Sean Borquin is co-founder and CEO of First Light Technologies, a B.C.-based solar light fixture manufacturer.
What has been key to your success?
We make a product that’s better than anything out there. We are a relatively new company, but we have a lot of experience. Our people are familiar with exporting in all of our markets. We have many types of customers and it’s a goal to deliver on solving the lighting problems they face.
We don’t do custom projects, but we have a portfolio of products that solve parking and pedestrian-scale lighting problems.
How would you describe your export success?
Excellent, but we’re just getting started. We have a long way we can go.
What’s the biggest lesson learned in going global?
Having people on the team who have the needed experience. With so many aspects to exporting, like the paperwork, you need to have people who know it all.
What makes you most nervous about exporting these days?
The uncertainty about how things will work out in the U.S. We will just have to wait and see what happens.
What excites you about exporting and where do you see the most opportunities?
It’s exciting to develop a portfolio of products and see people all over the world having good experiences (with the products). Every time one of our lights is installed – more than 10,000 around the globe – it avoids another light being put on the grid. The biggest value in off-grid lighting is that people aren’t digging ditches and running wires, so it saves both time and money.
When and why did you first think about exporting as part of your business?
From the beginning. Solar lighting works best in places with a lot of sun, so exporting has always been an element of the business.
EDC resources to help you export
Describe your export journey that got you where you are today?
It’s been a pretty consistent effort to make sales, build relationships, build trust, gain credibility and validate our lights.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country?
Not really that many differences, as solar lighting has huge potential all around the world. However, there are different requirements for some markets, like Europe, that a free trade agreement doesn’t address, so those barriers still exist and it can make it challenging.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
I wouldn’t say we’ve ever had a bad exporting experience. The most challenging however has been the Middle East. The requirements have been beyond anything we’ve ever seen before – there is just so much paperwork. It reinforces the importance to have a local partner to help you navigate the red tape.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
Some people think exporting is hard, and it’s not really. We’ve tapped into great resources, including government, that are available and that any company can use.
What is one characteristic you believe every exporter should possess?
You have to be tenacious and believe you can find a way to make it happen. You can’t give up, you have to keep going. That’s been key to our success.
Do you have a success ritual, for each sale or each new market?
Anytime we win a deal, we ring a bell and we have a police light. It’s grown to hundreds a year now, but each one is still very important. I also have a map with pins in it and we’re now moving that into Google.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
We started in 2009 after a pretty gnarly economic scenario, so we focused on having everything in place for when things started to improve again.
There’s huge appetite now for sustainability that helps save money. Now, we feel like we have a tailwind behind us, because people are learning more about the industry every day.
People want to be able to put in lighting and not think about it again. They don’t want to be experts, they want their problem solved and that’s our mission.