I am CEO

CEO Revolutionizing Real Estate With Solar Energy

Full Episode from I AM CEO Podcast - IAM1977

In today's fast-paced business world, entrepreneurs are constantly seeking innovative ways to create sustainable and profitable companies.

One such visionary is Joshua Schuster, a leader in both real estate development and strategic initiatives. Joshua's expertise in renewable energy has brought fresh focus to the solar sphere and its place among Florida's real estate investors and Wall Street.

In this episode, we will explore Joshua's journey, his groundbreaking company SolarBack USA, and how he is revolutionizing the real estate industry with his environmentally conscious approach by harnessing the power of solar energy. The company focuses on developing solar farms on top of large-scale commercial properties, such as grocery stores and industrial warehouses, with vast unobstructed flat roofs by covering these spaces with solar panels.

Joshua Schuster's extensive knowledge of the real estate market with a passion for clean energy, Joshua is paving the way for a greener and more sustainable future.

His innovative approach to solar energy is a testament to the fact that profit and environmental consciousness can coexist in the business world.

As we move towards a more sustainable future, entrepreneurs like Joshua are leading the way, demonstrating that businesses can be both profitable and environmentally responsible.

Website: www.solarbackusa.com

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Full Interview:


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Joshua Schuster Teaser 00:00

What you do to yourself with yourself by yourself defines and it will define what your company is going to be.

So it's just about, maintaining that focus and ensuring that you're going to live by the practices that you implement, even when nobody's around taking order, listening or watching.

Intro 00:19

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:49

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Joshua Schuster.

Josh, it's great to have you on the show.

Joshua Schuster 00:57

Thanks for having me, Gresh.

Gresham Harkless 00:58

Yeah, super excited to have you on. What I want to do before we jumped in is read a little bit more about Josh so you can hear about all the awesome things that he's working on.

Josh is a leader in both real estate development and strategic initiatives, delivering sustainable outcomes. Josh's expertise in renewable energy has brought fresh focus to the solar sphere and its place amongst Florida real estate investors and Wall Street. Josh is chairman, CEO and co-founder of SolarBack USA, a Florida-born initiative, acting as a private equity fund and quasi REIT, attractive to environmental, social and government investors.

Josh is responsible for the overall leadership of the company, bringing over 20 years of experience in the real estate industry and to the energy industry and focuses on new markets and customers as well as Project inception and development.

Josh has completed over 2.3 billion, I think. Correctly me if I'm wrong Josh. In real estate developments, he's won numerous awards and he also has a really philanthropic side. So I think it's always great when you're doing great things, but also able to take time to give back to so many people. So Josh, super excited to have you on the show.

Are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Joshua Schuster 02:06

I am definitely ready.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:07

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. To kick everything off, what I wanted to do was rewind the clock a little bit, hear a little bit more on how you got started what I call your CEO story.

Joshua Schuster 02:15

Sure, so I've been practicing real estate development in New York City for the last nearly 20 years. I got my start after college working for a real estate developer, cut my teeth in the market. Manhattan is quite a challenging and difficult real estate market to get into at the age of 25. I took a small family friends loan, went off on my own and built my 26 and that was surely a interesting lesson on what to do and what not to do. I took the profit windfalls from that. My projects got larger and larger eventually. I raised an institutional fund, grew my team from my one man band to 18 professionals.

Then we started copying, and pasting the business model across 5 other states. And then, of course, Covid hit and real estate market altogether across the country, across the world really took a bath. So, for the last couple of years, we've just been maintaining the portfolio, improving it, getting out from some of the pre-Covid situations, moving the family from New York down to Florida, and I'm back and forth between South Florida and New York.

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I was going to the grocery store one day and I'm getting berated by the sun. I'm parked way out at the end of the line and I'm upset myself. I'm sweating through my shirt and as I'm walking towards the entrance of this grocery store, I'm looking around and with my real estate background, I say, wow, there's a lot of horizontal real estate here. What I mean by that is there's a lot of flat roofs in Florida. I'm used to tall skyscrapers in Manhattan, but with all these flat roofs and the sun, really making me sweat, how can I take advantage of that?

So, looking at all that flat real estate, I said maybe we come up with a business plan where I can go around and master these spaces and construct and develop solar farms on top of these spaces and suburban primary or metropolitan areas without the high rises and captivate that sun, convert to power and literally provide it to the tenants in that microgrid downstairs beneath that roof and at a discount. What it means is the landlord gets ancillary rent so they get additional revenue, the tenants in place now receive clean energy, added discount and with 60% of GDP being small business, why not realize that money multiplier effect by giving them lower expenses?

