What convinces two young professionals to leave their comfortable jobs in the energy sector?

Back in April 2015 Hayden Wood left his job as a utilities and alternative energy consultant at Bain & Company to "do something entrepreneurial", and gas and electricity trader at Barclays, Amit Gudka, followed suit.

Bulb founders Hayden Wood and Amit Gudka

"I guess you'd say we both discovered a few things about the energy industry that we realised were massive opportunities for improvement," Wood told Techworld.com, sat amongst the potted trees at London's Second Home co-working space, just off Brick Lane.

What they saw from within the industry was the chance to use new technology to simplify back-end systems, from the way the utilities companies communicate with customers to the trading process (Amit's area of expertise). Then, there was the lightbulb moment.

Lightbulb moment

Last year Hayden and Amit noticed that renewable energy wasn't as premium a product as people might have thought.

The Bulb guys saw a huge disconnect between demand for renewable energy and homes that actually switched. They commissioned a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people in May 2016 and found "around three quarters of people say they want to switch to renewable, but today only one percent of homes have chosen to be supplied by a hundred percent renewable supplier. There was a demand for this, especially amongst younger people", Wood says.

"So there's this myth that renewable is inefficient and a lot more expensive, whereas actually, in the wholesale market, renewable is extremely cost-effective," Wood says. "I can't imagine starting an energy company today and it not being renewable."

So Bulb promises that for every unit of electricity you use, they will produce and place a unit of renewable energy on the grid, from wind, hydro and solar sources across the UK.

Renewable energy

Bulb doesn't promise to be the cheapest energy provider in the market, but it is aiming to prove that renewable energy doesn't need to be a premium product in the UK.

The first thing you will see on the Bulb website is a simple form - not a kilowatt hour in sight - which will tell you how much you can save by switching. For example, I should be saving £296 a year in a flat in south east London.

Surely there is a risk of demand outstripping supply when it comes to renewable energy in the UK though? "A lot of people ask that question. The short answer is no, there isn't," says Wood.

Wood believes in the government enough to think that if companies like Bulb - and rivals like Ecotricity and Good Energy - can drive up demand, then renewable supply will follow suit.

"There's already sufficient renewable energy to provide the demand today," he says. "However the problem that we see is that, in the future, the demand for that needs to come from the consumer not from subsidies [...] It's simple supply-and-demand. There'll be demand for renewable energy and as a result, more generation will be built."

Switching account

The main challenge Bulb faces is the same as challenger banks are facing, namely: convincing customers that switching their account is simple and worthwhile. "There is a huge inertia in the market. Only ten percent of people switch a year," Wood says.

To mitigate this inertia Bulb looks to focus on good customer service, promising to answer customer calls within eight seconds, and by keeping their score with online review sites like TrustPilot hovering around the five-star mark. On top of that, Bulb is now offering to do the switch for you and pay any exit fees. All potential customers have to do is send a picture of a recent bill.

Another challenge for a startup like Bulb, working in a highly regulated environment, is remaining transparent and customer friendly while ticking all of the required boxes. For example, while Bulb naturally sends a regulatory compliant bill to all customers, it accompanies this with a transparent breakdown that customers can actually understand. "Our aim is for our customers never to need to open their statement," Wood says.

Smart metres

The next big initiative for Bulb is to roll out smart meters to all customers, with the startup currently halfway through a trial period.

Read next: How British Gas Connected Home is moving beyond Hive and managing an “explosion” of IoT data

Smart meters will help Bulb be even smarter with customer data, and give consumers more detailed consumption information, rather than estimates. Wood explains: "Every day we'll receive 48 meter readings from a home, as opposed to, at the moment, we'll take maybe a meter reading once a month."

The tech strategy at Bulb was a fairly tried and tested one from two non-technical founders: "We focused on user stories, user experience and talked about the problems that we would want to solve. Then we went out and found a series of awesome partners who help us bring that about," Wood says.

Despite not building the technology themselves Bulb is looking to hire in-house engineers now, as it plans to scale.

This in-house team will be focusing on two key areas: automation of operations - so giving energy partners and customers better self-service capabilities - and then the unlocking of that all-important smart meter data. The aim here is simple: "It's going to become much more data-driven. It means that people can then understand how their behaviour influences their usage, which directly feeds into their energy costs," Wood says.

My take

I have been conditioned to believe that if something seems too good to be true there must be a catch, but from the outside there doesn't seem to be one with Bulb.

Customers save time, money and the planet. The challenge for Bulb, despite their comments to the contrary, will be with scale. If their appealing proposition was to truly take off with customers will they be able to scale sufficiently out of their shared working space and maintain its promise of affordable, one hundred percent renewable energy?

We will have to wait and see, but from here it looks like the future is bright for Bulb.

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