The third floor of Second Home, the co-working space in Shoreditch, feels more like the Eden Project than a tech start-up hub.
Large, curved windows let in light to nurture the dense foliage which blankets the corridors. According to Hayden Wood, the co-founder of Bulb, a tech-focused energy start-up based in the quirky office space, there’s method to the jungle feel.
“The plants are meant to encourage creative thoughts,” he explains, wearing a look which suggests he isn’t entirely convinced by the theory.
But as he and co-founder Amit Gudka talk through the business’s rapid growth, I wonder whether Wood should be less sceptical about the inspirational powers of the surrounding shrubbery.
In just over two years, Bulb has got all the regulatory clearance needed to be a gas and electricity supplier, has secured two rounds of investment, amassed 70,000 customers or “members”, and is profitable (an unusual trait for a Second Home dweller).
The idea stemmed from their work in the energy sector. Gudka was a gas and electricity trader for Barclays and Wood a consultant for Bain and advised some of the Big Six such as Npower.
As friends, they’d often meet up after work and rant about how the energy market was broken. The Big Six were ripping everyone off and somehow getting away with it, they agreed, and had poor customer service to boot.
They decided to do something about it and set up Bulb. The concept was simple. An energy company (renewable, no less) with one tariff, no sneaky teaser rates, no exit fees. And they would be able to charge less because they’d run it as online only with fewer staff.
They raised £1.3 million in seed funding from friends and family to get the idea off the ground and after a few early teething issues — the usual start-up hiccups like dodgy phone lines — business quickly grew.
Londoners tend to be the least likely out of most parts of the country to switch energy provider, but Bulb has found it to be a hotbed for young switchers, perhaps a sign that those paying high rents in the capital are starting to dig around for savings.
Five of the six big energy companies have raised prices this year, even though wholesale prices for electricity and gas have fallen 40% and 25% respectively since November. Bulb has cut its prices twice already to pass on the savings.
Both in their early thirties, the entrepreneurs come across as particularly passionate about the renewable aspect of their business.
“I can’t imagine starting an energy company and it not being renewable. It was just a genuine no-brainer for us,” says Wood.
“But we saw it as a really exciting challenge to prove that renewables can be affordable for everyone and it isn’t just an expensive, upper-middle-class lifestyle product that only a few people in Primrose Hill can buy.”
Before energy, the pair first bonded over their passion for music. Gudka, a DJ, ran a record label and club night called Man Make Music (still going), which he started with Nikhil Shah, the founder of streaming site Mixcloud.
Wood was just a self-confessed “music geek”. In fact, he’s just returned from Worldwide, the music festival in the south of France.
“I wore a Bulb t-shirt one day. Eight people came up to me and said ‘I love that company, I get my energy from them.’ We’re talking about Bulb,” he says, half-chuffed, half-bemused by the company’s cult status.
Bulb’s employees aren’t your usual energy company staff, Gudka explains. “One of our energy specialists, she’s a meteorologist and specialises in the weather on Mars.”
The company may already be profitable, but recently tapped up angel investors for another £6 million to keep up with the pace of growth.
“We were reaching the stage where so many people wanted to sign up that we were having to throttle things back and that didn’t feel right,” Wood says.
That extra funding will help as smart meters find their way into more homes. By the end of 2020, energy suppliers must have offered them to every home in the UK.
Bulb’s customers will be able to use the mobile app, which is still in testing mode, to see how much energy they are using through their smart meters.
Gudka has just had a baby boy and after taking a month off after the birth, is about to take another three months’ paternity leave.
“There’s obviously some worries about leaving the business for a bit, but actually to be fair for the month [I was on paternity leave] business went better than it ever had before that, which was very reassuring,” he laughs.
Quickly outgrowing the third floor of Second Home, the duo are planning a move to a larger space upstairs. If they were a superstitious bunch, they’d be taking those big plants with them.Reuse content