Octopus boss tells installers: “If you don’t do well, our company has failed”

Octopus Founder Greg Jackson took to the elemental stage at InstallerSHOW to address fears about the company crowding out installers, before talking to elemental about the wider opportunities of decarbonisation.

“I believe in doing, not saying,” begins Jackson as he addresses the audience of InstallerSHOW’s panel session – What’s Next for the Energy Innovators? – “You have to get out there and put things in front of people.”

Jackson gives the example of the iPhone as one such ‘doing’. “Nokia did lots of research on whether people wanted touchscreen phones and most people said no, so the company never pursued them,” he says. “Apple did it anyway and now look where they are. You can do all the research in the world but you won’t know the outcome until you’ve done it.”

Jackson addressed the industry’s ambient concerns that Octopus’ decarbonisation ambition is forcing out independent installers. “People are concerned we’re crowding out the market, but we want to crowd in. We want to build our company in a way that benefits everyone who wants to drive positive change, and no-one is more important than installers.”

He then gives the example of Henry Ford and his ambition to make an affordable car for the masses. While people said this move would mark the financial end of his business, it famously became the cornerstone of the automobile industry. More people could afford cars, so more infrastructure – roads, petrol stations – was needed, paving the way for independent garages and mechanics.

“Octopus wants to drive this mass market creation in the same way,” says Jackson. “We currently undertake around one million jobs a year in the UK, with 30% subcontracted out to independent installers. But we want to take this further with our Octopus Trusted Partner Programme, which provides financial incentives for customer referrals and leads to Octopus customers that want jobs done.”

He adds, “We have so many jobs, and we don’t want to give customers a dead end, so we want to work with the best people, the best installers, to support them. We want installers to do well, and if they don’t then we’ve failed.”

We spoke with Jackson following his speech.

Could you give us a a brief overview of Octopus’ approach to decarbonisation technology and what you’re doing in this space with consumers?

The most important thing, if you’re going to drive decarbonisation, is making it good for consumers. It has to be a path they want to choose. The great news is the investment that we and others are making – and the skills that companies like ours and independent installers bring – means heat pumps are increasingly a better solution for customers than a gas boiler. It’s more comfortable. It’s cheaper to run. What we’re all doing together makes them more affordable to get in first place.

What is Octopus doing to support the installer community? How is Octopus working installers to drive decarbonisation and expand the industry?

So first of all, this industry is 95% white space – only 5%  of homes have a heat pump. Less than that, in fact. So there’s enormous opportunity for everyone to flourish as we grow this industry. I think in doing that, the most important things we tackle are climate change. We’re also improving health. Not burning stuff reduces dramatically reduces the particulates in the air. It’s good for kids, reduces incidences of asthma, and reduces early deaths among those with just circularity issues. So in every way of working together, we’ve got a great business opportunity, but we’re also doing a really important service to the people of Britain and the world.

A lot of decarbonisation technology focuses on energy optimisation and in turn, lower consumer costs. How important is it for installers to be aware of tariffs and tariff changes when they are approaching this?

I think it really helps installers to be able to give consumers advice. ‘What’s the cheapest way to run this equipment?’ In the old days, you couldn’t make the most of the times when the grid was empty, or when we had a lot of renewables on the system. You couldn’t make the most of the technologies that automatically optimised the characteristics of your home. Today you can. When I first got a gas boiler installed in my own home, the installer just fitted the biggest boiler, stuck it on the highest flow temperature and then left. You can’t do that if we’re going to have an efficient, cost-effective approach for consumers.

We’re going to be facing some political changes in the coming weeks and months. Can you envisage this making any major difference to the policy conversation around decarbonisation in the near or longer term?

I’m really pleased that all the major parties still have decarbonisation goals towards the top of their agenda. Labour, for example, has got five missions and they call it the green prosperity plan, which is a good example of recognising that going green isn’t sacrifice, it’s an upgrade. It creates jobs. It creates opportunities for SMEs. It creates the opportunity to build whole new industries and we’re doing that whilst improving solutions for consumers and of course reducing the impact of climate change and cleaning up the air.

What’s on the agenda for Octopus? If we were to have this conversation again here next year, how would you like things to look?

I really hope we have a flourishing partner network working with the very best of independent installers, not only to help increase their income but also, and really importantly, bringing them high quality leads. We need to grow this market together. While Octopus is going to be doing some jobs, but far more are going to be done by the independents.