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Versofy SOLAR brightens South African entrepreneurship

In many a business origin story, there’s the legendary big idea written on a napkin, the perfect elevator pitch heard by the right person at the right time. Less fabled are the great ideas that didn’t quite work as planned, the hours of cold-calling, or the tough but necessary 180-degree turns a business might make before it finally carves out a place in the market. As the CEO of Versofy SOLAR, Ross Mains-Sheard has navigated the company through a myriad of changes, opportunities, pivots, and a pandemic – into a business that is reshaping how South African consumers access solar energy solutions.

The story of Versofy SOLAR is a narrative of transformation. From its inception in 2014 as a self-storage aggregation website, the business has reinvented itself through various industries, eventually finding its calling in the renewable energy sector. “The idea for a self-storage aggregation website then morphed into a marketplace platform for professional services with over 350 categories encompassing everything from dog-walkers to upholsterers, which was again refined to service providers within the property management space. Then, as everyone knows, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic happened, and everything fell off a cliff. Although Versofy had grown 400% in 2019, there were still some gaps in our business model, and the pandemic gave us an opportunity to pause and reflect. It was the chance for a fresh start, along with the realisation that every uptick in success we’d had, had come when we narrowed our focus. Given the rising demand we’d already seen for alternative energy, solar was a natural choice to focus our efforts,” explains Mains-Sheard.

Moments of reflection, adaptation, and focused refinement led to Versofy SOLAR as customers know it today. The business honed its vision, transitioning into a powerhouse for solar energy solutions, and demonstrating the pivotal role of adaptability in entrepreneurial success. “My 10-year journey has been filled with learning experiences. Some key concepts and passions have remained constant. Networking and forming good partnerships early on have massive advantages for any entrepreneur. Another major lesson was the importance of controlling finances. In our initial marketplace business model, customers could pay us with credits or a subscription. However, we had no control over the money once it was in the system, leading to accountability issues. In our revamped model, we handle all financial transactions from start to finish, ensuring accountability and quality of service.”

Mains-Sheard, with a background in civil engineering and a passion for sustainability, alongside his co-founder Angus Henderson, identified a critical gap in the market. They recognised that while there was a high demand for renewable energy solutions, access to these technologies was often hindered by financial barriers. “Traditionally solar had been reserved for the fortunate few who could afford to pay the R200,000-plus price tag upfront and in cash. With access to the best installers as our long-standing partners and flexible payment options, Versofy SOLAR started its journey of opening up the market from the few to the many,” says Mains-Sheard. Today, Versofy SOLAR’s mission reaches beyond profit to make a tangible difference. The company has empowered over 4,000 households to embrace solar energy, installing over 50,000 solar panels. This has not only illuminated homes but has also contributed significantly to reducing carbon footprints, generating over 35,000,000 kWh annually while helping the local economy, households and small businesses mitigate the worst effects of load shedding.

Mains-Sheard believes Versofy SOLAR’s journey mirrors the spirit of a uniquely South African flavour of entrepreneurship. One that is characterised by a deep-rooted sense of purpose and community. He says the country is fertile ground for entrepreneurs, especially those who can view South Africa’s serious challenges as opportunities for innovation and impact. “If the definition of entrepreneurship is solving a problem for someone and being able to charge for it, the opportunities for entrepreneurs in South Africa are numerous, even more so when they can improve people’s lives in direct and tangible ways. I think South Africa is one of the greatest places in the world to be an entrepreneur. As much as we have our challenges, there’s room to operate quickly and efficiently, and delight the customer. Many people have come to terms with bad service to the point where it feels like the norm, but it doesn’t have to be this way.” 

Networking, persistence, and a dedication to learning are pillars of Mains-Sheard’s entrepreneurial philosophy. He says the importance of having a vision, staying dedicated amidst adversity, and leveraging digital technologies to streamline operations are crucial elements for those considering becoming entrepreneurs. “Small businesses require support from both the government and corporate sectors. While it’s crucial for small businesses to focus on their trade, technology plays a significant role in optimising operations. Because Versofy SOALR’s roots are in technology and we’ve always occupied a space online, our aim as a technology company is to make people’s lives easier and more efficient and eliminate waste. We combine technology with daily home use to create homes that are smarter and more cost-effective.”

The importance of focus, the courage to pivot when necessary, and the value of learning from disappointments while having a greater purpose all coalesce in Versofy SOLAR’s rise to one of South Africa’s most trusted names in Rent-to-own solar and Solar-as-a-Service.  Mains-Sheard and his team are not stopping there though. The latest avenue for creating meaningful value-added services that help Versofy SOLAR customers live lighter is the recent introduction of the proudly local Versofy HOME app as well the upcoming launch of its solar-boosted smart geysers and home water solutions. “I think there’s a common misconception that to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to invent something completely new, something groundbreaking or change the world. The real essence of entrepreneurship is in creating value within your local ecosystem and economy. Entrepreneurship’s core is not just about making money, it’s also about purpose, people, and the positive impacts that can be made to our immediate circumstances.”