Jazz Shaper: Henry De Zoete & Will Hodson

Posted on 30 October 2021

Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson are Co-Founders of Look After My Bills ("LAMB"), the largest free energy auto-switching service in the UK, helping people save money on gas and electricity bills.

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing together the pioneers of business with the musicians shaping Jazz, Soul and Blues.   And I have two guests today for the price of one, Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson, Founders of the energy switching site, Look After My Bills.  Frustrated by high energy prices, University friends Henry and Will created their company, The Big Deal, in 2014, negotiating deals with energy providers on their customers’ behalf.  However, there was a problem, once these deals had ended, usually after twelve months, their customers were often rolled onto less favourable tariffs.  Henry and Will had a solution.  With investment from venture capital firm, Y Combinator, and thanks to their appearance on Dragons’ Den, which if you haven’t seen, go onto YouTube and have a look, giving one of the most successful pitches in the history of the programme, Henry and Will launched their free auto switching service, Look After My Bills, in 2018.  Their mission to make sorting your bills easy, fair and straight forward and to end the supplier loyalty tax.  Good morning gentleman, it’s very nice to see you both.  Friends from University, the heady days of the early 2000-2003 generation, that’s what I’m looking at here, fine people you are too.  Did you, when you first met, imagine that you would go and do something together?  Because being friends is one thing and actually going into business is a completely different number. 

Will Hodson

I would actually volunteer that at that point no one saw each other at University and thought “I’m going to launch a business with this guy” because it wasn’t the age of entrepreneurship.

Elliot Moss

And this is Will by the way talking, just in case, you are going to get used to their different voices.  I love having two people.  It wasn’t, right.  What was it the age of then?

Will Hodson

I don’t think so.  So, you’d be looking at, right, would I go into law?  Should I go into professional services?  Henry went into… down a different route but that’s what’s changed in the last, I think, ten years.  People genuinely see if not setting up a startup then joining a startup as an option out of University but back then, not so much but we had the same sort of interests and I guess were looking in the same direction professionally. 

Henry de Zoete

We were in the same halls, same football team and same course at University.  So it was a mix, wasn’t it?

Will Hodson

Yeah. 

Elliot Moss

Fair amount in common and that course was in, you’ll need to tell me?

Will Hodson

The overlap was in Politics.

Elliot Moss

Yeah, you did Economics and Politics didn’t you but you both then sat in the same, literally in the same group for Politics did you?

Will Hodson

That’s right.

Henry de Zoete

Yeah, Bristol, yep.

Elliot Moss

At Bristol.  So, apart from being… having these things in common, Henry, what else is it about Will that you think you liked at the beginning?  It’s not like its Blind Date here but what were the characteristics of Will’s personality and has he remained true to them?  Is he still the same person now, twenty years later?

Henry de Zoete

This is a great question.  I mean, I think he definitely is because we were literally and physically in the same building like in our halls, there was kind of like a little gang of friends of ours that we kind of like hung out together and you know, there’s always, you know a gang always has different types of characters in it and I think Will was the kind of like loquacious, funny, good-looking gang member shall we say. 

Elliot Moss

People are going to be quickly Googling Will Hodson, let’s have a look. 

Henry de Zoete

He’s done very well, so, you know.

Will Hodson

The gang member as well, can I say, it just means we are talking purely social, liberal science sense.  Not out there on the street doing damage.

Elliot Moss

And from your perspective, Will, what was it about Henry that you liked?

Will Hodson

Oh, so it’s a really interesting question because the personality types and the relation between two co-founding characters, is huge.  And you might say Henry and I have got the same interests, you know, did the same course and the question would be well, how did these set up a business and actually complement each other?  What we found out way down the line was, when you do a Myers Briggs test, personality test, it turns out that Henry and I are the exact opposite on each one of these various measures of personality.  So, where I was kind of much more let’s say introverted and wanted to think on my own about what the solution might be long-term, Henry’s much more instinctive and he is much better at reading a room and talking to people, getting ideas out of others.  So, I think that kind of combination endured and sort of served us really well as we ran a business together. 

