Founded in 2016 by London-based brothers Carlos and Juan Lagrange, Sunlight enables employers to create an engaging learning culture at work by empowering their staff to take ownership of their professional development. Through the platform employers can control how much each team member is allowed to spend across the year, approve requests from their employees on everything from books to online and offline courses and events, and only get charged for what they use, in one monthly invoice. Prior to founding Sunlight, Juan founded Akdemia in 2011, a school management platform focused on improving communication within K-12 schools in South America.
How did your company come to be?
JL: We originally wanted to build a transparent way to invest into anybody’s development. Essentially build a currency that could only be used to improve yourself or anybody else you gave it to. We wanted to enable more focused resource allocation for both public and private. This led us to build Sunlight as the very first step in that journey.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
JL: We had to reduce our size as an organization and focus on becoming profitable as soon as possible as we believed funding would be very difficult. This has worked so far as it’s focused our team’s efforts on the right type of client and value proposition which should in turn enable us to become profitable within the coming few months.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
JL: Our biggest high was when we onboarded one of the best (in my opinion best) design tool companies in the world. It felt like massive validation for what we were trying to achieve and a clear milestone.
Our biggest low was when we lost a key partner we were looking to distribute with due to COVID. It created massive uncertainty and forced much of our team to start working as independent contractors. We managed to group together with other great engineers going through a similar process and ended up forming another software development agency with all those people meaning everyone landed on their feet. However, the uncertainty, long hours and prolonged anxiety was very tough.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JL: We’re shifting how learning budgets are perceived and distributed from a top down approach (where centralized teams decide what are the best resources to spend learning budget on) to a decentralized approach where each employee can decide where they wish to spend their time and budget on. This new way of working is radically different from learning and development budgets have been used.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JL: I would probably focus on larger enterprise type businesses earlier on. At the beginning I was intimidated by working with large organizations: imagining 6-12 month sales cycles, endless integrations, etc. However, I now have a much better understanding of how these work and they’re not as scary as one sometimes thinks they are.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JL: Happy team + Happy clients. Easier said than done but I don’t believe you can ever go wrong if you have a great and satisfied team as well as satisfied and happy clients.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JL: Generally, in books. I’m a fan of the stoics and make sure to read “the daily stoic” everyday as a bite size reminder but am also generally reading a nonfiction book that keeps the creative juices flowing.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JL: Success for us is enabling millions of people to take ownership of their personal development. So much time, effort and money is wasted in initiatives that really don’t move the needle while millions of people would like to be better but might not have the resources to invest the resources themselves.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
JL: Not really. Even as tragic and difficult as COVID has been, history shows us we’ve been through much worse and come out fortified on the other side. I firmly believe this won’t be the exception.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JL: Most people that have built anything of transcendence always say it would have been impossible without their team. I find this to be true. Building our team is one of the most important things I do on a daily basis.
Many places to look for inspiration and actionable advice: Most books from Ryan Holiday (“The Obstacle is the Way”, “Ego is the Enemy”, “Stillness is the Key”), “Team of Teams” by Stanley Mc Chrystal, “Turn the Ship Around” by David Marquet, “Hard Thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
JL: My alarm clock is set at 7am although I’m usually up a little earlier. I usually reserve 2 hours in the morning to get some exercise, breakfast and get ready for my day. COVID has actually helped improve my daily routine as I no longer have to commute. Which means I get two full hours just for me before beginning my day very much energized.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
JL: Our clients are huge motivation for me. Seeing them use what we build and get value from taking ownership of their professional development journey is huge for me.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JL: I’m not much of a “legacy” kind of person and strive to be present. If pressed, I would say I would like to be known for someone that always gave the very best of themselves.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
JL: “The obstacle is the way” which is Ryan Holiday’s book sums up how to get through tough days and situations.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
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