Cathal Fay, CEO and Co-founder of PrepayPower

Power to the PeopleSelected as Ireland’s Most Trusted Leader by Great Places to Work this year and an EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 finalist, Cathal Fay, CEO and Co-founder of PrepayPower, believes its service will become attractive to a larger cohort of people due to the energy crisis.

Q: Have you always had a business head on your shoulders?
Cathal Fay (CF): I started out my career in the 1990s in Eircom, which was very much a large semi-State company at the time. I learnt lots during my time there. However, I found it a little slow moving and lacking in autonomy for me. When an opportunity came up to leave to start a business in e-books and mobile productivity software I said yes immediately. This was back in 2000 in the days before smartphones and the software that we developed was for pocket computers (Psion Organisers).
We were too early to the market and unfortunately the business was unsuccessful. However, I was bitten by the start-up bug and wanted to continue. I moved into mobile content (ringtones, graphics and games) with Red Circle. I led this business to become the largest provider of ringtones in the UK, growing its revenues from €5m to €25m within three years. The business was sold to Zamano in 2007 in a €24.4m deal. After that exit, I was approached by a former colleague in 2010 to join a start-up in the prepaid electricity space and jumped at the chance. At that point PrepayPower was born. This was the first time in Ireland that customers could choose a prepaid electricity service.

Q: How did you grow and develop the business?
CF: We started off in 2010 above a second-hand bookshop in Blackrock in Dublin. At that time we had no customers and no revenues. With my experience in marketing and operations from Red Circle we used our limited funding which we had raised from friends and family to prove our business model with a trial in Tallaght in 2011. The response rates to our advertising were off the charts. Sales continued to roll in through customer recommendations when we didn’t have enough money to advertise.
The next step was to raise sufficient funding to be able to drive the business to grow to its potential. It took us 11 months to find the right investors for us. Eventually we brought in two tremendous investors in Ulric Kenny, Co-founder of Ion Equity, and serial tech entrepreneur Andrew Collins. They brought not just capital but wonderful experience to the business and have been instrumental in helping me to drive it. With annual turnover of around €200m, PrepayPower now has just over 170,000 electricity customers, together with 60,000 gas customers and – uniquely in Ireland – 15,000 pay-as-you-go broadband customers.

Q: What is the secret to the success of PrepayPower?
CF: We put customers in control by providing them with information on how much electricity they’re using so that they can reduce consumption and save. The average customer reduces their usage by over 8% per annum when they join us. We back this with great customer service. We are the top-ranked supplier in Ireland on TrustPilot based on our customer reviews. Our great team of 350 people work together to drive the success of the business. We use the Great Places to Work model to get the pulse of the organisation and we always rank well, particularly with all team members being clear on their purpose.
We have a variety of different skillsets across a range of areas from sales, customer experience, finance and software development to hedging. Our hedging expertise has helped us to manage the rising electricity and gas wholesale markets more effectively than competitors.

Q: Any other news or future plans you can share?
CF: We are approaching 250,000 customer accounts. This is a combination of 173,000 electricity accounts, 61,000 gas accounts and 16,000 broadband accounts. This will be a great team celebration where we all get together to reflect on our continued growth.
We are about to launch a feature in our app to allow customers to put some money aside in summer months to help deal with the increase in energy costs in winter. In the longer term we plan on continuing to grow our offering by providing more energy services to customers to help them move their demand to times when energy is cheaper and greener.