Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with James Johnson, CEO of Verde Energy Efficiency Experts, located in Chicago, IL, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Verde works with commercial and municipal customers in Illinois to help those buildings be more energy efficient. We upgrade lighting, maximize and upgrade HVAC, and look for deep relationships with our customers to help them lower their long-term energy costs and environmental impact.

Tell us about yourself

I was a firefighter for ten years, but I have always been passionate about sustainability. I would have a compost bin, garden, and other initiatives going internally, but I used to obsess over the calculations of how much energy our lights would use as a 24-hour facility - and started a side business to offer this to businesses. It grew, I "retired" from the fire department, and we now have over 25 employees and serve hundreds of customers each year (including many fire departments).

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

We won an award as the top service provider to our utility three years out of the six years it has been offered. That was quite an honor and reflection of how much we care about our work and our customers.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

It is quite lonely - I miss sitting around the fire station table and having coffee and camaraderie. Now I find myself more often having coffee by myself.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Find a business you are passionate about. I've been doing this for 12 years, and what gets me through the tough times is how important this is to me. I see a lot of people start businesses to make money, but I don't think that will take you as powerfully through the hard times because there are lots of ways to make money in this world. But not a lot of ways to change the world.
  2. It will take twice as long and twice as much startup funds as you think.
  3. Be vulnerable with employees and as transparent as you can.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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