By SETH MASIA
seth masia ( email@example.com) is deputy editor
of SOLAR TODA Y.
Copyright © 2011 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
In February, California’s SolarCity purchased the residential-installation part of the blossoming, Vermont-based groSolar. The acquisition put SolarCity solidly into the Northeast market and made it the largest integrator of photovoltaic systems on the continent. One would normally associate this kind of market penetration with a large corporation. In fact,
SolarCity is a family-run company, the creation of two brainy South African brothers and their brainy
cousin. Because their mothers are identical twins, it might be said that genetically, they’re closer than
cousins — more like half-siblings.
The family story begins with Joshua Haldeman, D.C., a Minnesota native who became a prominent
chiropractor in Regina, Saskatchewan. Haldeman was also an accomplished pilot, and when, in 1950, he
moved his young family to Pretoria, South Africa, he packed along not only his two-year-old twin daughters
but his single-engine Bellanca. Haldeman flew the plane as far afield as Norway and Australia, and spent
hundreds of hours air-searching the Kalahari Desert for signs of lost cities.
Meanwhile the twins Maye and Kaye grew up, married and
launched careers in modeling, nutrition counseling and cosmetic sales. Maye’s kids were Elon, Kimbal and Tosca Musk.
Kaye produced Russell, Peter, Lyndon and Almeda Rive.
The older boys all gravitated to computers, and to Silicon
Valley by way of North American colleges and grad schools. In
1995, Elon and Kimbal founded Zip2, an elaborate database of
businesses and services used to create content for newspaper
websites. Russell worked for them. In 1999 Zip2 was sold to
Compaq’s Altavista division for about $350 million in cash
and stock. Elon used his share to launch x.com, which evolved
into PayPal, which was sold to eBay late in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Elon went on to found Tesla and Space-X, which now
markets private satellite-launch services to clients as significant
While all this was going on, Peter attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and young Lyndon attended high
school back in Pretoria. In his final year, Lyndon took on distribution for a line of organic cosmetics his mother was selling,
and within a few months had a thriving business. Not yet out of
high school, he’d earned more than his first million and taught
himself the essentials of marketing, sales and distribution logistics. The high school excused him from classes and let him sit
for final exams, which he passed. He was also swimming for
South Africa’s national underwater hockey team, and visited
San Jose for the World Championships in 1998.
The following year, Lyndon and Russell founded Everdream. Peter joined them later. The company offered a turnkey solution to running distributed data networks, focused
on corporations running a few applications on thousands of
computers, at hundreds of locations. Key clients were FedEx,
UPS and a number of airlines. Elon came in as an investor in
the fourth round of venture capital financing.
Lyndon recalls the seven years at Everdream as a slog. The
partners barely weathered the dot-com crash of 2000, and had
to rebuild. Like a lot of family businesses, there was an outside
guy, Lyndon, specializing in sales, marketing and investor relations, and an inside guy, Peter, specializing in operations, production and fulfillment. “We’re athletes, though, and we tend
to think of ourselves as offense and defense,” notes Lyndon,
who as the outside guy naturally handles press relations. “I
make the promises, Peter keeps them.”
Peter and Lyndon Rive in SolarCity’s offices in San Jose, Calif.