In addition to that, by virtue of the long term nature of these leases and the income generated from the tenants, we now create a fixed-income product that investors like and it's sustainable. So, it's attracting three things, right? It's the triple bottom line, people, planet and profits. So that's the start of what it is we're doing right now.

Gresham Harkless 05:08

Nice. I absolutely love that.

I know you touched a little bit upon the organization, the business, I wanted to drill down a little bit more, hear a little bit more on how you're serving clients, how you're making that impact and really making a dent in the universe, so to speak.

Joshua Schuster 05:20

So, the first thing we do is canvas for the right property. So we're looking for grocery anchor properties, we're looking for large power centers, as much flat roof that's unobstructed as possible. You wouldn't want a flat roof that has tons of AC units popping out, fans and signs. You'd have to design around and that's a nightmare. So, instead, if you go to large scale industrial warehouses, grocery stores, big box tenants, for example, if you took every single big box tenant in the country. Okay, that's Walmart, Ikea, Target, et cetera, Home Depot, and you aggregated all of that roof space, that's almost 8Billion square feet of space.

If you covered that all with solar, you'd have enough energy to power New York City 8,000,000 homes. So, this is from our perspective. It's a vacant floor, and if you own buildings, you would do anything in your power to lease up that space. So we're just going to landlords as we can and say, hey, we'll rent your roof. I think people are now more focused and inclined not only in self-interest, but because it feels like the right thing to do.

So that's been our canvassing approach and raising the awareness, coupled with showing the facts, with every single building we scrutinize, we look at the roof, how much exposure does it have to the sun and how much energy can we produce?

Gresham Harkless 06:44

Yeah, that makes so much sense.

I feel like by you being able to see that in your team and be able to put that opportunity in place and be able to create a better situation for people, that just speaks to, I think what is the essence of entrepreneurship.

Joshua Schuster 06:56

Absolutely. Absolutely. Sometimes I explain this to some folks and investors and they're like, that's a great idea but why isn't everyone else doing it? And, sometimes it's that in your face idea that people don't see.

I think more and more businesses are thinking about profits, of course, but how do you get profits while also making other sort of maybe intrinsic additions, especially with a competitive job market in order to retain and track the best talent? I think the generation that's graduating wants to be part of a company that has a key goal in mind, which is be environmentally conscious.

Gresham Harkless 07:38

Yeah, that makes so much sense. Do you feel like that is a big part of what I like to call your secret sauce? This could be for yourself individually, the organization or a combination of both. But is it that ability to not think about the either or, but actually be able to say, this is a new solution that doesn't even have to be anything quote and quote new, integrating right into everything that we're doing.

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Do you feel like that mentality or that perspective is really part of what sets you and the organization apart and makes it unique?

Joshua Schuster 08:05

Yeah, I think I love what you said. You're absolutely right that it doesn't always have to be a zero-sum game. It doesn't have to be one answer or the other. I think a lot of big business and small business is actually seeing that, realizing that. So the secret sauce, I think, has to do with our perspective, when we started, at least when I started in real estate and things were great. It's easy to boost your confidence, right? And feel like there's a minus touch there, and then when things crash and burn because of COVID, you pick up a different kind of perspective. What does it feel like to get knocked down on the mud and lift yourself back up?

So now with that experience going back and starting a new vertical, a new company with the business, skills that we've ascertained over the years, I think the new approach is to say, okay, how do we do it a little bit differently this time? What are the core competencies and core values that make us different than anybody else who wants to come into this marketplace and try to compete? I think the short answer is, as a CEO and entrepreneur, my hand is constantly pulled in different directions by the world saying, this is important. This is important. This is important. Take a look at this.

It's about yanking that hand back and putting it on your chest and saying, no, actually this is important, and what we want to place first in our corporate and moral values is what's going to leave this company. So, behind my desk here, I keep a little picture that my son drew and it literally says, he has a dream to make the earth a clean place first. That's what it says in like a seven-year-old chicken scratch, they're instituting that now in the eyes of young children at school that look, let's take care of our environment.

I don't remember, when I was a kid, we just started to see the no watering signs, but back in the day, you've done your garbage. It went out the window on the road. There's garbage everywhere. You don't see much of that anymore. People are showing in slowly, but showing greater respect for the world around us.

Gresham Harkless 10:10

Yeah, I think that awareness and that consciousness is so huge.

I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. This could be like an app, book or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective?

Joshua Schuster 10:22

I like to take a pause and meditate. Meditation doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to own to myself for a couple of minutes for me. Meditation is I don't have to have knee-jerk reactions to everything anymore. When I was young, as I said, I built my first building 26 when I was too impulsive. When you're that impulsive, you make a lot of decisions based on emotion, which can be a good thing, right? As long as you pause and think about that.

