Business development · 21 August 2019

How these 4 digital businesses are making money in this tough climate

There are many external factors that can negatively impact UK businesses these days, from Brexit to (er) Brexit. For example, when it comes to investments, we know that property, for example, can be a high-risk, high-reward endeavour, but it’s so reliant on the economic and political stability of its environment. So, where can savvy investors and business owners be safer from these threats? 

One possible avenue is the digital businesses sector. We met with four that are defying external factors through their consumer-first approach, their emphasis on pricing and crucially – listening to what customers want. Not only this, they provide services that are necessities to modern consumers, regardless of budgets, and Brexit threats.

1. Will Hodson, Co-Founder, Look After My Bills

Hodson credits tech and securing trust among consumers as the reasons for his company’s success.

Business Advice, (BA): What unique service does ‘Look After My Bills’ offer?

Will Hodson, (WH): We switch providers for customers on their gas and electricity bills, we do this by gaining access to the data that defines them as a consumer, then we help.

BA: What makes you disruptive?

WH: We’ve become “the rational consumer” that consumers themselves simply can’t be. In essence, we’re disrupting price comparison websites, those are the guys whose market we’re gunning for. They’ve failed as the energy companies did – they didn’t deliver on a better deal for customers.

For example, price comparison websites switch consumers for a year for the best deal then the price quietly goes up by 30-40%. It’s a deal that works for them, but not for the consumer. We discovered that customers wanted to be switched every year. So we provide that service automatically so they don’t have to worry about it. 

BA: What’s your most prized asset in your business?

Trust – definitely. We’re trying to disrupt an industry where trust is a premium. As we manage customer money and move it to the best price we can find, it’s imperative that our customer base trusts us to make the right decisions for them.

2. Jessica Oppetit, General Manager, London UK, ViaVan

Oppetit says growing businesses should be looking to their smaller competitors when expanding abroad.

Business Advice, (BA): What’s ViaVan story?

Jessica Oppetit, (JO): We launched in New York back in 2013-2014, we were primarily shared vehicles and shuttle buses initially. Today, we take people from one place to another, people can order in real-time, and we will pick up people along the route like a bus. Everything is dynamic and computed in real-time, including where you’re picked up where you’re dropped off and in what order.

BA: What makes you stand out in the ‘car-sharing’ and cab app market?

JO: We launched in London in April last year and Berlin last year. In London, we’ve grown rapidly with more than 5 million rides having taken place. How we’re standing out is the way we’re changing how Londoners get around their city. For example, we worked with TFL on a project in Sutton to create on-demand bus services to displace private car ownership, we’re proactively trying to change the face of public transportation and reduce congestion.

BA: What advice would you give to business owners who are concerned about competitors?

JO: Our most obvious competitor is Uber. So when we were expanding we looked at what Uber did in the markets we were launching in and changed prices around things like pool services. So definitely watch what your competitors are currently doing, and do it better. We also looked at what other small competitors were doing. You can’t ignore them because they’re smaller, you have pay attention to them. I’m now hearing about smaller competitors launching in London over the next few years, I’m more afraid of the little guys than the big ones.

BA: What macro factors should businesses be aware of when expanding abroad?

JO: What I would say is that cultures and perceptions differ, and you need to be aware of that. In our case, routing our cars down specific avenues could be quicker, but some feel or are perceived as slower, so we won’t route you there even if it is slower. Perceptions really matter. We’re really learning that from the London landscape, for example crossing the river is something users really care about.

3. Livia van Strydonck, Head of Operations, Lendable

Lendable’s growth is due to investing in tech rather than growing their team, says Livia van Strydonck.

Business Advice, (BA): What crucial consumer problem is Lendable solving?

Livia van Strydonck (LS): We are disrupting the loans space. To get a loan, usually, customers have to fill out pages of forms, and then it takes ages to get the money into your account. Instead, we offer a decision almost instantly, we can offer money into an account in as little time as 60 seconds. We also have API integrations with partner sites so you see the rate you can get.

BA: What early mistakes can growing businesses easily make?

LS: Definitely prioritising the wrong things when taking a business to the next stage. In our case, I think the reason for our 400% YoY growth has been down to our focus on improving our technology rather than scaling up in operational teams. Many people think that expanding a team is the next thing to do once a business experiences success. For example, our team has only grown to 40 people, but these are 4o people who have underwritten over 100,000 loans in the UK. Being digital-first as a business has helped us stay smaller and agile, yet reach more customers through our technology.

4. Christopher Morton, CEO, ELEM Biotech

Morton’s business is focused on improving consumer health.

Business Advice, (BA): What crucial problem is your business solving?

Christopher Morton, (CM): We replicate human physiology using supercomputers. This means replicating organs to make them beat (like a heart for example). When you want to design a new medical device or treatment, you need to know whether it will solve the issue of illness. By using our replica devices, you avoid the ethical issues of animal and human testing and crucially – you can see if your device solves the problem or not.

BA: How will your business save other medical companies money?

CM: If you fail pre-clinical trials, it can cost your business billions. That’s even before you’ve turned to ethical issues and incidences of bias. We create models that offer an alternative which is safer and comes with fewer ethical issues.

BA: What’s the biggest impact your business is making?

CM: If you look at cardiac issues, you have a lot of children that need heart surgery. However, there are no certified medical devices for children today. Every child is unique, so we replicate organs that match their individuality, and test devices out on them.

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Annie May is the Features Editor at Real Business and Business Advice. Following her graduation from LSE, she embarked upon a freelance career in current affairs journalism. Annie has written on subjects varying from African history and contemporary politics to community business and current affairs news in London. At Real Business and Business Advice, Annie is passionate about highlighting inclusive and diverse business disruptors and organisations for our evolving readership. Annie believes in fostering community inclusion and has volunteered for organisations such as Fairfield House, a UK based Rastafari centre and a senior citizen association for ethnic minority men and women.

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