If You’re Not Going Solar, Ask Yourself Why

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

If you told every business owner in the largest market in the country that they could reduce long-term expenses, improve their company’s image, and take advantage of cutting-edge technology to improve the environment with one simple conversion, you’d probably be hard-pressed to hear the word “no.”

Which is why it’s a little surprising that New York’s skyscrapers aren’t dotted with solar arrays by now. Sure, solar power has been more widely adopted than ever before, but too many business owners are hesitating, despite the fact that solar energy represents the ultimate win-win-win scenario, benefitting not only businesses but also customers and the world at large.

Looking at the wider picture, the solar industry is amid a nationwide surge. The installation of solar panels nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016, making it the United States’ number-one new energy source in the latter year.

Cities were at the forefront of that growth — the top 20 metropolitan areas for solar power churn out as much as the entire country did in 2010 — and New York was indeed a strong participant in that group. It ranked seventh for total installed panels in the nation, according to a report by Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization, ahead of such places as San Antonio, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

New York, which had five solar installers in 2005, had 55 by 2015, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. More impressively, the number of residential solar projects went from 186 in 2011 to more than 5,300 in 2016.

New York’s solar renaissance has been fueled in part by the initiatives of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo mandated two years ago that half of the state’s power come from solar, wind, hydroelectric or other renewable sources by 2030, while de Blasio is aiming to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

According to a 2014 report in the New York Times, de Blasio’s goal is in line with the United Nations’ target for developed countries, in an attempt to curtail the effects of climate change. He went so far as to tell the Times that there is “a moral imperative” to act, while making reference to Hurricane Sandy, a 2012 storm that led to 44 deaths and $19 billion in damage to the city.

He has since unveiled a 3,152-panel rooftop solar installation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and hopes to generate 100 megawatts of renewable energy on public buildings by 2023. That will not come without cost — it is estimated that it could run as much as $1 billion for all public buildings to be retrofitted with solar panels — but it bears repeating that the technology ultimately pays for itself.

As great as the city’s progress is in the solar realm, far more could be done. One study showed that 66% of New York’s rooftops could be used to harness the power of the sun, and that those panels could provide half of the city’s electricity needs at peak periods. The potential savings are mind-boggling.

There are many other places where far more could be done. While San Diego is №1 on the list of solar cities, just 14% of its small-building solar capacity is being realized. And California legislators have mandated that half of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030; currently it’s about one-fourth, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Nationwide, the solar market nearly doubled its annual record in 2016, and for the first time since 2011, non-residential installation growth outpaced residential installations. Such businesses as Walmart, Costco, IKEA and FedExare at the forefront of the solar business trend, and that pattern is likely to become more widespread.

That, coupled with a boom that could see as many as 3.8 million homesequipped with solar panels in 2020 (up from 30,000 in 2006), figures to make the U.S. a major player on the world’s solar stage. A federal study revealed that if solar panels were installed on every roof in America, they would supply 39% of the total power used in the U.S.

Unfortunately, startup costs are the major factor preventing more residences and businesses from going solar. It is estimated that it can run between $20,000 and $50,000 to install a residential system, and while there is the specter of a rollback of federal alternative-energy incentives under the current presidential administration, city and state programs can foot a sizable portion of the bill.

New York, for instance, offers loan financing for residential, small-commercial and commercial projects through NY-Sun. Residential and small-commercial customers can finance up to $25,000 with a repayment period as long as 15 years. Commercial borrowers may finance up to 100% of any-sized solar projects; the interest rate ranges from 4% to 6.5%. NY-Sun also extends reduced installation costs to borrowers across any of these three categories.

And once more, there are savings on the back end. Solar-powered homes reportedly have cut monthly bills by as much as 85%, and it is estimated that solar energy’s ROI beats the stock market in more than 25 states, including New York.

There is, at least, far less red tape to cut through than there once was. The permit-approval process for a solar system, once as long as two years, has now been reduced to a few days. With the other steps — planning, inspection, etc. — the entire installation can take roughly a month, depending on the financing process.

