In a competitive industry during challenging times, POWWR is seeing strong growth in both the US and UK with their award-winning energy SaaS platforms. In this interview, we talk to Michael Parrella, CEO at POWWR, about the best ways to grow an international software business.
Tell us about how your business first started out!
The business as it exists today is an amalgamation of two successful companies. The US side of our business was set up in 2011 as a consultancy company (previously known as ESCO Advisors) after one gentleman from the energy supplier world and another from the energy broker world came together to improve the overall energy sales process. These entrepreneurs wanted to develop a series of SaaS products to benefit both parties, so began building energy risk and sales software solutions.
UD Group, the organization we merged with earlier this year, started life ten years ago as an energy brokerage — just a few people working out of a little garage in Manchester in the UK. As the small business began to sell more and more energy contracts on behalf of the energy suppliers they worked with, they quickly began to realize the complexities of the energy and utilities industry. It was from this starting point that the business decided to develop their own tools to make the process of transacting energy easier and more efficient. Whilst this arm of the organization still operates a successful brokerage, it is the development of these market-leading SaaS products that has really helped to rapidly grow the business.
“Intimate knowledge of the life of both an energy supplier and a broker”
Our heritage means that we have an intimate knowledge of the life of both an energy supplier and a broker, and it became apparent early on that these parties just didn’t have the right tools to gain live and cost-effective access to the B2B utilities market. We started by outlining all the manual processes involved in selling energy and innovated to ensure we could automate as many of these processes as possible.
Did you always set out to become an international company?
Not initially, no. At the beginning, our founders from both sides of the business were solely focused on improving a process. It was only after the rapid growth and success of our products that we realized we had the potential to cross-sell our products overseas.
“Solely focused on improving a process”
We have only been working together in an international capacity for less than 12 months, but already we are seeing growth from both sides of the Atlantic.
You mentioned that when you set up a brokerage at the beginning of your journey, you quickly realized the energy industry was a complex one. What do you mean by that?
The B2B energy sales process was extremely manual and spreadsheet hell, which often led to many errors in contract submission and therefore a high rate of contract rejections. This was always a frustrating experience for everyone involved. Because of this, we were determined to develop a tool that would fully automate and digitize the process. And that is how our SaaS solutions were born.
“We were determined to develop a tool that would fully automate and digitize the process”
In addition to this, energy contracts typically took a considerable amount of time to negotiate and to finalize, so we were determined to speed this process up with the use of SaaS technology.
One of the largest complexities within the industry is a lack of communication, integration, and collaboration. We have ensured that the SaaS products we have built all interact with each other so that you can go from ‘submission to commission’ of an energy contract within one centralized platform.
And did the energy suppliers you were working with experience similar frustrations?
Yes, absolutely. Energy suppliers are known for having large, legacy internal systems, and this is something they are unable to allow their network of brokers to adopt. Communication between the two parties was difficult – it was critical to develop something agile which could be easily accessible to both brokers and suppliers, but something that would also seamlessly interact with a supplier’s own internal registration, validation and billing systems.
“It was critical to develop something that would seamlessly interact with a supplier’s own internal registration, validation and billing systems.”
The entire process was addressed. For example, energy suppliers are also at risk of building up bad debts, particularly when dealing with small businesses. This was previously mitigated by the supplier running manual credit checks once the contract had been received. We felt the need to develop a tool which would integrate directly with several third-party providers (Experian, Equifax, Credit Safe) and would check against each supplier’s rules. Now the process is completed automatically without the need for manual intervention, further reducing the contract rejection rate and the risk of bad debts.
What type of businesses do you typically work with?
Basically, we assist any supplier or brokerage with a desire to grow with more profitable sales. With over ten years’ experience in the energy industry, we have quickly established ourselves as market leaders, and are already working with nearly 50 suppliers of all sizes, including all the big six suppliers in the UK, a whole host of challenger brands and over 150 brokerages.
“We assist any supplier or brokerage with a desire to grow with more profitable sales.”
To date we have built 20 Broker Portals (accounting for 80% of the market) and have over 15,000 brokers working across these platforms.
What are the advantages to the utilities industry in using a cloud-based system?
Being cloud-based, users can access our SaaS products with any browser, on any device, anywhere, at any time. Suppliers do not need to implement or manage any internal IT infrastructure or systems and are charged for each contract using a SaaS pricing structure.
“Users can access our SaaS products with any browser, on any device, anywhere, at any time.”
Hosting SaaS products in the cloud allows you to be more innovative. You can integrate more systems together, which is particularly important for energy sales, as you need software that can compare prices across the industry, generate quotes, produce verified contracts, manage the sales journey and keep on top of market developments.
Is data security something you had to consider?
This is always a challenge, yes. When dealing with data relating to consumer personal information, security if the utmost importance. We make the decision early on to host our SaaS products within the Microsoft Azure cloud. This has given us the ability to build, manage and deploy our products at scale, whilst ensuring the data security of our customers. All data is encrypted at rest and we have replication between data centers to ensure we can implement DR/BC. We also perform annual PEN tests of the platforms using an accredited provider.
“When dealing with data relating to consumer personal information, security if the utmost importance.”
Data security within the energy industry itself is also a risk, so we gave this a lot of thought when developing our SaaS solutions. Suppliers and brokers used to transact over email, which would often be unstructured and would likely contain key personal data. Our software removes this need and allows for a single central place for encrypted data storage, allowing both businesses to become more compliant in terms of security.
What do you believe to be the main advantages of digitizing the energy sale?
It is all about speed and accuracy in this industry. It used to take days to negotiate a sale, and contracts were often rejected due to inaccuracy and error. By automating many of the processes, not only is a lot of time saved, but by introducing a number of validation touch-points, the data suddenly becomes a lot more accurate.
“Not only is a lot of time saved, but the data suddenly becomes a lot more accurate.”
For example, there is no need to send contracts out manually anymore. We are proud to have been one of the first businesses in the UK to integrate DocuSign into our products, so even the contract signature part of the process has been digitized, considerably speeding up the process.
How do you help your customers to grow their business?
Large energy suppliers using our SaaS products have reported a 52% reduction in costs due to automation, an 18% increase in go-live rates due to improved data quality and a 257% increase in sales due to the ability to manage large broker portfolios.
Where do you see the company in another five years’ time?
As the energy industry is constantly striving for full digitization of sales, we want to be able to provide a complete digital workflow and an overall smoother customer journey for our clients. We see ourselves as being the one-stop-shop marketplace for B2B energy sales. We are now able to seamlessly connect brokers and suppliers through our award-winning software, making us the only international company to serve both sides of the market by providing the best energy prices, services, and experiences for consumers.
“We see ourselves as being the one-stop-shop marketplace for B2B energy sales.”
Our focus to date has been on the SME market, but we are focusing now on expansion into the C&I market. The C&I market relies heavily on bespoke prices and is still a very manual process, but using our experience from the SME market, we are now looking to revolutionize the C&I side to provide instant pricing, enable suppliers to control offers and transact in a similar way to our SME clients.