An experienced entrepreneur, Martin Port tells BQ about his career and his third business, a fast-growing mobile employee app scaleup, BigChange.
What is it the company does?
BigChange technology helps companies plan, manage, schedule and track their mobile workforces. We are trusted by over 20,000 mobile workers and back office personnel at more than 800 organisations. The complete JobWatch system combines CRM, job scheduling, mobile workforce apps, vehicle tracking, collaboration and an Uber-style customer booking app.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
I am the founder and CEO of BigChange which provides mobile workforce management technologies to organisations of all sizes. Being a start-up founder often means no two days are the same, it is a dynamic and hugely exciting role. Day-to-day I tend to split my time between talking to customers, motivating the team and ensuring our revolutionary technology remains at the cutting edge. I am constantly trying to think of new and innovative ways that BigChange can improve its service and develop into new markets. I also feel passionate about my responsibility to do my bit for the community, so I dedicate time to supporting a number of charities.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start; how did you move on?
I left school when I was 15 and started working Saturdays at an upmarket menswear shop called Cecil Gee. Next, I moved to a high-end jewellery shop. Then I was a blue coat on the shop floor at Comet, the old electricals chain. That’s when I began working with my father full-time. This was during the Thatcher era, when imports were starting to flood into the UK and factories were stuck with loads of stock they couldn’t sell. This is where I learned the power of market forces, and how the economy can work with you or against you.
In 1989, I launched Kroustie in Leeds, and started making gourmet bread. We grew and grew, until we were supplying bread, patisserie and cakes to restaurants, hotels and delicatessens all over Yorkshire. That business never went bust but it didn’t make much money either. I used to get up at midnight and work 18-hour days. It was relentless. But I just couldn’t get the right kind of scale into the business. I decided to sell Kroustie in 1998. In 2002 I launched Masternaut, which became one of the fastest-growing businesses in the UK and a market leader. Then, five years ago, I started over again when I launched BigChange, which is an all-singing, all-dancing mobile workforce app and job management tool.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
A great leader has a vision, provides a clear sense of direction and looks after their people. Many leaders pay lip service to the importance of looking after their people – but often that’s as far as it goes. It’s easy to say ‘employees are the lifeblood of my business,’ but if you really value your team and want to ensure your employees are happy, healthy and engaged, you need to work at it.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Recruitment. We need to hire three or four dynamic people every month to meet our needs at the moment. We work hard, pay well and the perks and opportunities are terrific, but we aren’t a big business where people can come along, coast through the day and clock off. It takes a very special kind of ambitious, driven person to leave a steady 9-5 to work at a fast-growth scale-up like ours.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Stress is part of my job and I thrive on it. Having said this, you do need to find balance and I manage that by spending quality time with my family and trying to pursue healthy activities. We use this approach across the business by offering gym memberships and arranging family away days for all of our team. As the founder of a company, I work six days a week. It would be seven but I always keep the Sabbath. That means I switch off my phone and my laptop on Friday night and won't be back online till Saturday evening. That's a full 25 hours to devote to my family. It tends to be the only time I really get away from my business and it often gives me the chance to get a new perspective on any challenges I'm facing.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been interested in business. My dad ran an auction business and I’d travel with him all over the UK, seeing him up on the rostrum, commanding the audience. My dad let me have a go selling a few lots. It’s how I learned both the basics and how to be a salesman.
Any pet hates in the workplace?
Yes, mobile phones in meetings. People are always bringing them to meetings and getting distracted by new messages and social media posts. This creates more stress and makes it hard to focus. I’ve initiated a new campaign at BigChange to ban phones from meeting rooms.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We’ve started a revolution in mobile workforce management by making the kind of technology that was once only used by the biggest and best-funded companies available to all. Things are moving so quickly that it is hard to predict precisely how we’ll look in five years time, but we’ve got ambitions to be a £100m company with 150 people working globally and revenues exceeding £30m per year by 2020. We’re achieving that by focussing on innovation, execution and customer service.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Take time to thoroughly evaluate yourself and your business. Every five years, I take time away from the business and work with an external consultancy to do a comprehensive 360-degree review of the company, customer feedback and how things are going. I started doing this at Masternaut, my previous business, and I’ve done it for BigChange this year. It has helped generate some great new ideas. Any entrepreneur who wants to truly understand their business and realise their aspirations needs to do this.
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