And at that point, the utility company changes your electrical meter over, and it starts rolling backwards — a magical (not to mention profitable) thing.

This isn’t just pure speculation — in fact, I’ve enjoyed the benefits firsthand. We first installed solar panels in my building, Midtown’s Atelier, in 2011, making it the tallest residential solar installation in the United States. At that point the system generated roughly 10% of the building’s energy and cut utility costs by about $120,000 a year.

We earned back the initial investment in the solar panels in a matter of months, then added additional panels over the next five years, slicing utility costs even more. We were, as a result, able to reinvest those savings back into the building, adding an ice skating rink among other amenities.

Then there are the environmental benefits. Solar panels are virtually noiseless. The only pollution they produce is during the construction process, and that pales in comparison to that which is generated by other forms of energy. After installation, they produce no greenhouse gases.

Looking long-term, there’s no reason for business owners not to throw considerable heft into solar conversion. It’s not only a better deal for the environment, it’s a boon for the bottom line.


Homeless Youth — The Invisible Problem

The years between age 18 and 25 are often thought of as the defining times of our lives. These are the years when young people begin to find their place in the world, whether in education, meaningful employment, or starting their own families.

Sadly, there’s an overlooked cohort of this age group who are simply struggling to survive. Among the stories of exciting new opportunities for young people, recently released studies by the University of Chicago have found that one in ten young peoplenationwide experienced some degree of homelessness in 2016.

It’s a damning statement about the state of the fight against homelessness when the most vulnerable, our young people, are subjected to such unfavorable life conditions. As we’ve seen previously, a disconcerting number of grade school children here in New York City suffer under the same unfortunate circumstances.

These findings, as one University of Chicago researcher points out, challenge the popular image of homelessness. As tempting as it may be for some to think that it’s the result of poor choices or upbringing, the hard facts show that this severe poverty can strike even the most innocent, in varying degrees.

So, what are we to do? Surely, these numbers should be shocking enough to spur major action to fight this problem. Unfortunately, that help has traditionally been slow to enact. It would seem that action from the top needs to happen, and soon. I know I’m not alone in hoping these recent shocking numbers will have that effect.

For those city, state and federal leaders whose policies can make a real impact, the fact that ten percent of our youth have lived in such conditions should serve as a wakeup call. Let us not forget, whether rich or poor, this younger generation comprises our nation’s future. If we can make this future a brighter one for our youngest and most vulnerable, we make it a brighter one for all.

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org

4 Business Ideas Anyone Can Try

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

A lot of folks have the entrepreneurial spirit. Yet many never see it through.

According to a Gallup survey, potential entrepreneurs don’t take the plunge for a variety of reasons. They worry about a steady income, lack personal savings, or fear failure. A staggering 49% say they don’t start a companybecause they don’t know where to start.

What can address these concerns is a way to start small and generate reliable income. Here’s a list of low-barrier to entry business ideas that can prove fruitful with the right plan.

1. Online retailer

By starting on third-party platforms, you can bring in revenue immediately — without having to exhaust time and resources on building a website, marketing products, managing logistics, etc. Start with a product you know well and grow in a manner that’s profitable and sustainable.

There are lots of retailer websites out there, from platforms for creative merchants like Etsy to mammoth marketplaces selling everything under the sun like Amazon and Alibaba. Choose one that aligns with your product category and fits your budget (some sites have expensive fees).

For instance, if you want to start selling niche items or refurbished goods, eBay is a great choice. It’s also inexpensive to launch a store, as long as you can find the funds to buy the products you hope to sell. Just pay attention to costs. As Aron Hsiao, a long-time eBay seller and former eBay employee, notes, “use the eBay Fee Illustrator calculator to determine which store level is best for your business” and stay updated on fees and expenses (they change).

2. Tutoring service

Starting a tutoring service comes with basically no initial expenses if you do it entirely online. Marketing in the local community is inexpensive as well, especially if you make use of free classifieds, bulletin board locations, and your personal network.

You can make good money, too. According to a Care.com report, professional tutors typically earn between $20-$85 per hour, with rates varying due to location, subject/field, frequency of sessions, etc. Don’t set your asking rate too low, and you should be able to negotiate a fee that brings you in solid hourly pay.

