When Brad Ritter decided to become self-reliant by starting an online solar company called Soliberatored Solar in
2013, he thought long and hard about wilderness and residential applications. Ritter was confident that he had the knowledge and experience necessary to be the technical part of the venture, but he lacked the knowledge of how to structure a business, create a compelling website and create a sales and marketing plan.
Caitlin Ewing had extensive business expertise, so when they decided to become partners in the company the division of labor was straightforward. Both live in Denver, Colorado, and have known each other for about eight years. Like most young entrepreneurs, they communicate digitally most of the time.
Born in Winfield, Kansas, in 1968, Ritter grew up in Vermillion, South Dakota. As a young man he was obsessed with football, baseball, basketball and anything in the outdoors, including fishing, hunting and camping. Ritter’s mother worked at The Main Street Center, a senior citizens center in Vermillion, and was his role model because of her strong work ethic.
Ewing was born and raised in the foothills west of Denver. Her parents were self-employed, so she observed early on the freedom and responsibilities of being one’s own boss. While music, cooking and being outdoors were her interests while growing up, business became her passion when she entered the workforce. She earned a B.A. in business development from Cornell College in Iowa. She has held a variety of jobs, which have provided her with a solid foundation.
When asked why he decided to found an online business, Ritter replied, “I just got tired of being roped into a static existence and having to report to someone else. I have my own idea of how I should make a living.”
Ewing realized the opportunity’s potential almost immediately: “We saw an area of the market that was, and is, underserved and realized that we had the resources to meet those needs. Combine that with both of our natural predilections for autonomy and self-sufficiency and it just made sense. And we get along great. One of the keys to our success as a team has been that we share similar perspectives and attitudes.
“I’m incredibly fortunate to have Brad as my business partner. I don’t know anyone with more integrity or a better work ethic, and he is unquestionably an expert in this field. Every time we talk I’m struck by how much he knows about solar technology and how hungry he is to keep learning. We have a lot of fun and I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
The Soliberated Approach
“We don’t just sell things without concern for the end user,” Ritter said. “I try to not act like a salesman when people ask about a product. I give them all of the information about it and let them decide what’s best for their situation. If they ask what I think is best, I tell them that, too. I’ve used most of the products that we sell, and it makes a difference.”
Ewing added, “We have a strong commitment to quality and integrity. We don’t sell a single product that
we wouldn’t be willing to use on our own homes, and we’ll never try to sell something that people don’t need. We believe in doing things right the first time, and our purpose in this business is deeper than just selling goods. We want to accelerate the spread of solar technology, and our role in that is to make it more accessible. We’re an incredibly lean and nimble company. We keep our overhead to a minimum so that we can continue to operate at competitive price points.”
“Helping our customers navigate the regulations, permits and tax credits has been a challenge. When solar energy first took off in the U.S. decades ago, things were much simpler. Now, the regulatory landscape has gotten so complex that one feels like a trained circus animal by the time one has jumped through all the hoops necessary to install a simple solar array on one’s own property,” concluded Ewing.
Ritter graduated from San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico, in 2009 with an A.A.S. in renewable energy technology. He specialized in photovoltaic system design and installation. In 2010, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certified him as a photovoltaic installation professional after he passed a rigorous exam. His hands-on expertise includes installing systems ranging in size from 500 watts to 2.3 megawatts in several states. He also has experience as a quality control manager and spent several years as a technical advisor in the wholesale end of the solar industry.
Ritter and Ewing interact well because of mutual respect and a logical separation of responsibilities— their keys to business success. They intend to build their business slowly and grow it through word-of-mouth referrals. They completely love what they’re doing, and their first product is a higly practical one indeed.
SolTrekker is a substantial solar generator mounted on a trailer. Ritter designed the system and assembles each unit. Two 250-watt, roofmounted photovoltaic panels charge deep-cycle batteries inside the trailer. An inverter turns DC voltage into AC voltage, and a sophisticated charge controller prevents under and over charging. The straightforward system provides household power anywhere and anytime. (Ed. Note: Despite the name, Soliberated Solar and its product, SolTrekker, are not affiliated with the organization SolTrekker.org.)
Both partners love the outdoors, so SolTrekker grew out of their desire to have access to silent electrical power in the wilderness. Ritter picked the components to achieve the optimum balance between price and value. He said, “SolTrekker provides AC voltage and has the capacity to carry camping gear for more enjoyable hunting and fishing trips. I can use whatever size trailer a customer wants and provide any size solar system that’s realistic. This flexibility gives customers choices about the final configuration. For example, a larger trailer can sleep two or three in case of bad weather.”
Today Soliberated’s product line also includes Sol Kits: The materials “you need to get you on the roof”— racks and mounts, solar panels, inverters and assorted accessories. For more, visit Soliberated Solar online at soliberatedsolar.com.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.