“Everything is possible. I'm not taking 'no' for an answer. I stay positive, and I look for solutions until I succeed. I truly believe that many people who have a clear vision of something, if they stay true, it can be achieved.” Such is the unwavering faith, optimism and energy of Timo Karnath, TCK Solar’s Director and Founder, when it comes to getting things done.
Raised in Germany, Timo started his career as an industrial engineer and worked for a solar panel manufacturer, Solon. That provided him with a thorough knowledge of solar energy and its benefits to our planet. While implementing a new Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) software for the whole corporate, he worked with external consultants that somewhat ushered him to the world of entrepreneurship.
“It sparked my interest in people running their show and working at other ones. There was particularly one who shared his story of starting his own business when he was 30 years old. I somehow thought, at that point, that I would like that. Then, of course, I always have lots of ideas I wanted to do, but they remain ideas. When this idea came up, and the opportunity arose, I just took it,” he expounded.
Through that exposure, he found he had the entrepreneurial spirit within him, although it was not something he imbibed from his family since his parents were never business owners. He had a grandfather who was an entrepreneur, but Timo never met him because he passed away before Timo was born.
However, before he crossed over from being an employee to becoming a businessman, Timo had to experience a lot of transitions in his life and learn things by experience as they came along. First, he and his then-girlfriend got married while they were in Germany. Then, five days after their wedding, they made the big move to Australia. When they settled in this new country, they both first worked in an environmental company before Timo decided to start his venture.
Those life changes were never a walk in the park. As immigrants, Timo and his wife had to deal with all the documents and visa requirements. When they arrived in Australia, the first thing they did was buy a camper van and travelled around the country. After three months of doing that, they realised they needed to settle someplace and earn fixed income. With a new environment, new people and new systems, there were hurdles to surpass in trying to make a living.
Good thing that Australia is a country that has helped them through the changes. “I think, overall, Australia made it fairly easy to transition, such as opening bank accounts, and all the other things, which might become an issue. Australia is helping people to make that easy,” Timo declared. Also, his optimism helped them through the adjustments. “Some people find it annoying that everything is different, and you have to learn everything new and find your way. I always found it very exciting to find new ways and see people do it,” he added.
After two years of working for an environmental consultancy, a big break came for Timo to trudge his path in the entrepreneurial space. “Suddenly, there was a whole group of people interested in doing something in the solar industry. That's, of course, my business, doing high-end solar solutions,” he began. But out of the five people who were interested in this endeavour, it came down to only two of them who started the business. At first, they were doing it part-time as they both continued with their respective jobs. Eventually, they went full-time and focused their energies on their enterprise.
Along the way, the business also underwent a few changes. From importing products from Germany to Australia and installing them, they later moved towards wholesaling. Like in any other business landscape, the balance tilted to their advantage and their disadvantage. “We had good years with that, and we had bad years with that. After a few years, our main supplier from overseas allowed too many competitors into the market. It destroyed the margins, the risk got way too big, and the return wasn't enough. We then decided to close down the wholesale side, with a large amount of stock – about over two million dollars’ worth in stock – sitting there at that time. It took us nearly two years to sell off that remaining stock,” Timo revealed.
The time also came for him and his business partner to split paths. “The good news is that we didn't have a single fight over this. We just decided to go our respective ways. So, I took over his half of the business at that time. Since we had closed down successfully the wholesale side, we focused back on the installation side and the energy concepts for our customers. From there, it was all on me to rebuild the business with one focus, and that's what I've been working on very hard for the last two years,” the young engineer cum industrialist explained.
As he walked the entrepreneurial journey, he discerned things others perceived about business owners that were not entirely true. People thought that entrepreneurs like him have total freedom and are rich. “You know what, I have less freedom than being employed. I can't just clock off and go on holiday, then come back and say, ‘whether it worked or not, that's not my problem.’ It is my problem. If I go on holiday and things start falling apart, I pay for it. And I have to tidy up afterwards for weeks and months to bring it back on track,” he iterated.
