The brains behind Sydney-based startup Energy Bill Doctor are on a mission to provide consumers with a more complete picture of their energy costs and usage, via data analytics, while also driving the uptake of energy efficient solutions.
Founded by Tim Wolfenden and Andrew Long, Energy Bill Doctor is a free online energy comparison tool that enables consumers (and small business owners) to determine potential savings from switching to a new supplier by uploading their latest electricity bill for a personalised ‘health check’. Energy Bill Doctor then undertakes an analysis of a consumer’s current costs and usage, comparing them against online energy deals, and identifies deals that would reduce their energy spending, with the ability to switch to a new supplier within 60 seconds.
Wolfenden spoke to Dynamic Business about the success enjoyed by Energy Bill Doctor as well as his ambitions for the startup and why the energy sector is ‘broken’.
DB: What is the elevator pitch for Energy Bill Doctor?
Wolfenden: Not only have energy costs more than doubled in the past ten years, electricity bills are complicated, confusing, and extremely challenging to compare. We’re helping consumers (and small business owners) take back control. We create clarity on how people can save money today on their energy bills, offering a 100% Accurate Health Check of their bill, Best in Market Deals and the ability to switch suppliers in under 60 seconds.
Long term, we are aiming to deliver ‘Happiness through Healthy Energy Bills’, which widens our approach across three areas:
- Save (see above – health checking your bill);
- Reduce (i.e. implement solutions to use less energy); and
- Create (i.e. understand the optimum solar generation and battery storage solutions)
DB: How does Energy Bill Doctor’s technology work?
Wolfenden: Once a consumer’s bill is either uploaded to us as a PDF or a snapshot, we either ‘parse’ or ‘OCR’ it. Basically, we rip the data off it. We then ‘re-rate’ (compare with 100% accuracy) the customer’s bill against all the tariffs in our system (there are circa 10,000 of those), to create a complete and comprehensive health check.
DB: How do you ensure comparisons are 100% accurate?
Wolfenden: We extract the correct data from a customer’s bill, and our analytics engine (which has been tested within an inch of its life by the telco sector) then analyses the customers usage and bill size against all of the Best In Market Deals available
DB: How did you and Long come to partner on this project?
Wolfenden: Andrew and I have known each other for some time and between us, across various roles, we have more than 30 years of experience within data analytics and consumer-focused price comparison. We were motivated to harness technology and data in a way that would allow consumers to be less wasteful in terms of physical energy use, money expenditure and time. Further, we saw the opportunity to take what has been done before and make it better; namely, innovate sufficiently to significantly increase the buyer (consumer) utility of a service – Blue Ocean Strategy has influenced our thinking here. Plus, it was a lot of fun pulling something together which is materially different!
DB: What distinguishes your comparison tool from others?
Wolfenden: It boils down to empowering customers to have control. No one provides a transparent and 100% accurate health check. Some may provide a comprehensive set of tariffs but do not use accurate data extracted from a customer’s bill. Others may talk through the details in an ‘accurate’ manner over the phone with the customer. At the end of the day, however, the substantive control rests with the company doing the comparison/selling.
Our position is to show ALL of the Best In Market Deals available to the customers (every time), and show them how their current deal compares – with 100% accuracy (every time). So, whilst others may show a limited picture of the market or manipulate their results, we do not. The key is allowing the control to vest with the customer. Energy Bill Doctor turns that on its head and gives the control fully back to the consumer.
DB: In your view, is the energy sector ripe for disruption?
Wolfenden: Very much so. Two elements, in our view, are broken or at the very least a bit fractious.
1) Energy Generation: The retailer models of today must evolve over the next 10 to 15 years. The disruption is materially coming from the way in which (and the place at which) the energy is being created (generated). Solar and Batteries will shift the game.
