First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Leif Elgethun: We’re blessed to be weathering this challenge with good health and spirits.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Retrolux.
Leif Elgethun: I’m an engineer by trade and entrepreneur by choice that’s focused my career on solving big problems around sustainability, climate, and in particular clean energy. I started my career as a practising engineer designing buildings and other infrastructure before starting my first company to help farmers and business owners learn how they could save energy and money with clean energy solutions that also positively impact our environment. I started Retrolux to scale the software systems and knowhow I learned from developing, designing, selling, and installing countless clean energy solutions like solar and LED lighting. My mission is to accelerate the adoption of clean energy solutions in buildings and keep more fossil fuels in the ground.
How does Retrolux innovate?
Leif Elgethun: We believe innovation is intentional, metrics-driven, and strategic and embed innovation in every facet of our company culture. We challenge the sales and support teams to be just as innovative in solving their problems as our product and development teams and work hard to get tons of cross-contamination between the teams so best practices and aha moments ripple throughout the organization. We also celebrate innovation when it works, and when it doesn’t, so our team feels empowered to take risks and accept failure as part of the process. We never hold individuals accountable for experiments that don’t work out and instead focus on what we can learn from our mistakes and losses.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Leif Elgethun: The pandemic has hit our industry pretty hard, and that has extended to our business. Overall, our industry is down around 20% this year with next year projected to be about the same which has resulted in some of the customers going out of business, cutting back expenditures, and delaying start dates. The good news is we’ve hit bottom and are back into growth mode and finding new opportunities in our market to provide more value to our customers. Our company culture is built on resiliency, so we focused on how we could collectively overcome the challenges in front of us and come together as a closer team. We also identified a new customer need and spun out an entirely new company called SafeAccess to help people get back to work and school safely and with confidence. SafeAccess now has over 120,000 registered users and is growing like wildfire.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Leif Elgethun: We had to make some difficult choices to cut costs which impacted our team’s compensation and other perks. However, we worked together to ensure we prioritized each team member’s needs and all pulled together to make it through the tight spot. The big lesson learned was to act fast, prioritize your team, and be open about the challenges and options to overcome. I couldn’t be prouder of our team for both their focus on execution in the face of tough times and their willingness to prioritize team over the individual.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Retrolux in the future?
Leif Elgethun: I deal with stress and anxiety much better the older I get through a combination of exercise, rest, eating healthy, and not procrastinating.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Leif Elgethun: Our competitors are other clean energy software companies, and we’re bullish on our current strategy to focus, focus, focus on our customers’ needs first and our team that’s delivering for our customers every day second.
Your final thoughts?
Leif Elgethun: It’s cliché to say that every challenge brings opportunities, but I think that mindset provides fertile ground for overcoming stress, anxiety, and sadness when we all are facing extreme challenges in our personal, professional, or community lives. I’d augment that cliché with the need to focus on finding opportunities that you realistically can achieve that can make a positive impact on the world and the ones you care most about. That special intersection of opportunity, passion, focus, and expertise is where the innovation magic lives, and we’re thrilled to be playing in that space at Retrolux.
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