Can this small start-up convince Britain to go green?

Bulb Energy was named UK Business Of The Year at the 2017 Start-up Awards. Its offering is simple; one tariff — 100% renewable electricity and 10% renewable gas — at a lower price than fossil fuel alternatives.

It has doubled in size since August and now has over 300,000 members, who rate it the top electricity supplier on Trust Pilot. Its 85 employees (up from 20 in May 2017) now occupy the top floor of Second Home in Spitalfields.

I’m a big fan of Bulb and have persuaded lots of my friends to sign up. I was keen to understand what it is like to run a fast-growing, purpose-driven start-up, so I met Hayden Wood, co-founder and CEO, to ask…

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What has been good, what has been bad and what has really surprised you about being CEO of Bulb?

It’s a massive privilege to be part of Bulb and I think the thing that has really surprised me has been how it has adapted and changed over the last two and a half years. How the little kernel of an idea that Amit Gudka [his co-founder] and I had back in 2014 has now blossomed into what we have today. But then looking at where we are today, it is just the beginning of what it could be in the next few years.

On a personal level it’s just such a challenge. I’ve obviously never done this job before; I’m constantly trying to learn and do things differently, develop skills and keep up with what is required of me in this role and that is really, really hard. There’s not much training out there so it’s a lot of learning by experience. Whilst that is stressful it’s also fascinating trying to learn how to do that.

Any tips from your experience so far for others tempted to start something?

Don’t underestimate how generous people are with advice. There’s a whole start-up community in London full of very generous people, people willing to share their experiences so you can fast-forward your learning.

And stay true to some of your original principles — for Bulb that means constantly thinking about your customer; constantly try and solve a real problem they have.

Honestly, it feels a bit odd giving advice given how junior we are as a company!

What has been your experience of impact investors [investors looking for social/environmental benefit as well as a financial return]?

You obviously require quite a bit of capital to start an energy company. We’ve had two rounds of funding — the first one was friends and family; the second one was mainly from angel investors [individuals who invest at an early stage]. In the second round we did speak to impact investors and were working with Clearly So and Tribe.

We do have some angel investors through those organisations, but the main reason people invested in Bulb is because of the business. It is a fast-growing, efficient business that has a strong product, strong service for its customers and a strong track record. But I think that is what an impact investor should do — they’re not making a charitable donation, they are looking to invest in solid businesses.

The biggest area where having a purpose and helping to solve a really important problem is beneficial is with the amazing people we are able to attract. We receive so many applications from so many wonderful candidates and I think one of the main reasons for that is the impact that we have [Bulb is a B Corp, Living Wage Employer and all its employees are given share options in the company].

Can you say truly that every new person who signs up to Bulb is adding new renewables to the UK grid? Is it that simple or does the way the energy market works in the UK make such a claim difficult?

Yes, it is! The easiest way to imagine that is to ask what would happen if 28 million homes in the UK switched to Bulb? If that happened, in order for Bulb to be providing 100% renewable electricity to all its members we would have to install 2.5x as much renewable capacity as the whole of the UK has today in order for us to keep that promise.

If the whole country switched to us then we would have to go out and find that generation. We couldn’t do that overnight but these things don’t happen overnight.

We also want to help our members reduce their usage. The greenest unit of energy is the one you don’t use. There are simple things you can do about that today: helping your members understand how their thermostat works, encouraging them to install LED bulbs.

And then there are more complicated things — we are excited about what we’ll be able to do with smart meters in the near future. Further down the line there will be batteries, electric vehicles — there’s a lot of opportunity for a technology-led, progressive energy supplier to begin encouraging its members to reduce their carbon emissions.

It is really exciting because the UK is a world leader in energy. If we can do something really great here, we are just a small island but it could be replicated in other countries as well and that would be really positive.

You have now got 300,000 members who care about green energy; many environmental campaigns never get near that level. What do you plan to do with that community?

What we are trying to do is to get people to make one move, one step. Switching to renewable energy is probably the easiest and biggest impact thing you can do to reduce your overall footprint. I can’t think of anything out there that you can spend 3 minutes doing and save yourself £250 a year. That’s a cool thing to do.

If you switch you save 1.24 tonnes of carbon per year and if you refer somebody else then you’ve got their saving as well. That viral effect can give you a really big financial and environmental impact from encouraging others to switch.

But there are all sorts of other things that people can do once they have discovered they have agency and so our hope is that we can begin to encourage that within our large community.

We have really big ambitions. We want millions of people to be buying renewable energy in the UK and we want that to be happening very soon.

 

If you’d like to give Bulb a go then you can use my referral link — and we will both get £50 off our bills!

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