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Why Transparency, Trust And 'Outbehaving' Are The New Measures Of Success

Sep 13, 2018

Entrepreneurs Philip Salter is founder of The Entrepreneurs Network Share to facebook Share to linkedin Last year's winners of the prestigious EY UK Entrepreneur Of The Year (Chris Hulatt, left; Simon Rogerson, Right) Octopus Chris Hulatt and Simon Rogerson are the co-founders of  Octopus Group , one of the UK’s fastest growing companies. The pair met at Mercury Asset Management (now part of BlackRock) more than two decades ago but, two years later aged just 23 and 25, they made the decision to start their own fund management company. The business has grown rapidly since then, building sizeable investment platforms in renewable energy, healthcare infrastructure and smaller companies. Octopus now has more than £8 billion funds under management from retail and institutional investors. The latest edition to the group is the consumer energy supply business, Octopus Energy, which launched in 2016. Aiming to provide sustainable and fair pricing combined with truly digital customer service, it has scaled rapidly to more than 300,000 customers and is currently the only Which? recommended supplier. I caught up with Chris and Simon to talk about their motivations and experience as entrepreneurs and explore what the future holds for Octopus. Philip Salter: What inspired you to start Octopus? Chris Hulatt: I got interested in business at quite a young age. I started to persuade my Dad to put share trades on for me in his lunch hour and things like that. I always had this interest in stock markets and thought that I’d like to be a fund manager. Salter: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? Hulatt: No. We were very lucky that some people we met at Mercury in the late 1990s shared a similar sort of vision and passion. With hindsight I don’t think I would have been satisfied working for a big institution like that, but as I see with most people my age now, it’s quite difficult to take steps to leave an organization once you’ve been doing it for a long time. I look back now and thank my lucky stars that we were able to come together around the same unified idea. It’s been an enormous amount of fun every day since then. Salter: How about you, Simon? Simon Rogerson: No, like Chris I hadn’t planned to set up a business. My experience of work prior to going to Mercury was interning in London and Paris, which was a great eye opener to the world of business and finance. But it was one of those jobs, the same with Mercury, where I would always find myself looking at my watch and thinking “is it only one o’clock?”. Ultimately, I think entrepreneurs are change agents, so if you want to make the world a better place and you want to change it, the best position to do that from is to be an entrepreneur. It's super addictive and I can’t imagine not working or being part of an entrepreneurial business now. The power of entrepreneurship now, the ability for people to set businesses up, is totally different to when we launched Octopus in 2000. Salter: To what extent do you feel that you have got lucky in terms of the cohesion between your personalities and shared vision? Rogerson: I think we definitely have the same visions, and we definitely have the same outlook. So often entrepreneurs and even co-founders are motivated by different things. Chris and I are both motivated by the same fundamental thing. We want to build a business that outlives both of us and we want to make a real difference. We want Octopus to contribute to the world and to society, so fundamental disagreements around strategy, time horizon, money, liquidity, all those things, just don’t come into it. Hulatt: Some people might think it’s weird, but we’ve never once had the discussion where we’ve said, “shall we sell the business?” It’s always just been the unsaid thing, right from day one – we were building something to stand the test of time, that would be our life’s work. I love getting home to my 10-year-old son and he asks me: “what have you been doing today? What have you been up to? Have you bought anymore solar farms?” Salter: There was another founder at the start – was it difficult when Guy Myles left? Rogerson: Guy is incredibly entrepreneurial and is most happy when building businesses from start-up. When Octopus got to about three or four hundred people, it felt too big for him. Guy wanted to go and do his own thing and when he came along and told us what he was doing, it was really sad. You feel like you’ve lost your brother, because we’d spent 14 years working right next to each other, going through all these difficult times, sharing successes and sharing challenges. He remains a significant shareholder in Octopus and wishes nothing but the best for us and the business. We’re still friends with Guy, really good friends, but it is the way it is. Hulatt: Guy really enjoys building things from scratch, so he is now doing it again; it’s what he loves. I think the worst thing for him would’ve been to spend another twenty years at Octopus but not enjoying it as much. We owe him a lot - he helped us build the business and we remain incredibly grateful for all his support and work over the first 14 years of Octopus’ life. Salter: Would you consider going public? Rogerson: Categorically, no. It’s very difficult to run a quoted business in the interest of customers. When you list, there’s a certain way you have to operate, and it can often be with a very short term outlook. Octopus is majority owned by its employees and family and friends who have invested in us along