Elliot Moss

You both went into the world of what I would call policy and politics in different ways and to me, as I look at your careers as they developed before you then went and ran your own thing.  Henry was more, you know, in the centre of, as it were, Government as you eventually got to, but Will, you were looking at ESG and you were interested in purpose driven things.  At that early age, I mean I also studied politics, Politics and Parliamentary Studies, so I was also very interested in politics and doing good.  Is that why you both that way initially rather than into the commercial world?  Was it just a natural evolution?

Will Hodson

We took super different routes, I mean, intellectually what stayed with me after University was, people felt quite powerless that you are in a day and age when big business was incredibly powerful, there wasn’t much you could do about it as a citizen, as a voter, so I became really interested in what you could do about it as a consumer and probably for the next ten years my preoccupation was, how can you empower and inform consumers to make big business behave better?

Elliot Moss

Why was that important to you as a person, Will?  What was it do you think about the way you were brought up or how you were brought up and your education that got you to the point of caring because often people just say well that’s really interesting intellectually but actually, I’m going to go and make some money?

Will Hodson

Well, my father subscribed to a wonderful magazine called Ethical Consumer and this started to switch on the lights for me about how you could make a difference about how you could be connected, I suppose, to the issues of the world and I probably was fairly fortunate in that leaving University, I felt financially fairly comfortable which meant that I wasn’t in a headlong rush to get the most, the best paid job that I could and felt probably a certain leeway and breathing space to do what I thought was really important.  I always remember my godmother took me out for lunch after I graduate, she’s got a lot to answer for, because she said, “Look, if you’re choosing what you want to do, one thing you could try is asking yourself what is the big issue of your time and what can you do about it?” and that pointed me vaguely in the direction that I went for the next ten years with very, very little in the way of remuneration. 

Elliot Moss

And turning to you, Henry, what was our equivalent of the what is the big issue of your time?  What made you move into the area that you moved into, which was essentially policy and related matters?

Henry de Zoete

I mean, I kind of got to where Will got to, it took me a bit more time, in brutal honesty and to begin with I was quite focussed, I ended up in think tanks straight after University and doing policy work and then ended up in the Department for Education doing education and I think I was very lucky to have a very good education and I was quite obsessed with schools, education and how to improve that and in one period of my life I thought I wanted to become a teacher because of all of that.  I actually did after I left the Department for Education, I did actually try out teaching, I talked to some friends about like, you know, obviously I knew quite a lot of teachers through work and I said like should I go and try teaching and they said yeah, I’m sure you could do it, why don’t you just go sit in a school for five days and you’ll soon know whether you want to be a teacher.  So I went and kind of sat in a school and kind of hit day three and I knew I definitely did not want to be a teacher so, but I kind of like began that how can you improve things via Government and then I think I did a bit of Government stuff and then I was like, okay, actually there is a lot of stuff that can be done outside of Government and that’s kind of the journey I went on to get to where we did.

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more from my Business Shapers today, it’s Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson, they’ll be back in a couple of minutes to talk about Look After My Bills and how that naturally, as it sounds, naturally evolved from both of their positions around viewing the world and what needed to be fixed.  Right now though, we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all the major podcast platforms, Mishcon de Reya’s Tom Grogan and Alastair Moore discuss artificial intelligence and machine learning, their possible application and the key things for organisations to consider when seeking to implement them. 

You can soak up the wisdom of all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have got a smart speaker, you can ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will be greeted with a taster of all our recent shows.  But back to today’s guests, Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson, Founders of the energy switching site, Look After My Bills.  I think we should probably talk about Look After My Bills.  Will, let’s start with you, in your own words, what is it and how was it born?

Will Hodson

So, Look After My Bills is a free service that moves you automatically to cheaper gas and electricity every year so you can never get ripped off again and you don’t have to switch yourself.  The idea for it came about after three or four years of Henry and me running a slightly different service in the same space, that was The Big Deal.  The Big Deal was just collective bargaining applied to your gas and electricity bills.  What we saw was, we could negotiate fantastic deals for our members and we had almost a million members and then they would get onto these great deals, after a year the deals would expire and their prices would go up by sometimes 40 or 50% and we’d say okay, you need to switch again to another great deal we’ve got for you, and guess what, no one could be bothered.  So, the obvious solution for us was, right well don’t we just switch for them and that was how Look After My Bills came about. 

