Journal Profile: Bret Biggart Overcame Addiction, Other Obstacles To Lead Booming Freedom Solar

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Journal Profile: Bret Biggart Overcame Addiction, Other Obstacles To Lead Booming Freedom Solar

Before becoming CEO at Freedom Solar, Bret Biggart’s career had been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.

School was always a struggle for him due to attention deficit disorder. He managed to squeak by in college and talk his way into Rice’s MBA program, which he admitted was very hard and he almost failed.

He landed choice positions at private equity and hedge fund companies making top dollar. But like school, he trudged through the jobs with the same insecurities of not feeling smart enough compared to his colleagues. In his career, Biggart has been hired and fired and has gone from high-paying corporate jobs to selling cars on commission for Duke Covert’s dealership.

“So I swung on this pendulum of insecurity to overconfidence,” he said.

“It turns out that all the things a financial analyst does were really difficult to do with ADD, like sitting in front of a computer and doing spreadsheet work.”

Biggart believes his time at the Covert dealership prepared him the most for his success at Freedom Solar.

Despite being a native Austinite, Biggart had always felt like an outsider searching for his place in the world.

Complicating this quest to find out where he fit in, Biggart said he had a “monster” addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs that eventually forced him to seek help. He has been sober since his daughter’s first birthday in 2011.

It was during that time of recovery that Biggart set his sights on solar. His analyst mind thought the math should work, so he began calling solar companies posing as a potential customer to learn more. What he found was a very fragmented industry.

“No one knew how to sell it. Nobody knew how to finance it. Nobody really understood,” Biggart recalled. He said most of his calls were not even returned — until he dialed Adrian Buck, who had started a little business installing solar as a subcontractor, but felt stuck. Quickly seeing how their different skills could round out the business, the two cemented a partnership and began hanging flyers on doors to see if they could make a direct-to-consumer model work.

Since 2011, Freedom Solar has grown to six locations and 307 employees, adding 227 in 2020 alone. It was their biggest year ever, bringing in just shy of $100 million in sales. They are on track to add more locations and another 200 people during 2021. Bootstrapped until now, the company recently welcomed equity investors to help guide them as they scale up, Genesis Park and GEC.

Biggart is in his element outdoors spending time with his kids doing some of the same things he used to do with his dad growing up like waterskiing on Lake Austin.

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Bret Biggart and his children Louise and Jack Biggart enjoy the water on Lake Austin. – ARNOLD WELLS/ABJ

He has been motorcycle racing since his youth when his dad owned a motocross track and still finds time to kick up the dust. He plans to compete in the Baja 1000 offroad course in November, after a warm-up race in April at the Nevada 200.

What events have most shaped your life? My sobriety is the most important thing in my life. I got sober and then stumbled into Freedom Solar 30 days later. That’s not a coincidence. I was given a second chance in my life and I’m very serious and grateful for that gift.

What did you learn from your time working at the Covert dealership? It taught me about grit, it taught me about determination, it taught me about getting out of my comfort zone. It taught me about how people make buying decisions. [Later], I wrote [Duke] a little note and told him how much I appreciated him, and how the opportunity that he gave me really helped me do what I ultimately realized my skill set was well suited for, which is doing things that are entrepreneurial.

What was the best advice you received, and what advice do you find yourself giving? Part of our culture around Freedom Solar is that everyone must “get out of your comfort zone.” I also challenge my kids to “get out of your comfort zone” one time a day. They get sick of me asking but it’s a great practice. It can be reading a book they didn’t think they could digest or jumping the wake on a wakeboard.

I believe people can achieve much more than they think they can. The single biggest thing holding people back is dealing with fear. If you get used to pushing through that, the results are incredible to see.

What have you done today to step out of your comfort zone? Okay, I’m scared to death of heights. So at four o’clock today, I’m going to get on an 80-foot scissor lift hanging over Lake Austin. And I’m already scared about it. … But I think it can also be sitting down and really doing some detailed analysis, about some metrics in our business is somewhat hard for me to do.

Have you ever been seriously injured racing? A couple of months back, I was in Baja and shot off about a 20-foot cliff on my motorcycle and walked away from that, which was maybe the most scary motorcycle accident I have ever had.

A couple months later, I had a downhill mountain bike accident. I broke my back. In the last five years, I broke my back and pelvis and compound fractured an arm. And it turns out when you’re 45 years old and you hit the ground going fast, stuff breaks.

What was one of the first things you did as CEO? Determine the cheaper, faster, better options of any business — make it very clear which two we were: better and faster. That is one of our north stars, understanding what we are and what we are not.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of thus far? We employ a lot of folks who are in recovery — it’s a gift I was given and I’m very intentional about giving it to others who want it.

What else would you do if you didn’t have Freedom Solar? I got all kinds of crazy ideas — electrifying school buses. There are lots of things related to solar that are interesting to me. There are things that are just like, totally unrelated to technology, like septic pump trucks. I’ve almost started a septic pump truck business. It’s very fragmented. And there are very few and it’s all driven by price. I think about this all the time. This is this is one of my experiences of business school that I that I literally think about on a weekly basis

Has balance ever been a struggle for you? Balance is a place I blow by from one extreme to another. I’m working on it, but it’s a work in progress.

Who is your mentor? Paul Hobby, a board member and long-time friend [who is also founding partner at Genesis Park].

Besides solar, what other new tech grabs your attention these days? Storage battery solutions are going to change the world — I feel confident that when this technology has a price and storage capacity that moves the needle, our world is going to transition to a decentralized energy model. Much like the transition from land line phones in the ’80s to the wireless cell phone world we live in today.

Favorite quote: “You get what you’re willing to tolerate.”

Worst habit? I cuss a lot. I have to pay my kids $1 every time I do it so it’s putting it in perspective. I had to pay $13 dollars the other day.

What is your most effective time-management tactic? I’m a to-do list guy. I always start with the things that must be done, or the hardest things at the top.

In the business world, what could you be better at? I really don’t like email but it’s a necessary part of business. I’m learning to embrace it, but I always prefer a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation.

What is your favorite restaurant in Austin? Clark’s for lunch or dinner. Cisco’s for breakfast.

Best place to meet for networking? Early morning runs on the greenbelt with buddies. We have a group that runs regularly and there’s nothing like getting in the pain cave together to bond.

What’s the most influential book you’ve read? Principles by Ray Dalio. It introduced some game changing concepts about radical honesty and transparency that we adopted in our business.

What was the last TV show you binged watched? “The Defiant Ones” on HBO — best series I’ve ever watched.


Bret Biggart

Title: CEO, Freedom Solar LLC

Age: 45

Family: Daughter, Louise, 10; son, Jack, 8

Hometown: Austin

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, University of Texas; MBA Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business

Email: bret@freedomsolarpower.com

You can read original article here.

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