the way. Being a private company means we can take the long term view and focus on creating better outcomes for our customers and positive, sustainable change in the markets we operate in. It’s also allowed us to be entrepreneurial and go into new sectors, like energy. When we decided to build an energy supply business alongside our core fund management platforms, people did challenge us. If we were listed, I don’t think we would have been able to do it, but we have done it and the business is going from strength to strength. Octopus Energy has won multiple awards for its customer service and is disrupting the energy sector with fair, transparent pricing and innovative products that are meeting its customers’ needs. I think the businesses that will be successful over the next ten to twenty years are those with shared purpose, where the interests of employees, customers and society are aligned. Companies can no longer afford to treat customers like a child, which is historically how the relationship has often felt whereby companies control the information and talk down to the customer. Transparency, trust and ‘outbehaving’ are the new measures of success and drivers of profitability. Companies need to recognise this and acknowledge that power is shifting to customers. Reputation and how companies behave matters. Salter: So, would you argue that the recent backlash against some large businesses was avoidable? Rogerson: How many companies do you trust? The answer will normally be very few. Energy companies bring you in on one tariff and when you’re not looking, they hike it up – people won’t trust them, and if they don’t trust companies, they won’t do business with them. The customer now has even more power, not just to hold you to account, but to tell the world what you’re doing. Hulatt: Energy businesses, for example, are going to have to rethink how they engage with their customers and how they then try and make money out of them. There are going to be a number of businesses, and arguably even industries, that will look different five years from now; it’s just the natural cycle of these things as people change how they interact with companies and as technology continues to change the way we do things. It’s pretty clear that far too often the customer has been forgotten. It’s this that has led us into the sectors Octopus works in. There is an opportunity to innovate and build businesses that are doing things in a different and better way for the customer. Ultimately no business can afford to stand still. They are going to have to change, innovate and adapt to their customers’ needs if they want to stay viable. Salter: What is your stance on technology and integrating it into your business? Hulatt: If you’re running a business in which you think technology is not going to impact you, you’re going to have a nasty shock in a couple of years. Your prospects will recede very quickly. We know this because we got it wrong initially. We made the mistake of viewing it as a function rather than at the heart of the business. Thankfully we recognised this before it was too late. Rogerson: From a customer service perspective, technology transforms your ability to communicate effectively. If you have the right tech in place then your customers should have a seamless experience and won’t need to speak to a human 90% of the time. This frees up time for your customers who either want or need to speak to someone in person or on the phone, meaning you can provide them with the best possible support and service. You cannot build a great business today, thinking about technology as a support function. It needs to be core, central and integrated. It drives efficiency, drives data and it drives our understanding of our customers. Salter: What is the most important thing you have learned to date as serial entrepreneurs? Rogerson: Never compromise when it comes to hiring people. Your culture and the people you hire into your business will define your success. Until very recently, I used to interview every single person that worked for Octopus regardless of their job or level of experience. In our experience, you cannot teach a customer service mindset – either people have it or they don’t. We also work hard to empower people at Octopus to do the right thing for our customers and to think relentlessly about how we can improve what we do. I read a quote the other day that said, “The illiterate of the 21st century won’t be people who can’t read, they’ll be people who can’t learn, unlearn and learn again.” Hulatt: I think of Octopus as a business of 700 entrepreneurs. Everyone has a contribution to make to improving our customers’ lives and the success of the business. We’ve learned that business is all about hiring the right people that care and creating a culture where they can make a real impact. That’s what keeps your workforce motivated and engaged. I run The Entrepreneurs Network, Britain's leading entrepreneurship think tank. We are the Secretariat of the prestigious APPG for Entrepreneurship. Sign up to my weekly e-bulletin .

Chris Hulatt Investments

1 Investments

Chris Hulatt has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in Charity Checkout as part of their Angel - II on October 10, 2017.

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Chris Hulatt Investments Activity

investments chart

Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

10/18/2017

Angel - II

Charity Checkout

$1M

Yes

3

Date

10/18/2017

Round

Angel - II

Company

Charity Checkout

Amount

$1M

New?

Yes

Co-Investors

Sources

3

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