The first solar racking company that entered the Indian market to benefit from its best market with competent and experienced resources at a minimal cost, Unirac’s Indian Arm was incepted by Doddikadi Krishna Chaitanya in 2019 as a novel venture which today boasts a team of 250+ people and continues to generate employment. Unirac provides permitting services to the solar contractors and delivers unparallel permit design packages.
Since its inception, Unirac has created a significant impact on the lives of permit designers and permit engineers who were, before Unirac, being exploited and offered average remuneration while their employers charged high fees from foreign clients. Krishna came into the picture to reduce this gap and raise their standard of living. In addition, he stepped ahead to offer 8 lakh rupees worth of life insurance for each employee and their family members (including 4 kids and 2 parents) keeping the pandemic in mind.
Unirac’s core values are intervened in their body of work and aim at ensuring that each Unirac team member implies the same into their life. These values encompass their passion for the customer’s success, communicating openly and respectfully with each other and the client, making it happen, and striving as a team. Based on these core values, Krishna leads Unirac India as a desirable workplace for the professionals in their industry.
Krishna wrote the success story of the brand as it transitioned from 2019 when Unirac went and pitched for employees to today while each job opening has several applicants. From a manufacturing aspect, it became one of the very few solar racking companies in the US and the world that identified India as a good manufacturing hub when the world was looking at China. Today, apart from the 250 people, Unirac is also responsible for the employment of approximately 1000 employees indirectly, which are hired by their suppliers.
In 2010, Krishna completed his Master of Science, Civil Engineering from University of New Mexico at a time when the world was witnessing the peak of economic recession. He discovered an opportunity at a growing company, Unirac at a time when former US President Obama was promoting Renewable sector actively. He grasped the industry and niche knowledge and market dynamics.
For 11 years now, Krishna, being a part of Unirac, has witnessed a great shift in the market. Being an engineer, he started his journey by contributing 2 years in areas of product development and supply chain. He eventually realised his passion for leadership and creating value for Unirac and the industry by coming back to India. With a vision to make it big and confidence to pursue the same, he decided to mould the system that software companies have already established in Indian Outsourcing market for a solar company, Unirac.
In 2019, while the world eyed China, the Philippines, and Indonesia, Krishna was looking to scale Unirac through India. He grasped the opportunity with the thought that compared to Singapore or Australia. Talking exclusively with Purnima Narang, Editor, The CEO Magazine, Krishna shared an insight into the Unirac India team, leadership, industry, and much more. Edited excerpts:
Krishna: Unirac India is all about an assembled team of highly skilled designers dedicated to customer success that help grow business’s rapidly. Our best in class permitting design services comprise of high quality permit design packages with unmatched customer experience.
We’ve built a global team of Solar Experts from Albuquerque New Mexico to India dedicated to providing customers with low-cost, high-quality, permit-ready custom PV system designs with a 24-hour turn-around, all to help reduce overall install time and lower soft costs. We live by our Unirac mantra, Better Solar Starts Here!
Krishna: We value our employees. While every other company makes services as a profit centre. For Unirac, service is a customer engagement tool. We do not try to optimize our costs resource allocation wise. Hence, we have the best resources in the industry with an attrition rate of 2% average. Today, everyone strives to match the standards set by Unirac in the industry and the brand is proudly forcing them to do the same and continues to uplift the working style of the engineers.
To give you an example; the scenario we have created for Indian solar outsourcing market can be compared to the reinvention of the industry after the IT industry and BPO industry came to India. Before their entry, people with Commerce or Arts educational background were struggling to survive and offered minimum wage.
However, after the arrival of foreign players, these professionals witnessed an enhanced lifestyle. I have followed the same model without inventing a new one but through smart application. Now, in our industry, permit designers are excited to work with us. The selection is done through a stringent process which speaks for the value we have created in the market now.
Krishna: Today, the industry is moving towards the vertically integrated model. A customer today does not want to deal with multiple vendors. He wants a one-stop-shop where the permitting design is such that it is closely linked with vacuum and structural mechanical engineering.
So, with our design expertise and 25 years of market experience, Unirac is the only US brand that have outlived their warranty and customers have trust in our designs. Today, each Unirac clientele benefits from their solutions by filling out one input form and the product and service is delivered to the Unirac clientele efficiently and effectively.
Krishna: It would be misleading to say I did not face any challenges. For me, when I moved to India, the first challenge was the work culture. Even though I studied in India, I had never worked in India. Hence, I was not aware of the work culture. To align with the work culture was a task. I struggled to bring our Unirac’s value work culture into India.
It took me about a year to a year-and-half for the team to get adjusted and in sync with the goals. My goals are very simple. I do not believe in experience, as a parameter to be a part of our team. I can proudly say that 90% of my executive management team including my operations management team are under 30. This is a one-of-its-kind record in our industry. Why? Because we work in completely a dynamic environment. It is a novel industry wherein dynamic people overpower experienced resources.
