Speeding the Energy Transition
Nov. 9, 2022

Helping Solar Installers Grow Exponentially with Kiya Segni, CEO of Aduu Solar Engineering #EP 114

Helping Solar Installers Grow Exponentially with Kiya Segni, CEO of Aduu Solar Engineering #EP 114

Our guest today is Kiya Segni, the founder and CEO of Aduu Solar Engineering. Aduu solar provides exceptional solar construction permit plansets within a fast turnaround and quality workmanship. 

Contact Kiya at www.aduusolar.com for a free consultation. Enter "BHON1ZA" in the "Have a coupon?" field to get 25% off your first order!


We're tripling the solar industry in the next five years, so speed is vital for the installers and EPCs that form the backbone of the solar industry. Enter Aduu Solar Engineering with their quick turnaround, white-glove concierge service that allows installers to focus on what they do best, rolling trucks and crews as fast as they can, installing gigawatts of distributed solar that is cleaning the grid one rooftop at a time. 


Kiya Segni, co-founder and CEO, parlayed his career in cybersecurity at the Dept of Defense into founding and growing a small solar engineering and design firm. Aduu has carved out a customer base in residential solar by offering 24-hr turnaround, high-quality construction plansets that get his customer's projects permitted the first time, every time. 


Kiya came to the US as a recent high school graduate and his years of catholic school in Ethiopia paid off. While much of his youth in rural Africa was spent chopping wood and carrying water, it was his sharp mind and passion for technology that propelled him toward a future in the United States. 


When he graduated high school with honors he relocated to the US, following his father who had settled in the Washington DC area as a political refugee. Kiya was soon accepted and got a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and shortly thereafter went to work at the DOD. But his heart was in clean energy and the energy transition would not wait. 


Ten years after he moved to the US he established Aduu Solar with his friend and fellow Ethiopian, Waqgari Regassa, a software engineering graduate from George Mason University. The two had become fast friends in the DC area and shared a passion for sustainability and technology. 


Kiya Segni moved to the United States aged 18 from his home country Ethiopia due to political tension

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Transcript
Kiya Segni:

When you put out an idea together, and just be like, Oh, this is going to work, I'm going to do the company. And this is how I'm going to do it. I mean, it's an idea in my work in my network, right? So, that moment when you get paid even with this $1 The fact that your idea the thought that you put together has produced something makes you a feeling of achievement.

Tim Montague:

Aduu solar engineering is disrupting the permanent plant set industry. With an American based company founded by two engineers, both immigrants from Ethiopia. Today, I bring you Kiya Segni, co founder and CEO of Aduu. Solar engineering, to discuss what allows them to offer a concierge white glove service at a low cost and fast turnaround, all the while offering super high quality permit plan sets for the residential solar market. My guest today is Kiya Segni. Welcome to the show. Kiya.

Kiya Segni:

Thank you, Tim, thank you for having me, it's an honour to be on your show. I haven't been long listener of your podcast, and it's my turn, I guess, to be a guest. And I'm really honoured. And thank you very much.

Tim Montague:

It's so great to meet immigrant entrepreneurs like yourself. And you're also very American. Now, you've been in the United States for over 10 years. And, you know, it's just great timing, and that's one of the things that is, is unique and special to entrepreneurship is that you can have the best technology in the world. But if the timing isn't right, you can spend a lot of time and energy trying to get something off the ground. But the timing is right, the residential solar industry is scheduled to triple in the next five years, we're gonna go from 3.6% to upwards of 33% of rooftops that are solarized in the US in the next 10 years. And that is just incredible. We're talking 60% year over year growth for the next five to 10 years. So in your words, though, Kiya, give our listeners a little background on yourself. How did you come to the US? And how did you come to start Aduu solar engineering?

