A beautiful date, the 11th of the 11th of the 10th; a goal to bring electricity closer to people and a vision to sell energy that comes from 100% renewable sources. This is how Holaluz was born, just over seven years ago, “which makes people protagonists of the need to use electricity and use the power of the Internet to make us known and to manage it. We were the first 100% online electricity company in Spain. We started with a real idea to change the world through green energy and with just three clients: the three founders, Oriol Villa, Ferran Nogue and I,” he explains Charlotte Pithe third disagrees.
By the end of the year, they had reached 100 customers, “including family and friends who nearly threatened us with death. I still remember an email from my Aunt Victoria telling me “Carlota, whatever you want, but for God’s sake don’t leave me without a light”. And they didn’t leave it without light. Neither they nor the 135,000 customers they have reached over the years.
Who is entering a sector as complex and giant-dominated as energy? “There are two aspects to this answer. My partners and I are in the same story. Two of the three of us are parents and we believe there are three sectors that are fundamental to transforming the world. The first is education; the second, healing and the third, energy. Serious activation of these three levers can bring about very important changes for all of humanity. If I wasn’t an entrepreneur in the energy sector, I would be an entrepreneur in the education sector. In fact, I’m not ruling out the possibility that she’ll be involved in something like this in 20 years’ time. And the second fundamental aspect is that we three have background 100% Energy: The three of us are engineers and have previously dedicated our entire professional lives to the energy world. If you know an industry well, you know how to disrupt it because you see the ins and outs, the cracks that you can leverage and force open.
To get to know this company better, we will review with Carlota Pi precisely some of the levers they have successfully activated:
Create a snowball. The heavy weight on the Internet allowed them to start with content marketing, the so-called content marketing content marketing, “Write a blog with everything to do with the use of energy, how it is used, saving strategies, electricity from renewable sources, and that’s where we started our snowball. We arrived with 2,500 customers by mid-2013. Then we had a great opportunity: we entered and won a competition organized by OCU and reached 30,000 in five weeks. That was our big starting shot.”
Green Tech Venture. “All the systems that we have developed so far in house. The technological effort we are making is so great that sometimes we don’t know if we are a technology company or an electricity company. We’re called Green Tech Ventures in England and I’m very excited.” Why develop your own technology? “When we started we looked for market software that would work for us but there was nothing. Our day-to-day business (buying energy from 400 100% independent operators, hiring transportation and bringing it to our 135,000 customers) is so concrete that nothing has been done. So we ended up having to develop all the technology, the algorithms and the platform ourselves. This proprietary technology has given us a significant competitive advantage over our competitors because we know it inside out, know how to scale it, and most importantly, we evolve it as reality itself evolves.”
Hello customer. “For us, customer service comes first. He is at the heart of the company. It is the origin and reason for all the decisions we make. One of our great skills is listening. That’s why we don’t outsource customer service. When a customer contacts us via phone, email, tweet, chat or WhatsApp, the customer experience needs to deliver what we promise and the way to achieve it is to deliver in house. For us it’s a total Vein. So much so, in fact, since our inception there has been a program called Hello Customer, where everyone in the company spends two hours a month answering real customers on the phone. It connects you to reality and the real needs of the customer, gives you real feedback from real users and reminds you of why you are in the market.”
The third of unfair advantage. The energy customer is traditionally immobile and very reluctant to switch suppliers. How to fight against this reluctance? “When we started, people thought it was impossible for a company like ours, with three entrepreneurs and a high level of technology, to compete with the big monsters in the industry. But by the time you reach 20,000 or 40,000 customers, they won’t doubt our ability to leave anyone without power, as my aunt feared. There is no risk. The monster we are fighting now is not fear of change, but laziness to change. And the most powerful tool we have to break this laziness is our own customers. At the moment we are growing to more than 300 new customers every day and almost 29% come through direct referrals from existing customers. There is no marketing tool quite like having a customer speak well of you in a bar or over dinner with friends. That’s unbeatable. It’s the secret of our unfair advantage that only we have: the power we have in-house with our customers.”
Bootstrap to 2016. One of the most surprising features of Holaluz’s journey is that despite being a capital-intensive company, they only completed a funding round six years after inception, when Axon came in with €4 million. The key, bootstrapping or organic growth. “Unlike other tech companies, we started making money from day one with the first three customers and decided to grow at the rate we could generate organically: we put 100% of the margin into attracting more Customers invested, meaning as much margin as we generate, we have invested as much in deposits. We stayed like that for almost 6 years. We made the rounds because we decided to grow faster than the company’s cash position would allow. When we started the capital increase we grew about 60/70 new customers every day and now we are around 350. This is the leap we have achieved with this investment. We could not have made the rounds and continued to grow at the current pace, but then we would not be able to meet the challenges that we want to face financially.”
Spoil the vendors. They have a supplier portfolio of 400 independent, 100% green energy producers to source their production from. “For us, they are, too, and we treat them that way. We have a team responsible for looking after them, treating them great, that all processes work, that they always have their data available through the platform we have developed to manage the relationship with them… “
capillarity and versatility. “Today we have 135,000 customers across Spain. And we like to say that we have customers in all national postcodes, including all islands and Ceuta and Melilla. This particularity is very representative of the capillarity and transversality that our value proposition to end customers has achieved: 100% renewable energy, only green, and putting people at the heart of all activities.”
Look beyond our borders. “We are licensed to operate in Portugal and this year will also license to operate in other countries such as France, Italy and Germany. But on the level of end customer acquisition, we will only start in 18 or 24 months. Our proposal is perfectly replicable on any European market. And later, depending on how things have developed in the European market, we don’t rule out a look at Latin America,” concludes Pi.