Juliet Davenport, CEO Good Energy: Make Sure Investors Share Your Corporate DNA

The NextWomen DWEN Interview series continues with Juliet Davenport, CEO of Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable electricity supplier.

Juliet’s journey to entrepreneurship began at university, where she studied physics and became particularly interested in climate science. In order to understand the source of the problem, she then completed an MSc in Economics:  “Physics tells us what is going on, but economics was the route to working out how to shift the economy, because that was where the problem was being created.” 

Juliet spent a year in Brussels working on European energy policy, then for a renewable energy consultancy, before setting up Good Energy. When she started the company, Juliet wanted to make it easy for people to empower people to make a difference to climate change. With over 28,000 gas and electricity customers in the UK, and supporting a community of over 8,000 small-scale generators, her approach has proved remarkably successful.

We spoke to Juliet about the transition from scientist to entrepreneur; her fundraising tips for founders; and the historical figure who inspires her.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch Good Energy?

JD: Working in government, I realised it was no good waiting for policy-makers to do something to tackle climate change – that we needed to empower individuals to make a difference by choosing renewable energy, giving politicians a mandate to act. I had a chance meeting with another European entrepreneur at a cocktail party, he wanted to set up a European business selling renewables directly to consumers and I jumped at the opportunity of heading up its UK arm.

After two years of getting the company up and running our funder couldn’t invest anymore and was at the point of pulling the plug on us – so I engineered a management buyout and launched the business which became Good Energy.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

JD: It’s critical. We have over 28,000 customers throughout the UK so we rely on efficient technology for managing them effectively – from collecting meter reads to sending out bills. We also deal with more than 8,000 individual green electricity generators receiving the Feed-in Tariff subsidy so we need good technology to make sure they get paid accurately and on time. We have our own wind farm in Cornwall and better technology helps us forecast the weather more accurately, so we can trade power more efficiently and keep our prices down. We’re the only energy company which hasn’t raised its electricity prices for over three years, and that’s largely due to the investments we’ve made in technology and our research into better systems.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

JD: As a newcomer to the energy industry I made sure I hired people who had the experience and expertise that I lacked in the beginning. Because Good Energy is a mission-led company the people in my team need to have awareness of climate change issues as part of their core values. I also look for people who can demonstrate strategic thinking.  Now we are lucky to be able to open our doors to some fantastic graduates who are passionate about our business - the talent for the next generation. 

TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

JD: We work in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as Friends of the Earth, Sustrans and the Centre for Alternative Technology, who refer new customers to us, and we help support their campaigns. But the best source is our existing customers. They tend to be very loyal and they are happy to recommend us to their families and friends. And we pay them a little reward, in the form of a discount on their energy bill, when they do that.

We also believe in listening to our customers – a lot of our new initiatives, such as launching our gas product in 2008 linked to a renewable heat incentive, came from listening to what they wanted. 

We are now recruiting more customers from social media and the web as the environment and energy becomes more mainstream.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

JD: Buying and redeveloping Delabole wind farm. We wanted to generate our own energy to help give us more control over prices, and Delabole was the UK’s first commercial wind farm, being run as a family business when we came along. Again, our customers were key – many of them wanted to invest in us as a green energy company, so when we needed to raise funds, first to buy the wind farm and then to redevelop it, it was natural to turn to them. We did three share offers to our customer base and around 10% of them invested. With the capital we raised and loan finance from the Coop we were able to invest £11.8 million in the new wind farm, which increased its capacity by 2 ½ times – enough green electricity for around 7000 homes.

TNW: How did you raise investment for Good Energy? Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their business?

JD: The biggest challenge in the business so far was raising money.  It is difficult to get a balance between the funding and the external controls that accompany it. 

It’s important that investors share your corporate DNA, otherwise they might end up running the company and making strategic decisions rather than you. 

Raising small amounts from a range of people can help, although looking after those shareholders may take a little more time, it ensures that control and the direction of the company remains with the management team. 

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

JD: Developing our windfarm was one. Another has been the huge growth in the community of independent generators we support through the Feed-in Tariff, government support paid to green generators. We now work with over 8,000 generators – households, communities, farmers and small businesses - the mini-power stations of the future. Our experience shows that when people understand where their energy comes from, they value it more and use it less, and we see decentralised generation as a cornerstone on which the UK’s renewable energy future can be built.

TNW: What is next for Good Energy? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

JD: We are looking for more wind farm development opportunities. Delabole was the first in a five-year plan to add 50 MW of new onshore wind capacity –enough to power all the homes in a city about the size of Cambridge. We’re currently consulting on a couple of new wind sites in Scotland.  We are also implementing new operating systems that should enable us to innovate more and improve our scalability, and therefore our competitiveness.

TNW: How did you find the transition from scientist, to entrepreneur to leader? What lessons did you learn along the way?

JD: I had various jobs including working in a small PR company learning communications and sales skills and then as a teacher, learning leadership and teaching skills.  The softer skills I gained allowed me to apply my academic learning to real life situations.  I am also lucky that those three aspects are still part of my everyday working life. 

TNW: We often hear people say that the way to increase the number of female entrepreneurs is to make science and technology more appealing to girls. Do you agree with this?

JD: Completely! I went to an all-girls school, which helped to make science seem like a normal subject, not scary at all. And I had a really inspiring Physics teacher who used to bribe us with chocolate cake. So maybe more chocolate is the key to making science and technology more appealing to women, but improving the communications skills of physics teachers would be a start! 

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

I think that when you get a lot of successful women in a room together, the energy changes, it becomes more positive and you can see the sparks starting to fly in a good way.

With Dell in particular, their attitude to cutting carbon in business is very motivating.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

JD: In the early days I lived in a shared house with other entrepreneurs and I learned a lot from watching how they conducted their businesses. A figure in history who has inspired me is Mme Clicquot.

She was widowed at the age of 27 and took on responsibility for running her husband’s wine business, turning Veuve Clicquot into one of the finest champagne brands in the world.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

JD: Being successful in business requires a certain amount of skill, a certain amount of confidence, a certain amount of leadership ability and the way they mix together results in your own unique approach. There is no perfect equation and everyone is different, so don’t worry if it seems like no one else is like you – that might be a good thing!!!

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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