The Entrepreneur: Erik Fairbairn, POD Point

The electric car charging device founder on bringing a product to market too early and why business owners should be motivated by more than money...

Founder: Erik Fairbairn
Company: POD Point
Website: www.pod-point.com
Description in one line: POD Point enables you to charge your electric car
Previous companies: ecurie25 (now autovivendi)
Turnover: £6.5m
12 month target: £10m

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We provide a POD Point everywhere you park for an hour or more
  • We are building a network of EV charge points across the country
  • We generate revenue from the use of those charge points

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Getting POD Point into the Sunday Times Tech Track list of the 100 fastest growing companies in the UK.

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

I look at four key areas:

  • Sales
  • Key accounts
  • Revenue
  • Network electricity supplied

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

We trade mainly in the UK but 20% of our revenue comes from Norway. We have European expansion planned over the course of this year.

Describe your growth funding path:

I started the business using my own personal savings, and later secured angel investment. In 2014, we raised £1.5m crowdfunding on Seedrs and in 2015 raised £2.2m crowdfunding via Crowdcube. 

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

POD Point is very much a technology company. We rely on real time data in everything we do. From how our network is performing, how many people are charging, how much electricity we are using, to our carbon savings. And it isn’t just data in our products, data is everywhere in POD Point, from analysing our sales to working out who our next team member is.

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

We are aiming for £35m turnover in the next three years. It is a big challenge but, if the market keeps growing like it is, we can do it!

Growth challenges

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

Running POD Point before there were any electric vehicles. We invented our first EV charge point in 2009 and there weren’t really any electric cars until 2012 when the Nissan Leaf first came to market. Those first three years were tough – we were trying to sell a product whose market didn’t yet exist. Looking back, it is amazing how well we did in that period! But it is also a lesson – if you believe in what you are doing – keep at it, and the market will come to you!

What was your biggest business mistake?

Being too early….. We brought our first product to market way before there was any demand for it. We probably should have done something else for a couple of years, and then come back to EV charging!

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

The UK is quite accommodating of growth businesses and I think the country has done a good job of preventing red tape from getting in the way of small business. There are some major wins, like the EIS tax situation which are really enabling the UK’s business builders.

However I would change taxation on cars. The government should make car tax proportional to vehicle emissions, and ramp up heavily for the more polluting vehicles. Not just in year one , but for the life of the vehicle. Then, spend all the additional tax revenue on subsidising and promoting zero emission vehicles.

We need to make highly polluting cars very expensive. Currently, in the world, the cost of using fossil fuels isn’t high enough. We need to build in the cost of the fuel, AND the cost of correcting the problems it makes (global warming etc) into the purchase price.

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

Doing it to make money. You can’t do this. Money isn’t the main motivator.

Start a business because you have a mission, something you believe in, and something which will motivate you for 10 years; something which will change the world. Making money follows that.

How will your market look in three years?

Electric vehicles will be everywhere. They are starting to be common in large cities today but by 2019 you will see them everywhere. We think electric vehicle sales will hit 10% of all new sales by 2020.

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

This isn’t a solo game. Get help, and share the challenges. Start by working out what you are worst at, and give that job to someone else.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

I’m not a big spender, but I do like to make sure I’ve got the latest technology – phone, laptop, tablet etc – I love a bit of technology. The more connected I am, the better.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Both! It is more about a desire to learn which never goes away. The best people are always learning.

What would make you a better leader?

More time to lead! In a growth business, you have to lead, and work simultaneously. I’d like to increase the time I spend leading the team and decrease the time I spend doing tasks!

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

  • Slack…. Tells me what is going on at POD Point in about two seconds!
  • Play Newsstand – Provides a summary of everything in the news which is relevant to me.

Business book:

Wake Up and Sell the Coffee by Martyn Dawes. It is the single most realistic report on the real experience of building an entrepreneurial company in the UK – if you want to know what being an entrepreneur is all about, read this!

I love books – they are a great way to learn. In POD Point, we have a programme called “Leaders are Readers” where we ask staff to read a business book and write a one page report on what they learnt from it to share with everyone.

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