George Mountbatten and the other founders of the price comparison site uSwitch were in the right place at the right time. It’s true that in terms of a classic case study on capitalising on an emerging business opportunity, Mountbatten’s strategy is hard to beat.
From a start-up in 2000 to the time it was first sold in 2006, the company grew to the type of company that processed 8,825 consumer product switches in a single day. How does that happen? With a good idea, a clear strategy and excellent strategic choices.
Let’s take a look at how a simple internet portal based on data and consumer opportunity saved millions of people money on their everyday bills – and pocketed its owners a very decent return after just six years of operation.
Seizing an opportunity
George Mountbatten, the British entrepreneur behind uSwitch, saw a gap in the market for better information. In 2000, UK consumers would get the freedom to change utilities suppliers, but there was no way for them to compare deals available to them. This was a new opportunity for UK residents and there were no existing structures in place.
The simple business premise, and the knowledge of CEO and energy markets expert, Andrew Salmon, were poured into creating an online comparison portal. This allowed people to enter their energy usage details, search available deals and quickly select from the options available to them. It was a well-placed idea that caught the wave of opportunity.
Running a great PR campaign
When uSwitch was launched into the UK market, the promotional campaign included a slick PR strategy. Television adverts, print and word of mouth were all important in establishing uSwitch in the market. The website itself was elegantly branded and easy to use for inexperienced customers. This created a buzz around the product that brought new people to the service.
Keeping up to date
As the appetite for this kind of money-saving service grew, George Mountbatten and his team in uSwitch looked at other opportunities. It was clear that the model was open for diversification and at the time of the uSwitch sale in 2006 credit card and loan comparison was already being added to the company’s offer. Today uSwitch also covers products like mobile phones and wired telephony products.
Selling at the right time
By the end of 2005, George Mountbatten and his partners were considering the next steps for the business. They had capitalised on their knowledge of the immediate impact of deregulation and it was time to pass the baton to longer-term growth planning. uSwitch had great potential but it needed to be capitalised on.
A number of high-profile companies were interested in the uSwitch sale when the company first came onto the market. These were reportedly big firms like Experian and the Daily Mail group. This careful strategy saw the company achieve a £210 million sale price when it passed to American media firm, EW Scripps.
What lessons can be learnt?
Students of business theory would note these are several elements of good practice in this process. The clear successes were:
– George Mountbatten’s fast identification of a business opportunity
– His effort to recruit a dynamic team with in-depth insight of local markets and issues
– Implementing a clear and precise implementation of a PR campaign
– A push for business diversification within current markets
– Strategic disposal of a fully-developed interest
George Mountbatten and his team of capital investors in uSwitch continue to spread this successful model to markets around the world. Their recent investments in price comparison sites in Turkey and Brazil are seeking to replicate their British success – bringing money-saving opportunities to millions of people.
About the uSwitch sale
The UK’s leading price comparison website was first sold by George Mountbatten and the founding management team in 2006 for over £200 million. The buyer was American corporate leader EW Scripps. It has since changed hands again and is now part of the Zoopla group.
George Mountbatten founded and transformed uSwitch de Shirley Walters