No one is a prophet in his own land says a popular adage that sums up the success that compatriots have achieved abroad. However, it is also unfair to describe all the effort and, in some cases, even falls, that they experienced to start businesses in a foreign country.
The instance of Roberto and Juan Gavilanes is one of those cases where success is not a coincidence, but rather a causality. These Guayaquil brothers run the Bluenergy company in Florida (United States), which is responsible for the installation of solar panel systems—in 2021 it has already billed $10 million dollars this year.
To get there, consistency and adaptability have been the keys for the brothers. It is precisely this last quality that Roberto highlights about his experience in Ecuador. Roberto Gavilanes Gómez, 33, settled in the United States in 2016, while his brother Juan Gavilanes Ortiz (32 years old) had already done so in 2007.
And it was the invitation that his brother made to join his work that allowed him to learn about door-to-door sales in that country. Juan sold windshields and told Roberto that he would train him to see if he liked it, all this happened in April 2016.
“When he makes me this proposal, I say ‘okay, let’s see what happens.’ I had the benefit that my mother is an American citizen, so she told me all her life to get the residency and citizenship papers, I always said no, I’m never going to live in the United States … then she secretly put the papers in without telling me anything in 2007,” said Roberto, who for two weeks was selling windshields with his brother and then after four months he returned to make his life in another country.
The brothers did not live together but Roberto decided to locate in Palm Beach after creating the infrastructure of that company in the new town with only two people (he and an installer).
A step to renewable energy
The Gavilanes brothers developed their own windshield installation company in 2017, Juan located in Brandon (Florida) and Roberto in Palm Beach. Both grew in their locations, however, in 2019 they began to lose sellers, the reason: they began to link to the renewable energy business, in this case solar.
The brothers got together and decided to evaluate how this industry worked and traveled to California and Hawaii to see various installations. In California they learned about different solar companies, and in Hawaii, the history of their implementation.
“The company was founded in July 2019, but between the time it was founded, and we made our first sale, about nine months passed; in 2020, in July, our sales started in the midst of a pandemic that everyone was locked in, that all businesses said that they were going to fail. Juan and I decided that we are going to give it everything we had,” said Roberto.
As a first goal, they had proposed to sell 100 solar panel systems, that is, to cover 100 houses by the end of 2020 Although it seemed unattainable, they closed that year selling 115 systems and for 2020, on average they are selling 85 systems a month, hoping to reach an average of 100. Similarly, the company grew in number of employees, now there are 42 and they expect to reach at least 60.
“My goal is not to sell as much land as we can, my goal is to impact as much life as I can and I realized, when I talk about impacting as much life as possible, I am not talking about customers. talking about the employees … When a new person came, we helped them with training, education, and they realized that their capacity was greater than what they had in their head, and they could really translate it into this work, so that effect is like a domino effect, he tells the friend what he is doing and the friend tells the other friend, so the company grew in a spectacular way,” Roberto says.
He points out that in the case of sellers, they have had changes in their lives due to the commissions they generate for their sales. Some had other jobs where they earned $200 per week and that increased to between $6,000 and $8,000 per month. About 70% of their employees are Hispanic, among them Venezuelans, Peruvians, Colombians, Argentine, Jamaican and two Ecuadorians (Nico and Jean Pierre).
“I believe that with Bluenergy we have found a niche in which my brother and I are really happy and we are passionate about what we are doing, because apart from generating enough sales, helping many people in our company, behind all that we are helping the environment and that will be our impact and our footprint.”
“I would love to take Bluenergy to Ecuador, but the structure it would have there would be something different. In the United States you have a federal program in which the government subsidizes up to 26% of the system, and there are many financing facilities.
In Ecuador, the way to enter would be with a much lower price than what is here in the United States, but a little help from the Government is needed to create a renewable energy program for citizens, in which they have a benefit that is real and tangible and that makes sense for them to change,” says Roberto.
The CEO of Bluenergy says that implementing this type of energy would also cause the energy of the power plants to become cheaper and they could even export the surplus, “then it is a win-win for everyone, but I believe that the platform or the program that should be created is not there yet.”
Failures led to success
Roberto says that he has had other businesses with Juan in the United States, however, the sales forces have been transferred to the renewable energy business. He also remembers the different businesses that he tried to promote in Ecuador on his own, including managing his father’s company that is responsible for the installation of garage doors.
Among the ‘failures’ he mentioned, is a recycling company that he tried to open in 2014. Years later together with a friend, he tried to develop a clothing brand, but they were not given a chance.
“I always thought, when I lived in Ecuador, that I am trying so hard to get ahead, but unfortunately the politics and all the processes of SRI, of the Municipality and so many things that are there, do not let the businessman, the entrepreneur, go ahead because there are so many obstacles, my life was not aligned here, so I went to go to a country where I could maximize my capacity,” he says.
These setbacks led him to adapt to the difficulties that can arise in a business and much more in a country that experiences changes in its policies from time to time, “the Ecuadorian does not give up and I tell you that because I have not only seen him in my father, my mother, my brothers, but I also see it in the boys who work with us and other Ecuadorians that we know.”
Currently Bluenergy has two offices in Florida, one in Brandon and one in Jacksonville, they hope to open another in West Palm Beach in the next eight months, and by 2022 they plan to be in three other states: Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.
Roberto advises people who want to take a step beyond doing what they are doing now, to consider traveling to another country to have another future, to not to be afraid of the hardships.
“Happiness is just when you pass that line called fear … what is the worst that can happen to you, that it is a little hard? Believe me that nothing good is easy, everything that costs has its reward in the end.”
Foundation to bring renewable energy
Roberto and Juan have also created a foundation, with the same name as the company, with the aim of bringing renewable energy to developing countries.
“For each system that we sell, we are going to separate a solar panel for the foundation, that is, if at the end of the year we end up with 1,000 sales, we are going to have 1,000 solar panels in the warehouse to send them to these developing countries. And we are going to see who we are going to install the solar panels for completely free, we are going to try to go to foundations to alleviate costs, low-income schools,” he said.
It has not yet been determined whether Ecuador will be part of the beneficiaries of the foundation.