It’s not every day that you come across someone who’s starting their own business as an energy provider. It’s an ambitious undertaking, one that had me puzzled as to where you’d even begin to make it happen. With energy prices generally rising at an alarming rate, and customer satisfaction levels amongst the major players at an all-time low, it’s certainly the kind of notion that business investors look carefully at.
Tim Cantle-Jones has an impressive CV, and it’s not surprising that he didn’t shy away from any aspect of this challenge. I had the chance to ask him some questions.
What does being an energy company entail?
The energy industry is highly regulated, so in order to supply electricity and gas from the national grid to domestic customers you need to acquire the relevant licences and register with a wide range of industry bodies.
As well as building your own team (we will have a team of 22 at start-up) you need contracts with: an electricity wholesale agent; a gas wholesale agent; a company to look after industry data flows; a company to look after billing; and a company to look after metering requirements.
Customers can switch to us through our website or contact our Newcastle-based call centre.
It’s a fairly unusual business to ‘start up’. Where did you begin?
About three years ago, I was doing some work funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to help households save money on their energy bills. I discovered from that work, which involved around 500 households based in County Durham, that the poorest were charged the most by energy suppliers. I also found out that customers didn’t trust the energy suppliers, understand their bills or how the industry worked.
This was the inspiration for founding Future Energy. I have been working with our partners since then to get to where we are today.
How do you get the energy that you sell on to customers?
All energy goes through the national grid as suppliers don’t have their own pipelines. In the case of the North East, we contract with Northern Power Grid to provide the infrastructure to supply electric to our customers and Northern Gas network for our gas supply.
So, while we do use exactly the same system to get energy as the ‘Big Six’ suppliers, we provide that energy at lower prices.
How do you manage to keep your prices low?
A lot of the energy industry costs are the same for all suppliers, but we keep our costs down by making smaller profits and keeping our overheads lower than the bigger energy companies. Because we only operate in the North East, our costs are kept lower as services are local rather than national.
What was your motivation for starting this business?
I am from the North East and I have a strong commitment to the region. I wanted to create a business that was profitable but could have a positive influence on people’s lives. It’s very exciting creating a new business, but it can be quite daunting so you need good support from friends, family and business partners – which I have had.
How are you building your team?
We continuing to build a very strong team who have relevant experience with energy companies. We have an experienced and committed Board of Directors and everyone who joins the Future Energy team shares our passion to ‘Create a Better Tomorrow’. Our workforce will share in our success through share ownership.
When you were at school what did you want to be?
A footballer. But I was never good enough!
What is your proudest business achievement?
Apart from founding Future Energy, it has to be the work I did in South Africa where I helped to create a multi-raced sports structure following the release of Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of Apartheid.
Goals and aims – how do you measure your success?
I would like to think that in five years, Future Energy will be among the top 10 North East businesses by profit and turnover, we will have over 100,000 customers, and we will be saving hard-pressed North East families millions of pounds.
I’m pretty hard on myself and probably don’t enjoy success enough – it’s difficult to make a judgement on success whilst you are in the middle of doing something; it’s much easier when you can look back and reflect on achievements.
What advice would you give someone setting up their own unusual business?
Be focussed and be determined. Get help from people that have done it before. Build a really good team.