I'll tell you the story like, there's been some research done on Abraham Lincoln's letters and during the war, he used to write a bunch of letters, scathing letters, firing this general, hiring that general, changing his whole army strategy. He would write them and close them. He set it down on the side of his desk, and he would wait to see whether or not he actually wanted to put those letters in the mail.

Okay. So, when they later aggregated those letters and opened them up and read them, and had he gone through with some of those decisions, we would have lost the war. That's how remarkable. That's just a lesson itself to say, take a deep breath pause, think through the decision you're about to make, because the outcome can be drastically different just on one small mistake, because the time to cogitate on and just, wasn't invested.

Gresham Harkless 11:43

Yeah, that makes so much sense. What would you consider to be what I like to call a CEO nugget? This is a little bit more word of wisdom or a piece of advice. I'd like to say it might be advice you would give to somebody that might be starting a business or if you were to hop into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Joshua Schuster 11:59

Yeah, great question. I would say that with experience, you can make fortunes, you can lose fortunes. Sometimes you can lose reputation and regain it, but the one thing you cannot lose is confidence. So I would instill and say that, as long as you're confident in yourself, your business plan, your dreams, no one else can really take that away.

It's just having confidence in yourself and the idea. I think that's what differentiates sort of the dreamers from the actors, and implementing the dream to reality.

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Gresham Harkless 12:32

Yeah, that makes so much sense. Now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on this show.

So, Josh, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Joshua Schuster 12:43

I think being a CEO means being a leader when sometimes you have no one to lead, right? So what that means is like it was a similar expression where do the right thing when nobody's watching. But I think if you're always acting like a leader, because with any startup, for anyone that has a good idea up there, more often than not, you're the first deployed, the only employee, the CEO, the chairman, you're everything.

So what you do to yourself, with yourself, by yourself defines and it will define what your company is going to be. So it's just about maintaining that focus and ensuring that you're going to live by the practices that you implement, even when nobody's around taking orders, listening or watching.

Gresham Harkless 13:27

Yeah, that's extremely powerful. And to me, that also really spoke to me especially for innovators and disruptive ideas, because a lot of times you may be your only cheerleader. You may only be the person that believes in what you've seen in that opportunity.

So you almost have to, like you said so well, lead yourself, lead the idea, lead the mission and the vision, and then the investors, the teammates, like all those things start to support that. But a lot of times you have to blaze your own trail and you're the only one kind of going through that trail at times.

Joshua Schuster 13:58

Absolutely. Yeah, and it can be frightening, right? That goes back to the confidence, because when you're alone, solo walking in the woods, for example, and you don't know if you're on trail, you're going to ask yourself, geez, am I lost, right? I haven't seen anybody else and I don't have a map. Being CEO, you don't necessarily have a map. You have a backpack full of tools and supplies and you're prepared and you have the skills to follow the sun or the compass or whatever it is.

But at the end of the day, you're alone. Even when you have a bunch of folks behind you that are following you as a leader company, you're still mentally alone because you're leading the charge and everyone's counting on you to navigate out of the woods. So it goes back to the confidence of, hey, I'm going to get through this. I'm gonna get through the woods. I know that this is the right path. I know it because I've been trained to follow the right path. I'm prepared for this moment.

As long as all of those key ingredients are in, you'll find your way out.

Gresham Harkless 14:54

Yeah, absolutely, Make sure that you have that confidence to be able to charge ahead and blaze that trail.

So Josh, truly appreciate that definition and of course I appreciate your time even more. What I want to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course how best people can get ahold of you, find about all the awesome things your team are working on.

Joshua Schuster 15:14

Our website is www.solarbackusa.com. There are all kinds of ways to get in touch with us there. Very easily reachable. My cell phone is right there on the website as well as the email address.

I love talking to people with good ideas and right now where we are in this stage of the company, if you have a large flat roof, give us a call and we'll take a look at it for you.

Gresham Harkless 15:40

Awesome. To make it even easier, we'll have the links and information in the show notes as well, too, so that everybody can get ahold of you. But, truly appreciate all the awesome things that you're doing, Josh. I think I appreciate even more like what it represents of being able to think outside the box thing creatively, but, do it in a way that doesn't force people to change the things that they're doing, but it helps out in so many different ways.

So thank you so much for creating a quote and quote, better mousetrap and doing so many phenomenal things, and I hope you have a phenomenal day.

Joshua Schuster 16:07

Thank you so much, and thanks for letting us shine some light onto the sunshine state.

Outro 16:10

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Don't forget to schedule your complimentary digital marketing consultation at blue16media. com.

This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless Jr. Thank you for listening.


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