The desire to save money has been with us ever since currency began in its present form. This means that for business ideas which offer the ability to offer discounts, it would appear that there are very few boundaries or borders. This certainly is the case when it comes to consumers, who are always hunting for a bargain.
When uSwitch.com was set up in 2000, the price comparison landscape was an unknown entity. Not everybody knew that you could save money on your gas or electricity bill simply by jumping online and comparing prices. But that was all to change.
‘The people’s website’
uSwitch.com came on the scene and grew to prominence as one of the flagship price comparison sites in the UK. Taking advantage of deregulation in the UK – which meant that energy customers now had more freedom to switch between suppliers – the site not only allowed visitors to compare the different rates and special deals being offered by the various companies, it also made moving account a whole lot easier.
And for a service which was so focused on people power – they only made money when you made money – uSwitch had quite an interesting backstory when it came to one of its main founders and backers, George Mountbatten. He is the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven; a cousin of the Queen, and a descendant of the Russian monarch, Catherine the Great.
A new look, a new feel
uSwitch had a solid foundation behind it, with George Mountbatten joining forces with likes of Vipul Amin, and Andrew Salmon, the former PricewaterhouseCoopers corporate financier. And they set about carving out a position as one of the UK’s price comparison leaders by doing things differently. No supplier advertising could be seen on the website, underlining their emphasis on impartiality, and there was a very different style to the presentation than consumers had become used to. Instead of a glut of small print, this website told you the important details in black and white, allowing visitors to understand offers more easily.
When is the right time?
When to let go? That is always the question for the stakeholders of a successful business. While you don’t want to sell a business before it has fully flourished, you can also not wait until it shows signs of having reached its peak. With this in mind, the uSwitch sale in 2006 showed all the hallmarks of a savvy sale.
Price comparison sites had not hit their ‘ceiling’ – on the contrary, they were very much in vogue, as more Brits became connected to the internet at home. But there was a sense that George Mountbatten and co had taken the venture as far as they could. Their buyer, EW Scripps, who purchased uSwitch for £210 million, is a US media giant which saw the potential stateside. A global recession was soon to hit, giving even more reason for consumers tightening their bets to go in search of a new energy deal.
The EnCazip era
Nevertheless, it could be said that the price comparison journey for George Mountbatten had only just begun. After the sale, their business idea was exported to Turkey in the form of EnCazip. Through a dialogue on social media with a Turkish postgraduate student studying in London, George Mountbatten came to recognise the potential of setting up a similar venture in the Southern European country, which has seen its own energy market deregulated, opening doors for consumers, and EnCazip.
George Mountbatten oversaw the training of a management team for EnCazip, giving them a grounding in the energy industry around the world before they took the reigns. And then there is MoneyGuru in Brazil, which has been set up to harness the huge potential of a market in a country which has started to hand more power to its consumers. The uSwitch formula is clearly alive and well.