Startups Awards Hall of Fame: GoinGreen

The first winner of the Startups Awards Business of the Year title, Keith Johnston reveals how the awards gave his business a vital early boost

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Keith Johnston is the man who put the G-Wiz environmentally-friendly car on the map, effectively kick-starting the electric vehicles market.

Such was the early impact of GoinGreen’s cars the business went on to win 30 awards after taking the Startups Awards Business of the Year and Community Impact titles and was acclaimed by the likes of Prince Charles and Boris Johnson. 

Startups caught up with Johnston to find out what he’s achieved in business in the past 10 years, how GoinGreen has evolved, and what he plans to do next.   

What’s happened in the last 10 years since you entered the Startups Awards?

I am still fully involved in electric vehicles. It is gratifying to see the way the industry is evolving and the number of new electric cars coming to market. I am particularly excited by the new designs and technologies that will be introduced in the next year or two as the market really starts to take off.

GoinGreen continued to sell electric cars throughout the 1990s with more than 1,000 G-Wiz cars sold in London alone, and 4,500 worldwide. However when it became obvious that in order to compete the company needed significantly higher levels of investment and that the rate of growth of the market was slower than industry forecasts, GoinGreen was acquired in 2012 by US group Green Automotive in an all-share deal.

I remain a small shareholder and would describe the sale as an elegant exit rather than a glorious conclusion for the shareholders of GoinGreen. I was fortunate in that a year earlier, a communications agency that I had co-founded in 1994 and led to IPO in 2000 (and retained my shareholding in), was in 2011 sold to the French agency group Publicis for £14.5m. So the last decade has been exciting, even if it didn’t go quite as planned.

For the least three years I have been acting as a consultant to companies in the electric vehicle and electric vehicle supply equipment sectors in Europe and Asia.

What’s been the single biggest highlight for the business since winning?

I suppose the biggest thrill is seeing GoinGreen still trading after a decade of naysayers and challenging times as the electric vehicle market slowly proves itself as the future of mobility.

The Startups award was the first of about 30 accolades during the period 2004 to 2008, so it was a time when we received a lot of critical acclaim.

We had many famous customers and meeting them was always interesting, whilst the encouragement we received from the likes of Prince Charles and Boris Johnson helped immensely.

The biggest highlight though was probably winning a Car of the Year award a few days after being voted Worst Car of the Year by Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear. Or more sensibly, the sale of the business.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next year or so?

Later this year I hope to be launching a new company in the field of electric vehicle charging networks and plan to IPO it within the next five years.

What is different about this company is the business model and the fact that charging will be demand rather than supply led. I can’t say more than that at the moment.

What did winning at the Startups Awards mean to you?

It was our first award and so the first time we had received any formal recognition of what we were doing.

When you are taking on an established industry and trying to change the way a generation thinks and behaves, it’s a wonderful, crazy, challenge and I remember how fantastic we all felt when we won.

It made a huge difference to our confidence and of course the publicity gave the business an extra push just when it was needed.

Why would you recommend entering awards like this?

The Startups Awards give your business the profile and recognition it needs at just the time when it needs it. It’s also a great boost for management, employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, everyone associated with the company in some way.

Everyone wants to think that what they are doing makes a difference and the Startups is a great way of telling you that you are on the right t rack!

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