Interview – Jordan Brompton, co-founder and marketing director of myenergi
“The biggest companies in the world right now recognise that sustainability is the right thing to achieve. They really are leading the charge, but little companies like ours are the ones proving the point.”
Turning a passion into a multi-million pound global business is a dream for many, but for Jordan Brompton, co-founder and marketing director of renewable energy products firm myenergi, best-known in automotive circles for its zappi electric car charging applications, but manufacturers of everything from solar power diverters to wireless hubs, it is a reality.
What’s even more remarkable is the pace at which Brompton – 32 – and co-founder Lee Sutton have grown the firm. They’ve taken it from a team of six in the Lincolnshire Wolds using second hand machinery in 2016 to a workforce of more than 200 working from a state-of-the-art factory today, manufacturing an array of highly-regarded products with the ethos of giving customers flexible control of their energy systems.
That growth is set to continue; the firm is looking to go global with the backing of famed investors Sir Terry Leahy and Bill Currie, and has recently signed a high-profile sponsorship deal to back an ExtremeE rally team this season.
How did it start?
“I actually went to work with Lee in an admin role. I was at a crossroads in my life, teaching zumba and needed the cash, quite honestly.
“He was manufacturing these little devices that go in the home to divert power to hot water tanks from solar panels and it was a few guys soldering away, creating these devices and selling them to electricians.
“But I loved it. It sparked something inside, and next thing I knew I was organising trade shows for him, pulling in some big accounts. The business was flying – but what we didn’t know was that we were riding the height of the so-called solar-coaster.
“It crashed and Lee was in business with two other people who wanted out, and he couldn’t afford to pay them off. With the solar tariff slashed, the business was killed.”
That must have been hard. How did you reunite?
“Initially we went our separate ways; I actually set up in the cycling industry, buying parts in France and selling them in the UK. Again, I started selling to some big accounts and set myself up as a UK distributor.
“It was going well, but there was a nagging doubt. It wasn’t feeding my soul in the same way, and I knew all along that I wanted to go back into renewables someday. I just didn’t know how.
“The one constant was my LinkedIn profile. I’d built up a really strong presence there around sustainability and solar while I was working with Lee, and that allowed me to keep my finger on the pulse of what was going on.
“And then the magic moment came in the form of a text from Lee, saying he’d got a few ideas for some new products, outlining why he felt he’d only scratched the surface before and asking if I wanted to join him.
“We registered the business in 2016, but I was getting married and needed to close up the cycling business, so it was a while before it had my full attention.”
Your growth has been stratospheric since, hasn’t it?
“Well it’s been a rollercoaster, that’s for sure. I dived into the business in November 2016, going back to my old contacts and focusing on the solar installers and wholesalers who had survived the slump. We were starting from scratch; there was nothing left from the old business, bar what was in Lee’s head in terms of ideas.
“But this was my chance. I could help brand it from the beginning, and market it the way I wanted to. We spent a year getting the products working on the bench, figured out how we were going to manufacture them and getting everything in line. We started with a solar power diverter for hot water tanks, because that is what we knew, and then Lee had the idea for the car charger that could take all the power from solar panels directly to an electric car. That was intriguing, because Google didn’t throw up anything similar. It seemed unique.
“Our first move was to visit some of the big boys in the car charging space. They were dominating and just not interested in us. I remember them telling us that smart charging was never going to be a thing. We were pied off! So no collaboration was on offer and we were going to have to do it the hard way.
“We developed the products, packaged them well, and did a crowdfunding round; we needed £40,000 but only raised £10,000. So then we put more of our life savings in. It was nerve-racking, but actually raising £10,000 in 30 days had given us confidence. We’d aimed for more, but it was a pretty good indication that customers were out there.
“The turning point was when I met Fully Charged’s Robert Llewellyn up in Orkney when he was filming an episode. He loved the product, did an episode on us and – boom! – we’d arrived. It was late 2017 and pretty much since that day we’ve been fighting to keep up with orders.”
How do you keep up with that kind of growth?
“Back then we were still soldering by hand. Today we have a spanking new production line making 1500 Zappis a week. The rough maths is that we’ve got 10-15% of the market at the moment, which is a pretty good place to be a few years later, and an even better place to be when you consider the rate at which the market is growing.
