Shaper: Chris Morling

Show aired on 30th July 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Nancy Wilson with Call Me; her take on the Tony Hatch composed number for Petula Clark for those of you who would like to know. Good morning this is me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FMs Jazz Shapers. It’s the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and I put them alongside their equivalents in the world of business, we call them Business Shapers here and I am very pleased to say that my Business Shaper this morning is the founder and managing director of Money.co.uk, the price comparison site and his name is Chris Morling. You will be hearing lots about Chris and his fantastic success story since he grew and has built this business over the last eight or so years. In addition to hearing from Chris you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and it is fantastic today; Dr John and Bonnie Raitt’s there, Stan Getz is there and this is another one from Mr Sam Cooke.

The voice of Sam Cooke with Summertime here on Jazz Shapers. Chris Morling is my Business Shaper today as I said earlier and he is the founder and managing director of a business called Money.co.uk, the chances are because there are many millions of you that look every month that you may well have used the services of this clever business. It is a price comparison site and in a world where there are thousands and if not hundreds of thousands of offers, it’s become a rather staple place to go if you are going to work out what to do next with your finances. Chris thank you very much for joining me, how are you?

Chris Morling
Very well, good morning.

Elliot Moss
Good morning. Now tell me, you are a software guy by trade. Back in 2000 you made a leap, I think you were working at Oracle, is that right?

Chris Morling
That’s correct yes.

Elliot Moss
This is a big move and it always strikes me when people come from the comfortable world of the corporate and they decide they are going to do their own thing. If you can go back sixteen years, what prompted the thought that you wanted to start venturing out and doing your own thing?

Chris Morling
God my word, sixteen years ago, there’s a thought. I remember being sat with my wife one evening and we were talking about this website that I had been creating because I wanted to get into a different area of Oracle and create websites so I had been learning about websites, creating them in the evening and I had started to develop this site called Finance Link and she realised that my passion wasn’t really, really in my Oracle job and that I was sort of veering towards wanting to create these websites and I remember sitting down with her one evening and she said ‘look why don’t you just give up the Oracle job and give it a go’ and I don’t know whether she was being serious but I took her at her word and the next morning I resigned from my Oracle job and four weeks later on my 31st birthday I started my own business and painted the spare room orange, put a desk in, got Internet connection sorted. My wife bought me a laptop because I couldn’t afford one and away I went.

Elliot Moss
I mean you look like a sensible guy. Most people would say that’s not a sensible thing to do, I mean you know, cosy, comfortable, you are thirty one years old; that’s a good thing in that sense that I imagine that at that point there are less responsibilities in your life but that’s a very brave move. Did you think about it much? It sounds like you didn’t and maybe that was the secret?

Chris Morling
I don’t think there was a secret but I think there is definitely value in naivety and I just had this drive and passion and thought that it wouldn’t fail. I just didn’t think it wouldn’t fail and that’s not because of arrogance. I think it was because I didn’t have the experience to realise where it could have gone wrong and so I just ploughed in head first. I think I was lucky that I hit a new industry at the right time, an industry called affiliate marketing where you promote other companies, products and services and in return you get a commission and it was right at the start of that and so there were lots and lots of opportunities if you understood how to create and market websites and I just got in at the right time and just basically learnt my trade as I went.

Elliot Moss
The mark of a successful founder, he talks about naivety and luck – there you go. We are going to find out much more of what really happened with my Business Shaper today, that’s Chris Morling, the managing director and founder of Money.co.uk. Time for some more music this is Cécile McLorin Salvant with Underling.

Underling from Cécile McLorin Salvant. I am talking to Chris Morling this morning here on Jazz Shapers, he’s the founder of Money.co.uk. Just for a moment, give me the headlines on Money.co.uk because your revenue now, I mean I have got figures from a few years ago, tell me what they are? It must be twenty five, thirty five million – something like that?

Chris Morling
Turnover is twenty four and a half million last year.

Elliot Moss
Almost there. So I am being aspirational for you. And this business over the last year or two has it started to really pop or has this thing been gradual?

Chris Morling
Yeah it has, I mean, I grew the business organically over the first few years. Although the business has been going fifteen years, Money.co.uk was only created back in 2008 and to be perfectly honest I took things a bit easy in the early days. I think perhaps I was a little bit nervous of competing with the big guys, perhaps a little bit nervous about building a team but I had a real, real change of heart about three or four years ago and realised right if we are going to compete against these big boys and survive then I am going to have to focus on one website and create something special and actually grow the business so we can deliver all that functionality to help consumers find the right product for them and that’s what I did, it was a real shift in mind-set about three and a half years ago where I just sort of took the bull by the horns and made a decision to grow the business so that we could develop what we were providing to consumers.