Kiya Segni:

Thank you, Tim. I was born in East Africa, Ethiopia, west side, it's called Oromia region and nycomed city. It's a very ruler area. My father is a elementary school teacher, my mom was a foremost part stay home mom grew up in that environment and really very low class family and I had just normal, you know, growing up, like any African kid, we didn't make much money, but we always have food to eat, my father made sure that we had food, he tries to do a lot of things to kind of send us to a good school. Even though we did not have that kind of money, my dad kind of sent me to Catholic school, which I think is a really foundation for me. And my brother has to have a good foundation in education and interest in an engineering and you know, innovation. So I grew up in that environment, going to church and you know, just a regular environment, then just they went to school there until I was 18. I finished high school. When I was around seventh grade, my father had to flee the country and ask here stay to come to United State he was fired from job with a lot of political problems, so he could not provide for his family and his life was in danger. So he had to flee. He got here, and then our lives a little bit better after he got here. Then I finished high school. And this time for me to come to the United States because my father was here ahead of me, when I came to United States, you know, it's the you know, the best thing that could happen to you especially coming from background and the environment that I was in who was the right thing that really came to my life and I saw the opportunity I was so excited to be in United States are so thankful. And once I got here, I wanted to take that advantage and and I always liked school when I was also in high school back home I was one of the top students in you know scored high in the national exams and all that kind of stuff. So I had a really good educational background, especially my father being a teacher. You can imagine every night I have to be studying and you know all that kind of stuff. So I got here after that, I did not come just right away. Growing up I wanted to become a pilot because from my village few kids have become a pilots. It's known for for some reason, it's known for an area when smart, poor smart kids come out I know for for some reason. I don't know why. A lot of pilots Ethiopian Airlines today are from that area. So this guy used to when I was very kid, you know he used to show me Maths tricks and all that stuff when he was in high school. So I was interested In that, so but when I got here, you know, I wanted to study electrical engineering because the past to become a pilot in Ethiopia. So you study electrical engineering and once you finish that in college and then you take exam and you go to airlines and all that stuff. So when I got here, and I knew that I did not want to become a pilot anymore, because I'm in America, and anybody can go get a pilot's licence just in a matter of months. So I but I started the engineering, electrical engineering. So that was the beginning, I guess, of my journey through this. So I went to college, studied electrical engineering at Morgan State University in Baltimore. So my interests in renewable energy started from there. Once I was trying to figure out, you know, engineering, electrical engineering, a lot of aspects. So that's when the the love for renewable energy and the technologies that was coming up, you know, everybody's talking about the transition, the revolution, all that kind of stuff. As an engineer, you know, we're talking about batteries about really like solar energy, wind, energy, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, follow this in college, when you study, it's really kind of creates an interest in you to really kind of figure out, so that's when my interest for renewable energy started, I knew that there's going to be a big transition, like, you know, in human history, there is a lot of, you know, transitions and revolutions, you know, you know, industrial revolution, agricultural revolution, all this, you know, even the.com Boom. So I knew that for somehow, like, somehow, when I was in college, I wanted to go to renewable energy, because I saw the potential is new is coming up, a lot of technologies are coming up. When we were talking about batteries, we're talking about lithium, iron, zinc, manganese, all these things kind of fascinated me to really focus on those things. And I graduated after graduating, was, I for some reason, when I was applying, I did not focus on renewable energy companies. So I had secured a job at Department of Defence as an engineer. And I went to that journey. But deep in my heart, I wanted to be in renewable industry. But when I went to the state, Department of State, Department of Defence, I had really great success in my field. And I was given a scholarship to study my master's in which I did in cyber engineering, but I did I didn't want to go to renewable energy, but they gave me an option of, you know, this is what you're going to you got to choose from this, if you were paying for it.

