Cuckoo: The UK broadband challenger out to fix bad reputations

11 Jul 2022

From left: Cuckoo founders Alex Fitzgerald, Dan McClure and Tommy Toner. Image: Cuckoo

London-headquartered Cuckoo wants to do for broadband what Revolut has done for banking.

Among other things, entrepreneur Alex Fitzgerald wants to change the way we think of the cuckoo. “Historically, they’ve had a bad rap,” he said of the bird known to lay its eggs in others’ nests. “We’re trying to set that right.”

He’s hoping to represent the friendly side of the cuckoo bird with Cuckoo the start-up. Cuckoo is a broadband challenger for the UK market and its mission is to become the fastest, fairest and friendliest provider in the nation.

The company launched one month before the pandemic with Fitzgerald as CEO. The vision for him and co-founders Tommy Toner and Dan McClure was to “change the internet for good”.

“We saw how broken the broadband market was and how ripe it was for disruption. Pricing is unclear and unfair, customer service is terrible, and penalty fees to end contracts early are excessive,” he said.

And so, as with the cuckoo, Fitzgerald wants to reset people’s expectations. “We wanted to create a new broadband service that truly puts the customer first. Our whole approach at Cuckoo is founded on this goal.”

‘Working closely with these fast-growth companies gave me a huge amount of inspiration’

Fitzgerald was primed to enter the entrepreneurship game from his experience working at a small business helping scaling tech start-ups. “Working closely with these fast-growth companies gave me a huge amount of inspiration. I really felt like a fly on the wall,” he said.

“I definitely had a sense of: if they can do it with just an idea, maybe I can too.”

And so the trio who believed broadband could, and should, be better, set out to make it so. “I emailed myself with the subject line ‘Operation Cuckoo’, and it all started from there,” said Fitzgerald.

Two years on, Cuckoo is now a team of 50 that has raised millions from investors and has thousands of customers. “We’re actually in the middle of our latest funding round right now, so watch this space!” the CEO remarked.

‘We want to set the gold standard for ISPs’

Fitzgerald is inspired by European unicorn start-ups that have successfully carved out a place in industries with major, long-established players. “Just as Revolut took on the banks and Octopus Energy took on the energy providers, Cuckoo is disrupting the UK’s broadband industry,” he said.

In the UK, he estimates that the four biggest broadband providers account for 95pc of the market share. But Fitzgerald believes Cuckoo can compete with these behemoths on service.

“The industry is plagued with opaque contracts and shoddy service, and longstanding customers are stuck paying a loyalty tax on their contracts,” he said. The company has described current contracts with broadband providers as “price prisons” and wants to educate consumers on the “shady tactics” that lock them into bad deals.

“We founded Cuckoo with the simple idea that most customers just want fast internet that works. That’s exactly what we offer: fair pricing, fast speeds and simple contract options that are easy to understand, and easy to leave,” he said. “We’ve pledged to never tie people into opaque contracts with extortionate exit fees.”

As well as its customer service promise, Cuckoo is founded on proprietary software that integrates many different wired and wireless networks and aims to simplify the billing process.

“We’re working to drive massive efficiency gains through automation and innovation, and make every customer interaction with our brand a delight,” said Fitzgerald. “We want to set the gold standard for ISPs and be the UK’s most loved broadband provider.”

CTO McClure leads the development of the start-up’s tech platforms and the plan is to white-label these in the future.

Looking to “an exciting year ahead”, Fitzgerald said one challenge in the London tech scene can be sourcing the skills needed to grow. “It’s a strong, vibrant community filled with great talent. The only problem is that there isn’t enough of it. It’s hard to find great developers,” he said.

The company also strives to remain values-led as it heads into a growth period and Fitzgerald assures that it’s not all about profit.

“We want to make sure we look after the wider team, the community we work within and the environment. That’s why we have the B Corp values written into our articles of association,” he said. “It’s the lifeblood of our business.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.