispiriting, so I asked for some advice. My CPA simply said: Don’t have two losing months in a row.
Inevitably, there will be ups and downs in business. My current business model has few downside risks since I don’t carry a large staff or overhead. The biggest risk would be lack of income, which would come from laziness, and I’ve never suffered from that. So I don’t worry about much.
Just focus on achieving your mission with integrity, and it all works out.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Before entering the Clean Energy industry I was brokering water rights as a commercial Realtor. Working with farmers who’d built up their land by protecting this precious water over generations reminded me strongly of my Sierra Club roots, backpacking in the arid eastern Sierra Nevada as a kid. Selling water rights to the highest bidder was my duty, but I wanted to have some chance to protect our natural resources in my work.
So I changed careers in early 2008 to join the solar movement because every system installed protects clean air and water. Recycling and protesting polluters had always been interesting to me, but this was the first time in our nation when you could earn a living doing something good for the planet. There are a lot of ways to earn a living and I choose a triple-win scenario. The customer saves money, the planet is cleaner, and I’m paid for a service where I have no regrets.
I have kept the consultative approach that I learned as a commercial Realtor, always looking out for the customer’s interests above my own, as if they were a client. And since most of my business comes from referrals, it seems to be working. There are definitely salespeople who are more glib, but my customers and I are comfortable with a relaxed and thorough discussion of their options.
At this point I’ve exceeded 1,175 solar installations, which is a huge personal achievement. I’m not going to stop, but I would venture to say that there are very few others in America that have had that big a positive impact on the environment. This matters to me, my family, and to your family, too.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love Denver! We’ve got so many great places, but where to take a friend for the best time ever kind of depends on the friend. Here are some of my faves, and I’d let them steer it from there: Watercourse and So RADish! for clean eats, a few different brew pubs chosen either at random or for their pool tables or food trucks, Bonnie Brae Ice Cream, running up the steps at Red Rocks (taking in a show if it’s the right season), walking up to the Flat Irons from Chautauqua, the scale model of the solar system at UC Boulder, Natural History Museum, playing volleyball at Wash Park, and watching the sun set over the mountains from Jackass Hill. Or from the Melting Pot if you’re still hungry.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My Uncle Jimmy started a business in about 1970 with a $1,200 loan from my Dad. Starting with one used tow truck, a tool set, and a ton of work by him and my Aunt Evie, they built Jim’s Garage & Towing in Bakersfield, California. My cousin still runs it, they have over 150 trucks, four yards, and related businesses.
I lived with them for one semester in 7th grade and saw how they worked, treated their staff, and thought about business. Every driver had to treat his truck like an office, keep it as clean as a reception lobby for the customers. He didn’t put up with any nonsense, but over time many employees became like family.
When starting my first business I asked him how he’d become so successful, and he said “never tell a lie, son.”
When he passed away the line of trucks and cars of his friends, employees, and the family wrapped several blocks. You never saw so many truck drivers and mechanics in tears, I can tell you that. He was a tough guy with a huge heart, and he inspires me to this day.
Naw, I took these photos myself, and own the rights to the portrait that I had done professionally.