Looking at their recently filed accounts on https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08469555/filing-history , yes in the year ending 31st March 2018 (so although these accounts are newly filed, the data is nearly a year out of date), they did record a loss of £23.7 million, but during the time increased their customer base (properties) from 25,370 to 313,017 and turnover from £10 million to £182 million (losses in 2017 were £1.98m for the record).
Looking at their financials, they had £12million gross profit (after they paid the suppliers), but the majority of the loss than came from administrative expenses (£35million) and then had another £0.5m on interest charges.
The directors stated in the report that they are confident that they are “well positioned to achieve sales growth and profitability in future” and did not pay a dividend last year. They also repaid a £30 million loan in full (and early) in August 2018.
Yes, a near £24million loss does sound a lot - but it does take companies a long take to achieve profitability (I company I was working for in the early 2000s in the tech industry still has not reported a profit and they were taken over last year).
Bulb have covered this in their own statement on https://bulb.co.uk/blog/annual-update-for-members-2018 which covers these financials - and mentions a £60m investment.
If we speculate (and I am just another customer with access to exactly the same public information here):
2017-2018: 313,017 customers - turnover £182 million = £581.438 average turnover per customer. Profit £12 million = £38.34 per customer. Administration cost per customer: £111.82
2018-now: 870,000 customers (from the blog post) * 581.438 = £505.8million estimated turnover. Estimated profit = £33.3million
So, yes, they’ll probably be running at loss 2018-2019 financial year (as the profit they would have made won’t quite cover last years admin expenses), but 2020 onwards they could be profitable as their ‘set up costs’ (i.e. recruiting staff, training them up, getting office space, setting up computer systems, etc etc) will be reducing - the roll out of smart meters will probably also help reduce their costs (once they’ve paid for them to be installed). We’ll probably get more insight this time next year, but I feel comfortable sticking with Bulb for now.
Extra Energy, one of the ones that went bust, reported for the year ending 2016 (last period accounts were filed). Had a loss of £13.6 million on 414,000 customers on a £359million turn over (with gross profit of £39.018m So their customers were paying £867 per year and had a profit of £94.24 per customer - their ‘admin cost per customer’ was £5.266mil was £127.21. But they also had a £58million loan from "ExtraEnergie GmbH’ which was costing them £9.7million per year if I’m reading the accounts right: I suspect the German company decided to call the loan in and that caused them to go under.
So on a per customer basis, Extra Energy were charging customers more, profiting more but their admin costs were higher as well. Bulb has already doubled Extra Energy’s customer numbers and as far as I’m aware has no outstanding loans/debts/interest to pay.
I’ve just tried to find another utility company to company Bulb against, but it’s tricky. The ‘big six’ also tend to operate generators, provide ‘services’ (boiler repairs) and have very very long financial accounts - SSE’s is 252 pages(!) - so trying to work out a good ‘per customer costs’ etc is tricky.
I’ve found Co-operative Energy, which for 2017-201 had 333,000 customers (down actually from the previous year of 424,000 [when they got 160,000 customers from GB Energy]- even adding 130,000 customers from Flow Energy which they purchased). Because of that purchase, trying to work out their average per customer is screwy, but it does look like Co-op energy just can’t hold onto the customers.