Troy Helming has a fantastic resume of starting and exiting companies. Many of them are in the renewable energy space.
On the Dealmakers Show Helming talked about alternative energy, the midas touch versus the wolf, raising hundreds of millions of dollars in financing, the multi-billion joint venture, time management, handling the dark days, and validating your business ideas.
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From Corporate America To Startup Entrepreneur
Troy Helming was born in Denver, though sound found himself moving to grow up in Kansas City.
His father was in the agriculture industry, and had a radio show. From an early age that forced Troy to learn how to get comfortable with public speaking himself. They also had solar power growing up, all the way back in the 80s. Which certainly ended up being an influence on the rest of his career.
He also saw the ups and downs of owning a business, the lack of predictability, and how strong of a stomach you needed to be an entrepreneur.
When it came time for college, his father talked him out of studying engineering. He told him to get a business degree, then he could simply hire engineers to work for him later on.
After graduating he went to work for AT&T. He says that experience helped him understand what he was good at and not, and to build up a nest egg he could later use to start his own business. Which he also credits with being able to make better decisions when starting out, rather than just being forced into short term thinking.
AT&T made the mistake of rewarding him for breaking their sales records by shrinking his sales territory. Then demanding he perform just as well, with a smaller customer base.
That obviously made no sense for anyone. So, he quit, and decided to compete with them with his own distributor business instead.
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Riding The Renewable Energy Waves
Next Troy rode a series of renewable energy waves, creating and exiting several companies on the way.
One day while he was reading in 1998 he discovered that just three states had enough potential wind power to fuel the entire country. He decided to jump in with his own wind company. Which eventually became the largest wind development company in the US.
Although they ended up selling most of those projects, along with him selling most of his shares, those assets are now worth an estimated $35B.
Next it was Crystal Energy. The one venture that didn’t turn out as he hoped. Like most first time founders coming fresh off of a first amazing success, he felt he had the midas touch, and nothing could go wrong. Unfortunately, the margins were just too thin, and expenses too high, and even with he and his wife foregoing their salaries the numbers just didn’t add up.
Then a little biodiesel experiment he was doing in his garage ended up producing too much product. He sold a few drums to a local construction company, and they loved it. So, he designed and built a biodiesel plant that produced 10M gallons a year. Eventually he exited that business, but not before already launching and operating another energy company at the same time.
Pristine Sun was born out of the changes in regulation in California that really made solar power financially viable. All the feed-in tariffs, subsidies, and credits set the foundation for a new multi-billion dollar industry.
So, he sold the biodiesel plant, and moved the family to California to pursue the solar roller coaster. They ended up raising $250M in funding for those projects. Today, they have over $5B in solar farm projects in development, and have been profitable in all except one bad year.
Financing Your Startup
Troy Helming has used a wide variety of types of funding for his startups. They cover both debt and equity.
This has included project finance, construction loans, crowdfunding, international private equity funds, and joint ventures. Including a new $27B joint venture in the works for his latest company.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Troy Helming was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Getting Through The Dark Days
While entrepreneurs with so many successes under their belts like Helming can make fundraising and scaling companies look so easy, it is never without its trials and challenges.
In fact, some of his top advice to his younger self today would be to be prepared to get a few bloody noses. That you will make mistakes, and you need to be patient.
This was especially true when one partner failed to honor their agreement after closing, ending up in 18 months of litigation.
Troy says that period led him to do a lot more yoga, to spend more time in nature, and to mediate more. He also threw himself into working out and getting in shape. Then took on the challenge of American Ninja Warrior, which he was invited to compete in four times.
EarthGrid is Helming’s latest venture. Using new technology like a lightsaber to bore through the ground, they are on a mission to connect continents under the oceans. In fact, since raising $25M for this vision, they’ve struck a deal to cover the costs of laying 24 thousands kilometers of tunnels and trenches connecting North America.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Joint ventures
- What EarthGrid is doing
- How to validate your ideas
- Expert time management tips