I copied their products - taking out the bits that their customers didn’t like and added my own improvements.
Out of every problem comes a bigger opportunity.
HomeServe was growing fast but in 1997 John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, called all the water company chief executives to London for a water summit and declared that they must offer free water pipe cover. This could have spelled disaster for HomeServe as our product was now free. Instead we developed water supply pipe gold cover and wrote to all our water company customers offering the free service with an upgrade option. It became the fastest period of growth in HomeServe’s history.
In our American business we tried to acquire Utility Service Partners, a competitor. The management came to visit us in 2006 but talks stalled. We approached them again in 2009 and then decided not to acquire the business because there were a couple of potential risks. Finally, we re-approached them in 2016 and made the deal happen. So it took 10 years, showing that persistence does pay.
Take second mover advantage: don’t be afraid to copy and learn from others.
I found a water company in the south of England, Sutton and East Surrey Water, who offered a plumbing insurance scheme to their customers. We copied their product taking out the bits that their customers didn’t like and adding in some improvements, like plumbing and drainage cover, to their water supply pipe service. Today they have 40,000 customers and we have 8.4 million. So don’t be afraid to copy.
Joint ventures work.
We have two examples of this. The original joint- venture between my business partner and me and South Staffs Water, and HomeServe’s joint venture with Veolia in France. Both of these have been highly successful. But what is really important is the management running the business.
Reinvent or die.
Think of Blockbuster, Kodak or Nokia. They were killed by the competition because they didn’t reinvent themselves. It is really important to focus on innovation. One way of doing this is by setting up an innovation lab. We did this in HomeServe in 2013 and it was the basis of both developing LeakBot, our smart water leak detector, and also our entry into the boiler installation market via digital marketing. Another way to innovate is to buy a business with an innovation in your marketplace.
Having the right leader makes the difference between success and failure.
If you focus on getting the right leader into the business then they will hire the right team and everything else will follow. Two of my biggest mistakes in business have been hiring a wrong leader and letting a great leader leave the business.
Two of my biggest mistakes in business have been hiring a wrong leader and letting a great leader leave the business.
Lots of people have a To Do list but it’s really important to focus and decide on the things that you’re not going to do.
Confront the truth early.
‘dad.co’ was a business that we set up from scratch in HomeServe. It involved Facetiming an expert. This was a great service proposition but not a way to bring in masses of new customers. When we realised this we closed the business rather than continuing to pursue it.
Have a Not To Do list.
Lots of people have a To Do list but it’s really important to focus and decide on the things that you’re not going to do so that you can allocate your time to the really important priorities.