Elliot Moss

And that sounds ridiculously simple, Henry, right?  And of course we all know that platforms with memberships and clever things that go on in the background and using AI here and there and then concluding a deal and actually all the paperwork that goes behind it, is a lot of stuff but back to the idea, the idea is so piercingly simple, were you not shocked that no one was doing it quite like that?

Henry de Zoete

Well I mean we had kind of thought of it a bit before we actually launched and actually we were talking the other day about how it was in kind of technical terms I think, well not even a technical term, in startup terms it was a pivot and we blew up the old business model and moved to the new one but the truth was, we probably should have done it earlier because I do think it was a simple idea, a simple concept and kind of very appealing but it was very, you know, The Big Deal was successful, it saved people huge amounts of money on their bills and it was profitable, we were making money so it was quite a big shout to then suddenly go, okay, we’re going to, we’re going to blow this up and go a different direction.

Will Hodson

And by the way, other people were doing it.  I think there’s a really important lesson out there for founders, for aspiring entrepreneurs, there’s no new idea under the sun.  If you’re thinking about it, a handful of other people are thinking about it too and if they’re talking to people, they respect about what they think about it and could you help, they’re probably moving ahead quicker than you are, saying I can’t tell you about this wonderful idea at the corner of the house party.  So, get out there fast, make it happen and what counts is, not that the idea is yours, it’s that you execute it better than everyone else. 

Elliot Moss

And how did you execute it better than everyone else?

Henry de Zoete

Well, I think we were lucky in the sense that we’d been working in that industry, you know, for a few years, doing a very, very similar product and we certainly had some highs and lows during that period, which was you know it’s like startup stuff, it was very tough, we barely took salaries for a couple of years, we had to put our own money into the business, you know, and you kind of learn a lot through all of that so, when it came to the new idea, I think we were just in a much better place to be able to execute it because we had done a… we’d built a very similar product.

Will Hodson

Another thing is, we hired someone, we talked a bit earlier on about Henry and I worked out, oh fantastic, we’ve got these complementary personalities, i.e. we argue all the time because we come at it from a different angle but in the end, don’t make too many stupid decisions between us because we’re so different in our approaches but there was one thing we lacked, right, so it’s three points that define a plain and I think the third person, the third senior person in our team, was all important and that person was someone who came in, totally mastered product, got himself into the homes of our potential users, learnt so much about what they wanted from an auto switching product, which makes some people really uncomfortable, he learnt how to make them at ease with it, that I think gave us an advantage over everyone else and once we had that advantage in terms of product, it was a question of getting the attention and that came from obviously, Dragons’ Den. 

Henry de Zoete

You are asking about kind of execution and Will’s very important point that it’s all about execution and you know that we made a brilliant hire that allowed us to happen, right.  I think there’s an additional thing that’s worth mentioning in terms of like startups and how they go about doing things, was that often people over engineer their products and don’t keep things very, very simple, I think one of the things that we did well and, you know, the chap who came and helped us was key to this, was that we didn’t try and build the kind of like very, very whizzy product with loads of different things, we knew we just did one simple thing and we’d do it well and then we were, the key was marketing that as well as we possibly could and often I think growth can actually be more important than product and you’ve got to be able to get distribution right and we had, you know, we did have rivals who probably had products that did more things, we did one thing extremely well and they would argue their products were better than ours, but we were much bigger and grew much faster than that and there was, you know, a couple of other key people in the team that allowed that to happen in terms of marketing but it was a great combo of simple product, great marketing that led to it and I think it’s easy to get into a trap of trying to build something that’s…

Elliot Moss

Perfect. 

Henry de Zoete

Exactly.