2) Deal / Tariff Structures: The idea of ‘discounts’ and ‘Off What’ have become more and more conflated. [FYI – By ‘Off What, I mean you can get a 40% discount off 60c/Kwh or 10% off 35c/kWh… the latter is more competitive, but if you’re only tallying % discounts, it looks a lot less attractive]. The strategies used by retailers to diversify their price points a customer sees over time have also become conflated. Retailers offer Pay On Time Discounts, Direct Debit Discounts, Ebilling/Online payment discounts, dual fuel discounts, guaranteed discounts, discounts which may not appear on the customers first bill or last, a 12-month discount terms or a 24-month discount term, or a term which sees a proportion of the 24 month discount erode away after 12 months – so, not a lot of consistency. Consequently, the comparison business is a bit of a mess.
Short term (next 2-3 years), our focus will be the ‘Saving’ part to our model. By proudly placing the customers first, allowing them to have control, and being really clear about what a good deal looks like, we’re owning the ‘moral high ground’, compared to anyone else advising customers on a better deal.
DB: What is the business model – how do you generate revenue?
Wolfenden: Currently we create revenue from whoever switches to one of the retailers we have a commercial relationship with. Our panel of retailers is expanding, and we see this fueling the availability of more competitive offers.
A critical part to what we do is being able to show ALL of the Best in Market deals even if it’s not with a retailer we’re affiliated with. In this way, we consciously encourage consumers not to switch through us if we don’t have a healthy alternative or their current deal is healthy.
What we know is that in delivering the bill ‘Saving’ part of our business, the majority of consumers and businesses will see their competitive deal today erode into an uncompetitive deal in six to twelve months’ time. This means we have a future opportunity to create revenue, so long as we respect the consumers using our service and treat them fairly aligned to our brand values.
Longer term, we will aim to work with the consumers using our service to support with solar and battery solutions, where there will be more revenue opportunities.
DB: What success has Energy Bill Doctor experienced to date?
Wolfenden: We’ve built trusted relationships with six leading energy retailers, and there’s more to come. National media coverage on ABC Radio, Sky Business News and Talking Lifestyle. Over 1300 site visits every month, 400+ Facebook followers with 131,000 people reached, over 1000 health checks complete. We’ve Bootstrapped ourselves to this point and currently have nine staff (including Andrew and I)
Q: What have been some key wins and challenges?
Wolfenden: First, the wins…
- a) Going Live in March 2016
- b) Pivoting in July 2017 to deliver our three core value propositions: ‘100% Accurate Health Check’, ‘Switch in under 60 Seconds’ and ‘Best in Market Deals’.
- c) Showing over 1000 Australian consumers and businesses how health their bill is.
- d) Helping around 200 of these people to switch!
Regarding the challenges, building a startup is in itself a challenge, especially in the early days when revenue is skinny. So, you try and fail with different approaches. The key is to keep faith in your model and back yourself, not being afraid to change your approach.
Q: What ambitions do you have for Energy Bill Doctor and how do you plan to realise them?
Wolfenden: Energy Bill Doctor aims to educate the masses on how to take back control of their energy costs and excess usage. Whilst creating significant financial savings, the desired social impact is to drive the uptake of micro-renewable, storage and energy efficient solutions in the home and business. We’ll realise this by doing the basics well. Engaging consumers, putting them first always and driving solutions –this approach ultimately creates revenue which allows us to grow and expand.
See also: Atlassian co-CEO endorses Brighte with a lead role in the fintech startup’s $4m Series A round, Melbourne-based smart energy accelerator open to local and international startups, Solar energy start-up Redback technologies draws $9.3m investment from EnergyAustralia, Energy startups have to be ‘very smart’ in how they challenge the big retailers: Evergen’s CEO, Peer-to-peer trading: how it could address the rising cost of electricity for small businesses, Origin teams with Perth startup Power Ledger to trial Peer-to-peer energy trading platform, Australia’s first renewable energy start-up accelerator launching in Sydney: apply now and The energy market: “If we don’t fix it, small businesses will close,” warns Kate Carnell.