Despite this difficult start in life, she set up her first company, The Decisions Group in 1983, aged just 22. It grew to become the third largest telemarketing bureau in the UK and won the European Service Industry Forum's award for Best Service Company.
Karen sold her interests in 1990 and went on to establish a successful training and consultancy business, Karen Darby Direct. Clients included BSkyB, Commercial Union, Direct Line, General Accident, Scottish Widows, Telewest and Zurich Insurance.
Karen then set up her third venture, SimplySwitch, the UK's leading telephone and web based price comparison service. She secured venture capital funding and initially launched as Simply Energy Ltd in 2002 offering consumers a comparison and switching service for gas and electricity. Since then the service has re-branded as SimplySwitch and extended its portfolio of products to include home phone, mobile, broadband and a range of financial products.
SimplySwitch has created over 100 jobs in a deprived area and has helped thousands of consumers save over £20m on their household bills.
In August 2006 SimplySwitch was sold to DMGT (Daily Mail & General Trust) for £22m and Karen remains an active part of the management team.
Karen has over 20 years experience as a public speaker, and has spoken at events around the country. She has spoken to Prime Ministers and the Treasury at business receptions at No 11 Downing Street, plus various industry events for the likes of the DTI and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Her speeches are inspirational, high-energy, imaginative, refreshingly honest and highly entertaining, delivered with a passion which only comes from someone who has really been there and done it.
Karen was a finalist Cosmopolitan's Woman of Tomorrow award. In June 2006 she won the Finance Award at the CBI's First Women Awards and was a finalist in the 2006 National Business Awards. She is frequently quoted in the national news and personal finance pages as well the business and marketing press. She is also a regular guest on BBC News, Sky News and BBC Radio 5 Live.
She is married with 3 children and lives in Surrey.
“Karen Darby is a super-inspirational entrepreneur. Her story, of creating several major business success stories while also juggling a real life at home, is a tale of our times – of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, woman and mother in the 21st century. Karen is exciting, high-energy, imaginative and highly entertaining. She’s a natural on stage but equally comfortable offering one-to-one advice to guests afterwards on how to build a business. And here’s the ultimate proof of her abilities: I rang her up with two hours’ notice to join a panel speaking to an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs; and not only did she say yes – she was also the star of the show!”
Matthew Rock, communications director, Caspian Publishing