A Slice on Leif Elgethun, Founder and CEO of Retrolux
Leif Elgethun found himself on the entrepreneurship path after experiencing not one, but two layoffs due to the 2008 economic downturn. After the second instance, he thought to himself, “You know what, if I’m gonna have the uncertainty of having a job and not being able to keep it, I will start my own company or at least be at my own mercy.” Several companies later, Elgethun started working on Retrolux in 2012, a lighting and energy retrofit software used for audits, design and proposals. Retrolux is currently in its seed-stage of funding having raised $700k.
Rewinding back to his college years, Elgethun was originally planning for a career in chemical engineering because it combined three of his interests: chemistry, math and problem-solving. The one thing missing? Sustainability. It was too late to change courses in college, but after graduating, Elgethun found himself helping a friend build houses. Here he found a new passion and decided to return to school to get his Master’s in Engineering, with a focus on clean energy and management so he could start his first business.
In order to start his own company and “breathe life” into it while in school, Elgethun had to be resourceful, taking out student loans (to afford that ramen lifestyle). Though it was risky, Elgethun was working towards a future in which he could do what he wanted to do. He describes the layoffs and taking on debt as the “nudge from chance” that pushed him in the right direction to chase his dreams. Without experiencing those hardships, Elgethun wouldn’t be where he is today.
Back when he started Retrolux in 2012, there weren’t many resources for startups in Idaho, but he was able to seek out and find mentorship from other entrepreneurs. Throughout his journey founding multiple companies in Boise, Idaho, Elgethun has seen significant growth of the startup community there. Finding capital was another story, Elgethun notes that while there were some angel investors at the time, there was still relatively little deal flow. However, interest in this Rocky Mountain town has grown, now with more resources such as accelerators, programs at the university and larger companies relocating and bringing attention.
Though Elgethun has been able to make those connections and fundraise for Retrolux, it was not without monetary risk. “I personally ran my bank account out of cash and had all my credit cards maxed out more times than I’d like to admit. I think there were three times when the company should have failed. Bank accounts in the red, no clear line of sight on revenue or investment that’s going to make up the difference and help us stay alive.” Elgethun pushed through those hardships by taking a step back and thinking, “I’ve got a limited amount of time and a very limited amount of resources. I’ve only got one shot. Where am I going to take it?”
Elgethun believes his natural problem-solving abilities have helped in continuously learning and identifying problems to address in order to keep growing. Pulling from his own experience navigating a challenging journey, he tells other entrepreneurs, “You never know when you’re on the up, and you never know what the bottom is going to be. Just keep trying to believe what you’re doing is important… There’s no such thing as a guaranteed paycheck, why not go out there, chase your dream and take that risk on yourself.”
Elgethun is motivated by climate change and the impact he can have as an entrepreneur. The “North Star” milestone of Retrolux is to “utilize and scale software to drive the transition to a carbon neutral future.” The ultimate goal Elgethun has for himself is to “reduce human suffering” through his work with Retrolux combating climate change, which he describes as being the “biggest challenge facing our planet and our people.”
Leif Elgethun is an engineer and serial entrepreneur based in Boise, Idaho. He’s passionate about using his skills to make a positive impact on the world, through clean energy. His ventures include Intermountain Energy Partners, Safe Access, and Retrolux. Connect with Elgethun on LinkedIn.