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Uplight’s First Birthday: What Happened and How are We Doing?

By Adrian Tuck on

First Birthday Cake

A year ago this week, after a considerable amount of planning, we merged six companies to form Uplight.  Merging two companies is a process fraught with risk, so why did we take the big leap to merge six?  And one year on, how are we doing?

Before I go into these details, I think it’s critical to note that none of our success to date could have happened without our customers who have supported us along the way. We are thrilled and honored to partner with a significant number of utilities to go further, faster–fundamentally changing the ways utilities build relationships with their customers.

Why we built Uplight (a quick refresher).

Two critical things drove the creation of Uplight:

  • A sense that our mission was too important to hand over to someone else.  The six companies that made up Uplight were all founded with the idea that software could transform the way the world uses energy with the best way was through the existing utilities, who were already operating at scale.  Together the companies that make up Uplight could accelerate the clean energy ecosystem–reducing more CO2 and saving consumers more on their energy bills–faster than any one of us could do on our own.
  • The market was crying out for Uplight.  Two years ago as the CEO of then Tendril, I was very fortunate to have a great Customer Advisory Board made up of senior executives from our utility customers – something that we have brought with us to Uplight. Those executives knew they needed innovative software to transform their customer relationships and help drive utilities towards decarbonization, but they were stuck with an unpleasant choice: Make significant bets on small innovative companies (like the ones that made up Uplight) that could drive change, but presented significant balance sheet risk, or work with large software companies with big balance sheets but with no history of customer innovation. (For all their strengths, no one thought of companies like Oracle and SAP as customer facing). What was needed was the merging of best-of-breed energy CX companies to form a truly innovative company, operating at scale, and solely focused on utilities and their customers.  In other words, Uplight.

What looked like a very fast set of acquisitions was actually a very carefully orchestrated plan, developed over many months. That said, six companies merging over a period of about six months is no small task.

So how are we doing?

Merging companies can be a great way to destroy value. Seared into our brains were examples of that, including in our own industry, so we focused on four key areas to ensure we got it right.

  • Culture
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Innovation
  • Winning

Culture.  Whilst we didn’t have the “big company buys small company” cultural challenges, we did experience our fair share of difficulties. Six cultures into one is tough, but one of the best things we’ve done is to establish our mission and values first and then set about building a new culture.

We didn’t ask one company to adopt the culture of another, we deliberately and painstakingly set out to define a unique Uplight Culture. We made mistakes, lost great people, and skirted dangerously close to tribalism at one point, but I am pleased to say that our Uplight culture is strong and getting stronger.  However, we won’t stop here making Uplight a truly great and inclusive company.

Customer Satisfaction.  Here again, we worked hard to avoid the pitfalls experienced by others and here again, we were not perfect. Small companies, it turns out, make lots of well intentioned promises to customers for future functionality in order to win business. We now had six companies worth of those promises which added up to a significant backlog. We have worked diligently to catalog, manage our backlog, and systematically track our customer outcomes and satisfaction. This dogged focus on meeting our customer outcomes is bearing fruit and we know we will continue to get better. We’re proud that two-thirds of our customers chose proactively to increase or extend their business with us in the past year, and we spend the majority of our time finding more ways to continuously validate that trust.

Innovation.  Our customers rightly demand innovation at scale from us and pausing for a few years was not an option. We have been fortunate not to need to re-write our codebase in a new language.  All of the companies that made up Uplight used modern and in-common software practices enabling a relatively straightforward software integration process.  Moreover, before the merger, we had already had a head start on integrating our solutions as we were delivering together at numerous customers.  We have one of the most innovative roadmaps I have ever seen and I am looking forward to being able to talk about some of the new things on there.  (See next week’s post on Uplight Year 2)

Winning.  Our aim is pretty simple, to be #1 in every market we serve and I am pleased to say we have reached that point in our first year with several markets and are on the right trajectory to go after the top spot with the rest. Here are some stats that I find remarkable:

  • We won over 100 deals in our first year – the contracting alone was a mammoth task.
  • Our smallest deal was tens of thousands of dollars, our biggest was well over $75m!
  • We won more than half of the deals we competed for – which means we won more than our competition combined.
  • Our Orchestrated Energy Platform had over 5x growth catapulting us from the #4 position in the market to #2 in just one year!
  • We are on track for over 40% growth in 2020.

Without an amazing set of mission-driven co-workers none of the achievements above would have been possible. It has been humbling to watch the creativity, energy, humanity, passion and professionalism that Uplighters bring to their roles every single day and I am immensely proud to work with such an amazing group of people.

Our utility customers have also been fundamental contributors to our Year 1 progress. I am truly grateful for their invaluable feedback and guidance they have provided at every step, as their trust is worth even more than our business with them.  It’s also been inspiring to work with them as they’ve changed themselves over the past year.   COVID-19 and utilities’ rapid responses to moving employees to work from home and adapting to the changing needs of their customers has opened their eyes to what a potent mix of imagination and great technology (plus crisis level motivation) can achieve. We see our customers wanting to go further, faster than they did this time last year. We are unashamedly on the side of those utilities that want to accelerate change.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Year 2 for Uplight.  The market is shifting and new lines are being drawn in the battle to help utilities transform their businesses and forever change the nature of their relationship with their customers.  Uplight intends to play an important role, but more on that later…

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