The Dubliner in London who aims to rival British Gas with his ‘AA for homes’ firm

Wild Geese: Simon Phelan says there's no better place to raise money and work than English capital

Simon Phelan: 'Since freedom day, there’s barely a mask in sight.'

Simon Phelan: 'Since freedom day, there’s barely a mask in sight.'

 

The need for round-the-clock household services is universal. In response to demands from homeowners in a low-tech sector, Simon Phelan founded a company that fixes things in emergencies.

Originally from west Dublin, Phelan attended Newbridge College in Kildare before studying civil, structural, environmental engineering and maths in Trinity College. Despite completing his degree during the height of the financial crisis in 2010, he says he “got lucky” by landing a job in the city of London with private equity firm Better Capital.

“I started off as a junior analyst, but worked throughout the firm, both operationally and transactionally, also focusing on operational turnarounds across Europe. There were a lot of very exciting opportunities there.

“London is such a vibrant place with endless opportunities, but when a chance came up to work in Ireland – with one of the group’s investments called Spicers Ireland, I couldn’t say no.”

Phelan was made CEO of the company – a wholesale supplier of office supplies with a large customer base in Ireland and offices in Citywest.

Expanded

“I spent just under two years at the company - the first in Birmingham, and the second as CEO of Spicers Ireland working with a small team of really great people, while enjoying living in Dublin again. But I was planning to start something on my own and knew via the contacts I had in London that it would be the place to do it.”

So he returned in 2016 to found hometree.co.uk, a home services and insurance company.

“At first we offered services in the home heating market and online boiler installation. We’ve since expanded to include insurance policies, breakdown cover and repairs to critical infrastructure like plumbing and electrics.”

Everyone needs home services, be it for the boiler repair, fixing drains or any kind of emergency work. Despite the fact that we’re living through a technological revolution, many people still rely on phone books, flyers or word of mouth when seeking out professional service people.

“The problem is that a lot of people don’t have a list of service people at their fingertips. They may have had bad experiences in the past, or have had to wait for a few days in an emergency like snow or heavy rain. Invariably on Christmas Eve at 5pm, there could be a heating disaster or a drain could leak, and you don’t know who to call,” he says.

“In response, we have 1,500 sub-contracted professionals across the UK on our books. These include anything from plumbers to locksmiths, drain specialists to electricians, who are available around the clock to call people’s houses in an emergency. We also have 100 people in our London call centre, open to taking people’s calls 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Phelan acknowledges that people’s homes are the most important places on earth, especially during the pandemic when they became classrooms, crèches, offices and restaurants among other things. “It was more important than at any other time to keep things working. Also our contractors are vetted and, if something goes wrong, it’s on us.”

‘AA for homes’

Jon Moulton, a venture capitalist and founder and chairman of Better Capital initially invested €350,000 in the company in 2016. Since then Hometree has raised more than €20 million from venture capital firms and angel investors across Europe.

Phelan says the company offers different insurance packages, with boilers being the most “popular”. “People pay monthly and then, when they call us, we don’t charge them extra. We’re like an AA for homes. We’ll fix the leak, but we won’t pay for the flood damage.”

“During the pandemic we were an essential service, so not only did our staff continue to work – albeit from home, the business grew as a result of remote working in general. In response to Covid-19, we also offered a service where technicians can do face-to-face calls.”

Despite its many restrictions, Phelan says Covid-19 enabled him to spend the summer in the Basque Country, which he would never have imagined before.

“My fiancée is Spanish and we got to stay at her parent’s beach house. She also works in London, so it was incredible to work in one of the world’s busiest cities, with investors and venture capitalists at our fingertips, but from a quiet seaside town in northern Spain. ”

In August 2021, his staff returned to the office 75 per cent of the time. “We missed the camaraderie of the office, so it was good to come back, even just for some of the time.”

He says, things are pretty much back to normal in London for now. “We work in Chancery Lane and there’s a great buzz around the place. Since freedom day, there’s barely a mask in sight.”

Despite Brexit and the enduring effects of Covid-19, London is the epicentre of business. “No doubt. When it comes to raising money and working and meeting clients, there’s no better place to be.”

Phelan, who is also a member of the London Irish graduate network for members of the Irish business community focused on building networking platforms in London, says he hopes the company will become a leading challenger in the home services market, taking on the likes of British Gas.

“Obviously we will be working from London, but now that the situation allows, we’re happy to spend our non-working time in the Basque Country or elsewhere.”

This article was updated on November 5th 

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