The Entrepreneur: Mark Roberts, Lightfoot

Founder: Mark Roberts
Company: Lightfoot
Description in one line: Tech business which helps its users to improve how energy efficient their driving is

Founder of Lightfoot, Mark Roberts shares the story of how he went from sleeping on an industrial unit floor to international success, explains why entrepreneurs shouldn't worry about red tape, and more…

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

Lightfoot is the Fitbit for cars. In simple terms, it gives your on-board computer a voice to provide real-time feedback on how efficiently you’re driving. Every engine has its ‘sweet spot’ – Lightfoot shows you where it is, how to stay there, and rewards you for doing so.

We are proud to call ourselves disruptors. Until we came along, fleet drivers were used to having Orwellian black boxes fitted to their vehicles that would track and examine their every move. They were about as popular as the plague.

Lightfoot has changed the game by focusing on the driver, putting them in control of their performance and helping them to benefit personally from their good driving. Big Brother has officially left the building!

With our upcoming consumer launch, we are set to build and reward many more better drivers with prizes like Sonos speakers, track days with Nigel Mansell, and a year’s supply of pies.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

I’d say that creating a product that saves lives and helps reduce our environmental impact rates pretty highly.

If you want something a bit more concrete: passing 100 fleet customers and moving to our new 20,000 square-foot HQ are key milestones. Reaching these highs so quickly feels like a real statement of intent that we are beyond start-up and on our way to greatness.

And if you want something lovey-dovey: working with a team of nearly 60 of the most passionate and dedicated people I’ve ever met is beyond special and is one hell of a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Sales, driver engagement with the Lightfoot app, and cash.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Some of our large UK clients have introduced Lightfoot to their European subsidiaries this year and that ball is going to continue rolling for us.

We will also be launching in the USA soon – this should (famous last words) be bread and butter for us, as our sister company Ashwoods Electric Motors has already enjoyed hugely successful international expansion and we share all of our expertise with each other. That’s the joy of family!

Describe your growth funding path:

Initially, the company was funded through angel investments. Since then, we’ve received government backing, including a recent £1m loan from Innovate UK (the UK’s innovation agency).

This loan was the first of its kind and we couldn’t be happier to have received such strong support from government and industry. We’re also looking to conclude a new funding round this summer. Providing that is successful, the future is looking very exciting for us!

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Our business is technology! …Is that cheating?!

It’s hard to pin down one thing – for our company it’s not one single piece of technology but the wider ecosystem our product thrives in. If I can chicken out of this a little, it’s the engineers behind our technology that make the difference, not the tech itself.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

The aim is to have Lightfoot on millions of vehicle dashboards across Europe and the US. By that time, Lightfoot will be recognised as the global platform that recognises and rewards better drivers. By that time, I want Lightfoot to be seen as a social good, not just a tech company.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Way, way back at the very start of the business, I would commute down to Devon from London every Monday. Cash was so tight I had to cut costs wherever possible – this included swapping hotels for a blow-up mattress on the cold concrete floor of our industrial unit.

Things became a little too real the night I came back to my glamorous digs to find a busted lock on the door and a trail of muddy footprints that ran straight across my pillow… I found a little room in the budget for an upgrade after that.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Back in 2007 I bought in a crate of e-cigarettes from Turkey and tried selling them in London. Having been laughed out of several pubs I decided that they were never going to take off! Still, that crate made a fine dining table to go with my blow-up mattress.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Victim complexes about red tape hampering growth! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – red tape is always going to be around and if you waste your time whining about how you can’t get things done, don’t be surprised when you end up behind on everything!

Work hard and keep on jumping the hurdles, don’t sit on the ground crying about your grazed knee.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Moving on from the last big idea to the next too soon. If you leave jobs half-finished, people quickly lose faith in your ability to deliver.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Ask forgiveness, not permission.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

I decided to treat my kids and ended up buying them a mini electric Land Rover Series II for them to skid around the Devon countryside in.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learning on the job is the only thing I’ve ever known so it has to be that. Pressure changes people and pushes innovation – there’s no formula for making it up as you go along!

What would make you a better leader?

Time, experience, and probably training. If I didn’t have such a good team I’d need to be a better leader, so I’m always thankful they’re here to spare my blushes.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

Everything takes twice as long as you think it will or want it to. Deadlines are about as firm as the paper they’re written on and if you can make peace with that it will do wonders for your stress levels.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

The Train Line for business and Lightfoot for personal.

I think that was me cheating again…

Business book:

It’s got to be Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson. I read it while travelling in 1998 before starting my career and I was inspired by how much fun and adventure there was to be had in building a business.

Plus, if he sees me singing his praises, he might bump me up the waiting list for spaceflight passengers. Now that would be my greatest achievement to date!