Elliot Moss

Yeah.  And the interesting thing is of course that the market agreed because a couple of years ago you sold it for towards £15 million.  What made you sell it so quickly?  What was the…?

Will Hodson

So this is the important point to make, because had just raised money in Silicon Valley.  I’d been out there in San Francisco, Henry and I had a joyous time in Y Combinator, met all these venture capitalists, learnt how they see the world, namely unless you can become a giant company, they’re not interested, and we secured this investment from various VCs, that was in the beginning of 2018.  We sold the company halfway through 2019 and they sort of said, you’ve only just got going.  What they didn’t realise was, what the famous film producer said that, you know, it takes several years to create an overnight success and actually we’d been going for five years or so, we’d gone down the road a fair bit, we knew what was ahead and it was pretty tricky, pretty volatile and we knew also that we had this potential acquirer in Goco, the company that owns GoCompare, that was committed to growing Look After My Bills far more rapidly than we could ourselves so, the deal was good for us and the investors too. 

Elliot Moss

And since then, I believe and I read Henry, tell me if this is correct, you’ve been investing and Will, have you been doing the same as an angel, you’ve both been sort of involved in businesses which you think are right for you, in an individual capacity?  Do you invest collectively as well?  Are there things where the two of you go, let’s do it together?

Will Hodson

There are one or two companies where Henry and I are both, unfortunately for them, on the cap table as investors and simply anything that Henry finds interesting, he would share it with me and vice versa, I’ve done the other thing too. 

Elliot Moss

Do you feel, because you’ve already given huge amounts of insight just by, you know without even thinking about it, is there a sense of yeah, been there, done that or do you still have empathy for those people that you are looking at and learn from them?

Henry de Zoete

Absolutely, I mean, I think one of the… I think extremely privileged and lucky to be able to do angel investing and I’ve been able to meet all these different people, doing different things, looking at things in different ways, is a huge privilege.  I think we’ve got a lot of empathy for what they’ve had to go through and the ups and downs of all of it and also try to be the investor that we kind of might, you know, we had some brilliant investors and some not so good ones and, you know, trying to be the ones that were, you know, were great and being supportive for them.  I also think there’s a kind of like um, the angel investing culture in the UK has like really taken off I think in recent years.  We were a little bit behind the US on this where successful founders in the US would always do angel investing.  I don’t know any UK founder now who has done very well who isn’t helping out the next generation and it’s a kind of like a very brilliant attitude of like trying to make sure that you’re kind of helping the next set of startups, whether we’re doing it well or not, who knows but it’s a kind of trying to, like the people helped us were trying to help others as well.

Elliot Moss

Briefly, before we go for our final chat, Will, is it more enjoyable investing and being slightly removed than being in the hurly burly or do you miss the hurly burly?

Will Hodson

You do miss the hurly burly.  The truth is that even when you’re cheering someone on with a sufficient amount of money on their outcome, which is not how I necessarily cheer people on in sports but that’s how you are cheering someone on in startups because you’ve backed them as an angel investor, it’s great but you are living slightly vicariously, the thrill of hitting milestones, of delivering with your team.  I really miss the atmosphere of being in a startup, within a team within that startup where you create out of one tiny objective or one tiny area of your business a universe where everything that happens is riveting, there’s a rich tapestry of characters and plot twists and that, I think, is what probably will see me going back towards startups in the future, more than anything else.

Elliot Moss

There’s going to be a return, I can feel it.  Final chat coming up with Henry and Will, they’re my Business Shapers and we’ve also got an absolute gem from Lonnie Liston Smith, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

Will Hodson and Henry de Zoete are my Business Shapers, they’re the Founders of Look After My Bills and they’re here just for a few more minutes.  In terms of what’s happening right now in the energy market, you know, if we’d have had this conversation a year ago, we would not be having the conversation about the cost and the issues in the industry and what’s going on post a global pandemic and so on and so forth.  Do you look at it go I’m very pleased I’m not in that or do you look at it with a different view as people who are still invested in customers being treated fairly?