Tim Montague:

Let me let me pause you there. There's a couple things that I want to drill down on a little bit. First of all, you came here as an 18 year old, and, you know, you're still a young man, but it's not easy coming to a foreign country. Tell us a little bit about what that experience was like your father was here. So that soften the landing, and maybe he was already connected to the Ethiopian community in the in the US, but what was that like? And, and and then you were pretty quickly then going to school? Right? And yeah, I'm just curious how that how those first couple years went,

Kiya Segni:

Yeah, that transition, you know, I mean, obviously, I was not exposed to this kind of environment. I came from, I barely even know the capital city of Ethiopia, I never been there. I just, I went there to get my passport and my visa to come to this country. So I don't have really that city life kind of things. So when I got here, one thing I knew was, it was a blessing. I was really like, I appreciated this country, I knew the opportunities in front of me. But when I got here, there's a lot of cultural shock that I had to adjust. And when I went to college, and there was a lot of things, my English was not bad, I communicate with people and all that stuff. But I wasn't, you know, I don't even consider myself to be very fluent, right. And even now, so I had, you know, I didn't really give me too much trouble, but it was a lot of shocking things that I came across I, you know, I'm not exposed to so but, you know, I always in my heart, I you know, I had no confusion of who I am and where I came from, and knowing that helped me to work hard and just become a better person, wherever I go. And that was the key for me. And I always focused on you know, you know, working hard and studying hard and all that stuff, because I know the opportunities are abundant. And I had great success in college and made a lot of friends, you know, just to do the country. You know, I connected with a lot of people, it was a blessing really like I was I was it's not the way I expect it to be. And I'm very grateful for that. And that's that's an experience that I went through. I didn't have much of really trouble because I'm not in that kind of environment. You know, I came here I go to school and I work at Dunkin Donuts part time. I now go to church on Sunday, that was my life and just focus on connecting with students in you know, interact with the school, just study hard, and that was pretty much about it. And, and I had a really great, great college years and I was tapping my school. Yeah, so that's how I,

Tim Montague:

So then you graduated with a degree in Electrical in electrical engineering, you go to work at the DoD of all places. Here you are a young Ethiopian immigrant working for the US government in the Department of Defence. What was that, like?

Kiya Segni:

This is one of the times when it hits you really like I mean, for me, that's why I always say, I'm very grateful for this country. First of all, because I'm not in in a, you know, I'm not meant to be in this position. Like, sometimes when I see in the meetings, and you know, what I do, and even be interested in for, you know, accessing highly classified information in working for, you know, security of the country, I'm cyber is a very ni working on, you know, all this ballistic missiles, I'm, like, I know where I came from, it's really like, I like, you know, it's, this is not meant for me, you know, like, so that's why I'm so grateful. And, you know, when people say, in America, if you work hard in this country, so you know, the opportunities are abundant. And this is a land of opportunities, and that's really like I sold on myself, because I sit in office, you know, we making this, you know, designs and all this stuff. And that really wouldn't affect the American country and the security of the country. That was like, for me, who's a foreigner, who came at the age of 18, who was not an American, I mean, I became an American citizen after for five years, but to be given that kind of opportunity. For me, it's like, be you that's a greatest honour of my life is not about the money. It's not about anything, it's not about like, you know, making your career but just being trusted for that kind of position, to make a decision to kind of, you know, lead a team, it was such a such a great thing that has ever happened to me. And I take it as like, you know, the greatest honour of my life really, like even though I'm kind of branching out into like, my new career life, but and so I always gonna be thankful for that. Because, you know, that's, that's, there is no, cause I don't think there's any place that you can actually achieve whatever you want to achieve if you work hard, like America. So that was very, very impressive things, as I saw it.

Tim Montague:

So let's get into Aduu solar engineering, I could I could talk to you all day about your background, but I'm very keen to learn more about the permanent planset industry. What is it that sparked your, you know, you're getting together with your partner and creating Aduu solar engineering?

Kiya Segni:

