Reasons in the energy sector: Ilona Ludewig did it. She tells how to survive against corporations like Eon and RWE.
Ms. Ludewig, you distribute 4hundred green electricity with your company. When you think of energy companies, an EON or RWE comes to mind. How can you start a business in the shadow of such corporations?
The energy market is highly competitive, that’s right. Inspired by the digital transformation of the financial industry and the rapid growth of the fintech scene, we knew that we wanted to change the energy market. Our huge advantage was that we were able to position ourselves from the outset in the interests of the customer. Tariff transparency, no minimum term, the four percent interest reward and our fully digital approach convince the people. Despite the complex processes in the market, we made the breakthrough and increased our customer base fivefold to 10,000 customers in less than half a year in 2018. It was a financial statement that makes us very proud and shows that we are on the right track.
The energy industry is not an industry that can serve with female role models. Was it difficult to position yourself here as an entrepreneur?
Maybe women are more likely to experience women in the startup scene than in established companies. But whether energy or any other industry – it takes the right business model and the right team to implement the idea. I think if you have that, it does not matter if you’re a man or a woman.
4hundred is not the first company you set up yourself. They have already founded a strategy consultancy, a bioleather company and a bilingual school. Was normal employment too boring for you?
Yes, that’s right, 4hundred is my fourth venture. My area of expertise is Innovation Strategy and Digital Service Design. I am the living example that the so-called portfolio career is all around enriching. For me, because I can really make a difference with my ideas and my work.
And for others, because I can drive innovation for them too. When an exciting project comes, I still like to advise startups and large corporations on questions about the future – their own and that of the market. In everything I do, as always with 4hundred, the focus is always on customer value.
The classic way of a career is becoming rarer today. How do you rate this development?
I greet that with great applause. The rapid transformation of society and the economy make it happen: The innovation cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, the expectations of consumers are growing. It is a well-known statistic that countless billions of dollars did not exist 15 years ago.
A career that spans the entire professional career of a person has long been out of date. Without constantly changing yourself and looking for new challenges, it just is not possible. Constantly learning and carrying my own knowledge in other industries is normal for me.
I think it’s great when established experiences can be positively changed through a variety of experiences. That this also continues in the energy sector, we set ourselves the goal with 4hundred.
What gave the impulse to start 4hundred?
It started with the idea “Simple honest energy”. At the very beginning, I wrote that on a sheet of paper for me.
The digital transformation and the rapid growth of the fintech scene was the inspiration here, and it was clear: we want to achieve that in the energy market as well. We felt: that’s it. And then we just did it.
Did you have support in the business idea?
I co-founded our digital energy company with Andrew Mack in 2017. The support of our networks, professional and private, has given us wings. The investment by OVO Energy, the UK’s largest independent energy supplier, in summer 2018 proved that we are on the right track.
With OVO as a strong partner, we can not only defy the energy giant, but really drive the change in the industry.
Most foundations do not necessarily run smoothly and easily. What were the biggest obstacles in your formation?
Clearly the bureaucracy. I wish for all founders that Germany thoroughly clears up the completely outdated structures. I already have some examples and ideas. So who is reading this right here and in the position, can drive such a change can feel free to contact me.
What would you have done if you had not founded successfully and 4hundred would not succeed?
Then it would have been something else. I can not imagine that one day I will stop or run out of ideas. In the future I would like to encourage others with my experience. The variety of possibilities is enormous and I am looking forward to what is achieved through innovation and the drive of the founders for all of us.
Your tip for other founders!
One thing is clear: reasons are at least ten times harder than you would imagine. So are people who inspire, support and sometimes help questioning, the most important thing for founders. Nobody can do everything. I always say: listen to those who stand behind you and ignore skeptics and envious people. Give everything and do not give up!