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The uSwitch sale: Price comparison site sold to American firm for £210 million

George Mountbatten developed his price comparison website, uSwitch

In just six years George Mountbatten developed his price comparison website, uSwitch, to be the kind of company US media group EW Scripps was happy to pay £210m for.

Rumours of a uSwitch sale emerged in 2006. The owners of the gas and electricity comparison website had announced early in the year that they were open to offers to purchase the business. The firm even appointed investment bank LongAcre Partners to advise on a sale.

The uSwitch sale made headlines

As the deal rolled out it received considerable attention. Potential buyers quickly emerged, including the Daily Mail Group and data agency Experian. The appeal was obvious – at the time of the sale uSwitch had built significant brand recognition and was expected to make an annual profit of £6m to £9m.

uSwitch was, and remains, a key player in the price comparison market. Seventeen years after it was founded it is still the market leader among these sites in the UK. This is thanks to a combination of an easy-to-use interface, the progress of deregulation, and clever marketing.

The company’s innovative approach and stable customer base made it an attractive purchase when it first came up for sale. George Mountbatten had set up the site in 2000 – supported by private shareholders – to help consumers to compare the price of their energy suppliers.

Price comparison sites have proved hugely popular

The premise was simple – people entered the details of their usage and an algorithim searched the deals available from with other providers. If they found a better deal they could immediately sign up with a new supplier. The process was quick, simple and easy.

This early success quickly generated profits but the management team recognised different skills would be needed to grow and stabilise the operation. At the time of the sale the business was owned by a combination of early capital investors and uSwitch.com employees that had benefitted from a corporate share scheme.

George Mountbatten, an entrepreneurial cousin of the Queen, was significant among these shareholders and was thought to own around half of the company’s shares. The English aristocrat also served as the company’s Managing Director, alongside an experienced Chief Executive Officer and Financial Director.

Internet and data management firms were interested in uSwitch’s data-based approach

The American team behind EW Scripps chose to take on the company to expand their offer in internet and online services. This seemed a good fit as the company had previously built its operations to include a range of newspapers and TV stations. It is also known for syndicating well-known cartoon characters such as Peanuts and Dilbert.

On acquisition, the business plan was to combine the management of uSwitch.com with the Shopzilla price comparison site it already owned. Together these would form a new interactive media division. EW Scripps later sold their share of the site onto internet giant Zoopla.

George Mountbatten’s vision for uSwitch has remained

Even after the business has changed hands several times, the uSwitch business model has endured. The management team does not charge consumers for using the site, or require them to register, but instead takes a fee from energy suppliers if they get a new customer thanks to a referral from the site. This simple model has been universally successful and millions of people have benefitted from comparing their deals.

Since the uSwitch sale of 2006 the firm’s scope has expanded. At the current time consumers can still compare deals gas and electricity, but also the costs of home phones, broadband, TV, credit cards, personal loans. Insurance products such as heating cover have also been added to the fold.

George Mountbatten’s interests have also developed considerably. He now holds investments in price comparison sites in both Turkey and Brazil and is looking for ways to save more people money.

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