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What are some tips to starting up your own small business?

Nelson Wang, Co-founder at

Over the last 6 years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet with over 100 founders and executives all over the world to hear their stories and secrets to success. This past week I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Mike Kirby, the President of Lumina Solar to hear his story of how he went from being laid off to building a one million dollar business in just 100 days. He was nice enough to share with me the key lessons he’s learned along the way. This is his story.

One year ago, Mike lost his job.

One day, he received an email from the company stating that were was an all hands meeting at 8 a.m. The night before, he had been hearing rumors that something might happen.

And it did. It turned out the solar company he worked at wanted to move in a different direction. Residential solar was no longer in their plans. This meant Mike and his team were no longer needed, even after a great five year run.

So what did Mike do next?

He bounced back.

Deep down, he knew he had an intense passion to building a solar company that would help people live on a sustainable energy platform. So he collaborated with a group of investors, raised the funds to start the business and launched it with 3 other co-founders (Colin, Ryan and Zac).

Lumina Solar was born. 100 days later, Lumina hit 1 million in revenue.

Here are the top 10 business lessons I learned from Mike:

Have a strong why - Mike didn’t start a solar company just because he wanted to start a business. He started Lumina because he cared deeply about making an impact on people’s businesses and lives and in providing a solution that helped make the world a more environmentally friendly and efficient place. This passion for purpose is what fuels Mike’s motivation. Find a strong why to fuel your motivation.

Roll up your sleeves and make it happen - When Mike first started the business, he would literally drive around with his sales team to different commercial buildings in D.C. to look for potential clients. They would drop by a business, going door to door and patiently explain how their solar solution could help a business save money. In one of these meetings, they showed an owner of an auto body shop how he could save 50% on average on his electric bill and over $100,000 over 25 years with no upfront cost. Soon after that meeting, they closed a $150,000 deal. Don’t wait for the business to come. Get out there and make it happen.

Take care of the people around you - Throughout his life, Mike worked with many clients and partners over the years. He treated everyone with respect and kindness. He focused on doing the right thing and doing everything he could to take care of people. When he launched Lumina Solar and made the news public, these same people rallied around Mike to help support his business. Take care of the people around you and they will take care of you.

Celebrate your wins - Every 90 days, Mike writes an email to the team highlighting their progress and wins in great detail. While it does take a tremendous amount of time, Mike finds that this helps to keep everyone aligned to the vision and also inspires people to be at their very best. It’s also a great way to make sure people know they’re being recognized for the great work that they’re doing. This helps with team morale. People love to feel appreciated for their hard work.

You go further together as a team - One of the first things Mike realized was that Lumina needed to have a strong team in place in order to scale the business. So what did he do? He focused intensely on hiring the best and brightest. Within 100 days, he had a team of 10 people in place to help build the business. You can move quickly alone, but you go further with a great team.

Just start - Ever since Mike graduated in 2009, he had been working in the solar industry. He applied to every single solar company in the Mid-Atlantic and finally landed his first job as an intern. He got paid $8 / hour. Soon after he joined his boss that formed his own solar startup and learned an incredible amount in sales, operations, installs, permitting and much more. It was a lot of work, but Mike loved the hustle. For the next three years, Mike would work as a top sales rep at another solar company. Eventually, he would start his own company. The moral of the story? Don’t overthink things. Just get started - the momentum will get you going.

Be intensely customer centric - One of the key philosophies that Mike believes is in the importance of customer centricity. He constantly focused on how Lumina could provide a great ROI for his clients and a seamless buying and installation experience. Because of this customer centric approach, Lumina was able to quickly launch an offering that was highly differentiated in the marketplace. This helped them secure many of their largest deals in the initial 100 days. Focus on the customer first and things will fall into place from there.

Remember the big picture - It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Sometimes it feels like progress is slow on a daily basis. Mike likes to remind his team to take a step back every now and then to look at the picture. This helps to put things into perspective and to help keep people aligned to the ultimate goal. Reminding the team to focus on the big picture keeps them excited about the future you’re building together.

Implement process to scale - One of the things Mike has focused on is putting in place a set of processes to ensure that the business can scale. For example, one of the challenges Mike saw in the past in sales departments was the lack of standardization around sales proposal templates. This meant each salesperson had their own version of a sales proposal. The branding and messaging were inconsistent and it didn’t create a consistent customer experience. So what did he do at Lumina? He’s making sure everyone is using the same template. Process helps make workflows repeatable.

Dig deep and you’ll find something special - After Mike was laid off, Mike took some time off. Wanting to clear his head, Mike took a flight to Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world. It was a 6 day hike that spanned 37 miles. The weather was freezing. It was hard to breath in the high elevation. Every step he took was tougher than the last. There were times he wanted to give up. It was one of the toughest challenges he had been through. But he finished it.

And then a realization hit him.

Accomplishing this hike made him think, “If I can do this, what else am I capable of?”

Soon after, Mike returned home. Eventually, a few investors in Mike’s professional network came to him with a proposal. They wanted to invest into a solar business with him, with Mike as the President. They knew he was a experienced, passionate and an incredible leader. In their mind, Mike was the right person to lead this company.

Mike began to build a business plan late on a Friday night with Colin, Ryan and Zac (his co-founders) They stayed up until 3 a.m. outlining how they would build the business.

At the end of the night, they looked at each other and asked, “Do we have what we need to succeed? Can we do it?”

The answer was unanimously yes.

Lumina solar was born.

100 days later, they hit one million in revenue.

I hope Mike’s story inspires you.

Now it’s your time to make it happen.

Start. Now.

Because it’s never too late to make an impact.

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