B.heard: Oscar Vickerman
Having become frustrated after moving house, the entrepreneur talks about why he founded his value comparison platform
Name: Oscar Vickerman, CEO
Company name: B.heard
Tell us what your business does
B.heard is the world’s first value comparison platform. Powered by your opinions and backed by hard evidence, B.heard enables its user community to award their custom to companies who deserve it.
It provides transparency and service information on all companies providing essential services, from energy and banking to insurance and broadband, to ensure consumers can more fully evaluate whether they are being offered true value, beyond just price.
B.heard puts a stop to consumers suffering silently from poor service by enabling people to quickly and easily gain insight into these companies through genuine customer feedback.
Backed by high-profile ambassadors and investors, including legendary adman Sir John Hegarty and pioneering venture capitalist Tom Teichman, B.heard rewards companies who go above and beyond for their customers.
B.heard allows consumers to share their experiences of energy, health, phone, finance, education and broadband providers – or even their local council – and every time someone makes themselves heard on the site, they can make a donation to a charity of their choice.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My wife and I moved home and living in a new area meant having to set up all our essential services. I found existing ways to do this frustrating – how do you choose a service that offers true value? Price comparison sites only give you price, but price is only a component of value.
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It’s only when we talk about value that we’re talking about the full picture. Real value means yes, reasonable prices, but it also means excellent service, and also is the company reputable? Does it do the right thing? Choosing companies on price alone rewards those companies that do badly on all other measures.
How did you know there was a market for it?
There were many factors at the time – the CMA had recently found that most consumers could be better off if they switch banks; energy companies were being fined for preventing customers switching; and price comparison sites were being criticised for not showing the cheapest deals.
It was clear to me that there is a need for a solution that ensures we are able to see the full picture and getting genuine value by asking ‘our peers’ what it’s like being on the receiving end of the services we depend on.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was head of marketing and low carbon sales at British Energy, where I was responsible for determining the strategic direction of all customer-facing aspects of the company. This was an instrumental time in my life where I learnt the importance of communicating true value to customers.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’ve always been passionate about making a difference. For me it became inevitable that starting my business was the way to go about this – to create a business that was for more-than-profit which can change the way a traditional market operates.
Being able to combine passions with my work has been such an exciting, although often challenging, experience and something I plan to continue to do in and outside of my B.heard life.
How did you raise the money?
We’re delighted to enjoy the support of some hugely talented and creative backers, including the legendary adman John Hegarty and pioneering venture capitalist Tom Teichman, who together set up The Garage to support startups they consider most exciting.
We also had some amazing support from the Symvan Capital team as well as other CEOs and directors at leading financial institutions, along with the global planning and group strategy directors from BBH, Nick Kendall and Kevin Brown.
Describe your business model and how you make money
The B.heard platform harnesses the power of consumer insight for the benefit of both consumers and companies.
By being the relationship and dialogue bridge between customers and companies, we help shape the type of services customers want and help the companies that provide them.
That will act as a source of revenue because reviews on B.heard strengthen the relationship between service providers and customers. We share consumer sentiment with providers, giving them valuable insight on how they could be improving their customer service and providing better value for money.
For a fee, providers can subscribe to B.heard, which gives them the tools to lend their ear to the voices raised, and to track the impact on any changes that they make.
We offer businesses a centralised source of consumer insight, helping answer the question: ‘why’ in addition to ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ people choose their suppliers based on anything other than price.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
By separating the “why-are-we-doing-this” from the “what-we-are-doing” – we are ultimately passionate about seeing true value being rewarded, and the way we are communicating this message is through the world’s first value comparison site – it sounds rather basic, but identifying ‘why’ we wanted to fix the problem was more important than getting hung up with ‘what’ we are trying to solve.
Ultimately cash is king, so managing how you spend money every day is really important.
The cogs will stop turning if you don’t have cash in the bank, so its important to always be focused on getting into the market with a minimum viable product first, and you can perfect it later. This will teach you your most valuable lessons, help generate a profit sooner and make your investment succeed.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Our first break was when our very first investor wrote us a cheque for ￡50,000, this really set us up and got us going.
Our big breakthrough came when we were selected from a large list of start-ups as one of the winners and beneficiaries of world-leading expertise, which was awarded by John Hegarty and Tom Teichman through their start-up incubator The Garage.
This was instrumental in kicking our ideas into a reality.
We were able to tap into excellent teams of designers, copywriters and PR champions which developed our idea of value comparison into an exciting online platform with a social impact through our Changecoin initiative, which guides our donations to front-line charities in each sector.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I would take the advice given by one of our backers, Tom Teichman, who was in a recent article in the Evening Standard as “Britain’s most-successful digital start-up backer”.
He says there are three key tips for starting the Next Big Thing, which really resonates with me.
Firstly, be sparky, very awake, very commercial and very committed.
Secondly, your founding team should consist of two people – a ying and a yang – who can argue with each other and have complimentary skills, for example, one is creative, one is financial.
Finally, operate your business in a decent-sized industry where there are economies of scale
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
More than anything we want our business to make a difference – we want to see the UK market for key services being changed so that true value is being awarded, benefitting both the consumer and the organisation.
We want to see our Changecoin initiative become a mainstream method for donations to charities, with social businesses being able to reward charities that are performing good work in the industry that a business works in.
We want to expand our sector selection to include train networks, supermarkets, hospitals, MPs, price comparison sites…basically anywhere that we have a service that we depend upon, we want to see them being dependable. Both here in the UK and anywhere where there is an openly democratic services industry.