“You're exposed because you invest your own money. You put your house down as security and whatever else there is to make this happen,” Timo added. Despite having to work round the clock, since he has to deal with suppliers from overseas, he is still passionate about what he does. For him, whether he is working as an employee or running his business, he puts his 100% in all his efforts. But doing things on his own gives him a different kind of energy and excitement because he can carry out his ideas the way he wants it to be.
“What excites me is to push boundaries and find new ways to arrive at new solutions. With that, I create things others haven't done before. I go to customers and share my ideas with them. Most of them take these ideas on board and say, 'That sounds great. Let's give it a go.' Then, I source all the components – I design it, I install it, I commission it, I make it happen. Afterwards, the way my systems work, I've got full control of them. Even years after, I can verify that what I've designed and come up with is working. So, for me, that’s the rewarding bit,” Timo excitedly shared.
Apart from the opportunity to create things and find solutions to problems, another area where Timo gets his energy is the Entrepreneurs Organization, where he is a member of the EO Melbourne chapter for about five years already. “The key ones for me, in general, are the speakers and the events that EO is organising. They fill me with energy every time I go,” he disclosed. Although there could also be less exciting activities at times, he still makes sure that he stays after the event to get some value from that gathering and take home something that he can apply to his business or personal life.
“The first thing that hit me from day one was the discussion on my values, vision, and goals. I never thought about that before. Working on that for years and drilling down on my 'whys' and ‘whats’ – why I do things, what is motivating me, what are the beliefs of the business, what do we stand for -- that helped me a lot,” Timo said. As such, his guiding philosophy in his business is the core values of his venture, which is aiming for nothing but the best, selling only ethical and environmentally beneficial products and services, and providing a hundred percent customer satisfaction.
“Customers being happy is number one for me. If I get a text message from them months later or years later or two days later, saying, 'Your team is fantastic, and your product looks amazing,' that is important and rewarding. I look at those houses, often classified as modern castles, and they can have all the luxury they want. As long as they are carbon neutral, they take the other key part that is driving me, which is helping save this planet,” the man with a mission quipped. Saving the planet is one of his aims, and he wants to make sure that he and his team are all working towards the right direction.
When it comes to the future of the business, Timo has a different path from those that are preoccupied with expansion. His tack is to focus only on one state, which is Victoria, and ensure that he is the best supplier and installer of renewable energy solutions in the area.
“I have more to do. I still need to double the business to create a more stable environment, financially. The solar industry is fluctuating a lot. There are busy times and quiet times. It's very hard to predict when what is happening. We are also involved in lots of building projects. They take years to become a reality. We need to feed the funnel with leads and nurture the leads very heavily. So, yeah, we still need to grow,” he elucidated.
Apart from the industry challenges, there is still a need to educate people about renewable energy. There are those that sell solar panel systems without thorough training or knowledge. Since TCK Solar only provide high-quality products, Timo understands that their price points are not for everyone. Despite these limitations, he already has a map planned out for his business on where he wants to take it in the next few years. He wants to reduce the company’s dependency on him as he prefers to focus more on business development rather than on the day-to-day operations.
When it comes to the personal side of things, Timo and his wife have a 20-year plan laid out, as triggered by EO. “We want to travel around Australia with our kids. We realised that it should happen probably in about two years because school-wise, that's where it fits best. So, that means, in two years’ time, I need to be in a position to be away for three months without having things fall into pieces.”
As to his children, he wants only the best for them. “Growing up, they, of course, saw me how I was working and how demanding the job was. If they want to walk after me, I would tell my kids to find their passion, stay focused and don’t forget to enjoy living. Like EO is promoting, find the right balance between work, family and personal. Only with all of them in sync, we can be truly happy,” he advised.
All these things that he strives to do are for his children, their future, and that of our planet. Even with the realities happening in our environment today, Timo stays positive that we can still do something to find a solution to our ecological problems. “I think there's no alternative but renewable energy. Those who still haven't realised what trouble we are in, as a world, with climate change and everything, will eventually see that there is no plan B. There is no planet B. It's only one. We need to save this one. And renewable energy is the only way we can do that. Now, it will be a very large, strong growing industry, and the products available in that industry will keep developing rapidly to make this happen. There will be a long future in that field,” Timo imparts.
Read more about TCK Solar at http://tcksolar.com.au/.