“It has been wild and we’re not done yet. There’s a new production line being built ready for launch next month, and from then on we’ll be shipping 3000 units a week. And our ambitions don’t end there. Today we have almost 200 employees and we’re adding almost one a day at the moment. We’ve got subsidiaries in Germany and Benelux, we’ve got eyes on France and the USA. There’s more to come. By the time that production line is running we will be around 300 people.”
How big can it get?
“The opportunity is immense. The world is at various stages of switching to electric, for heating, for transport and for more. It’s a huge undertaking, and it’s not just about making the switch but doing it sustainably so we don’t end up in the environmental situation we started in. There is a gap to bridge between renewables and electrification.
“Our passion is self-generated power, be it from panels on the roof or connecting you to a sustainable energy provider. It’s why we don’t just focus on EV charging, but rather the sustainability of the whole home. That also means that we aren’t limited in the products we offer; if it bridges that gap, we want to be there.”
What makes you different?
“Lee, frankly. He’s been on the sharp end of installing this equipment, so he’s designed it with the technician and customer in mind. He understands that it’s no good designing the best piece of kit in the world if it’s impossible to install.
“That extends to how we work with our supply chain, too. It’s grown significantly, as you can imagine, and their needs are at the heart of our needs. It’s an eco-system, and our philosophy is to consider them as part of our business.
“Carrying that further, we see more opportunities with working with electric car sellers. Our philosophy of integrating everything at every stage can take a lot of the pain points away. We’re working with some leasing firms now, and I think part of our appeal is that we can link everything together to make the systems seamless.”
Who do you consider your rivals?
“I’m going to give you a bit of a crazy answer: Tesla. They’re involved in every part of the chain, from the battery, to solar panels, to the charger to the car. But the bit that’s missing is really – really – connecting all those steps together. It’s something we’re uniquely placed to do, because we connect everything we do, and we connect to third-party devices.
“I think that holistic approach is also a key point of difference for us. In the EV charger space we’ve got loads of competitors. Some even offer solar charging, albeit in a different way. But we’re always looking at the whole home, and how the processes map together. The way we work with the National Grid, and the scale of some of the trials we’ve been involved in, means that we’re way ahead of the pack in understanding this stuff.”
Do you have the headspace to realise the scale of your ambitions?
“Well… yes and no. Lee is the brain of the operation and he focuses on inventing. And I’m there to take whatever is in that brain and sell it. I am ridiculously ambitious, but we have a strategy team that keeps me in check, makes sure we run the business properly and keeps some order to realising our goals. We’ve got the freedom to concentrate on what we’re good at because we have been sensible enough to surround ourselves with intelligent people.”
Sir Terry Leahy and Bill Currie are among your investors. Your success must have attracted a lot of interest from people looking to buy in?
“We get plenty of approaches but we’ve got amazing investors. They’ve been invaluable when it comes to business experience and advice.
“What’s interesting is that I think we’ve had the least funding of anyone in this space, but are one of the most profitable firms. Key to that is manufacturing everything ourselves. We don’t import, we’ve scaled efficiently, and we’ve stuck to our values around sustainability – and we make money. It’s the dream scenario for now. We’re not saying that we won’t ever take on more investment, and we’ve got a few ideas that way, but for now just watch this space. Today we have a nice business that will serve us well for some time. We don’t have to chase more unless the opportunity is right.”
Can you chase profit and have sustainability at your core?
“It can be expensive to be sustainable. One example that springs to mind is a commitment to use recycled packaging. Sometimes it gets hard. But I return to a point I’ve made before; we live by our values, and we’re profitable. It can be done.
“And it’s not just me saying that. The biggest companies in the world right now recognise that sustainability is the right thing to achieve. They really are leading the charge, but little companies like ours are the ones proving the point. We’re proud of that.”
Is it a fair accusation to say that being wealthy makes living sustainably easier?
“Yes, but it’s also true that everyone can do something. Another one of our missions is to make living more sustainably more attainable, in terms of cost but also in terms of how our systems work and how easy they are to use.
“I look at our staff for inspiration. They don’t have to, but they live, eat, sleep and breathe this philosophy. We try to make it easier for them, in terms of salary sacrifice schemes if they buy an electric car, or have solar panels fitted, and it’s evident how quickly they start to live the goals. We might inspire the switch, but they live it.The ripple effect is evident.”