Elliot Moss
I want to go back to that 2000 bit where your wife said… she bought the laptop and she said do it…

Chris Morling
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…those years between 2000 and 2008 and you just said you know, quite rightly, you didn’t have the Money.co.uk business until eight years in. What were you up to in those first few years and how did you get by because again this conversation often goes in the… well if you didn’t have any money, you can’t put food on the table… where was that happening for you or how was that happening?

Chris Morling
Right so I mean I was fortunate in the business was profitable from month three which is quite unusual. I think in part because my overheads were virtually zero working from a bedroom and once I had the laptop I had all the equipment I needed. What I did was create quite a few websites promoting all sorts of products and services and adding a little bit of value on top of what, you know, the shop that was offering the products could offer. So for example, created a broadband comparison site, a site that compared florists and basically used the same business model across numerous different websites and in the end we had about fifty sites up until about 2007 and all doing a similar thing, varying degrees of success but that was why we weren’t really excelling in any one particular area because each website was just taking a fraction of our time.

Elliot Moss
Did you… the money bit… so you basically didn’t need very much investment. Was it comforting to know it was yours and that you weren’t dependent on someone else’s cash or dependent on indeed doing things that they would require you to do. Did you like that freedom?

Chris Morling
Absolutely a hundred percent and I still do now. I mean what it gives you is a hundred percent free rein to do what you want to do.

Elliot Moss
You are just a control freak Chris basically. You are just a… he looks like a mild mannered guy but actually… no I am kidding. But there is that sense, you obviously knew very early on that that was right for you?

Chris Morling
Well yeah because it does give you the flexibility to do what you feel is right for the consumer and I am not suggesting that other competitors don’t but they do have restraints of being owned by bigger corporates or being you know, held to shareholders which means they don’t have the same flexibility as we do when they are looking at how to develop what they are offering even further so we have been able to kind of go to the enth degree and focus on user experience rather than squeezing the most money we possibly can out of the consumer you know, and we’ve thrown millions away literally by not pursuing certain product areas that we could have made money on because we didn’t feel it was the right thing to do, I mean such as PPI. We could have made a fortune off the back of that but we felt the right thing was to do was to educate people and just explain very simply how they could put a claim in themselves.

Elliot Moss
The virtue of freedom…

Chris Morling
Yep.

Elliot Moss
…and not having loads of backers. You heard it here with Chris Morling my Business Shaper and lots more coming up from him very shortly too. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business I hope from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss here on Jazz FM. Every Saturday morning I get the chance and indeed the privilege to talk to someone who is shaping the world of business. We have been doing this for a few years now so it means that there are lots of fantastic people if you would like to listen in to anyone of those past guests go to iTunes and you will find lots of them over there. If you are travelling with British Airways this summer you will also hear a few on the Highlife channel. Today though Chris Morling is my Business Shaper; he is the founder and managing director of Money.co.uk, it is a price comparison business, they are doing rather well because Chris has retained his freedom and independence and he does things which are right for the consumer and you mentioned earlier Chris about education. I think the thing that strikes me as someone who is relatively educated about different products although I always kind of think I don’t know enough but I want to find out, there has been historically a dearth of that and it sounds like you were at the other end. You are hardly the white knight but for you was so important about the education piece?

Chris Morling
Well yeah you touched on something really important and we are, the industry is called price comparison but really that is a tiny part of what we do. What we are particularly proud of at Money.co.uk is combining the really helpful comparison tables with guides so the idea is that a consumer can come to the website with any question and we can help guide them through you know, this complex world of finance and help them understand not only what the best product might be for them but how to look for the best product because that itself can be confusing. There are so many attributes, features, benefits to every product you really need to understand how these products work in order to understand which ones are best for you and so we have gone to the enth degree to create some really, really helpful guides to help the consumer in that process.

Elliot Moss
Now obviously you like software development and obviously you are kind of interested in the world of, you know, what the software can do, functionality and people can look at different stuff and you said you had fifty different sites. It strikes me though that what you just talked about is more important to you than either of the software development or the world of finance, I mean in the sense of those are end products but this point about really understanding and giving the consumer the power, has that been the driver for you and if so, where’s that come from? That desire to make people, give people the power?

