Author : Eric Asare
From “just a few ideas and sparks” to a team of 14, working with 37 social housing customers (and counting!) and winning prestigious awards: Switchee clearly means business. They’re also one of Camden Gateway’s first members, and a perfect fit for our vision of innovation, collaboration, and making a real difference in the world around us! We spoke to CEO Adam Fudakowski about ideas, lean methodology, and changing the world…
Thanks for joining us, Adam! Let’s start at the beginning: how did it all happen?
Switchee’s CEO, Adam Fudakowski
"Switchee is an idea that evolved… Four of us (the founding members) met up in business school a few years ago, and we discussed ways to reduce fuel costs for people living in affordable housing. We started with the basics, put it out there and used feedback to keep improving on it and create the smart, simple solution we have today. The first version was a box of wires, but now we have an intelligent, user-friendly thermostat that learns a home’s habits without wi-fi or mobile apps. It switches off the heating when nobody’s home, requires minimal programming or settings from the residents and even prompts them to turn down the heating when the rest of the neighbourhood is using less."
So Product1.0 doesn’t have to be perfect?
"Definitely not! Lean start-up methodology is the way to go. You have to put that product in front of customers and use their reactions and comments to make it even better. Don’t be afraid to get out there and learn what works and doesn’t work… Otherwise, you can spend months developing a solution, only to find you missed something critical. You must keep testing it with real customers, and of course, you have to persevere. That isn’t always easy because emotions can run high in that first phase, but build on the things that you do get right, and keep reminding your team of those wins. We’ve worked closely with our customers from day one, and that has enabled us to develop a product that really works. It includes all the most important features, so we can have a practical, tangible impact on every project."
What made you persevere during that initial development, and is it the same thing that inspires you today?
"We’ve always been a mission-driven business. That and our team are what it’s all about. From the beginning, we believed in addressing important social issues; we wanted to reduce poverty in lower income housing, and that’s still at the heart of everything we do. Our customers, the landlords, are presented with a fantastic value proposition too. Installing Switchee gives them the tools to make better asset management decisions, so they can be proactive rather than reactive and implement preventative service programmes. There are also savings for landlords, and the data from Switchee helps them to make better investment decisions. It’s a lock-step model – The more successful Switchee is, the more benefits there are for landlords, which ultimately creates a greater social impact."
In 2017 Switchee was named a “Future 50” company (one of the 50 most disruptive UK companies and received an Ashden Award – congratulations!
"We’re extremely proud of these achievements. The Ashden Award is one of the most prestigious in the “green” sector and entailed a detailed audit by the judges, evaluating every aspect of what we do. Our biggest achievement isn’t the awards though, it’s the real changes that we see. The Ashden report quoted a young mother who had spent £600 on heating the previous winter, and only £350 when she was interviewed. She was so excited to have more money to spend on her kids. Switchee currently works with 37 social housing companies, and collectively they own around 600,000 homes. That’s a lot of potential impact!"
Nathan, a Peabody resident on the Thamesmead estate, adjusting his Switchee smart thermostat.
Where’s it all heading? What’s your vision for the next few years?
"Ultimately, we want to create a hub of services that save money and improve the quality of accommodation. We aim to be the go-to company for anything in landlord-owned and social housing, reducing poverty and enabling landlords to do more to improve living conditions. And I believe we have the right team in place to do that!"
We’ve seen your incredible team dynamics in action over the past few weeks. What makes this group special?
"My co-founders were an exceptional team to start with, and we’ve built on that with more than just the right expertise – we’ve grown with people who share our vision and believe in making a difference in everything they do. Feedback is key to our team culture. We’re pretty direct with that feedback, but we’re also constructive. We have the best people, and we’re helping them to be even better – to grow as individuals. We have regular team socials, and we go away for a week every year, to work in a different environment. It’s good to get ourselves out there and enjoy life!"
How has moving to Camden Gateway had an impact?
"We love the atmosphere here. Having London’s biggest 3D printing works (D2W) downstairs adds to the feeling of innovation and creative tech, and it’s an exciting place to be. Having our own office feels completely different too – we were in an open-plan space before, but this was the right time to move to a private office and still have the buzz of Camden Gateway around us."
Last but not least, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and start-ups?
"All it takes is a few sparks; a bright idea… Find some kindling – the right people, a plan of action – and set those sparks alight. It can take time but keep at it, then feed the flames with customer feedback and your own expertise. Never leave that fire unattended! You have to keep feeding it and protecting it, keep the flames at the right strength, don’t let it get out of control, and when you’re ready that small bonfire can become a furnace."
You can find out more about Switchee at http://switchee.co/
Mary-Anne Bowring FIRPM FRICS FARLA FCABE Founder/Head of Asset Management
Strategic partnerships, holistic delivery/ opportunities, growth, value engineering, thought leadership
Ian Barber MD BTR Mobilisation & Leasing
Runs HQ & site lease-up teams. Drives rent pricing, mobilisation, marketing, happy residents!
Jon Curtis MRICS Head of Building Engineering
Chartered Building Surveyor. Lectures on EWS1 & building safety. Runs CapEx programmes.
Kate Robinson MIRPM MD Blocks/FM Management (London Region)
Master plan setup, ops and staffing and resident engagement. ISO45001 champion.
Lee Harle Partner Ringley Law
Plot conveyancing. Debt litigation. Group Company Secretary.
Anthony Kingdon MIRPM AssocRICS MD Blocks/FM Management (North Region)
Stakeholder engagement. Mixed tenure specialist. Budget management. Plant audit, PPM compliance.
Chris Georgalis MRICS Head of Commercial Valuation
Chartered Valuer. Rental valuations: retail, leisure. IRR modelling and valuations for secured lending. Compulsory purchase & rent reviews
Nichola Pughe MRICS Head of Residential Valuation
Chartered Valuer. Rental development & mixed use valuations, IRR modelling. Leasehold enfranchisement specialist
Libby Chen MSc Compliance Manager
Operational Plant & Equipment strategy PPM Compliance lead, Asset tagging Client major projects
Dipesh Parekh Director PlanetRent
Customer centric, vertically integrated PropTech/fin-tech solutions.
Leana Aristodemou MIRPM MARLA AssocRICS Strategic lead: ESG & Asset Business Plan delivery
Financial modelling, valuation analyst to support underwriting & fund reporting.
Natalie Birmingham Helpdesk Support Manager
Trainer & Helpdesk Manager: people, systems,contractors. ISO45001 supply chain accreditation.
Steve Norman Planning Director
Land due diligence (opportunities & constraints) Has contributed to a number of award winning schemes.