Boss of Europe’s fastest growing start-up mulls a float for energy supplier Bulb and reveals: ‘My ten-year plan to save customers £60BN on fuel bills’
Ambitious: Bulb’s chief executive Hayden Wood owns a fifth of the firm
Bulb Energy has enjoyed a rocket-fuelled trajectory since launching six years ago – and its chief executive does little to dampen speculation that he’s eyeing up another growth spurt.
When asked to confirm rumours the green energy firm is considering a further multi-million-pound fundraising, Hayden Wood says he has ‘plans to continue Bulb’s mission and to grow rapidly’.
And he even hints he could float the company on the stock market through an initial public offering in the future. ‘It’s something we would consider,’ says Wood, 37, who poured his life savings into Bulb in its start-up phase and owns a fifth of the business.
‘It’s not something we are planning to do right now. But I would love to give Bulb members [customers] the opportunity to buy shares in Bulb if they want to. That’s all I’ll say.’
Wood, a former management consultant, co-founded Bulb in 2015 with his friend Amit Gudka, a former Barclays energy trader. They felt the energy market had become broken under its dominance by the old ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers and set out to provide a cheaper, greener and simpler alternative.
Over the past year, Wood says Bulb has won ‘hundreds of thousands’ of customers who have mostly switched from firms such as British Gas and EDF, making it the sixth biggest energy supplier in the UK behind Scottish Power. It has 1.7million customers globally, up from 15,000 in 2017, and has just hit 50,000 international customers after expanding overseas last year to France, Spain and Texas.
Wood admits the rapid expansion has been stressful, saying it has sometimes felt as though ‘we had to be building the plane while we are flying it’. He was ‘gutted’ when the pandemic hit last March because the workload meant he couldn’t take paternity leave to spend time with his baby daughter.
The pressure has also led to allegations of a bullying culture at the firm – issues that Wood says are now firmly in the past (see box).
But the pace shows no sign of slowing for Bulb, which was named as Europe’s fastest-growing startup in March and hired 400 staff over the pandemic, swelling its employee ranks to 1,000.
Under Wood’s ambitious ten-year plan he wants to supply 100million customers globally by 2030. Bulb aims to make a £50 profit per household, on average annual energy bills of around £1,000, taking turnover to around £1.8billion.
He calls the climate crisis ‘a race against time’ and says he has to expand Bulb’s green energy supply to help hit net zero targets. ‘If we deliver our plan we think we will be able to save around £60billion on people’s energy bills and around 800 million tons of carbon dioxide,’ he says.
‘Without setting these really ambitious goals we are just not going to get there.’
Bulb has received £67million investment to date, with the bulk from hedge fund Magnetar Capital and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s firm DST Global, an early investor in Deliveroo, Facebook and Twitter. Wood sees Bulb as much as a tech start-up as an energy firm. And like many young tech companies, Bulb has run up large losses as it invests heavily in expansion, with a £63million loss over the year to the end of March 2020.
Wood will not confirm whether it moved into profit this financial year because the company is in ‘growth mode’. His overall vision for Bulb is to transition from an energy supplier to an ‘energy manager’, offering technological solutions and products such as home batteries for solar panel owners and smart electric vehicle charging. Bulb, based in East London, builds all its software in-house and is currently trialling an app that will connect to customers’ electric vehicles and automatically charge their cars at the cheapest times of day, as prices fluctuate due to changing demand. It is also testing home battery technology that will improve the storage and management of energy generated by solar panels. It is the first UK supplier to allow customers to make money by selling unused solar energy back to the grid.
‘The role of an energy supplier is changing,’ Wood says. ‘We now need to tell customers how much solar panels will cost, how much they can save on bills, and where they should charge their electric vehicle. We are building the products that will let people navigate this complex world and make it seamless across those different devices.’
Wood claims Bulb is the cheapest UK energy supplier over a two-year period because other firms switch customers on to higher standard variable tariffs after a year through the so-called ‘loyalty tax’. The Government is looking to ban this practice after pressure from Wood. Bulb only has one tariff and its bills are typically £100 cheaper per year than the Government’s £1,138 price cap.
Wood is extremely proud of Bulb’s mobile app, claiming it’s the best in the market and beats green rivals Ovo and Octopus for customer experience. ‘People have been saying that energy tech is the new fintech,’ Wood says. ‘People used to interact with their energy companies by calling them and berating them for sending an inaccurate bill, now they can check their energy usage and their payments on their app.’
Wood is also in talks with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to scrap VAT on green products such as electric cars and electric heat pumps and will launch the ‘Tech Zero’ taskforce in the coming weeks to help tech firms measure and reduce their carbon footprint. He says: ‘It is a colossal challenge to change the way we live and work so I imagine we will continue to have these conversations for a very long time. But we are making rapid progress.’
FIGHT TO TAME FIRM’S ‘TOXIC CULTURE’
Bulb is fighting to shake off its reputation as a tough place to work after staff claimed the breakneck pace had created a ‘toxic’ culture.
Former employees posted reviews on the Glassdoor website in 2019 saying they had worked 12-hour days and alleged chief executive Hayden Wood used to swear at staff and threaten to fire them.
Wood said: ‘We did grow very quickly and we did have some people who were unhappy with working at Bulb. We can’t deny that. But we have learnt a lot in the last two years: we have put in so many systems and processes and we are so much better now at planning. It means a lot to me that people join Bulb and have a good experience working here.’
He added: ‘I look at the stress that everyone has been through with coronavirus and ways we can provide a supportive working environment for them. I still feel like we can do so much more.’