Steve Hubbard and Raymundo de Cojo are the co-owners of Lightenco, a company offering retrofit lighting solutions that help businesses reduce hydro costs and cut down on energy consumption. These self-professed “lighting geeks” design solutions using LED lights, which contain no mercury, emit no UV/IR light, give off less heat than other bulbs and last more than 50,000 hours. In addition to saving businesses a lot of money, Lightenco also ensures the old lights they replace are properly recycled to protect the environment. The company has Canadian operations in Ontario and Québec, and also in Mexico, where it manufactures LED products for public, industrial and commercial use.
Steve and Raymundo are successful entrepreneurs who have launched a start-up through Futurpreneur, so of course we were excited to find out some of their secrets. I interviewed Steve to learn more about his foray into entrepreneurship, and what I heard was a great story about the importance of timing, market awareness and putting the customer at the heart of your business.
It’s all about timing
It all started when the two entrepreneurs were introduced through their wives, who were close friends from the same town in Mexico. Steve and his wife were living in Ottawa at the time, while Raymundo and his wife still lived in Mexico. Little did they know that this introduction would lead to a friendship, and then later to a fruitful business relationship.
In 2008 Steve moved to Ottawa to pursue a career in politics, and, by chance, ended up becoming an entrepreneur instead. After seeing his wife’s experience trying to keep in touch with people back in Mexico while living in Canada, Steve saw a need for an economical long distance calling solution for people living abroad who wanted to keep in close contact with loved ones at home. He started CampusCom, a VoIP phone company aimed at expats and international students.
Shortly afterwards, Raymundo and his wife moved to Canada and Steve saw an opportunity to bring him into the business, which would benefit from his engineering background. The venture enjoyed some success, but after that they were both hooked on the rush that comes from building a business. It wasn’t long before they were on to the next big idea. Raymundo and a fellow engineer from Mexico, Eduardo Vargas, started working on launching a new company that would offer turnkey LED lighting solutions and they asked Steve to join in a sales and marketing capacity. The timing was perfect for such a venture, as the Ontario and Québec governments had launched a series of energy conservation incentives for businesses, creating a new market demand for the solutions Lightenco would provide.
Know your market
Taking stock—and advantage—of developments in the market, such as a government incentive or a trend toward environmental awareness, is the first lesson in good entrepreneurship that we can take away from Lightenco’s success. As Steve advises, “A lot of time should be taken researching your business. Support is offered by many levels of government and private organizations to help you.”
When asked what steps he,Raymundo and Eduardo took to better understand the market, Steve talked about the different resources and partnerships that they found helpful. For one thing, they entered some competitions, which usually involved pitching to a panel, Dragon’s Den-style. They ended up getting a lot of helpful information from the experts on these panels that helped them develop and strengthen their business. For example, they were told that they had a great business model, but they needed to consider how they would ensure its sustainability so it wouldn’t be entirely reliant on government subsidies that could be changed or discontinued.
They also reached out to local organizations such as Invest Ottawa and CDEC in Montréal to find programs that would help them grow the business. Steve also credits their use of co-working spaces as extremely beneficial, surrounding them with a community of independent consultants and entrepreneurs with varied experiences and skill sets. Collaboration is another theme that runs through the Lightenco story, as a solid way to test your business model and learn about your market.
Steve says, “If you’re on your own and can join a community like HUB or CSI, the benefits are considerable. Get involved and meet fellow entrepreneurs to share business ideas and find opportunities to help each other grow.”
Put the customer first
A big part of what makes Steve, Raymundo and Eduardo true entrepreneurs is how their business ideas, from CampusCom to Lightenco, are born from customer need. Rather than setting out to sell a particular product and convince would-be customers that they need it, their approach is to design products that they know customers need and want. They pay close attention to holes in the market and then go to work creating products and services that will provide the perfect solution.
For example, when they created Lightenco to capitalize on the increased interest in LED lighting due to the government incentives, they set out to create turnkey lighting solutions that would truly improve on existing technology. Lightenco products offer customers efficiency, performance and environmental friendliness, a combination that wasn’t being found with other lighting technologies. Together these factors built a strong business case for the success of Lightenco in Canada.
Advice for aspiring start-up founders
“Bootstrap—there’s no need to bite off more than you can chew and every dollar counts. Many fixed costs can be significantly reduced by seeking alternative and sometimes temporary solutions. Modernize—take advantage of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Hootsuite. There are many examples of existing business that fail as a result of not modernizing. Be confident—attitude often outweighs aptitude!”
Written By: Kristin Knapp, Content Copywriter, Futurpreneur Canada