Chairman’s spotlight on… Michael Taylor, founder and CEO of Contego
19 October 2022
Sometimes, I think the character trait that has helped me most in my life is my single-mindedness. I refuse to give up, even when times are tough. I never listen to those who tell me that an idea can’t work. I stick by my principles no matter what.
When I met Michael Taylor, an extraordinary entrepreneur, I saw that same single-mindedness in him too. How else could he have started a business aged just 18 years old and grown it into a national disruptor? How could he have created a business empire spanning three companies by the time he reached his thirties? What other characteristic could be more valuable as he attempts to transform and modernise an entire industry?
Here’s Michael’s story in his own words.
“I started my business, Contego, back in 2004. I was just 18 years old at the time, but I knew I could make it work. There were plenty of people who doubted me, but I’m the kind of person who is galvanised by criticism – I just work twice as hard to prove them wrong.
I got into the pest control industry by accident. When I was a kid, a neighbour had falcons and hawks. I was mesmerised by these incredible birds and started working with them. From there, I ended up working as an animal trainer in London on the Harry Potter films! Someone I met on set also had a pest control business, doing falconry for bird prevention, so I decided to give it a go when I left the film industry and moved back up North.
The Prince’s Trust gave me my start-up capital – a £500 grant and a £1500 loan – and that was enough to establish my company. Now, 18 years later, we do all kinds of pest control all over the country for some of the nation’s biggest brands. Contego employs around 120 people in the group, and I am the CEO of a fast-growth, dynamic business.
Contego is very different to rival pest control companies. We are a large company in the industry now, yet remain very agile, capable of making changes quickly, and always listening. The industry is built on annual contracts, and site visits every six weeks. Instead, we evaluate the risk and adjust site visit frequency around that risk, visiting heavily impacted sites more often and booking fewer visits to low-risk sites. We introduced smart traps to our service four years ago too, so we get text message alerts when traps are triggered. It sounds logical, but you’d be surprised by how few pest control companies work this way.
We also send pest control technicians straight to a site and aim for first-time fixes whenever we can. Customers who go to some of the big companies have to speak to the sales exec, who then books a surveyor who will then finally send the technician. It’s a slow and inefficient process.
We are unusual in this market because we aim to prevent pests from returning – we want to fix the problem. Rivals base their entire business models around keeping pests down without eradicating them entirely. The way I see it, if we fix problems, a customer will always come back to us or recommend us to their networks. We get a lot of inbound enquiries from word-of-mouth recommendations.
We first started using BigChange seven years ago. We pride ourselves on being adaptable and giving customers the solutions they need, and BigChange has become integral to that approach. We see it as the engine behind our business, and we build lots of products and services on top of the platform. BigChange allows us to show customers the data they need to make informed decisions – we can give them any numbers in any format they want.
When I acquired another pest control business, the first thing I did was get it onto BigChange. It was the fastest way to get rid of paper processes and find efficiencies. Plus, with BigChange, you can run multiple service businesses from anywhere in the world, which is a must for a sole founder like me.
The pest control industry needs modernising. It’s historically such a closed and opaque sector. With Contego, I have aimed for absolute transparency and professionalism. From private healthcare for all my teammates to professional development, training, giving our team a real voice, driving our climate impact down and introducing the real living wage as a minimum, we go against the grain. I don’t want to stop there; I joined the British Pest Control Association as an executive board member to help other companies in this industry make similar changes and support the association’s mission to professionalise the industry. We need to embrace technology, analytics and risk reduction and promote the positive career paths the industry offers to make pest control more attractive to a modern workforce.
I’m very ambitious about Contego’s future. I believe we will reach a turnover of £10m by 2025. Most of our rivals are now owned by foreign investment companies, so we are determined to be the British challenger that revolutionises the industry.”
What an incredible business built by an inspiring individual. I wouldn’t bet against him. Would you?
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