Esther Freedman interviews the CEO of Bounce Energy, a Texas electricity provider. Competing with large companies like Reliant and TXU Energy, Bounce believes it has a competitive advantage through its online processes for ordering and bill paying. Wright, an experienced entrepreneur and eCommerce expert, says his customer focus and incentive programs make for a better customer experience.
Esther This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. I'm Esther Freedman and my guest today is the CEO of Bounce Energy, Robbie Wright. Robbie, welcome to the show.
Robbie: Thank you.
Esther So let's start off with a simple question, what is Bounce Energy?
Robbie: Bounce Energy is a deregulated electricity provider in Texas. And in the state of Texas you have choice on, um, your - who sends you your electricity bill each month in the Houston - Greater Houston and Dallas markets so we're competing with former incumbents like Reliant Energy and TXU Energy, um, to handle sort of the customer service, billing and marketing aspects of the electricity industry in the state.
Esther That's pretty cool, so you're competing with some pretty big names like Reliant; obviously that's a huge company. What sets you apart from some of those other competitors?
Robbie: Well, Bounce's strongpoint is we're online focused and social media focused. So when we looked at the market before starting this company, we realized a lot of the larger guys were not paying much attention to where really the world was going in their buying behavior; um, not a lot of focus on the online communities or the emerging social space such as Facebook or Twitter. We looked at it and said there's probably a pretty good contingency of consumers out there who would prefer to handle not only their ordering behavior but their - their ongoing bill payment behavior online as opposed to always having to pick up the phone. So we built our business around the model of driving, you know, driving our orders, our customer - potential customers, um, ordering processes and bill payment processes through the internet and we took a special focus from our marketing perspective in areas like Facebook and Twitter, places we felt like everyone else had been sort of ignoring.
Esther It sounds like you guys are really innovative because from what I know, energy companies are generally very, uh, slow to catch on to things like Facebook and Twitter, so how has that been for you? Have your customers embraced that?
Robbie: We feel like we've had a huge amount of success early on in sort of exploiting that, um, that void in the marketplace. I think competition makes everyone better and so a lot of these large electricity providers are a bit more nimble than what you'd generally think about form the monopolistic, this is your u-utility guy, this is the one bill you get every month. So, you know, a lot of these guys do move more quickly but still, the way we - we looked at it, no one's really doing the Facebook, Twitter, um, aspect of it at this point. you know, four years ago when we started building this out, uh, we started from zero, we're now close to 53,000 Facebook followers, 6,000 Twitter followers, um, and while all those folks are not, um, specifically our customers a healthy chunk of them are and one of the ways we turn people who aren't customer into customers is through that engagement experience on those different social media.
Esther Do you actually solve problems or do you direct people from Facebook and Twitter to your website or maybe to the phone?
Robbie: Our philosophy is we try to talk to people in the way they wanna be spoken to, so if someone's coming to us over the phone we're happy to deal with them over the phone. If they're coming to us through our website we have a chat space, we have an online sort of bulletin board community on our site, um, if they wanna talk to us through Facebook or Twitter, that's where we handle the conversation; we're okay, um, with some of that sort of being public because when you're solving problems for consumers, um, the likelihood is that's a positive experience for those folks and it translates very well to other people who are sort of watching that experience unfold.Another thing that I think differentiates us from, um, the majority of the other guys in the marketplace is, we have a rewards program. So, uh, when you look at electricity in the - in the Texas market, uh, it's not just traditionally here's your price per Kilowatt hour, go, um, there are all kinds of different ways to give customers new advantages, um, i-in the spirit of competition. One of the places we focused on is with, uh, a multitude of rewards programs; so we have a cash back program, we have sort of a bill credit and gift card program, we've got an American Express program, we've got American Airlines, uh, mileage program and, you know, we've got more we're working on to roll out in the future. And those really are based on, you know, one principal component to the customer experience; if folks pay on time, they're gonna be getting and be eligible for those rewards with us, um, however long they - they remain with our business.
Esther That's great, sounds like a awesome company to work for and to be a customer with.
Robbie: Oh thanks, we're really proud of what we've done.
Esther So it sounds like you have to be a certain kind of person to work within this space and specifically to work at Bounce; it's not a regular energy company, it has a very specific focus and strategy. So how do you find these people?