Chris Morling
Yeah I think your drive as you sort of go through this business journey changes. It certainly did for me. If I am being completely honest when I started the business fifteen years ago it was about the technology and the love of learning new stuff, you know, I created a website and quickly realised well you need a skill beyond just coding, you need to be able to market, you need to be able to write editorial, you need to understand accounting. All these different elements I had never done before and that was the exciting bit. And then it went on to another level later on when I realised that I was creating these websites, I was making money but I wasn’t really feeling any, I don’t know, satisfaction from it and that’s when I created Money.co.uk because I realised you know, this is only half the battle is making the money, it is far more satisfying to create something you know is helping consumers and that without a shadow of a doubt has been the driver for the last eight years and that’s what we all get a kick out of in the business. And of course, the great thing about our business model is that we can reach literally millions of people every year so we are not just helping a handful which in itself would be great, we are literally helping millions of people every year save money which, yeah, feels good.

Elliot Moss
It does feel good I am sure and it’s the right thing to do as you said.

Chris Morling
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
I think that’s why it’s working. Time for some more music, this is Dr John and Bonnie Raitt with I’ve Got The World On A String.

The big sound of Dr John and Bonnie Raitt with I’ve Got The World On A String. Chris Morling is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about, kind of a bit of a mission actually and a bit of purpose. Your business now is at a pretty decent size. How many people do you…?

Chris Morling
Fifty two now.

Elliot Moss
Fifty two – all in one place or are they scattered around?

Chris Morling
Most of us are based in a beautiful castle in Cirencester, a little bit quirky and unusual, absolutely stunning and then we have a commercial team who are based on Fleet Street up in London.

Elliot Moss
Plans to grow I imagine and if so, how does… what does that growth look like for you because you’re… I also get a sense around a web-based business is of course you don’t need millions of people, you need the right people doing the right things but does fifty two need to become a hundred for you to double or is it not like that?

Chris Morling
I don’t think so, I think it is a really good question that we sort of struggle with – what is the sweet spot. Now I think we definitely need to grow the business because one of the challenges we have at the moment is we have all these wonderful ideas, fantastic tools to help consumers find the right product but we don’t have enough people to deliver them at the speed we want to so clearly we need more people on board but at the same time as you will know, as you grow a business, communication becomes more difficult, you become less efficient so I do think there is a sweet spot at which we can deliver what we want to deliver but still keep that kind of start-up culture and create an environment that is still wonderful to work in and at the moment I am thinking in around seventy/eighty is that sweet spot but hey, I’ve been wrong in business a hundred times before so yeah, I have probably got that wrong.

Elliot Moss
But just going back to something you said before about you know, the different drivers at different times. There is the technical piece and then there is the excitement of I better understand accountancy, then there is the marketing bit. Now fifteen years in and then eight years specifically on this project, you must probably have all the different pieces in front of you and in that decision making process you are describing around people, I imagine now you are much more finely tuned, your brain is able to make these kinds of decisions quicker. If that’s true, do you still need people outside the business to kind of guide you? And if that happens, who are those people?

Chris Morling
Yeah so I have a fantastic management team. We don’t have a board but we have a really strong management team and we collectively, you know, make those difficult decisions in business as to what the priorities are. But I mean I am very lucky I’ve got a couple of very close friends who also run similar’ish businesses and I meet up with them regularly and we discuss similar issues and that’s where I get a lot of my guidance and ideas from. I am also part of a network called The Supper Club and it is just full of entrepreneurs going through similar sort of growing pains and that’s a wonderful means of garning experience and information from other people who are doing something similar but you are all at different stages so you are able to help each other and that really is helpful. I mean, thinking you can go out on your own and make all the decisions yourself is foolish I think. You have to be realistic and pull in assistance and help from wherever you can, that’s how you grow.

Elliot Moss
Final chat coming up with Chris my Business Shaper today plus we will be playing a track from Stan Getz. That’s after the latest traffic and travel.

Stan Getz with Balanco No Samba. Chris Morling is with me just for a few more minutes. We have talked about different things that drive you, we’ve talked about the fact that mission has come through, that the other things are important but it feels like they are part of the process, they are not the thing that actually takes you to the next place. Is this the one idea for you as an entrepreneur? Is this about some kind of calling or do you think you are going to do this, you are going to sell the business, you are going to start again? Are you there yet in your head or are you going ‘just let me take each day at a time Elliot’?

