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Founder fails with his first startup – he’s doing it better now

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Founder fails with his first startup – he’s doing it better now

Founder Janik Nolden failed with his first startup – and in the meantime didn’t know how he was going to pay the rent. That’s why things are going better at his second startup.

Janik Nolden is the founder of solar startup Solago. Solago GmbH

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The sun is currently shining for Janik Nolden – at least in a figurative sense. His solar startup Solago generated net sales of twelve million euros in 2023. This year, he tells us, sales are expected to more than double to 30 million euros. Sales of solar systems and balcony power plants are booming. But Nolden has also experienced other times as an entrepreneur. He failed with his startup Heydrate, which he founded during his studies: “We really bled. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent.”

He launched his first company together with Julian Dienst in 2019. Through Heydrate they sold drink flavors as powder and syrup. Things went uphill quickly for the young founders. They were able to achieve seven-figure sales, he tells us. “It was cool, but in the end it wasn’t profitable,” remembers Nolden. “Our product was not accepted by the market in such a way that we could operate sustainably.”

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He made a lot of mistakes back then. His biggest learning: “I would always build a business that works profitably right from the start and is not just dependent on investors and ongoing new rounds of financing.” In total, Heydrate received half a million euros from financing. After almost four years it was over. It was a difficult time for him. He gave up his master’s degree for the startup. He and his co-founder Dienst put everything on one card: Solago.

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Founder starts his second startup with 10,000 euros

They founded the solar startup in 2022 while the business with Heydrate was ongoing. “We started the company when we could no longer pay ourselves a salary at Heydrate. Our idea was to do this on the side to keep ourselves afloat. We didn’t expect Solago to be our full-time job.”

With their co-founder and acquaintance Kevin Malek, they already had someone on board who had experience in the solar business and therefore also contacts and good purchasing prices, says Nolden. In the beginning, as they still do today, they were financed from their own cash flow. In total, they started with 10,000 euros – partly borrowed from grandma or parents, says the founder.

At the beginning they focused on selling balcony power plants. Everything on my own: “In the beginning I did the telephone support myself. At times we had 200 calls a day on our private cell phones. At the same time, we had to look after customers in the store; we had a real traffic jam in our courtyard.”

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Solar experience world on 1,700 square meters for customers

The company differentiated itself from the competition by optimizing online for SEO and conversions. The user experience was put at the forefront. Solago’s offering now ranges from mini solar systems to the planning and installation of photovoltaic systems for private homes and large commercial properties – with our own installation teams and electricians. The startup also offers solar wholesale. They do not manufacture the products themselves, but buy them from retailers.

“There are other suppliers who sell similar products to us. But it is precisely through our customer service that we make a lot,” explains Nolden. There are various explanatory videos online that give customers an understanding of the products. Customers can then see for themselves at three locations, just like in a furniture store for solar systems. Nolden says: “Other than on the roof of a house, many people have never really seen a solar panel up close. We wanted to change that.”

The Solago founders in their world of experience in Hilden. Solago GmbH

The highlight is the Solago City adventure world in Hilden. Nolden describes himself as mayor of the main location. In addition to the products, the 1,700 square meter area is also home to exhibition halls, a planning office and a cafe. When asked when the Solago roller coaster is coming, Nolden has to laugh: “But it’s actually the case that people sometimes drive hundreds of kilometers to look at the goods on site and pick them up.”

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Nolden is currently planning to expand the 30-person team and is hiring. The next step is an app that should be ready in the second quarter. This is intended to enable energy management in the household with dynamic electricity tariffs.

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