Small Business: Solar company Lightforce hiring staff monthly to keep up with demand

Former electrician Luke Nutting, founder of energy company Lightforce, talks about an influx in business over the past year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and taking on an additional five staff each month to meet growing demand for solar.

What does your business do?

Lightforce is an end-to-end solar and power business that installs solar systems into people’s homes and businesses. That’s everything from the regeneration sales team, engineers, installers, through to support and monitoring; everything is in-house, all under the same roof. With the power side of things, at the same time we switch our customers on to Lightforce power and excess energy that comes off the roof from the solar system we trade that round the country giving people access to cleaner, cheaper power.

Lightforce started in 2014, in Auckland, but we now have branches in Kerikeri, Waikato, Nelson, and are just setting up in Christchurch and Queenstown.

What was the motivation for starting the business?

I was originally an electrician by trade and I came from the UK where solar was a big part of the infrastructure back there and there had been government grants and solar was booming, and when I arrived in New Zealand there were only a couple of hundred systems here, it wasn’t a big thing, so I got into it knowing it was coming. We have some of the highest power pricing in the world, in New Zealand, and being able to give people access to cleaner, cheaper power was the idea.

How big is the team?

Today we are a team of about 75 based all around the country. We’ll likely be at 150 staff by the end of the year as we are expanding to keep up with demand. We’re generally taking on about five people a month at the moment and as we expand further into the regions and open up new branches we will require more installers, sales staff and managers.

How did you fund your business?

It was originally funded on the smell of an oily rag, going from one job to the next. I started it with about $500 in the bank, and then as we grew and grew and grew it was all self-funded until about 12 months ago when we went to market and raised millions of dollars of capital and sold off a part of the business to an investor, who is now involved in the business.

What are your long-term plans?

Our long-term plans are to become the country’s biggest re-sub generator so that every time we put a system on a roof it’s helping with regeneration that we trade all around the country, helping build a pool that we are homeowners can trade. We want to be a $100 million-plus business in three years’ time and worth north of $500m in five to 10 years.

How has Covid-19 impacted the business?

We have experienced a sudden surge in demand. With interest rates so low and keeping money in the bank is no longer viable, people are investing in solar where they are able to see a return of 10-20 per cent by putting a solar system on their roof, it’s pretty rare to find an investment that will return like that, so all of a sudden solar has become a compelling investment. People are taking their money out of the bank and putting it on their roof. A solar system with no battery costs about $10,000 and with a battery, about $20,000.

With the borders closed and people no longer able to spend money on travel we have noticed an increase in interest in having solar installed.

What are you focused on for the next three months?

My focus is to follow our business plan and making sure that we have the right people on board to make sure we are heading in the right direction, and that we’re all collectively working together even though we’re not all together in the same building. We want a nationwide footprint to achieve the target that we have set out to achieve.

What advice do you give others who want to start their own business?

Don’t be too scared to ask for help. Surround yourself with other successful business people that you could lean to or ask tricky questions to. Being a business owner can be pretty lonely and stressful at times, but as the business starts to grow and you go from a small to medium business with 20 or 30 people, where everyone is wearing multiple hats, to a bigger business where there is more structure and management, then things do become easier to manage. Anyone who tells you that you will make any money in the first few years is lying.

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