DAVID KERR, 40, is managing director of price comparison website bonkers.ie which he co-founded in 2010. Joanne Ahern talks to the Clonskeagh native about his business.
What is your background?
I did a degree in computer science and maths at UCD, and then a master’s in digital communications systems at Chalmers University in Gothenburg. I worked initially as a researcher in telecommunications network management and then moved into consumer personal finance in 1999 as part of the technical team delivering comparison shopping software to UK websites and media.
How has this helped you in your current role?
The international angle of both Sweden and the UK market has had definite positive influence on my overall outlook on Ireland and our position in Europe – how other nationalities do business and how much larger population sizes influence styles of business.
What is bonkers.ie?
An impartial, independent website for consumers to compare, select and buy a range of personal finance products, from electricity and gas, broadband and digital TV, to current and savings accounts and daily deals.
Why did you set it up?
It was 2009, we were all in shock at the unfolding extent of the credit crisis and moving into the extended recession. For consumers, there was a sense of actively seeking value, and there was a gap in serving those consumers with a dedicated web resource to help figure out the answers to questions like ‘Is this electricity deal really good value?’ or ‘What broadband package should I get if I don’t make many phone calls home and I live in rural Wexford?’
How do you make money?
We’re 100 per cent committed to keeping bonkers.ie free to use. We generate revenue from suppliers: when a customer signs up to a broadband package or finds an electricity tariff that suits their needs, the supplier pays a commission. In addition, we generate revenue from site advertising.
How many people use it annually?
Around one million.
How has the recession affected your business?
As the recession means that people have their income reduced, they are looking to reduce their outgoings – which is where bonkers.ie comes in. Recession or otherwise, if there are people looking to reduce their bills, we try to help out by providing articles and analysis, search tools and calculators to make their choice as easy as possible.
How did you fund the start-up?
Privately with the support of a small group of investors who really got the proposition.
How does bonkers.ie work?
The products work in two stages – gathering the full market of product data and matching consumer preferences to those products. Data is a large part of the business and is important enough that we have dedicated resources to ensure the data is accurate and up-to-date.
Why don’t you cover mobile phone comparisons?
Mobile phone plans are pretty tough beasts – we imagine there are departments in the large carriers trying to make plans as hard as possible to understand and almost impossible to compare with directly. Having said that, I wouldn’t rule out a bonkers.ie mobile phone comparison at some stage.
What makes bonkers.ie different from other price comparison websites?
We offer a website that makes complicated products easy to understand and make it easy to find the match between a consumer’s choices and products available. We’ve worked with the relevant authorities to ensure the consumer is the number one priority, and we get accreditation to support our site. For example, in our gas and electricity comparison, bonkers.ie is Ireland’s only website accredited by the Commission For Energy Regulation as offering fair, accurate and impartial comparisons of gas and electricity prices.
What do you think makes a good boss – and do you tick all the boxes?
The most effective bosses I ever had always had a rule to listen, rather than dictate. Some of the best delegators make the best bosses. I try to follow that, and although I might not be 100 per cent successful at times, I try to make sure that with all the choices the business makes, the sequence is discussion, decision and action.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
There is quite a range of diversity in the job, so that is the most enjoyable part.
What do you find the most difficult?
Because we’re a small company, we can be pretty quick at making decisions. When we’re doing business with a large corporate it can sometimes be frustrating to seem to slow to their pace. It’s not that there’s less urgency with the corporates but they follow processes involving multiple departments with their own internal resource and time constraints.
How do you think the Government is handling the recession?
Not well enough for those who count – the hundreds of thousands of householders who are under incredible financial stress.
What do you think it could be doing better?
Compelling our banks to lend to SMEs would help move the economy forward – there have been some positive moves of late, especially with the microfinancing initiative, but there’s a long way to go. Fixing personal debt problems with real solutions that make a difference to citizens should take priority. I get the sense that career politicians might not be the best placed to achieve that. Perhaps fundamental reforms should be considered to have more professional CEOs directing public policy.