Toma Dilė, COO of the PVcase on $100M investment, and the 3x growth of team and revenue: we’re doing something we’ve never done before

April 23, 2024
Toma Dilė, COO of the PVcase on $100M investment, and the 3x growth of team and revenue: we’re doing something we’ve never done before

Toma Dilė, PVcase

To the Lithuanian solar panel system design software startup PVcase, last year was exceptionally successful. The company secured a $100M investment, acquired the most popular GIS platform for solar power in the U.S. – Anderson Optimization, grew its team by 225%, and increased recurring revenue by 206%.

This year PVcase also wasn’t hurting for industry recognition: in March, the startup was included in Financial Times’ annual ranking of Europe’s fastest-growing companies, and in April won one of the most prestigious awards in the energy sector – the BloombergNEF. 

Having joined PVcase when its team consisted of only 15 people, Toma Dilė, its current COO, says that changing one’s mindset is the hardest thing about handling such growth: “Eighteen months ago we were a single-product company, and 90% of our team worked in Lithuania. Today we’re a group composed of several multiple-product companies, and only 50% of our team is in Lithuania. We make all our decisions in light of intercontinental relations, long-term growth, and group efficiency”. 

PVcase has no intention of losing tempo, having the “gorilla” status in its sights. And the lessons it has learned are certainly worthy of attention – apart from last year’s impressive growth, its free cash flow (FCF) has now been positive for 5 years consecutively. The personal story of T. Dilė is no less interesting – having finished her studies in advertising and Lithuanian philology, she now heads one of the most promising Lithuanian energy startups together with a team of managers.

– Even though PVcase has been profitable from day one, last year was truly impressive. How did things look behind the scenes? What’s the situation like today? 

– I’d be lying if I said that it was easy – we’re doing something we’d never done before. For instance, during the last 18 months, our team has grown from 120 to 270 talents, and our recurring revenue went from $16M to $33M. The 3 key factors are as follows: we’re active in the IT, SaaS, and energy sectors, all of which are exploding now; we put together an excellent team, striking a balance between local and global knowledge; and we’ve chosen the right strategic investors who are contributing to our success not only with money, but also with their experience and contacts. The company’s aims have remained stable from year 1 onwards: since we’re operating in the sustainability sector, we must grow sustainably, and develop products that improve the efficiency metrics of our clients’ teams – this helps us stay grounded as we continue growing.

– Tell us more about the products you’re developing. What is PVcase all about? 

– Today we have 4 products, although our growth up to 2022 was achieved on the basis of only one – the PVcase Ground Mount. It’s an AutoCAD plug-in for designing ground-mounted solar plants that enables 3D visualisations and allows users to precisely calculate and correct any lighting or landscape irregularities. Anderson Optimization has brought the Prospect tool for solar site selection into our portfolio. After 2022 we introduced 2 new products: PVcase Roof Mount – an application for designing solar plants to be mounted on the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings, and PVcase Yield – a tool for performing exact project efficiency calculations. Merging all this data into a single platform not only improves our clients’ efficiency metrics and helps them achieve the end result with a minimum of resources, but also reduces data-related risk.

Many companies are focused on profit. For us, on the other hand, profit is the result of the change we’re making in the world. This gives you quite a different feeling, when you think about it.

– Who are your main clients? Where are they from? Do you have any in Lithuania? 

– All our clients are B2B companies that design, buy, and develop solar parks mounted on the roofs of commercial buildings or on the ground. These include: Soltec, Sundt, Ghenova, Iberico Solar, Prodel, CCE Holding, Voltalia, Zimmermann PV-Tracker GmbH, Ohla, Sonnedix, and others. Most of our clients today are from Western Europe (Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, etc.) and the US. We’re active in 80 countries, and this includes clients in Lithuania. Although the war initiated by Russia has increased Eastern Europe’s push for energy independence, its markets are highly dependent on local regulations and the EU, which makes the breakthrough less impressive than might otherwise be expected.

– This is highly relevant – what are the current challenges in the solar energy sector? Where is the sector heading? 

– Challenges are numerous: difficulties with connecting solar plants to the electric grid, the lack of suitable land, equipment, and qualified contractors and employees, delays in the supply chain, US presidential elections, Russia’s war on Ukraine, etc. Nevertheless, we believe that renewable energy is our path to mitigating climate change, as can also be seen from the attention it receives from state institutions. The goal of the European Climate Law is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, while in 2022 the US has allocated $369M to energy security and climate control. According to international projections (BNEF, Solar Power Europe), the sector’s current value will quadruple by 2029. But the truth is that projections are never accurate – growth often turns out to be even faster.