Henry de Zoete

It’s a very, very good question.  I mean, I think I have to say I’m finding it slightly depressing where things have ended up.  I do feel like the energy market had got into a good place in terms of like the competition.  I don’t buy this idea that, actually Martin Lewis was, the Money Saving Expert guy was saying this the other day, like I don’t buy this idea that all of these small energy companies have been behaving very badly or they’ve been doing things and therefore they deserve to go to the wall, you know, we had this extraordinary situation where energy prices have kind of 6X’d in the last year or whatever the number is and no one can kind of predict that and it is a bit depressing to see that we’ve got a kind of the very larger companies are kind of back in force again and I don’t, you know, I think they’re probably very happy and that probably is not a great sign for consumers, unfortunately. 

Elliot Moss

And Will, assuming you don’t disagree vehemently with that, I want to just take you back to one of the first things you said which was your godmother’s point about what’s the big issue facing the world and that informed your decisions and it, I think it partly informed your decision to set the business up and I think the same is true of you Henry.  What do you think the big issue is now?  Now, where we are, knowing what we know, post a pand… or during still, a pandemic?

Will Hodson

About the energy market or…?

Elliot Moss

No.  In terms of the bigger, the macro issues… if you were solving one now, if you were to choose your next startup, where do you think you would aim?

Will Hodson

Well, I…

Elliot Moss

Without giving it away to many, many, many people because this isn’t the corner of the…

Will Hodson

Who all know of course that if it’s all about execution anyway so I think it’s true.  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is here. 

Elliot Moss

Tell me and tell everyone, we don’t care. 

Will Hodson

I, I am actually at the… I’m at the stage of just soaking things up and seeing what is the new big challenge, in the way that ten/fifteen years ago, it was really clear to me that people were really miffed with their treatment at the hands of big business.  Might well still be the case.  What leaps out to me now is, I came here via the Underground, the Underground is pretty much wallpapered with adverts for cryptocurrency that promise getting rich quick.  I’m not an expert on cryptocurrency but what leaps out is, people are desperate to do things with their money that’s going to get them returns rapidly and it’s quite alarming.  A lot of it’s unregulated, people are going in without proper advice and just as with Look After My Bills, we try to replicate the behaviour of a rational consumer, not someone who doesn’t switch and gets ripped off but instead someone who does switch, stays on the best deal, I am interested in what people would do if they had better access to information to use their capital and how to invest and how to grow their wealth over time.  So, I think that’s a challenge because the way it’s being done at the minute, where people feel desperate, you know, they’re not as well off as they’d like to be, someone else they know has made tonnes of money through bitcoin, people I think are adopting strategies that are risky and I think there’s a lot to be done in that area. 

Elliot Moss

And from your perspective, Henry, you’re a non-exec at the Cabinet Office so my question specifically is around what’s the relationship between the private world and the public world, the optimum one that will help us navigate the future whether it’s helping people understand how to invest properly or whether it’s investing in the right kind of infrastructure or vaccine coordination or buying, you know, medicine when you need to and all that?  What do you think is that optimal relationship as you sit where you sit at the nexus between the public and the private?

Henry de Zoete

Elliot, that is a kind of very, very difficult question.

Elliot Moss

Sorry.

Henry de Zoete

I think of political philosophers, economists and…

Elliot Moss

Good for you, for Henry…

Will Hodson

Grappling with for years. 

Elliot Moss

Of course but for Henry on a day-to-day basis, is there a sense of they just need to collaborate, they need to understand each other, they are misunderstood or is it a bit more, is there something else?

