Martin Port has had a varied career, from selling bread to creating cutting-edge mobile technology. JLife’s Evangeline Spachis spoke to the Leeds-born entrepreneur recently about a life in business and working with The Apprentice 2015 winner.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Leeds. I’m married to Amanda, who is nominated in this year’s Pride Awards. We have four children Ben, Leah, Jo and Josh. As a boy I attended Moortown County Primary School and then spent my teenage years at Allerton Grange.
I’ve always had a strong work ethic, and from the age of 14 I had a weekend job in the menswear department at the Cecil Gee store in Leeds. After leaving school, I spent eight years in the consumer goods dealing with manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, giving me great grounding in business.
Founding Kroustie provided speciality bread to the UK. What made you diversify into food wholesale?
In 1986, a friend of mine opened a gourmet German bakery in New York and New Jersey. I joined him in Jersey City to help him develop the business. I spent every day selling speciality bread wholesale to some of the world’s most famous hotels including the Waldorf Astoria and the Plaza Hotel. We sold authentic German breads, pretzels and sourdoughs. These were highly exotic at the time and were unlike anything you could purchase in the UK.
In 1989, I returned to the UK with a well-baked idea to bring the same gourmet breads to the people of Leeds. I established Kroustie, a wholesale speciality bread and patisserie business. We supplied restaurants, hotels and delicatessens ACROSS Yorkshire. Despite our tiny size we did phenomenally well, and our gourmet rye and pumpernickel loaf went down a storm with customers who were bored with ‘plain old’ sandwich loaves. After eight years of getting up at midnight and working 18-hour days, I decided to sell Kroustie in 1998.
Your career then took another turn…
I saw an opportunity to innovate the embryonic vehicle tracking industry and founded Masternaut in 2002. The business quickly grew into one of the UK’s fastest-growing technology firms. By 2011, we were the number one vehicle tracking company in Europe and our customers included Travis Perkins, National Grid, Anne Summers and Harrods. It was an incredible experience to run such a vibrant, innovative and dynamic business, with a team of super-talented and motivated people.
2009 was also a massive milestone in my career. I was approached by Dell to be a worldwide ambassador for a campaign that celebrated extraordinary entrepreneurs. It was slightly embarrassing to see my face featured on roadside billboards!
Later, I sold Masternaut to Aeroports De Paris, the French Airport operator, and stayed on to continue growing the business before making my ultimate exit in 2011. After taking a very brief break to spend more time with the family, I established my current venture. BigChange in 2012.
What is BigChange?
It is an all-in-one online platform allowing businesses of any size to plan, manage, schedule and track their mobile workforce. Despite most of us all owning a smartphone, there are hundreds of thousands of businesses that still run their businesses with whiteboards and manual paperwork and its holding so many businesses back.
We employ 40 people and have developed the business in the last four years with over 100% growth year-on-year. We work with a diverse range of companies including bed manufacturer Silent Night and even BBC’s The Apprentice 2015 winner, Joseph Valente. We’ve been working with Joseph ever since he received the £250k investment from Lord Sugar and BigChange is the official technology partner for his Impra-Gas business.
As an active member of the Leeds Jewish community, why has keeping hold of your roots been so important?
Strong, healthy and happy communities are essential to the wellbeing of every person and family – and that goes for people coming from any background. Businesses can and do provide high quality employment opportunities and enable families to ‘put food on the table’, but it’s the individual bonds, friendships and personal relationships that are the real glue that holds everything together.
There is something so special about the Jewish community: the rich culture, values and beliefs that we all share. I do believe that as a community, we feel part of something bigger and this gives us the strength to do extraordinary things. I’m so proud of the Leeds Jewish community and the way we support each other when it matters most
What are you most proud of in your career?
My career has enabled me to grow and support a wonderful, loving family. They are the people who make all the hard work worthwhile.
How do you like to relax?
As a family, we enjoy a peaceful Shabbat and this is a time to see family, unwind and catch up on much-needed sleep.
What tips would you give to any young entrepreneurs?
I would advise any aspiring entrepreneurs to gain as much experience as possible before venturing out on their own, for example summer jobs, internships and apprenticeships. Working for someone else, at least for an initial period, provides an invaluable insight into the skills, strategies and winning formulas that are needed to succeed.