Lyndon Rive – Green energy CEO (SolarCity) and Underwater Hockey player

Even though Lyndon Rive is the architect and builder of a successful IT company and now serves as CEO of a growing solar power operation, the most interesting thing about this 30-year-old South African may be that he plays mid-mid position on the (and I’m not making this up) U.S. Men’s Underwater Hockey Team. The sport works pretty much like ice hockey except, of course, the playing field is the bottom of a swimming pool. Two teams of six players each hold their breaths for as long as they can and smack the puck around the pool using a foot-long stick. Rive’s been playing since 1992.Hockey aside, his head seems to be placed well above the water. Rive, along with brothers Peter and Russ head SolarCity, the leading provider of solar energy systems to homes and businesses. They want to bring solar power to the mass market by making it affordable. SolarCity’s method of accomplishing this is by group buying. The company’s sales force blankets a targeted neighborhood and when it gets 50 or so commitments, buys the solar panels and sends out installation teams to erect them. Customers save 20-30% from the group discount.Rive thinks America is ready for solar power. “People want to go green,” he said, “but they won’t do it if it costs them an arm and a leg. Even the extreme environmentalists can’t justify it.” He feels mom and pop solar operations don’t offer the stability that SolarCity provides, backed by capital provided by his cousin, Internet giant Elon Musk (who serves as chairman at SolarCity) and JP Morgan Bank. They recently received $21M in new funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson. SolarCity employs around 150 full-time employees and installs 60 to 70 systems a month. It concentrates on California but has plans to expand to Colorado.

Rive @ the Going Green 2007 conference.In 1998 Lyndon and Russell Rive created Everdream, which serves small businesses that have fewer than 20 employees by providing computer hardware, round-the-clock technology support services, desktop management services, Internet access and free online training for a single monthly subscription charge of about $150. Offerings include application management, software distribution, hardware integration and help desk services. The brothers started selling their services going door-to-door on skateboards and, after securing some seed money, grew the business within eight months into a 100-employee operation occupying a 40,000-square-foot space. The Rives have since replaced themselves at Everdream with another management team so they could start SolarCity, but Lyndon still serves Everdream as vice president.Rive’s past business ventures include an alternative health production and distribution company, which he grew to over 1000 sales representatives with multiple product lines within four years.At this month’s Solar Power Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Rive said that payback is not the way to look at the decision to use solar energy. “Return on investment is the way to think about it. A savings account gives you 2% return. Solar system return on investment with a utility like Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that has lower rates is 5%-6%. Solar system return on investment with a utility like Southern California Edison that has higher rates is 10%-12%. And studies show a solar system increases the value of the house more than the cost…..It is the best home improvement you can do for property value.” On why he is now in the “green” market Rive, in an interview with ABC News, said,”Looking at the world’s biggest problems, software is not going to address it. It’s one of the few industries where you have the opportunity to make some money and do good.” Here’s another writeup on SolarCity in Fast Company.Rive does have other interests besides business and underwater hockey. He lists his hobbies as kitesurfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding and mountain biking.

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Elon Musk of SpaceX

I’m finally getting round to blogging about successful South African businesspeople.At 36 and with a net worth of over $300 million, Elon Musk is one of America’s richest people under the age of 40. After two extremely successful ventures in the dot-com world, he is now focusing on space exploration and earth-friendly technology. Musk was born in South Africa in 1971. His father is a South African engineer; his mother, a Canadian nutritionist. At age 17 Elon left home. He enrolled at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, but his goal was the United States. “It is where great things are possible. I am nauseatingly pro-American,” he is quoted as saying.He got his chance through a scholarship to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned two undergraduate degrees, first in economics, then in physics. He was accepted at Stanford, but quickly left to start Zip2, the company that created the technology to put newspaper-style ads and city directories on the Internet. After selling Zip2 to Compaq for $307 million, Musk, in 1999, helped launch and build PayPal (formed as a merger between PayPal and Musk’s X.com venture). The monster online payment system was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.Now Musk has put his money and efforts into two enterprises: building low-cost rockets to advance space exploration, and producing electric cars that are both environmentally clean and fast. His Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, builds the Falcon, a reusable, two-stage rocket, and the Dragon, a spaceship for carrying cargo and later, humans, to the International Space Station. Musk serves as chief engineer at SpaceX and designed much of the Falcon himself. The rockets are simpler and cost a fraction of the price of most other rockets. The Malaysian government and an arm of the Pentagon are in line to use the Falcon for launching their satellites into orbit. In addition, NASA signed a $278 million contract with SpaceX for services. A recent Wired article provides a great overview of entrepreneurs like Musk and Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) entering commercial space exploration. Musk is also the primary investor in Tesla Motors, enabling the company to develop its Tesla Roadster. The automobile has no tail pipe or gas tank, and runs on 7,000 lithium ion batteries the size of a tube of lipstick. The car can go from 0-60 mph in less than four seconds and has a price tag of $100,000.Musk is also on the board of Everdream, and Solacity and well as being a trustee of the X Prize Foundation. He is willing to invest up to $4mm in next generation battery, especially ultra capacitors, ventures. Search for his name in the CNN Money article.Considering that Musk once told a friend he wished he could find a way not to eat so he could work all the time, hobbies don’t seem to be a priority in life, but he is married, to author Justine Musk. The couple lives in Bel Air, Calif., with their five boys: a set of twins and a set of triplets. He also has a $1.2 million McLaren F1 car to drive to work in and a L-39 Russian jet that he pilots.Musk was a voracious reader as a child and by his teens was studying philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, but came to the conclusion that they didn’t have much to say and considers much of what they believed as “rubbish.” He does, however, view Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, as one of the great philosophers of all time.Nov 16, 2007 update: Interesting story in ValleyWag regarding the PayPal mafia article in Fortune.

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