Chris Dawson, co-founder and CEO, talks us through the inspiration for One Utility Bill, and how they rallied to raise half a million pounds with the support of Northstar Ventures.
What did you do before you started this business?
I was a student at Newcastle University, graduating in 2014.
Dale, my co-founder, was an international musician with Detroit Social Club turned freelance web developer.
What inspired you to start up?
Although the business has changed since I first came up with the idea, it was the pain of sharing utility bills in a student house that inspired me. Since we started, we’ve learned more about what difficulties letting agents, landlords and tenants have with utilities in the lettings industry to create new products and services for them!
Tell us about your business in 100 words
We simplify utility billing for letting agents, landlords and tenants.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
We provide a service which consolidates loads of households’ monthly outgoings into a one simple monthly payment, which can be split between housemates.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
Everywhere! RiseUp at Newcastle University supported the idea from the start, Ignite Accelerator helped us grow, introduced us to investors and raise investment, and Northstar Ventures has supported us for over 2 years. We’ve met some really influential people on the way, who have helped shape the business through their mentorship - including angel investors and high net worth individuals.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
Our fundraising journey started on Ignite, which guided us through the process. I couldn’t recommend the accelerator enough for early stage guidance, reality checks and help with raising finance. Northstar has invested in us twice in 2 years and we continue to have a brilliant relationship.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We raised a £500k round last year, which enabled us to grow the team to 20 based in the Ouseburn, Newcastle and help thousands of tenants up and down the country every day. But I think that creating jobs for like-minded people is our biggest achievement.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
Every company says it, but we want to put our employees first, closely followed by our customers.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
The responsibility is huge but there is nothing more rewarding than starting a business.
Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?
We have multiple routes that we can go down, but in the short term we want to focus on delivering value for our customers.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
To start. That’s the hardest thing. You can trick yourself into thinking that you’re being productive or entrepreneurial by thinking about starting a business, by attending events and doing research. But the best thing is to talk to potential customers, to share your idea with others, ask for help and collaborate.
People make the mistake that someone will steal your ‘billion dollar idea’ but in reality people are too focussed on their own dreams and challenges, and in order for an idea to become a business, you’ll need to get others involved. Otherwise it’s still just an idea…
The best thing that I did was involve my co-founder Dale Knight in the business. He has a very complementary skill set to mine, but most importantly starting a business is a very hard, long and lonely road, so it is important to have someone to share the journey with.