OneCompare.com: Anthony Ball and Matthew Taylor
Anthony Ball is creating a buzz in the mobile phone world with his online comparison service. He talks to Startups.co.uk
While other children were dreaming of being astronauts or actors, Anthony Ball and Matthew Taylor had ambitions of a more entrepreneurial nature. A decade on, the childhood friends are co-founders a business that’s had a £550,000 turnover in its first year.
It was almost inevitable Ball and Taylor would launch themselves into the business community. The duo has earned money from various websites and software applications since they were 14 years old.
The formation of OneCompare.com, on online comparison service for mobile phone tariffs and handsets, came about after the Merseyside-based pair saw a gap in the market.
“We were looking at how items are compared on the internet, and how this makes it easier for customers to pick the best option,” explains Ball. “One day, Matt said ‘Why aren’t mobile tariffs compared on the internet?’
“We took a look into it and realised there was no one doing it, so we got to work putting together something that compared mobile phone accurately.
“We soon found out that the reason why no one had done it before was that there is absolutely no standardisation across the entire market – people can charge mobile phone tariffs in any way they want. It makes it very difficult to compare tariffs side-to-side.”
Undaunted, the duo undertook nearly four months of technical work in order to write a software programme that could best compare the myriad of different phones and price schemes.
Thanks to their knowledge of the internet built up through previous ventures, Ball and Taylor only required £600 to start the business. This experience also allowed them to dispense with the formality of a business plan, with Ball insisting that they simply “start small, try things and see what works.”
The small sum they did raise was thrown straight into an advertising campaign. This led to the fledgling company being approached by PR executives interested in their idea.
“We dabbled in a bit of advertising and once we were up and running we were contacted by Lansons, (a PR company) who had seen the site,” explains Ball. “They put together a proposal and highlighted that because no one lese was doing this, there was a huge niche in the market. There were plenty of press coverage options from people looking for independent analysts.
“Although we’ve got a lot of experience in pay-per-display advertising, like Google and Overture, we really wanted to experiment with the PR angle. It’s worked really well – there’s a nice, steady stream of traffic and people keep coming back.”
OneCompare.com started life in a spare room of Ball’s house, although it wasn’t long before growing interest in the service prompted expansion in several areas of the business.
The first employee, tasked with aggregated the data and general admin tasks, was taken on just three months after the launch of OneCompare.com, in December 2005. With the recruitment process underway, it was clear that new premises was required as well as new staff.
“When we realised there was too much work for us to keep up with, we decided to bring in people,” recalls Ball. “We had a lot of things we wanted to overhaul and make our presentation as good as possible, so we took on a graphic designer.
“We then decided we needed help on the programming side of things, so we took on someone else.
“The spare room was getting a bit cramped so we looked for premises in a nearby town, St Helens. It’s well positioned between Liverpool and Manchester, it’s got good rail links to the south and premises there are cheap, so it seemed like a good place it go.”
Ball and Taylor shifted their operation to a serviced office in St Helens nine months ago and haven’t looked back. Visitor numbers have soared to 90,000 a month, with this figure boosted by a recent appearance on ITV.
The duo insist that users are attracted to the site due to the poor customer service they receive from mobile providers and a general lack of information leading to unnecessarily high bills.
OneCompare.com makes it money by receiving a referral fee from the product retailers that are listed on the site. However, Ball and Taylor stress that this doesn’t impact on the final cost of the product or influence any recommendations made on the free-to-use website.
With a mobile industry worth £1.5 billion, and little impartial online information out there to support it, OneCompare.com sits in a potentially profitable niche. Turnover in the first year of trading was an impressive £550,000, a figure enhanced by the low start up and operating costs of the business.
Ball reveals that the large mobile operators are now beginning to sit up and take notice of what OneCompare.com is doing.
“We’ve got on their radars by appearing in the papers on commenting on their new tariffs,” he says. “We collect of our data independently, to ensure that’s what the customers are going to get.
“The mobile providers often contact us to ask why we’ve rated things in certain ways. For instance, Tesco mobile have contacted us to see why they weren’t on our best buy tables.
“We have had a bit of attention from O2 and Orange about a customer service survey that we undertook as well.”
Taylor is responsible for the technical side of the business while Ball concentrates on marketing and PR – it’s a partnership that Ball feels works well.
“It’s always been good to work in partnership as we can bounce ideas off each other,” he explains. “Ever so often we have our disagreements, but we’ve been friends for so long, it’s easily forgotten and we find the right solution.
“A partnership keeps you aware, keeps you grounded and keeps you making the right decisions.”
The business partners also share the same softly-softly approach to starting up.
“I’d always say it’s best to start small – I wouldn’t go in with a huge lump sum from a venture capitalist and blow it all on the business,” Ball advises. “Do as much work as you possibly can yourself and keep your running costs low to start with – you can expand as time goes on.”
Ball’s vision for the business is the UK’s leading independent commentator on mobile phone-related issues. There are plans for help lines and advice centres, and even OneCompare.com’s comparison technology licensed to high street stores.
“We’ve had talks with Carphone Warehouse and Tesco and we’ll be meeting them again later this year,” Ball says. “It’s looking good, we’re excited about the where the business is heading.”