– How could we enable these growth tendencies in Lithuania? 

– Unfortunately, here in Lithuania we lack knowledge on 3 things: solar engineering, B2B growth, and SaaS. That said, the number of solar energy and B2B startups is small not just in Lithuania, but globally. This is for several reasons. The market itself isn’t big and, moreover, you must have a firm grasp of market specifics, i.e., of electric, civil, and mechanical engineering, as you’ll be working alongside engineers. It’s also important to keep in mind that a significant number of these companies are developing internal efficiency tools, which they withhold from the market to secure their competitiveness. 

This is also how PVcase got started – PVcase Ground Mount split off from a business developed by Deividas Trainavičius, our CEO and co-founder. Although many see the solar energy market as being modern, growing, and trendy, it’s actually quite traditional. Most people migrating to solar energy in the US and Western Europe came from the oil industry. It all began with the so-called Green Movement and small departments within companies. For this reason, processes and tools are still very traditional, and often – based on monopoly.

Nothing is for granted – that’s the foundation upon which I started to build my professional values.

– Since you brought up the company’s founding – how did you join PVcase? Is it true that you started out as an HR specialist? 

– I have a bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Lithuanian Philology. Since I loved to read as a child, I thought I should become a journalist. Although, after talking to a few people, I did realise that there might not be any direct connection between the two, I still didn’t want to stray too far from the initial plan. I expected that studies would give me knowledge of both Lithuanian and advertising, but since that didn’t pan out, I did my master’s in Innovation Management. Despite my resume, I never worked exclusively in HR – due to circumstances, I usually worked on IT projects, handled operational matters, etc. 

I first learned about PVcase from an HR job ad on Facebook – information was sparse, all descriptions were in English – and they didn’t even reply to my first inquiries. And yet, I couldn’t get their vision out of my head – fighting climate change by developing software solutions. I was already interested in solar energy at the time. 

Sometimes, Deividas (CEO and co-founder of PVcase – Ed.) and I still remember my early days at the company. As I mentioned, he didn’t even reply to my first inquiries, thinking that I was simply overqualified for the job. When I finally convinced him to interview me, we spoke for 2 hours. But the conversation was quite basic – we discussed things like attitude, values, and work experience. A few days later, I was invited to join the team. Then, after saying yes, I immediately quipped, but only half-jokingly: we won’t be hiring people this quickly anymore – we need to consider their knowledge of English, as well as their qualifications and skills. Regardless, I still love working at PVcase to this day – Deividas is an expert at letting us know what he expects from the organisation very clearly, and then I start implementing his vision. I started working in HR, but since we’re talking about an early-stage startup, I soon turned to operational matters. Today, I remain at PVcase due to a very clear aim – to empower other companies to transition to renewable energy more quickly, thereby fighting climate change. Many companies are focused on profit. For us, on the other hand, profit is the result of the change we’re making in the world. This gives you quite a different feeling, when you think about it.

– Based on your own professional experience, what should aspiring startup employees know in advance? 

– If you’re joining a startup with up to 100 people, expect the scope of your responsibilities to change at least 20 times within 5 years. You must understand and accept the dynamic nature of your job. If you’re motivated, you’ll learn. It’s natural to want peace and safety – a stable wage and daily routine, but startups are the opposite of that. For instance, the proposal you make today may be rejected, and then implemented 3 months later, because, meanwhile, the company has matured and now sees it as suitable. 

Personally, I take the view that employees must do what the organisation requires, not what they want to do themselves. A balance is, of course, ideal, yet there’ll always be non- negotiable tasks necessary for securing a better future for the company and yourself. Startups are always looking for people with a sense of ownership, as sometimes the organisation doesn’t have anyone who knows how to do X. Your responsibility is to become this person – to look at change positively and flexibly, and focus on solutions, not problems.

Lithuania is on the right track, but some of the required changes are slow in coming.

– What other key principles do you follow in your personal and professional lives?