So, where should you start? Finding students in your area is a great idea. You can expand your potential client base by using sites like Wyzant (good for academic subjects) and TakeLessons.com (good for music, hobbies, and art).

3. Handyman business

Why not monetize your ability to build and fix things? The only upfront expenses are your tools, which you may already have, and marketing costs.

Before you start a handyman service, be sure to get proper licensing, as it will give you credibility and legal protection. As HomeAdvisor advises, if you’re going to be doing HVAC, electrical, remodeling, or plumbing work, having a license is absolutely advised. For work like lawn-care, window cleaning, and trash removal, licensing isn’t necessary.

To get the word out in an affordable way, utilize the power of word-of-mouth among your friends and family, advertise for free on CraigsList, and post signs and business cards around your community. Signing up for membership on a site like Angie’s List may cost a little, but it gives you access to more potential customers and the backing of a reputable company, making it easier to build your brand and expand your business.

4. Driving service

If you like cruising around town in an automobile, why not make a living out of it? If you already have your own vehicle, you can get started right away.

With companies like Uber and Lyft, you can work as an independent contractor and not have to worry about finding clientele. Considering the average Uber driver makes around $30 per hour, you can do alright out there on the road. If you learn some tricks of the game, you can even do much better than alright. The blog, Six Figure Drivers, teaches drivers how to maximize earning by taking advantage of sign up bonuses and referrals and driving during busy nights and holidays, which is when incentives are offered. Also, the guides even show how to use data and analytics to find out where demand for drivers is highest in your town and what routes yield the most profits.

Once you start making good income, you could consider officially starting your own driving business as well. For example, running a party bus service can be lucrative (and fun). Just make sure you have proper licensing and insurance.

Consider all your options

If you think about it, lots of businesses don’t really cost that much to start and you can make money right away. For instance, any of the following services just require a computer and internet connection:

  • Copywriting
  • SEO consulting
  • Social media marketing
  • Web design and development
  • Technical support
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Tax preparation
  • Blogging
  • Photography (need a camera!)
  • Artist

In conclusion, the point is this: Think about your talents, passions, and interests, as well as what can reliably generate income. Be willing to compromise a little at the start — and you’ll be able to get your first business up and running. Then, you’ll be on your way to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur.


The Four Most Useful Apps For Real Estate Agents

As a real estate agent, staying organized can sometimes be extremely difficult. With multiple clients and lots of documents to keep track of it can all get overwhelming very quickly. Luckily, today we have technology that can help us stay organized and make our life easier.


Having a countless number of papers and constantly needing other people’s signatures can be a nuisance. With Docusign, you can access all of your documents in a secure location on any device. It is a fast, simple and secure way to upload documents and send them to a specific recipient. If you need someone to sign the document, you can highlight the required fields they need to fill out. Then, with either your mouse or finger, you can add your actual signature to the document. It is also extremely easy to keep track of all of your documents. If you receive a new document you get an email notification, everyone who has access to the document is alerted when it is finished being filled out and signed by all parties, and all documents are saved electronically for your records. DocuSign works with other apps that you might already use such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and many more.


Real Estate agents deal with a lot of different metrics such as size, weight, volume, length, and even sometimes currency. Vert is an all-in-one converter that makes calculations simple and quick. It has every single unit that you will ever need pre-loaded into the app. Its user-friendly interface makes it simple to accurately calculate any conversion in a matter of seconds.


With Dropbox you can store documents, pictures, videos, etc. in the cloud and access them anywhere. Since it works on basically every device you will never forget a document at home or in the office again. The simple interface allows you to create folders so that all of your documents are in order. Additionally, you are able to share anything in your Dropbox with other people. Instead of trying to find a file on your phone in an email that you can’t locate, you can simply open up Dropbox and find everything to be extremely organized. The app is free for up to 2GB, but they do have premium plans available for purchase.

