NovoaGlobal Uses Innovation to Help Communities Protect Lives
Carlos Löfstedt is the CEO and President of NovoaGlobal, which is based in Orlando. This article is one in a series based on interviews with honorees of the GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch. For information, visit www.GrowFl.com.
Talk about how the company was started.
Very early in life, my dream was to become a CEO and business owner. I studied in Sweden for a Master’s in Science in industrial engineering and management, which is a combination of engineering, economics, and management. Many people who go that route in education end up as CEOs.
After my studies, I started working at a company where I had the privilege to be part of the inception of Vision Zero and to introduce traffic safety solutions to more than 20 countries. I was looking into starting a new subsidiary of this company in the United States.
The strategy was different for the U.S. because it’s such a big country and the way of doing business is a little bit different. We’re talking about traffic enforcement — speed cameras, red light cameras, and railroad crossing, stop sign and crosswalk enforcement equipment for automating police work. In some countries, such as Sweden, this kind of business is centralized. The country buys the equipment and then manages the project. In the U.S., it’s different. You sign the contract with the government entity and then your company has to do most of the work including engineering, installation, studies, public relations, and setting up of payment systems. It’s veryabor-intensive.
The board of directors at that company didn’t approve the investment and the risks that were required. So, I ended up financing the new company myself, and that’s how I started NovoaGlobal in 2010.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I was born in Chile, but I moved to Sweden when I was 12 because my parents had separated and my mother had married a Swedish gentleman. I stayed close with my father, who was an entrepreneur. He had a clothing company that manufactured pants and jeans.
From when I was a child, my father always told me that I should try to be independent. I always wanted to become a CEO and ultimately own my own business. My father gave me some advice that I have taken with me all my life: It is not important what position you have, how much you work or how much you get paid. The important thing is how much you learn. Take every opportunity you can and learn as much as possible.
I’ve lived and worked following my father’s advice. I followed this advice first in my education and after that in my work experience. So by the time I started my company, I had the experience to navigate all areas of a business.
Tell us about your business and the value it brings your customers.
The vision of our company is to create safer communities for our families. We do this by providing technology to automate the work to be more efficient. We focus mainly on traffic safety and public safety. We do our best to combat accidents that lead to more than 1.3 million deaths every year and more than 50 million non-fatal traffic injuries. In the United States alone, more than 40,000 people die every year in traffic accidents.
The challenge in the U.S. is that instead of operating like a single country, it works more like a federation, with each state having different laws, and people are very independent in their way of thinking. We’re all human beings and we have biological limitations. Getting into crashes at certain speeds is going to have different consequences. So the way to lower the risk is by decreasing the speed and certain kinds of offenses to minimize the consequences of a crash.
What is your company’s competitive edge? What makes you different?
We compete with companies that are extremely large, much larger than we are. Most of them are traded on the stock exchange. We’re a smaller player, but we have advantages.
We provide a very high service level. Anyone can call our customers and hear raving reviews about us, and that has to do with the service we maintain with our customers.
We are innovators and are always creating new solutions. The bigger companies are focused on their core business and what makes the most money, but we have developed applications that go with our other products and enhance safety, educate people and save lives.
We are also known to have exceptional picture and video quality. In addition, we have managed to outperform the largest companies in the market in system performance.
Explain the culture of your organization. What is it like working at your company?
We have 15 team members and about 25 people who work with the company indirectly. We are still a small company, so to work with us you need to be a team player and be willing to wear multiple hats if needed.
Describe some major challenges you’ve found in growing your business. How did you overcome or solve them? What kinds of challenges do you foresee in the next three years?
There have been many challenges. Initially, the challenge was how to manage the cash flow and financing of the business and operations. I moved over to the U.S. without thinking it over. I quit my job and I was new to the U.S., so I didn’t obtain any loans in the U.S. or in Sweden. I used my savings to run the business at the beginning.
That was a big challenge, especially for this type of business, because the burn rate was high for the level of people the company needed to have. That kept me awake many nights.
My goal was to have a turnkey operation, with long-term contracts that would make us financially stable, but I started by selling products. The first year we mainly sold technology systems in order to finance what I could not finance myself in the form of a turnkey business. Over the years, we have grown to more than 95% turnkey revenue.
Today we have no debt. And we have been profitable since the very first year.
The biggest challenges with our growth will surely be employees and organization structure. The biggest challenge to get there is to increase our contracts and sales.
Looking ahead, what are your goals? Where do you hope to see your business in the coming years?
I measure a successful business if:
A) You are profitable.
B) Your customers rave about you.
C) You develop and change.
D) You grow.
E) You enjoy what you do.
F) You make a difference.
Today, we fill in all the boxes. I just want the company to grow even more and be able to continue to make a difference by saving lives and keeping families safe. But from that growth, I don’t want to jeopardize any of the other key points.
What is your proudest moment as CEO?
My proudest moment was when we were awarded an eight-figure contract with our U.S. capital, Washington D.C. It was quite an achievement. Today, we have served the District of Columbia for more than a decade.
Is there anyone in particular you’d like to thank?
To be a CEO and business owner is very lonely. You need to be careful who you trust and what interests they have. Having a mentor is important because you need people who are selfless, and that is sometimes difficult to find. For me, one of the most important people has been someone I call my mentor, Anders Norling, my old CEO in Sweden. I also have to thank Magnus Johansson, our development director. And Markus Hemstrom, our operations director, has been a great asset and support over all these years.
What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or business owners?
My advice is nothing you have not heard before, and I don’t have a silver bullet. You need to work hard and to learn as much as possible to be able to navigate all the difficulties that will come up. When I say learn, I mean to learn all sides of a business so you can avoid having to hire people for everything and so you can overcome problems.Whatever you imagine, there are going to be more obstacles than expected. You need to be willing to work very hard and give up other things in life, at least until you reach your goals. I’m a workaholic, so many times I need to stop myself. For that reason, having clear goals will help you understand when you’ve done enough. You have only one life, so you also need to give time to the things you love in life other than work