It might be said that the most important assets of any business are its people. That certainly appears to have been accurate in the case of uSwitch.com, which was guided through its early years by a savvy business team including Vipul Amin, George Mountbatten, an influential figure in UK polo and a cousin of the Queen, and Andrew Salmon, the former corporate financier at PwC.
Only six years after being founded, Vipul Amin was part of the team when uSwitch was sold for a princely sum of £210 million. So how did it grow so quickly and take up such a strong position within the UK market? Let’s start with the basics.
How did uSwitchwork?
In its essence, uSwitch was a price comparison website which offered UK gas and electricity customers a compelling opportunity to save money on their bills. The uSwitch model allowed visitors to its website the opportunity to scan the different deals on offer from the various suppliers in the UK market, comparing what was on offer with their current deal. If they saw a contract which they liked the look of, uSwitch made it easy for them to switch between suppliers. This model was helped by the deregulation which had taken place in the UK energy market, giving customers more freedom than ever to move around as they chose.
A game changer
But perhaps another reason why uSwitch was such as attractive business proposition to EW Scripps – the US media organisation which eventually bought the company for a nine-figure sum in 2006 – was the way it was able to change the game in the UK energy market, adding to its own brand strength. Vipul Amin’s uSwitch, had the effect of starting a ‘war’ between the various suppliers, encouraging them to try and outbid each other by offering the best deals to consumers. There was now a competition to see who could offer the best contract benefits and lowest rates.
The unbiased platform
Under the guidance of Vipul Amin, uSwitch.comcame to be seen as a bastion of fairness and transparency in the UK market, and it did this by pitting the suppliers against each other. This eased consumer fears that there may have been some sort of ‘price agreement’ between the various suppliers, or that one supplier could have the ability to build a monopoly. There was also a lack of small print on the site, which gave a transparent look and feel to uSwitch, and a policy of no supplier advertising also served to give the impression of an impartial resource for consumers, rather than a site which set out to mislead them.
Born in the internet era
The time at which Vipul Amin’s uSwitch rose to prominence should certainly not be discounted. More and more people were installing dial-up or broadband internet services at home allowing them to access the internet at any time of the day or night. That gave an increased number of potential customers access to uSwitch, and to the savings the site was able to provide. Looking at price comparison sites appeared to be on its way to becoming the standard method of shopping around for a gas or electricity deal, rather than a novelty.
Letting go at the right time
It appeared that Vipul Amin and the business people behind uSwitch let go of the company at the right time. Maybe the original uSwitch team had grown the company as far as they could, and EW Scripps had the resources to continue the success story on a wider scale. Not only that, but a global recession was just around the corner, giving more customers the need to try and save money where they could, and playing nicely into the hands of price comparison sites.
As Andrew Salmon commented at the time: “Comparison shopping is already popular with consumers, but there is still ample room for growth.”