Cam Scanner

Instead of running to your office or panicky asking a coworker for help if you forgot to scan a file, you can use Cam Scanner to scan documents directly from your mobile device. The scan from your mobile device even looks like a real scan. In addition to scanning documents on the go, you can also store and organize documents on the app.


Five Types of New York City Real Estate You Should Buy Today

Highly transparent and under-leveraged, the New York real estate market is one of the most stable in the world. If you are looking to make a savvy investment, now is a great time to beat rising property values—which are expected to increase by as much as 20 percent over the next three years—to secure real estate that will generate returns for years to come.

Traditionally, investors looked for opportunities in the affluent suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey, but growth in those areas has become stagnate. But today, we look to Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Hudson County, which are areas that are growing rapidly thanks to new job opportunities, especially in healthcare.

Healthcare jobs are growing by five percent per year—twice as fast as finance, the region’s primary economic and population driver—and account for 84 percent of New York City’s total population growth between 2015 and 2016. The rapid growth has increased New York’s population to a record high of 8,550,405 and shows no signs of slowing.

Here are the five most promising investment opportunities in the New York real estate sector to keep up with growth and changing demographics.

1. Apartment Buildings

As high home prices continue to rise and the city’s population continues to grow, a majority of New York residents are being driven into apartment building rentals located in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Hudson County. Therefore, apartment buildings purchased at the right price today can be a very lucrative investment.

Moreover, high proportions of immigrants—40 percent in Hudson County and Brooklyn and 50 percent in Queens—create a large spread of incomes that create all kinds of opportunities for purchasing apartment buildings that cater to different income brackets.

2. Single-family Homes to be converted into Multiple Units

Because home prices are high compared to rents, pure single-family rentals are not likely to be lucrative investments, unless you’re looking to invest in a special area or are driven by other special circumstances. However, the high home prices that are driving people into renting can be lucrative if you’re able to purchase and refashion a single-family home into one featuring multiple units.

3. Retail Stores

Recent population increases in Brooklyn, and especially in Queens, have not been matched by the availability of new stores. In addition, the Bronx is underserved by new stores. Because healthcare jobs are growing and generating lower-, middle-, and higher-tier income across the city, retail stores are a reasonably safe investment.

4. Office Buildings

The same healthcare sector growth that is creating a need for new apartment buildings and stores, is also generating the need for new office space. Although millions of square feet of new office space are already under construction in Queens and Brooklyn, there is presently no indication that demand in those boroughs will slow even as the new planned office towers take shape. In fact, the office booms in these boroughs signal a healthy long-term future for New York’s overall economy.

Office space in Manhattan may also be a good investment, as Manhattan is still the center of the New York office world. Although 20 million additional square feet of office space are being constructed in Manhattan and are expected to be available by 2021, the number of new offices is insufficient to meet the demand from a booming economy. Nevertheless, reports have not accounted for additional space that is to be provided by new World Trade Center Towers, and the future absorption rate for new office space is unclear.

5. Mortgages and Construction Loans

Rising home prices will keep equity rising, too, making mortgages a sound investment. Although there is always some risk of default, that risk is just about average right now because rising home prices are in balance with incomes.

Alternatively, but in the same vein, construction loans will also go up with only an average risk of default, making them another prudent investment. Ingo Winzer, contributor toForbes and president of Local Market Monitor—which has followed real estate dynamics since 1989 in over 300 communities—predicts 45,000 new houses and 70,000 apartments will be constructed in Queens over the next three years. Brooklyn will only see 40,000 new homes constructed, but 110,000 new apartments. The Bronx will likely experience modest new home construction but is expected to grow by 60,000 new apartments.

The idea that New York real estate is out-of-reach for those looking for sound investments may be closer to reach than many would think. The worst thing to do when thinking of buying real estate is to wait — especially in the ever-booming New York City.


What Not to Do: 5 Lessons From Failed Unicorns

The name unicorn — a burgeoning company valued at over $1 billion — turns heads in the business world, but in actuality is far from a guarantee of sustained success, or even survival.

Many companies with the requisite amount of passion, planning and smarts have fallen by the wayside due to hazards, both internal and external. When you run a business, you must constantly learn from the mistakes of others, even those outside of your industry. This is a unique time to build a business, and even though you may not be in the tech sphere like most of these companies, there are real lessons for enterprises of every stripe to learn from, and hopefully, avoid.