So when I was in college, I was exported to a company, just as an intern in Baltimore to do over summer, just a PV design. I mean, I just went to intern, and there's a very small company, I got through a friend, and I just wanted to do something over the summer I, you know, I wanted for because I need to get a job after I graduate, I need to have at least internship. So when I went there, they do. They wanted me to do PV design, they have a team. And just in about I because I wanted to go renewable energy too. So I was already interested in that. When I go and you know, they do this PV design projects, I started designing PV designs. So after two weeks, I was designing everything by myself, there's a team. And then by the time I go back, and they wanted to keep me and I said I have to go back. I still have one more, one more year to go. And then they're like, Okay, we have a, you know, one guy quitted there are 22 people that are designing, and they're like, Could you do part time, I was like, it's gonna be very difficult for me, because I've done other things. But if you guys let me do from home, I don't have I don't ever have to come to the office, I can just do it from my part time. And you know, and they said, like, Yeah, sure. And then they gave me the, you know, I do the PV design at home after school, you know, all that kind of stuff on the weekends. So literally, the other guy quit. By myself, I was handling, like at least two projects a day, you know, go into full time school and all that stuff. So they didn't want to go to the person, they just, you know, I already knew how to do it. So the whole year, I did that. But by the time I graduate, I do want to go there because you know, the pay is not that I could get more money and maybe even double than what they were paying me but they were very interested in me to join their team. So I already developed like a year or some change of this PV design, and I know how it works. And I know all the regulations and all this stuff. And I said, Well, in order to start a renewable energy company, it might require me to really have a capital. But if I start with my knowledge and providing the service and put out a team to Whether, and I can provide that and I think I can do something and I can capitalise on that and just go to other aspects of renewable energy. And I, you know, I kind of came was my friend, who was also an engineer. So we put this together, and we kind of start pitching I, the thing is, when I came to this company, I never knew anybody, rather than the other company that was working with renewable energy. So that was a difficult part. And just, you know, how do I get this project? I know how to do it, I know how all the CRM or the system is there. But people don't know me, and I don't know people. And that was the hardest thing. But I think slowly we we kick that through. And that's how we'll get into the PV design service overall,

Tim Montague:

A nd how did you and Waggari meet?

Kiya Segni:

Me and Waggari, are... First our parents are from the same area, we kind of grew up together, I can say, and he travelled a lot in the world, because of his parents worked overseas, a lot of places in other countries, you know, I see him as a younger younger brother, we have done a lot of things before we have established different companies in you know, other things were very became successful. There was not a business company, but a nonprofit organisation. So we've been working together for a while we've been best friends, and all that kind of stuff. So it's easy to kind of have that kind of environment where you can read one another and kind of, you know, effectively do work. So that's why I brought him to the, to the team, and then extensive trainings and all that stuff. And we kind of got everything together and we build the team from there on,

Tim Montague:

Tell us when exactly did Aduu start, and what is the status of the company?

Kiya Segni:

We started in May of 2022. And when we started, we just put out, you know, we prepared our you know, CRMs, and websites and registrations and all that kind of stuff, and put out a team together a team who has experience because we do want to bring in train people and you know, because when you're a new company, you have to provide a very good service, other because you cannot have the space for mistakes and all that kind of stuff. So we make sure that we put a very competitive team that knows what they do. And we want it to be the best at what we provide. And we put out a team together, very strong team. And after we put the team together, we kind of start pitching to companies to kind of come under our belt so that we can provide our service. So like I said, nobody really knows who we are. And that was a big challenge. So then, but luckily, we landed on few companies that really kind of wanted to test us when they come they were very interested in impressed, I guess. So they you know, they stayed with us. So yeah, that's how we get started. And it's it's going well, it's going well with all these challenges. And we enjoy the journey, because that's what makes it so interesting is that the ups and downs is what what really makes it interesting for us all,

Tim Montague:

And tell me what, what was it like getting your first customer?

Kiya Segni:

That's the thing about it, it's like, when you start when you put out an idea together, and just be like, Oh, this is going to work, I'm going to build a company, and this is how I'm going to do it. I mean, it's an idea in my work might not work, right? So that moment when you get paid, even if it's $1, the fact that your idea, the thought that you put together has produced something makes you a feeling of achievement. So, you know, I called more than 500 companies, it just I didn't know how to get to them. So I call them like, hey, you know, we provide a PV design, are you guys interested in we can give you like, you know, 24 turn around time with good quality and all that kind of stuff. So, you know, some companies are like, not even interested to talk and some of them, you know, so I called more than 500 companies. And then finally, we landed on one through just a connection kind of thing, but I also call them and they kind of knew, and they wanted to try us and they say okay, let's let's see, you know, one project and then within them and they're like, oh, wow, okay, and then from there on. And you know, first probably the first month, the first week did two projects or something, and we got paid. And I was so happy not for the fact that I made money, but for the fact that the idea is actually make working. If I can work hard, you know, I can actually build this, this is actually reality. And that really hit me I was like, wow. And until that moment, I didn't even know whether I'm going to get a customer. I didn't even know what the what the customer would would say. But I knew that I had a confidence in what I do in the quality that I do, because I'm already experienced, I know what I'm doing. But I don't know, other mechanism of how you get these companies and how you you know, all these structural things that you need an institution or a company. That's what I was worried. So we kind of got there and from there on and one two, and we were withdrawing. We're growing. So I'm, I'm so happy about where we are and hopefully we're going to break through

Tim Montague:

So let's let's walk through what are some of the critical aspects of the service that you provide? And what is it that differentiates? Aduu? From your competition? Let's face it, permanent plan sets are considered a commodity by the solar industry. But there's room for improvement. It's, and I'm not talking about providing the cheapest service. So what is it that Aduu? does? And what can a customer of yours expect? When they try you out?

Kiya Segni:

Yeah, that's the that's the thing about it. You know, being new into the market, when you come as a new company, and there has to be a certain things that you are better than the already, you know, the market that the other companies control, we knew that when we come, we cannot be the same as others. So for example, other companies would say, oh, yeah, we're gonna, when they promoted this, we're gonna have 24th and around time, but in reality, they do not, they do not provide that they just, you know, at least 48 hours. So we say that, unless we can return within 24 hours, we didn't, we don't take a product, we don't have like, you know, make too much product so that we can, we can not return within 24 hours. So one thing is that our turnaround time is 24 hours, in most cases, even less, if you send us early in the morning, you probably going to get you know, after lunch. So we made sure that we give you actual 24th turnaround time, because for installers, the most important thing is that they want to be on and roof off of the roof very fast, so that they can go the next project. So we don't want to be part of the reason why they delay before one minute, I think that we we, we take that very seriously. That's why we we make sure that our team is all you know, the project is all done or reviewed. And also customers can see the progress of the project. Because you know, when when they submitted, it's, you know, somebody's working on it. And then when that person workers have submitted, I'm reviewing, it is gonna say reviewing, and then there's been and then I, after I review, I deliver it, and then it's gonna show in there, it's been delivered. So they know each step of whether their product is because they get on our CRM, they put everything in there. So our communication is very smooth. So you know, there is no hidden their email and all that kind of stuff. So that's another thing that we have for, for our viewers. And obviously, price another thing, our price is very, very competitive, very competitive, it's very, instead of hiring an engineer, or whoever you pay hourly, if you bring to us, that's going to be even cheaper than hiring somebody just to do your project. So we want to make sure that our pricing is very competitive. And it's it's compared to other companies out there. And because we are new to so we got to make sure that we we are actually in service better with the pricing butter, and with the communication. Make sure that you know, we want companies to feel that we are part of their team. We're not outsiders, or like you know, vendors, you know, whoever they come to, we want to make sure that we're part of their company, that employees communicate with us as they communicate with each other so that everything is smooth. And it's it's easy for the

Tim Montague:

Hey, everybody, thanks for listening to the installers to go through. Clean Power Hour or viewing it on YouTube, we do have a great YouTube channel. If you're not subscribed, please go to clean power dot group, and hit that YouTube icon and subscribe to our channel. Of course, you can find all of our content on your favourite audio platform as well. So please give us a rating and review back to the show. Now you're working, you're working in four states. And so and you can do designs in 50 states, but you're delivering a product that has to pass muster. With the AHJ this is mission critical. How do you? How do you work with your customers to make sure that you're going to have a product that is consistently passing the review of the AHJ?

