‘School dropout’ tradie’s ‘insane’ $110m idea

 

Karl Brown can still remember the last words his career adviser told him when he dropped out of high school.

The teen, who grew up in a "blue collar" area of western Sydney, "wasn't the best" student - and was told by the teacher he was "a bit of a waste of time and would end up in jail or dead" within five years.

"It was probably a little bit of an overassessment on her part, but not much fazed me at that age," he told news.com.au.

"I was used to teachers thinking I wouldn't amount to much, but it probably would have hurt more if it came from someone my own age."

After leaving school just two weeks into year 11, Mr Brown scored himself an apprentice mechanic role.

Instyle Solar has struck a deal with NRL legend Johnathan Thurston. Picture: Facebook/Karl Brown
Instyle Solar has struck a deal with NRL legend Johnathan Thurston. Picture: Facebook/Karl Brown

While he enjoyed the work, it wasn't the right fit, and after a month or so he left to join his father's panel beating business.

But that also wasn't his dream job, and one day, he saw an ad in the paper for a job paying "$900 a week with no experience necessary".

It was a door-to-door sales role, and Mr Brown thrived in the position, soon discovering he had a natural knack and passion for sales.

For years he worked in various roles in the sales industry, quickly moving up the ranks and leading teams of workers far older than himself.

Then, he ended up at a solar company in Queensland - a job that would end up changing not only his career but his entire life.

While he loved the company, he eventually decided he could "do it better" and struck out on his own, launching Instyle Solar with just $2500 in 2014.

Being fairly tech savvy, Mr Brown, who now lives in Brisbane, built his own website, and while the first six months were "pretty tough", he and his business partner Jonah Hicks sold more than $700,000 in solar in that time.

Mr Brown's Ferrari is his ‘pride and joy’.
Mr Brown's Ferrari is his ‘pride and joy’.

Just five years later, the company has hit over $110 million in sales and is expanding nationally through a partnership with US retailer Costco in their Australian stores.

The father-of-two said the company's point of difference was that it clearly explained to people how Instyle Solar could massively cut down their power bills.

He said his background in sales was also one of the major reasons why the company had exploded.

"The real motivation and driver for me is that I know I can walk into a person's property and save them 70 to 80 per cent off their power bills," he said.

"I've got a wife and two kids and I know families are struggling at the moment, so it's awesome to help families on that working class level make savings and, at the same time, do something awesome for the environment.

"I'd like to leave the world in a better place than I found it … so it's a win-win."

Karl Brown (left) pictured with wife Melanie and sons Jayden Wiltshire, 21, and Jeremy Brown, 16.
Karl Brown (left) pictured with wife Melanie and sons Jayden Wiltshire, 21, and Jeremy Brown, 16.

He said while more and more people were trying to be more eco-friendly these days, most of his clients signed up as they simply wanted to save money - and his representatives then "break down the maths" to sell "lower electricity bills" instead of focusing on the technical side of the solar industry, as many of his competitors do.

He said it was "insane" to have built a thriving $110 million company in just a few short years.

"It's nuts to be honest - who thinks they will build something like this, especially someone from where I come from and with my background?" he said.

"It has been a lot of hard work, but I never pictured myself in this position as a high school dropout from western Sydney.

"That has been the most humbling part of it all."

Karl Brown – pictured concreting at the age of 15 – dropped out of school two weeks into Year 11.
Karl Brown – pictured concreting at the age of 15 – dropped out of school two weeks into Year 11.

This year, Mr Brown won the Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Award, was nominated in CEO Magazine's Executive of the Year awards and the Optus My Business Awards, and announced a multi-year ambassadorship with NRL legend Johnathan Thurston.

He now employs more than 100 staff and plans to roll out across the rest of the country and become Australia's top residential solar company.

He said a huge part of his success came down to his wife Melanie's ongoing support and the hardworking Instyle Solar team.


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