1. Don’t overpromise.

Lofty goals are an important thing to have, but your business can’t be based on something you’re not ready to deliver. One of the biggest stories to come out of Silicon Valley last year was the startup Theranos, which promised a quantum leap forward in blood testing technology. Their tests, Theranos claimed, could perform a number of health assessments far beyond what was already possible. People are always eager to find the next big leap in tech, and one tied to the field of healthcare carried extra attraction.

Unfortunately, the facts of the tech didn’t bear out their lofty promises, and the company is facing the ire of investors and even Congress in order to answer for their false promises. It’s not impossible to imagine that Theranos might have been a successful company if not for the blind ambition that led them to overstate what they were truly capable of. Desire is a powerful fuel for any company, but you can’t let it drive you off a cliff.

2. Value your workforce.

The public’s trust is just one of the many intangible assets of your venture whose value can’t be overstated. One slightly more tangible one would be your workforce. Whether a startup with a handful of employees, or a massive conglomerate employing thousands, the people on the payroll are the ones who keep the engine moving, and to abuse them only hurts you.

The coworking spaces run by unicorn startup WeWork (52 locations in 16 cities worldwide), a glittering lure for young businesses, were the subject of some serious labor disputes from cleaners looking to improve their working conditions. The company responded by firing everyone in one fell swoop, showing a drastic misreading of the situation that caused irreparable damage to their image. In the drive to expand, the company sadly neglected to properly value the people who helped make it great, and they continue to pay a heavy PR price.

3. Be realistic.

After receiving huge valuations, it’s understandable that many of these companies have gotten carried away with their optimism. The temptation to spend like you’re already one of the big boys can take you down if you’re not quite at that level yet. Growing realistically and incrementally gives you and your organization the strong foundation necessary to avoid toppling over as you grow. Patience is a virtue, and a lack of it can bring you to the end.

Fuhu was a fast-growing children’s tech outfit which successfully made the leap from software to hardware but went off running a bit too far when their revenue projections outstripped their accounting department’s more realistic estimates. The pressure to meet these predictions was too strong, and new products aimed at bridging the revenue gap flopped, leaving them $100 million in debt to their supplier. After declaring bankruptcy, they were bought out by Mattel at a tiny fraction of their original valuation.

4. Honesty is paramount.

Your customers and clients are the most valuable assets of your company. If you’re not honest with them, you’ll inevitably come to regret it. Just a few years ago, the daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel, two competitors selling a virtually identical product, blasted sports fans with advertisements featuring people who had won huge amounts of money from their services and promising that these riches were well within reach of every user.

The fact, of course, was that a small minority of obsessed players were making the big bucks, while the casual users that the ads were aimed at ended up being taken for a ride. Not only that, but employees were using internal information about playing patterns in order to win money on the competitor’s site, showing a grievous top-down failure to police company culture. Not to mention the negative attention for their pseudo-gambling practice that drew ire from multiple state attorneys general. This fundamentally dishonest business practices gave these companies some astronomical success in the short term, but their influence and reach has dwindled today, less than three years later, to nearly nothing.

5. Get ready for serious competition.

You can have a great idea, but when you’re beginning as a startup, it might not occur to you that you’ve got enormous potential competitors in your future. As you get bigger, you must be ready to confront the entrenched interests that are already in your field. Don’t be surprised when they strike back in a big way.

This lesson was learned by Evernote, famously called “the first dead unicorn” by Business Insider. Their business software products gained them heaps of attention and venture capital, but stagnant growth meant that by the time they were on most people’s radar, their products were already being undercut by new offerings from Google, Microsoft and Apple. Even in tech, where a small organization can establish themselves among the bigger players faster than most industries, name recognition goes a long way, and now Microsoft’s OneNote and Google Docs have overtaken Evernote’s product suite and left them behind.