Are there any positives to take from the pandemic?
“We’ve grown rapidly, but what I can’t tell you is if we’d have grown faster without it. My attitude is more one of ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and we’ve managed to navigate a way through it while still building momentum. It’s not been fun but we’re here.
“Maybe there are customer positives; a lot of us have enjoyed the cleaner air, and maybe more people have got the time and even savings to consider renewable energy more seriously. But the flip side is that less cars were sold, and while electric sales were good, they were probably hit.
“Then, looking in, we’ve become more flexible employers, in terms of hours and working locations, and as a result we’re more agile. We also move into a new factory in July and it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to meet everyone who works for us, some of whom I’ve never met face to face. But we won’t lose that flexibility either.”
You’ve made a notable marketing push this year, through the ExtremeE rally series. Why?
“It’s a new series, with a global angle, a lot to prove, highlighting sustainability in some of the most remote parts of the world – you can see the parallels with our business and our ambitions already.
“I asked the tough questions around taking motorsport to these untouched places, and they had the answers. Wherever they go they seek to do good on the ground. I’m a great believer that, while the greenest thing you can do is nothing, I’m not prepared to do nothing – so the next best thing is to do better.
“They are proving it’s an eco-sustainable sport, that’s fun to watch, exhilarating and pushing technology. I wanted Myenergi plastered all over that; we’re there for brand awareness and the synergy is real. I couldn’t be more excited.”
As you grow the business, do you have a role model you look to?
“I’m such a fan-girl, but I do always revert back to Tesla because at their core they have created products that people love, and as a result they sell themselves.
“It’s all about the product, with the marketing almost doing itself. I get that not everyone can do that – we certainly have a marketing budget – but I love the idea of products being so good they sell themselves.
“I also love the fact that they have tapped into the mainstream, and especially the younger conscious. You need that, both to truly change opinions and to establish your brand for the long-term.”
Do you think that the younger generation will lead the charge to e-lifestyles as well?
“They’ll be part of it, certainly. It’s not just a young person’s initiative though; I can see all ages already embracing the full electro revolution, from power generation to charging to different modes of transport, be it e-bikes or e-cars.
“When you do it, you see the benefits. You see the bills come down, you see you’re doing something positive for the planet – it draws you in. Then you talk about it, then more people follow suit. But it won’t be one generation that leads it. If I look at who buys our products, it’s a diverse bunch with a common goal of being heavy researchers with a sustainable leaning.
“It’s also important to remember that the tech will also get cheaper and become part of the fabric of our everyday lives.You simply won’t be able to build new houses without this tech, and when older home owners see how good the tech is, they will want it too. As electric cars improve it’ll be the same story for a growing number of drivers too.”
Understanding a car charger is one thing, but the whole electro-lifestyle is a complex concept. Does that stop people exploring it?
“When I started in this space it was a hard sell sometimes. The solar panel business was driven by an appetite for the subsidies if I’m honest, but the removal of them actually stripped it back to a point where there was a real understanding of the technology, and has helped it grow more organically from there.
“If you’re into it, you’re into it for the right reasons. Plus, there’s been the Attenborough and Thunberg effect, plus of course what Tesla has done. Fewer people need convincing or educating these days. Fewer people ask about ROI first; people are buying into these technologies because they want to, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Given your eco motivations, do you also feel a certain responsibility to carry on?
“Every day I feel that. At 32 I am still quite young, still learning and we have this beautiful monster of a company that we’re trying to navigate and control. And I feel immense responsibility for all of the staff, for all of our customers and for sustainability in general.
“This is a 24/7 role, but all business owners will tell you the same. My husband does get to switch off, be in the garden or with our daughter; I’m always in this permanent state of jitters trying to keep up. I love the job, and I love the adrenaline, but I am learning to give time where it’s needed, and I enjoy every aspect of life.”
What is your long-term strategy? Will you do this forever, or sell on if the right offer comes?
“I’ll take it day by day, frankly. We really, certainly don’t want to be doing anything else at this moment in time. We absolutely love what we’ve built and the wild ride that we’ve been on so far. And we’ve got so many ideas that we don’t want it to end.
“But there’s no three to five-year plan. Now it’s growing so fast and it’s so exciting that I honestly don’t know what I’d wake up and do if it wasn’t this. So until I don’t feel like that I intend to carry on.”
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