Today, our team is inclusive of these dynamic people who grasped the opportunity and grew in their career by 4 to 5 times within one to two years. In my executive management team right now, people are savouring the same by proving when the opportunity came. The challenge in front of me was to ensure that I understand what motivates whom and deliver the same to ensure growth.
For me, building a foundation of trust within the employees was essential. I had to sell it to my employees first and then my clientele. That has been the biggest challenge that has been slowly overcome over the period.
Krishna: During the first lockdown in March 2020, the world was witnessing a major setback. For our team, it was the initial stage and indeed I can say, the employees’ minds did have a common thought, “We have left our well-settled jobs for a new company established in 2019 itself. They might shut down the India operations. What if Krishna goes back?” But it was the time, I ensured that I engrave the trust I have spoken about earlier in the minds of my employees.
Amidst the speculations, I motivated them by ensuring that they have work during the pandemic. In my discussion across the board in the US, I convinced them of the idea of offering services to the clients for free during the pandemic. I have to say, it was the best decision. Rather than keeping my employees idle and demotivated through the tough times, I invested in them.
This benefitted us on two ways, first, it allowed the clients to experience our solutions and turn into loyal clientele afterwards and second, it kept the team busy throughout the tough times. This boosted our work significantly.
Krishna: I was looking towards long term sustainability and short-term goals. I strongly believe that short term goals can only make the management happy but not the employees. I have figured out that employees are very smart. They know what is happening in the market and speculate the situation. Hence, the questions that I ask myself after each breakthrough including pandemic were focused on ensuring trust in my employees.
How do I create trust in all my employees? By implementing sustainable strategies, which implies, invest in employees hoping for long-term success. I, as a leader, have grown through the stage wherein I used to struggle initially for hiring people in five roles to today when we hire 50 people at once. That confidence has bloomed from experience. Through the one-year lifestyle post-pandemic, which were challenging times, but were navigated through the same by paying every single employee in India on time with paid leaves for those whose family members were effected with Covid-19 virus.
We, as a company are becoming the sought-after employer as we continue to offer benefits equivalent to big players like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. In some cases, even higher than that. Hence, we appear as a disrupter. Apart from the regular paid holidays, we offer 1 day off to employees to take off and relax. We also took the initiative to offer an Rs. 3000/ worth of travel allowance voucher as we encourage them to travel in Metro and public transport to reduce pollution.
We also pay a membership fee for gyms or yoga for people who are interested to join. For us, the employees are at the helm of the brand’s focus to grow.
Krishna: Today, data is essential. We, being a small company initially, infused data analytics from the bottom level of the hierarchy to the top. I took the initiative to create a data centre and dashboards where every team used the technology to create the dashboard of their performance. This is a great tool for us to look at the performance of both the company and the clients. This transparent communication allows us to ensure that we personify our value of passion for customer’s success.
Krishna: For me, success is sustainability and organic growth with a minimal amount of risk. I believe high risk does not ensure long-term success. The credit for the success of the company goes to the management. They played a significant role initiative as they pushed and supported me to start including Peter Lorenz, CEO, Unirac US along with Sean Linn, COO, Unirac, US, and all the employees who turned my vision into reality deserved the credit as well.
Krishna: I believe, being a name that has disrupted the India outsourcing solar industry. Today, the employee's lifestyle has witnessed drastic changes which have allowed them to proudly say they are solar engineers. Creating this legacy and standard which everyone must follow to ensure their sound existence in the industry can be safely said to be my proudest achievement.
Krishna: We want to be listed in the Great Place to work at and continue to invest in India. Unirac India is an integral part of the company as a whole. To advise an entrepreneur, I would say patience, growth, and sustainability. As a lot of challenges awaits you, you need to be patient. Whatever growth you are witnessing, it must have minimal risk. Sustainability is an essential part of the same. “What are you doing? How are you doing? Why do you think you are the best? If anyone starting a new company does not have answers to these three questions. They need to work on them before they start their venture.
Krishna: Since it was our first time offering a service, we found the clients to be excited but with our inability to deliver solutions in the first 3 months, we received the feedback that we should not destroy our image by offering services while we are already a reputed products provider. It was indeed demotivating for everyone including the management. However, we viewed this failure from a positive lens and said, “We know exactly what we should not do.” We adapted to the feedback and went back with a solution that they adored in a year and a half.
Krishna: In a fast-paced industry, an automated solution is expected. To succeed now, a company must figure out as soon as possible. Today, each permit needs to be physically submitted in the US. How can I make it digital? How can I create value to ensure fast delivery? This is the biggest challenge while the industry is moving towards a vertically integrated approach where multiple installers are joining hands.
Being technologically relevant in the industry today is key. To give you an example, we have seen the rise and fall of Blackberry. Once desired by everyone, Blackberry phones saw their end by being the manual phones they were. For companies today, it is important to look beyond and strive like the players who continue to succeed with constant innovation for example Apple and Samsung.
He wrapped up the conversation by saying, “This is Unirac, better Solar starts here.”
Doddikadi Krishna Chaitanya