These companies are, of course, only a small sampling of the many highly-valued firms that have popped up in the past decade. The “unicorn” label doesn’t have to be an albatross for growing businesses to wear around their necks, but it does provide an unwelcome spotlight when they slip up. By not letting your revenue-based dreams interfere with smart business practices, you can ensure you’ll stay alive and relevant, unicorn or not.


The 2 Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for ways to keep my business moving forward. You’ll hear all kinds of advice from those who came before you, some might have a bit of wisdom to them, some might not. For your business to be a true success, your personal attitude is paramount. The approach you take will determine whether you thrive or fail. To that point, there are two vital things you need to remember, the proven ways to help grow your business: be aggressive, and be proactive. If you follow these two guidelines, there’s no limit to where you’ll take yourself and your company.

Be Aggressive

Being aggressive means more than just throwing your weight around and being assertive. It’s about taking on every task before you with the passion and nerve you had when you first started. You’ve heard the old adage about genius being one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration? Business genius functions the same way. Hard work alone isn’t going to guarantee you success, but it’s the baseline that every successful entrepreneur has to start with.

Part of being aggressive is seeking out and adapting to every new development. Whatever your line of business is, there are going to be changes in the industry and if you’re able to adapt to them, you’ll be rewarded. In the real estate business, I’ve been a proponent of integrating solar technology in building projects and the growth in that sector makes me glad that I did. Staying aware of potential new progressions means you’ll always be ahead of the competition.

A great reason to be aggressive is that there’s so much information out there, you’re missing out if you’re not diving headfirst into it. Knowing what’s relevant is the key task, and once you’ve got a hold on that, you’re ready. Never forget that learning is a lifelong process. As Henry Ford, not a stranger to success in business, once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Staying young means always growing, and learning is a key component of keeping that process moving.

My use of the word “aggressive” might be a little off-putting to some, but hear me out. Naturally, you may be concerned about stepping on toes, especially if your business relies on your public perception. But this might not necessarily be the case if you make aggression a key aspect of your strategy. In their book Aggression and Adaptive Functioning: the Bright Side to Bad Behavior, Professors Patricia Hawley and Brian Vaughn write about their research into the study of aggression. What they found was, contrary to popular belief, aggressive behavior is often seen as positive by peers, and improves rather than damages your image. If you’re worried about your image, aggression is an asset, not a liability.

Be Proactive

My second proven strategy is the counterpart to aggression. Harnessing that aggressive energy in a productive way means taking control of your destiny. Being proactive, in a business context, means keeping in control of what’s happening to you and your company. Aggression will drive you forward, but proactivity will keep you focused. Wrangling these two complementary strategies has proven reliable in growing my business, and will work for yours, too.

A proactive company is one that prioritizes strategic planning. This will include setting objectives for yourself and your team, making long-term decisions, and honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. To keep this a regular part of your schedule ensures your business is poised to attack the upcoming year. It’ll also keep everyone on the same page, so you can solve problems collectively. As Warren Buffet said: “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” You’ll reduce risk by having a clear plan of what you and the rest of your company need to accomplish.

Your strategic planning will need to accommodate future obstacles. While they’re unpredictable by nature, part of being proactive is doing your best to anticipate what’s yet to come. Look to the past, and learn from your own experiences and those of others in your industry. Of course there can be completely unforeseeable issues that you can’t plan for, but when you account for the ones you can, you’ll be able to balance your efforts and use everyone’s time efficiently.

The other side of that coin is the ability to take advantage of new opportunities. As the markets are always shifting, they can shift towards your direction if you’re tuned into new movement. As the world around you changes, don’t be afraid to stray slightly from your plan if a new stream of business looks more promising. Stay aware of things to come and you can get a head start on the competition. A proactive leader is ready to start new initiatives if they show promise.

These two strategies, when taken in tandem, will form the basis of any successful venture. There are a great deal of variables in running every kind of company, and how you react to them will determine whether your organization makes it or not. The analyses you make of your industry and your place in it are the key to continuing success. Just keep your priorities in mind, stay focused and don’t be afraid to be bold. A forward thinking approach, taken with a combination of vigor and logic, is the proven way to get ahead in any area of business and life.