UK energy newcomer raised £487,000 through reward crowdfunding

UK energy newcomer raised £487,000 through reward crowdfunding

The UK consumer energy market is dominated by six companies who between them supply over 90% of the market. Newcomer and disruptive brand People’s Energy raised almost £488,000 last year through reward crowdfunding on Crowdfunder UK, and started trading in August 2017.  They needed startup cash, and offered savings against future bills as rewards. Their eventual aim is to really shake up the market through acquiring a million customers who will all be shareholders, making company decisions and receiving a slice of refunded profits.

Here’s the “gap in the market” they want to exploit. None of the current “Big Six” energy companies are recognisably customer-centric. There is a generally critical public perception that they offer complicated tariff structures making it difficult to find the best prices or to compare different suppliers, and that they deliver similarly uninspiring levels of customer service – no more than 43% of any of the Big Six’s customers would recommend their supplier.

There is also public resentment over their “profits before people” ethos: consumer prices never drop when wholesale energy prices do, and energy prices have risen at three times the rate of general inflation over the past 20 years. Amid unproven accusations of collective price-fixing, in April 2017 the Government put in place a price cap on each suppliers’ top tariffs, possibly remaining in force until 2023.

A relatively uncompetitive market dominated by a few large, unresponsive companies who lack customer trust is a ripe target for disruptive new entrants, which is what People’s Energy aims to be. Karin Sode, People’s Energy’s head of marketing, kindly answered some questions for me.

People’s Energy launched by using donations-for-rewards crowdfunding to raise over £487,000 and generate 2,055 customers. What was the thinking behind this?

We differ from all the other suppliers in that we want to give our customers shares in the company and pay back the profits to them, not to some other faceless shareholders. For that reason, we turned down potential investors who wanted equity in return for their investment.

Equally, equity crowdfunding was not an option because although it would have been easier for us [than reward-based crowdfunding] it would dilute the model and our unique offering of ownership to customers. We knew that it was a tall order but we were determined, worked very hard at it, and are pleased that we succeeded and were able to launch the company on 1 August 2017.

Was it difficult to get an operator’s licence given you will operate very differently from the Big Six?

Ofgem (the UK energy market regulator) has been very welcoming and appreciative of the very different model we offer to help shake up a market that suffers from real trust issues. Getting the initial licence was not the hardest thing, a bigger challenge was one of initial funding to get started, and we resolved that through our crowdfunding campaign.

After receiving the licence, we then went through a probationary period called ‘Controlled Market Entry’. We could take on only a limited number of customers while we proved to Ofgem we had the operational capability to serve them well. We went through that period fast, and successfully, and I’m very pleased to say we are now fully licensed to operate and welcome as many customers as we can.

A stated aim is to put 1 million people in charge of their own energy as shareholders in People’s Energy. Will you need to raise more money to achieve this?

We will operate on a “cost plus model” based on wholesale prices and our fixed costs, plus a small buffer that allows us to be robust. We’re a new business with no legacy costs to have to cover. There will be a single tariff for all customers, with our prices always in the lowest 30% of other tariffs on offer. Right now we’re in the lowest 10%. We are now broadly self-funding.

However, there will be a need for some further funding to realise other ambitions to invest in innovative renewable and energy storage solutions. In the meantime, a key interim aim is to sign up 20,000 customers within 18 months of our launch, which is a deadline of February 2019.

Where will People’s Energy customers come from?

We hope to appeal to younger customers through our sharing economy model. Market research shows that the more innovative companies operate in a more community/membership way, such as Giffgaff (a mobile/cell network) and Monzo (banking services).

We plan to build out the community approach and encourage people to share what we offer through personal endorsement to their contacts. This will help us grow the numbers at pace. In addition, we are currently in talks to establish partnerships with various bodies that will help drive up customer numbers more quickly.

A sharing economy newcomer aims to disrupt the UK consumer energy marketIn terms of offering your customers control, what sort of issues will they have a say in?

A key aim is to rebuild trust between consumers and energy providers. That can’t be done through words and promises but has to grow through the actions we take. Offering customers an element of control is therefore a direct attempt to make people feel heard and valued, really given a voice.

We want customers to have a say in whether or not we use the profits to purchase renewable generation facilities (including wind and solar farms), invest in development of power storage, or if they prefer to have the profits repaid to them.

We also plan to consult customers on whether they want profits shared depending on their energy usage or if every customer should get the same rebate. The latter option would support individuals in lower income households, but may not be considered fair for people with large usage such as small businesses. We believe the customers should have a chance to decide for themselves rather than us deciding on their behalf in a remote boardroom.

People’s Energy will provide electricity only from renewable sources. Will residential prosumers be able to sell back to you energy they produce from renewable sources?

We are not yet able to accommodate this, though it is absolutely something we want to facilitate as soon as we possibly can. For now, after switching over to People’s Energy for their energy supply, people will be able to continue to sell back surplus energy they produce to their current supplier.