Henry de Zoete

Well, it’s, so I mean I definitely think there is… I don’t think the Civil Service actually understands business and I don’t think that business understands the Civil Service/Government.  And I’m not saying either of them are wrong or right but I don’t think they, you know, you spend a bit of time in business having known Government and it’s clear that they don’t really understand how Government works and you spend time in Government and it’s the same the other way around.  I think that things need to kind of like be more porous to like allow things to change in that kind of world.  I also argue that, you know, I don’t, I’m not a big Government intervention person, I mean like one of the reasons for doing the business in the first place was we think we could, you know, we saved people hundreds of millions of pounds over a five, six, seven year period and we did, you know, that wasn’t, you know Government can you know help people but the private sector can do a lot of very good things as well and I think there is a delicate balance with all of this.  I think one of the issues I’ve had or believe in, you know Will and I have talked about this in terms of business and this was also partly behind the startup, was businesses that aren’t necessarily treating customers properly, treating their workforce properly, treating their responsibilities to the environment etcetera properly and I don’t necessarily think Government is the answer to like smash down on those things, I’m certainly not against Government doing certain things like that, however, really change has to… needs to come from within, you know, and I’ve actually invested in a startup that’s like looking to help workers in the workplace to kind of get a better situation for themselves and I think that business needs to like think very carefully about all of that because otherwise, you see at the moment, you know, people’s, certainly young people’s faith in capitalism and I hate the word capitalism but like that concept has been going down over the years and unfortunately that I don’t think is good because you know I believe that it’s the you know free markets and free enterprise and democracy is the way that people kind of get out of poverty and it helps people standard of living and health and we don’t want that to go backwards in that way. 

Will Hodson

It’s absolutely clear from stats, surveys, also conversations, that younger people are losing their faith in capitalism and yet because of automatic enrolment in pensions because, you know, you can’t leave money in savings accounts, you have to go into some sort of fund whether it’s a pension or something else, you have more capitalists than before, you have more people who are invested indirectly whether they know it or not in companies that are shaping our world.  I think in the next ten years, you’re going to see people engaging with those companies through that identity a bit more.  So that’s another area I think offers some kind of hope. 

Henry de Zoete

Great point. 

Elliot Moss

It’s been really good to talk to you.  Thank you for managing to answer the question that has bedevilled…

Henry de Zoete

I definitely didn’t answer it properly.

Elliot Moss

But you answered it from your point of view which is all I wanted so, yeah, the full answer is available on a 10,000 word thesis which we’ll be publishing very shortly but until that point, almost goodbye but just before I let you go, I’m looking at Will now who is going to make the final decision, Henry, I hope that’s okay, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Will Hodson

So, we’ve chosen a song by Skip James and it’s called If You Haven’t Any Hay, Get On Down The Road and it’s a very, very old school Blues song from a classic Delta Bluesman.  It’s whimsical, it’s slightly surreal and it’s the kind of song I like to put on when it’s raining outside and there are things blowing down the street and you feel like the world might end and I just batten down the hatches and listen to something like this. 

Elliot Moss

Skip James there with If You Haven’t Any Hay, Get On Down The Road. The song choice of my Business Shapers today, Henry De Zoete and Will Hodson.  Will’s point about what is the big issue of your time, think about that and you will be absolutely crystal clear about what needs to be done.  The point about execution.  Execution is everything, you’re not going to be the first person with your idea, you’ve got to keep it simple, that is the way to go forward and the point from Henry about the relationship between the private and the public, between Government and the people and business, make things more porous, be more porous, let things flow from one to another.  All great stuff.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Frustrated by high energy prices, university friends Henry and Will created The Big Deal in 2014. They launched the "auto-switching" product in 2018, after discovering that members often rolled onto less favourable tariffs once the original deal had ended. That year, the pair appeared on Dragons' Den, securing "the best ever" investment.

Highlights

Henry and I are the exact opposite…I think that kind of combination endured and sort of served us really well as we ran a business together.

You are in a day and age when big business was incredibly powerful…my preoccupation was, how can you empower and inform consumers to make big business behave better?

We blew up the old business model and moved to the new one…it was a simple idea, a simple concept.

There’s a really important lesson out there for founders, for aspiring entrepreneurs, there’s no new idea under the sun… get out there fast, make it happen.

It takes several years to create an overnight success.

I don’t know any UK founder now who has done very well who isn’t helping out the next generation, and it’s a very brilliant attitude.

With Look After My Bills, we try to replicate the behaviour of a rational consumer.

We saved people hundreds of millions of pounds over a five, six, seven year period.

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