Kiya Segni:

Yeah, that's that's a very good question. So all you know, different states and different, they have different rules. And there is also National Electrical Code. The good thing is our team is compromised of people who have worked in different states, we have that experience under our belt, you bring any design from any state, we can take care of it. And also, we have guidelines put in place for each designer every time they design where they have to take and make sure that it's been included, and it's been verified. So we make sure that we follow all the guides from all the states as of right now we're working on four states only. But we do every state that we have the capacity and with the knowledge and the experience of doing any state. So we make sure that everything is in place our 100 accuracies of biggest thing in us because Not only that the engineers are also reviewed before submitting, because we want to make sure that we don't want to get for redesigning, because this is going to be submitted for for permit. Permission, right. So, also we do like when they, if there is a return or like redesign, we don't charge people we do for free, when there isn't. So we don't want to redesign the same same product, we want to make sure that everything is neat, clean and accurate, so that our customers don't get, you know, back and forth with the permission. So those are the things that we really, we really put in place in order to kind of get over that. And so far, I think our customers are very satisfied with our accuracy and the attention that we give to details. Because it's not about like, you know, doing the product and submitting and just making the money, it's making sure that the customers are happy, satisfied, because that's when we have a business too. So yeah,

Tim Montague:

When you think about the future of the solar industry, Kiya, and the future of Aduu solar engineering, what is your vision for your company, and how does that dovetail with the clean energy transition?

Kiya Segni:

First, I'm just happy that even like, even though it's not the contribution, and it's, um, just being part of the transition by itself, it makes me happy to be honest. And obviously, as you may mentioned, in the beginning, the renewable energy is gonna, you know, solar especially is gonna really multiply within the next few years in this year alone is expected to almost 47% to the grid. energy. So, and I do understand the magnitude of the business potential that is out there in this industry, because we are too early in this business. And there is a lot to work on. As of right now I want to focus on the PV design, because one thing at a time, I want to make sure that I build a capital and provide and become one of the biggest PV providers in the country, we want to make sure that we are actually competitors, and you know, companies go to company for a PV design, then eventually, obviously, we want to expand to installation for residential, eventually, slowly to commercial, it all depends but one at a time. Because if you want to do 10 things at a time, you cannot do one thing, at best. So we want to make sure that we provide whatever we give is we are best at it. And you know, we're good. Once we have that under our belt, we feel confident and this is already good, then I have a lot of the even Evie chargers. And you know, all this. Now everybody's talking about the lithium ion battery storage thing. And that's I'm kind of I'm also learning I'm too early on this. So I'm it's a lot of learning for me to do. But I do have an idea of where this company is going to go. And hopefully, with God's help, I think we can we can we will get there. Hopefully that's what I'm hoping for.

Tim Montague:

And what do you say to potential team members, young engineers and designers who want to work with Aduu engineering? What do you say to them?

Kiya Segni:

Well, the installers or the

Tim Montague:

No, potential potential employees.

Kiya Segni:

Oh, sure. I mean, if you're interested in, in renewable energy, if you love you would love to be part of this transition of you know, also saving the planet, by the way. I mean, we might think that our contribution is very insignificant, but contribution is going to be significant. When insignificant efforts come together they become significant. And if you're interested in renewable energy, if you want to work with us, our our door is open. We are a team and the door is open really you you can contact me on our website, on the phone, on the email, social media, LinkedIn everywhere, you can contact us and we're willing to work with with interested individuals and companies also, if companies are interested, and we are more than happy to provide our service, I promise we're not gonna let them down. I mean, I I do stand where I say so.

Tim Montague:

Awesome. Well, our listeners can check out your content at Aduu solar aduusolar.com Aduu solar, check out their website, hit that contact page, and reach out to me on Tim Montague. Please check out all of our content at clean power hour.com Give us a rating and a review, especially a review on Apple and Spotify that helps grow the podcast and helps others find this content. I want to thank Kiya Segni, the CEO and co founder of Aduu solar engineering for coming I will show thank you so much Kiya.

Kiya Segni:

Thank you, Tim. Thank you for having me. I really do appreciate this and hopefully with another environment that has a bigger platform we meet again with to talk about Aduu solar when we are big, bigger than what where we are today. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Tim Montague:

I'm Tim Montague. Let's grow solar and storage.