Chris Morling
Yeah very, very good question. I mean I do have a couple of other businesses that I am heavily involved with; an electrical comparison site called Kagoo and I am working with two incredibly smart guys who have created, you know, what is arguably the best electrical comparison site in the UK and another website which allows you to do financial trading on-line called 3D Markets. Now neither of those I spend much time in but you know, every week I catch up with the guys who are running those businesses and so they introduce you know, different issues to what the ones I am experiencing at Money and because I like a challenge I have also gone into business with a friend and we have a property development we have just kicked off in Ibiza. Everything I have done to date has been virtual, not real and I really wanted to get my hands on to something material and just fancied trying something I had never even done But going back to your original point I do have a really exciting business idea that I do want to follow up on at some point. When that is, is the big question. It is not in the finance industry. It is something completely different. It is not something that even exists in the world at this point although it is on line. How long I stay with the business for, I don’t know at this point. Certainly the next couple of years because there is so many things I still want to see through to fruition. And I think that there is a competitive streak within me that wants to be able to compete head-to-head with the big boys in the industry, the guys that are spending tens of millions of pounds on advertising every year and I think I almost want to prove to myself that we can compete with them on a level pegging on a much, much smaller budget with a much smaller team by just being a bit cleverer with how we spend our money and creating more efficient processes and using technology in cleverer ways. So I am in for the next few years absolutely.

Elliot Moss
The last question I am going to squeeze in, these ideas, where are they all coming from? Is it you close your eyes and they just happen or do you just keep on talking to people, you keep on reading. Where’s the inspiration from because people listening will go ‘this guy has got serious numbers of ideas over here’?

Chris Morling
I think anybody who is passionate about a subject matter sees things that other people don’t see. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you envelope your whole life in this subject, in this area whether its music, whether its websites, whether it’s sport – you see things and hear things that nobody else sees and you make connections that other people don’t recognise and you are able to put together ideas that come to you naturally without any effort, not because, you know, you are a genius, it is simply because…

Elliot Moss
You are in it.

Chris Morling
…you are thinking about it the whole time.

Elliot Moss
Chris it’s fantastic and thank you for clearing that bit up. I think it has been very helpful for people going…

Chris Morling
Pleasure.

Elliot Moss
…I need to get really focussed. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Chris Morling
I have chosen Do I Move You (Version II) by Nina Simone. I remember hearing this song when I first moved to Manchester as a student. I remember very clearly being sat in a room, somebody put this track on and I thought ‘wow there’s life beyond Def Leopard and Marillion. I was a bit of a glam rock geek and I just thought wow. I love blues and this Nina Simone woman, she is something else.

Elliot Moss
Here it is, thank you so much Chris.

That was Nina Simone with Do I Move You (Version II), the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Chris Morling. Super understated for such a successful person, incredibly considered if you listen to the way he talks about things, you just know he has thought it through and yet conversely thousands and absolutely thousands of ideas, that focus on one area as he said enveloping him and enabling him to make connections that others just can’t make. Brilliant stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, 9.00am sharp next Saturday morning for another appointment with me here on Jazz FM for Jazz Shapers. In the meantime though coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Chris Morling – Managing Director & Founder of money.co.uk

Chris Morling is the entrepreneur behind the successful comparison website money.co.uk. He built the brand with consumers’ interests in mind, and champions responsible comparison that helps users get the deal that is genuinely right for them. Chris is passionate about ensuring everyone gets treated fairly by financial services and uses the unique insight he has into both consumer and company behaviour to respond to regulatory reviews and help shape the industry. He has proven that it is possible to treat his users fairly whilst driving the company to phenomenal heights – the Sunday Times ranked money.co.uk as the UK’s second fastest growing business last year. Chris has done all of this whilst maintaining a happy and engaged team, acknowledged with two ‘Great Place to Work’ awards. Chris gives his team three full paid days leave a year to volunteer for not for profits, and has committed to donate 10% of all money.co.uk profits to charities each year.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I think there is definitely value in naivety and I just had this drive and passion and thought it wouldn’t fail.”

“…it was a real shift in mind-set about three and a half years ago, where I just took the bull by the horns and made a decision to grow the business.”

“My overheads were virtually zero, working from bedroom…and once I had the laptop, I had all the equipment I needed.”

“Only half the battle is making the money – it is far more satisfying to create something you know is helping consumers.”

“We are literally helping millions of people every year save money which, yeah, feels good.”

“Thinking you can go out on your own and make all the decisions yourself is foolish, I think.”

“There is a competitive streak within me that wants to be able to compete head-to-head with the big boys in the industry, the guys that are spending tens of millions of pounds on advertising every year.”

“I think anybody who is passionate about a subject matter sees things that other people don’t see.”