If you are considering a crowdfunding project, whether offering equity or providing rewards, please get in touch if you’d like an objective assessment of your ideas from an independent crowdfunding adviser. Please email me at [email protected] or contact me through Twitter, @Cliveref.

Update on 20th March 2018
CrowdFundRES is a European project that contributes to the acceleration of renewable energy growth in Europe by promoting crowdfunding for financing renewable energy projects. It has published a practical guide for crowdfunding platforms, project developers, investors and policy makers on “Crowdfunding Renewable Energy.” You can access it here.

 

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat Show

Southampton Marina hosts the largest outdoor annual boat show held in Europe, so perhaps it should have come as no surprise for me as an independent crowdfunding adviser to have encountered aspects of the crowd economy there among the hundreds of exhibitors and the opening day celebrity guests.

Michelle Keegan and Olympic sailorsThe event was officially opened by actress Michelle Keegan, formerly of Coronation Street and currently on our tv screens in the BBC drama Our Girl. On stage with her was the GB Sailing Team from the Rio Olympics boasting four gold medal winners.

Olympic success in a wide range of sports has been achieved with financial state support for our top athletes through National Lottery Funding for UK Sport. Every purchase of a lottery ticket contributes a small amount towards crowdfunding national sporting achievement at the highest level. The benefits to the nation are wide ranging:

  • with more role models to aspire to more people take up or maintain a sporting pastime – which the government encourages as part of the health battle against increasing obesity;
  • association with success puts a spring in the step, encouraging greater productivity and optimism;
  • it inspires more people in all walks of life to achieve excellence in whatever it is they do.

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowIn a similar ‘organisational crowdfunding’ vein, an event on Day One of the show was the official handover of a new yacht to the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. The carefully adapted yacht will be used to take children recovering from cancer treatment on confidence-building sailing adventures and has been funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. Every ticket buyer has made a contribution.

Sailing has a reputation as something of a rich person’s hobby, sometimes described as similar to standing under a shower and tearing up money. FlexiSail has utilised the crowd sharing model to make boat ownership less onerous for owners and to provide access to a “pride of ownership” to a far wider audience. Boats are expensive to buy in the first place and then expensive to maintain and moor somewhere. Yet most of the time they are unused and simply take up space in a marina.

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowFlexiSail offers a choice of membership options for people to choose from a range of 30 to 40 foot yachts, catamarans and motorboats and use them for a fixed number of days or weeks throughout the year, explained Business Development Manager Suze Hart. Reassuringly for the boat owners FlexiSail also arranges training to ensure everyone has appropriate skills and qualifications, and provides a full two day induction on board any chosen boat. They maintain an online calendar for members to book their time aboard, online logbooks for all the users of each boat to keep a record of problems and any work that needs to be carried out – and FlexiSail carries out the work. And the boat owners have turned their depreciating assets in to an income stream with safeguards in place.

Finally, a vital and integral part of sailing for many boat lovers is a gin and tonic on deck or in the cockpit at the end of a day on the water. In a corner of the Ribeye stand at the boat show Howard Davies, Co-founder and Director of his own brand new gin brand was providing very welcome samples. puedes comprar viagra en la farmacia

Close encounters with crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowThe Salcombe Distilling Company, based in Salcombe in Devon, batch produces hand-crafted gin made with obligatory juniper and a secret blend of other botanicals. Premium products like this don’t come cheap and Salcombe Gin retails at £35 a bottle. Howard, who spent part of his previous career path as a sailing instructor, only gave up other employment this summer to concentrate on his new venture, in much the same way that many hand crafted spirits brands have come on the market in recent years.

A search using industry data provider Crowdsurfer showed 15 new distilleries/spirits brands used crowdfunding in the last 12 months in the UK. Crowdfunding is extremely flexible and can be used in a variety of ways to match very different requirements. Some used it on a rewards-for-donations basis, others traded equity to gain long-term investors.

At the lower end of financial targets, one person wanted £3,000 in donations to convert a unit in a suburban London market in to a tasting room and install a micro-distillery to make gin, and a couple of guys raised £30,000 through donations for rewards of branded merchandise to establish a malt whisky distillery in Devon.

Meanwhile, at the top end, the Cotswolds Distillery raised just over £1m from 124 investors at the end of January 2016 in exchange for equity – double its target of £500,000 – and GlenWyvis Distillery in Scotland had raised over £2.5m by July 2016 (against a target of £1.5m) using “community shares” through the crowdfunding platform Crowdfunder.

I hope that Howard’s gin proves to be popular and when he is ready to expand his Salcombe Distillery Company he’ll get in touch with me to explore the benefits and opportunities that crowdfunding could deliver for him.

Maybe you have a business you want to launch or expand? I am an independent crowdfunding adviser, please feel free to contact me for an initial conversation about what crowdfunding could do for you and how I can guide and help you through the process. Send an email to [email protected]. I have gained a wealth of experience in a 30+ year career in Marketing, and it is increasingly evident that implementing a good marketing plan helps attract investment.