The Entrepreneur: Bobby Kalar, Yü Energy
Taking on the 'Big Six' energy providers; Kalar tells Growing Business about what he's learnt from scaling his company to revenues of almost £4m
Founder: Bobby Kalar
Company: Yü Energy
Description in one line: The UK’s “fastest growing” business energy provider
Previous companies: Redrose Care Ltd
12 month target: Hoping to continue rapid growth in 2016
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- Yü Energy is focused on helping small and medium businesses to manage their energy with industry leading service and transparency.
- Customers are assigned a personal account manager, our call centre works on a three-ring guarantee and our average customer call time is just 90 seconds. We provide totally flexible contracts and payment terms, and our billing and account platform has been designed to be as simple as possible.
- Yü’s business model ensures that its customers never have to worry about their energy provider.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Because of the phenomenal amount of regulation we had to navigate, my proudest moment has to be achieving our energy supplier’s licence in 2014. It was the culmination of years of hard work and a single-minded determination from our team to create a company that would challenge the Big Six energy suppliers.
Two years on and I cannot believe how much we’ve grown: we now have over 1,700 customers with more coming on board every day.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
I have a series of key figures that I check on a daily basis. As well as the number of new customers we’ve won, I keep a close eye on the amount of customer calls and our average call time. Customer service is absolutely paramount for us, and I want to make sure every single customer has their query answered quickly and effectively.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We trade only in the UK and we don’t currently have any plans to expand internationally.
Describe your growth funding path:
I bootstrapped Yü Energy through my own savings and the proceeds of selling my care home business, which I had built up through credit card debt, friends and family and a bank loan. It’s very difficult to persuade financial institutions to back an enterprise that does not have any material assets or ‘stock’ which may be used as collateral so my funding path has been entirely self-generated.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
As a new entrant to the market we decided not to use existing software solutions, despite the fact it would have been much quicker to implement. It wasn’t easy, but we have developed our own business systems that have allowed us to exceed customer expectations whilst ensuring we can manage a very complex business simply and accurately.
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It’s scalable, will help us grow and, in future, can be used across the utility spectrum. It’s made a huge difference to the business and has been a real differentiator between us and our competitors.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
As a challenger, I’m focused on changing perceptions of the energy markets and empowering small and medium enterprises to leave their existing suppliers. We are seeing phenomenal demand from small businesses that are fed up of being treated with contempt by the Big Six; who have been taking advantage of Britain’s businesses for decades.
Our ability to grow is only going to increase over the next few years as more and more small businesses realise that the smaller challenger suppliers are a far more attractive prospect.
We see no sign of our growth slowing!
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
I founded Yü Energy with no prior experience of the energy market; I just set out to change an industry that had, for years, paid little respect to the needs of business consumers. I knew it was going to be hard but I hadn’t quite appreciated the incredible complexity involved in setting up a new energy company.
The system is designed to make it as hard as possible for new entrants, with innumerable invisible barriers to entry. I was lucky enough to be able to inspire some fantastic people who helped me navigate the technical aspects of setting up the company.
What was your biggest business mistake?
The single mindedness that led me to create Yü Energy also meant I thought I could do everything myself. It didn’t take me long to realise that the key to success would be empowering my excellent staff, all of whom really believe in our mission and genuinely care about our customers.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
The red tape involved in setting up an energy supplier is almost endless in both its scope and complexity. I nearly gave up on multiple occasions, and this has to change. It is in everyone’s interest to break the cartel of the Big Six and ensure a competitive, diverse energy market.
The red tape has to be simplified and the market should ensure that small suppliers, with their limited resource, are not discriminated against.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Too many businesses end up failing because entrepreneurs get their cashflow projections wrong. It should really take centre stage in a business plan and founders must be strict with themselves.
Running an energy supplier, where huge amounts of capital leaves the business to buy energy before we can sell to customers, has taught me how important keeping a disciplined capital structure is to a growing business. It’s the main thing keeping me up at night.
How will your market look in three years?
The Big Six energy suppliers cannot go on taking advantage of small firms. Smaller businesses are already realising that they are getting a raw deal, and I think you will see the smaller players in business energy take a much larger market share, as small companies move away from their existing suppliers and look to secure a better deal elsewhere.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Don’t get hung up on the statistics suggesting a high rate of businesses are likely to fail in their first year. You’ll only get discouraged.
You will meet hurdles and obstacles that may seem like failures, but a successful entrepreneur will see them as stepping-stones to achieving greater things. Expect hard knocks, welcome them as an experience to overcome and look forward to the next challenge.
My limited edition Breitling watch.
Executive education or learn it on the job?
I think an executive education can be useful in certain careers but I have always prized experience over anything else.
When I started Yü I looked to bring on board some highly experienced energy executives and their knowledge has been invaluable in navigating the tricky regulatory environment. It’s the kind of experience that could never be taught in an MBA.
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
There are three things:
- The impact [running a business had had] on my family life
- That the hours are long
- It can be a lonely place
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
I’m forever checking the live energy market prices on a number of different industry specific apps. I also use the Trainline app extensively as I spend a lot of time travelling up and down the country.