Robbie: I have a background in the ecommerce and online world as do the other six people who helped found this business with me, so this is actually not our first startup. We, uh, joined in another startup one of us was a Founder there, a couple of us came on very early there and sort of experienced what it was like take something from nothing and build processes and programs and departments around it. Um, and we translated that sort of mentality over to this business where we had a pretty good idea that we wanted people who were gonna come in here who were comfortable without, um, a rigid structure on a daily basis, not working in a cube farm, avoiding the - sort of the fluorescent light environment, willing to come into meetings, bring their best ideas, not be intimidated by other people with higher titles in the same room and letting the best idea win, you know, sort of fighting the battle on the dry erase board.
and we knew over time as we were building sort of that culture out, yes there was gonna have to come a point in time where we had to put departments together, build some structure, some guidelines and processes, um, cause we'd been through that before and so we've, you know, we've done that at - at the four year mark. We just - we just turned four basically for the age of the business, you know, we've got departments, we've got guidelines, we know what we're looking for in personnel.
Esther A lot of people are looking to transition away from that structured environment to a less structured, more creative environment. Do you find that you're getting a lot of employees from some of those bigger companies, from your competitors maybe?
Robbie: We've had very few issues recruiting from other places to bring folks in. There are some folks, some talented folks and individuals at some of our competitors how have been attracted to us in the past; we've had some success bringing them in. We've also had a strong focus on finding folks with an ecommerce and online background and sort of understanding, you know where the internet is going, where social media is going, um, and recruiting them in as well.
Esther So what about you? You mentioned a little bit about how you're the Founder of this company; you're the CEO of this company; were you always an entrepreneur at heart? Did you always know you were gonna be a business owner one day.
Robbie: I think from - from childhood I always wanted to be someone who was involved with starting a business and building something from scratch. I've had the opportunity now to do it twice, um, and it's been a fantastic experience. I would - I would say, you know, on one level I've done it and yes I'm the CEO, at the same time it really helps to have a strong partnership in place with some other people who've done it too.
Esther Do you find that it's easy to keep your business on track vision-wise? Do you all have the same vision or do you ever clash?
Robbie: We clash all the time so that's, I think, part of one of our advantages is we're willing to be very honest with each other, sort of fight it out in a room, talk about where we're trying to go and you know, determine through that discussion, you know, what the right answer is and move forward there, it's very rarely ever something where I say this and we go or someone has a vision and then we all sort of just naturally share it and we move forward. I think it's more of a painful process than that, um, and that works really well for us. I think part of the advantage there is a lot of us have known each other for a long time.
Esther Well you mentioned bringing in a team of people that is very skilled in maybe some of the areas you're not as skilled in or know that much about, sounds like you're not afraid to bring in talented people who may be more talented than you in some areas. Is that true?
Robbie: Oh, that's absolutely true. So yeah I'm probably the least talented guy on the management team. I know people say that all the time but the - the truth is, you know, we have people who are better at marketing, better at operating, better at the risk and supply, better at technology than I could ever hope to be, um, in this business. And I'm perfectly comfortable with that because I have a pretty good idea of how to put things together and keep them moving forward, um, and being comfortable sometimes with the risk that goes with that and things not always turning out the way you want, having to reverse and move in a different direction.
Esther And my last question is if you were going to give some advice to a young upstart who is interested in getting into the energy industry, what would you say?
Robbie: Well I would say, uh, find a mentor, learn as much as you can from from whoever that may be in the space before you go out on your own because it's a full contact sport. In Texas, you know, we own the entire customer experience from the, um, acquiring them all the way to when they move out or switch over to someone else and collecting that final bill. The credit processes, account management processes, etcetera, that's a very difficult thing to learn, um, on the fly. Uh, but, you know, with the right sort of background and experience I think anyone, um, willing to work hard and find their competitive advantage in the space can have success.
Esther Well this has been fascinating, thank you very much for being with us today.
Robbie: Yep, thank you, I appreciate it.
Esther Well that's Robbie Wright, CEO and Founder of Bounce Energy right here in Houston, Texas. This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at The BusinessMakers.com. I'm Esther Freedman, we will see you next time.