Martin Port is a big personality, which is appropriate for the founder of a business called BigChange.
Earlier this year US-based VC Great Hill Partners made a £75m majority investment into his Leeds-based mobile workforce management technology company, which valued it at £100m.
He wants to grow it to become a unicorn and given the fact that the 59-year-old sold his previous business – Masternaut – for £60m in 2011 it would be easy to think that everything has gone well in his life.
However, Port has not only battled dyslexia but also 80% deafness all his life.
His businesses have made him millions but his priorities are his four grown-up children, one of whom has Asperger’s and another has special needs, and his wife Amanda, who he credits with his success.
Today Port is the chairman and ‘chief vision officer’ of BigChange, having swapped the CEO role with the previous chairman Richard Warley.
“Every morning I wake up with a real passion and want to set the world alight,” he says, explaining his motivation. “I love walking the shop floor.”
His life today is a far cry from his struggles at school where his undiagnosed dyslexia was compounded with being 80% deaf.
“Every time I tried to spell a word I spelt it wrong,” he recalls. “The problem with my deafness was the school mixed up my form with my brother Anthony’s so they thought he was deaf and not me.
“I found it tough at school. The only exam I got was a ‘D’ in CSE home economics. I left at 15 and didn’t go back to collect the results.”
Instead the young Port went to New York to work with a friend, who had opened up a German bakery.
“The first year I was there I managed to double the sales of the bakery,” he says.
Buoyed by the experience Port returned to the UK two years later and started his first business called Kroustie, selling pastries and speciality breads.
“I’m not a fast learner,” is how he describes himself. “I’m slow but thorough. I like to take my time to process things but eventually I get it.”
When he had a family he changed direction and became the marketing director of a telematics company and got interest in vehicle tracking.
“I reckoned I could do it my own way so I set up Masternaut in the UK in 2002,” he explains. “I raised £500,000 and built it from scratch. I was selling black boxes with vehicle tracking for companies.
“Masternaut had 80,000 subscribers and 3,500 customers. It was the largest tracking company in Europe and has now been acquired by the tyre company Michelin. We sold that business in 2011 for £60m.”
In 2013 he set up BigChange and has grown it to the point it has 1,700 customers, 50,000 users and operates in 60 sectors.
The company’s field service management technology is the main workflow tool for businesses employing field service technicians and operators, providing job scheduling, customer invoicing and payments automation, mobile workforce management and client engagement.
Clients include Sunbelt Rentals, Silentnight, Recycling Lives, HSS and EDF.
By the time of Great Hill Partners’ investment it had an Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of £12m and a valuation of £100m.
The investment meant that people who invested in BigChange suddenly became millionaires.
“A friend of mine in his 60s invested £50k from his pension into BigChange at the beginning and I phoned him up before the deal was announced to say it was now worth £1.5m,” he remembers with a smile. “It was the best part of the deal. That was the best call to make.”
Port says Boston-based VC Great Hill Partners had been courting them for several years.
“It was a good fit,” he says. “We knew the people and they knew our sector. They were always good to their word.”
As part of Great Hill Partners’ £75m deal, Port received £23m cash and a similar sum which he reinvested via loan notes. He also still owns 22% of the business.
He has four grown-up children, including a son with Asperger’s and another son with special needs.
“The most important thing for me is that they’re taken care of,” he says. “I was brought up in a family that always worked. My wife Amanda is the same. I think my wife is the reason why I’ve been successful.
“We’ve been married 26 years. Her brother and sister are successful entrepreneurs and her father was an entrepreneur. They’ve all brought businesses three or four times over.
“My wife keeps me under control and keeps me grounded. We complement each other.”
Port recently did a job swap with Richard Warley, who joined the business as chairman at the start of 2021 and is now the CEO.
“I recognised I wanted to bring a new team that could lead the business through the next generation and I recognised that I wasn’t the best person to lead the team day-to-day.
“I had a chairman in Richard who was incredibly supportive and I said ‘you would make a better CEO and I would make a better chairman’ so we swapped roles.
“It is our hope that, together, we can help BigChange to reach unicorn status in just a few years. We currently employ over 200 people around the world, and we hope to take that figure to 500 people.”
- Martin Port is speaking at a virtual event on January 31st entitled ‘Tech trends and the investment story in the Leeds City Region’ https://www.techclimbers.co.uk/webinar/tech-trends-investment-story-leeds-city-region-2022?hsLang=en-gb