– I was lucky to have had excellent mentors, and to be surrounded by good people. Sometimes, even a brief chat over coffee can make an impression that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. For instance, when I was 19, I belonged to an NGO, and was deeply hurt when they didn’t elect me as president. My mind was racing: “How could they’ve done this?”, “What a mistake they’ve just made!”. Darius Montvila, rest his soul, spent 2 hours talking to me and made perfect sense of the situation so quickly that I still remember his words: “If they didn’t elect you, it means you weren’t deserving of that. No sense in crying about it. Take it as a lesson that you should try harder. If you think you’re super amazing – prove it with actions, don’t just sit here and complain about how someone else made a mistake”. Nothing is for granted – that’s the foundation upon which I started to build my professional values and, perhaps, even the source of my love for energy – Darius was a former CEO of Ignitis after all. 

Now I always recommend people to look at the big picture when it comes to specific situations, whether at work or in life. Sometimes you’ll have to make decisions that are unpleasant and uncomfortable in the short run – to fire an employee, close down a department or recall a multi-million dollar project because it’ll be for the better long-term. You give your time and knowledge, and in return you get experience, money, and a shot at self- realisation. And this has to be important specifically to you – at the end of the day, you should be proud of yourself for having remained loyal to yourself and your values. It’s also a good idea to always assume that you’re ignorant about, or incapable of, something, because then you’ll actually hear the people around you and perceive the situation clearly. So, listen and ask questions. If I don’t know something, I just ask. You must remain humble, unconceited, and respectful.

– You have a fascinating hobby – skydiving. Can you tell us about it? How do you let off steam or recharge for work? How do you spend your time off? 

– Firstly, I have a wonderful partner, and when your home is at peace, and your family knows how seriously you take your job, life becomes easier – dozens of times over. I agree with the idea that there is no time, only priorities – it all comes down to a decision. For instance, I try never to compromise on sleep and quality food. And if I manage to get some exercise during the week – perfect. Regarding my hobbies, one is very simple – I like to watch birds outside my window and read books while sipping on herbal tea. And yes, the second one is skydiving. Contrary to stereotypes, though, it’s all about safety – compared to other extreme sports, accidents are very rare. Freefall and the adrenaline that floods your body as a result are incredibly enjoyable. Most importantly, however, is the psychological battle that always takes place against your own instincts. By doing this, you learn a lot about yourself and find answers to many questions. Some days, I can muster 8 jumps, while on others – not even one within 8 hours. But from the moment you arrive at the skydiving zone until you get back, you can’t allow yourself to think about anything else.

– To go back to business – how do you see the future of PVcase? What long-term trends do you see in the startup world? What should we be paying attention to? 

– When measuring a startup’s success, we prefer the concept of “gorilla” to “unicorn”. In business, “gorilla” means a profitable startup valued at +$1B and generating +$100M in net revenue. Although internally we’ve already set our expectations regarding how soon we might become a “gorilla”, we don’t share any dates publicly – we’re assessing all circumstances and solution costs. For instance, we decided not to look for opportunities for selling our products to Chinese businesses, at least not consistently, even though China is a major energy market. In other words, we’re consciously throttling growth just to uphold our values. 

The market has changed – if, a few years ago, growth was the focus, regardless of other financial indicators, now the growth of FCF and recurring revenue are equivalent. What does this suggest? That sustainable business is becoming a priority – investors are now prioritising a positive balance. Talking about long-term treds, however, is difficult. We’re only looking about 6-12 months into the future, as frequent market changes preclude long-term planning.

– You’ve noticed that, for startups, Lithuania’s legal framework is a far cry from Western standards. What best practices could we adopt to multiply startups and unicorns here, and make Lithuania the best country for them? 

– Lithuania is on the right track, but some of the required changes are slow in coming. And business can’t overhaul everything by itself – it must come from the education system and then ramify across institutions. Are we really prioritising the creation of high added value? For instance, why are schools still aggrandising those who sing, dance, or read a lot? While significant, are these skills really the most important? I’d say, we pay too much attention to them at school – all to the detriment of IT, engineering, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, etc. 

We should overhaul our educational programmes, focusing on interdisciplinary and life skills: from financial, business, or legal literacy, and programming to conflict management and time planning. Why are technologies still not an integral part of these programmes? Students, if they were to learn programming, data analysis, AI, and other key technology skills, would gain the tools they need to flourish in a tech-based ecosystem. Another key aspect – flexibility and speed in implementing changes. 

Regarding the improvement of the business environment, I’d prioritise issues related to double citizenship, a competitive framework for issuing options, a legal system favourable to startups, and facilitating the visa process for foreigners. These would help us attract world-class specialists and investors who would bring their experience and knowledge to Lithuania.


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