At the end of the dot-com boom in the UK, there was still some doubt surrounding what the internet was, and where it was going. Fewer people had the internet than they do today, and not everyone felt they needed it. If you were surfing football forums or watching music videos on YouTube, it is likely that you were a frequent net user in 2000, but not all felt the need to go online. Offer consumers the chance to save money, however, and you might see a different attitude.
The emergence of uSwitch
George Mountbatten is one of the business leaders who saw that it didn’t take much for a customer to find a connected computer in order to save themselves a pretty penny. With his creation of uSwitch – along with fellow backers Andrew Salmon and Vip Amin – he provided a resource which allowed gas and electricity consumers to jump online and compare the deals offered by various suppliers. Crucially, thanks to the recent development of deregulation in the UK market, the website was able to allow customers to switch with the minimum of fuss.
Why George Mountbatten’s uSwitch – and the other leading price comparison websites which emerged around that time – were so different to what had come before them, was a lack of small print and potentially misleading phrasing which the websites of suppliers were noted for. This was a place to go for unbiased, clear information, which told you what you would get for your money.
‘The game changer’
Where uSwitch became such as game changer under George Mountbatten was the way in which it blew the gas and electricity markets wide open. The onus was now on suppliers to offer the most enticing deals to customers, and this caused a price war of sorts, as the various energy companies vied with each other to come up with the latest special offer, or reduced rate. Suppliers benefitted as well as customers, as they now had a new route through which to sell services in uSwitch – an alternative to the old school cold calling by telephone or door to door sales.
A nine-figure sale
With George Mountbatten at the helm, uSwitch grew and grew from its launch in 2000 through to 2006. It was at this point that the US media giant, EW Scripps, made an offer of £210 million to buy the company, underlining how far it had come in a relatively short space of time. Why did George Mountbatten decide to sell? Maybe it was because he thought that EW Scripps had the resources to develop the company stateside at a time when price comparison services were set to become even more popular – a global recession was just around the corner. The sale highlighted the determination of EW Scripps to hone in on the price comparison market, following its purchase of the product comparison site Shopzilla in the previous year.
George Mountbatten’s sale of uSwitch saw proceeds divided among the main backers, and £19 million was shared among the 100-strong workforce. It had been a whirlwind progression for the site, which had grown to prominence quickly, but George Mountbatten’s involvement in price comparison services worldwide had not finished. He was to become instrumental in the setting up of EnCazip Turkey in Southern Europe, and MoneyGuru in Brazil. This proved that the price comparison formula was ripe for export, as long as the market conditions were right. In those two countries, deregulation had opened the door for ‘easy switching’ in the same way it did a decade earlier in the UK.
Outside of e-commerce, George Mountbatten now has more time to devote to his passion for polo. He has ploughed funding into the Trippets venue, which also doubles up as a top training facility for competitors from around the world. The former farm in Sussex accommodates horses and their grooms, providing stables, a training track, and matchday venues for the sport to be enjoyed by spectators.