INSURTECH – THE ROCK’N’ROLL YEARS by Robin Merttens and Craig Polley

This piece is a duet, which is apt considering it has a musical theme. During one of those moments of extreme creativity (after the first bottle of red and before the third) we were riffing on the many similarities between starting an InsurTech business and starting a band. This is how their respective stories might typically unfold…

Inspiration

They both get their initial inspiration from a seminal event. For the budding pop star that’s usually a breakup with a long-term partner and for the InsurTech founder a dreadful experience buying insurance – usually trying to insure their home/phone/car or a calamity making a claim. This is usually combined with some disillusionment with current choice of career.

Songwriting

For both, the earliest stages are about ideas. In technology this has been given a name – “ideation”- the creative process of developing an idea turning it into a defined concept and vision.

For our future pop star it’s a more emotional journey – trying to make sense of the breakup; channelling their emotions and resentments into crafting the next Heartbreak Hotel. Both may do this while ensconced in a bedsit or other grungy abode living an independent, often nocturnal lifestyle. You begin to share your new dreams and brilliant ideas with friends and family; some may get it, most won’t!

For our future pop star it’s a more emotional journey – trying to make sense of the breakup; channelling their emotions and resentments into crafting the next Heartbreak Hotel. Both may do this while ensconced in a bedsit or other grungy abode living an independent, often nocturnal lifestyle. You begin to share your new dreams and brilliant ideas with friends and family; some may get it, most won’t!

Busking

With a handful of tunes now written and rehearsed, our songster heads out to the nearest pedestrianized precinct, lays out their guitar case and scatters a few coins to encourage passers-by to toss in a token of their appreciation. After all, this is how Ed Sheeran got started, right? Open-mic nights and jams are also a popular pursuit.

Meanwhile, our tech entrepreneur will go to meet-ups, hackathons and networking events, living off free beer and pizza, hook up with like-minded individuals and socialize their idea with them. In either case, at some stage, after hearing a few others on stage, they may pluck up their courage, grab the mic and spontaneously go perform their act … far from pitch-perfect at this stage!

It’s all about getting heard. They’re full of self-belief and absolutely convinced they are onto something groundbreaking and about to be snapped up as the next big thing.

Garage Band 

Next step for our budding musician is to bring their new songs to life by putting together a band. There follows lots of auditions and a great deal of trouble finding a reliable drummer.

The Tech founder has to put together a band of his/her own – an initial development team comprising a minimum of a UI designer and a coder; maybe snatch them from another band which is going nowhere or about disband.

Let’s Rock!

With their respective bands now formed, it’s into rehearsals for the musicians. They spend many hours in the local village hall or a friend’s garage, nailing their first 4 or 5 songs. It is time to unveil them on an as yet unsuspecting public in the local pubs and clubs.

Meanwhile, our start-up has mocked up a ‘live’ demo version of their InsurTech product and an awesome slide-deck. They too are ready to launch themselves, in their case upon insurer innovation teams and prospective angel investors. If they’re lucky they too might work in a garage or cool tech loft– consuming generous corporate innovation budgets and getting lots of advice from ‘seasoned’ advisors. Some of today’s largest tech companies started in a garage. So too have many of the world’s greatest bands. Even Aviva has a Garage!

Naming Convention

You can’t advertise a gig without having a name for the band. So, first they need to settle on a name – one which is not already taken (the best ones always are) and which resonates rock and roll cool or is irreverent and self-mocking. Accordingly, we shall call our band Robin and the Risketts.

Our startup needs a name too – it has to be very short – just one or two syllables, speak digital and be orthographically challenging. Again being late to the party all the best names are gone. In the absence of divine inspiration Celtic or Norse Gods and Goddesses are a rich source of material. We shall call ours Frigg, after the Norse goddess of the sky. 

Gigging

Now it gets real. Late nights, hard work and all boot strapped. For both there follow months of frustration and rejection – emails never answered, fruitless meetings and wasted journeys. The established record labels say they don’t believe your “sound” is “commercial” and stick to doing what they know best – catchy, factory built pop tunes sung by an attractive dancer, surrounded by other attractive dancers with enormous YouTube and Instagram followings. Or worse, remix proven middle of the road classics that have ready-made base audiences. Similarly, insurers find Frigg’s idea far too radical because they can’t cope with the absence of extensive underwriting and claims experience or integrate your offering into their legacy stack – “this is just too ‘friggin’ digital for us”.

For many the journey ends here, but because we as a duet are on a rich vein of form (there’s much more where this comes from) our aspirants both get lucky, we may even sell some merch! T-shirts after all, play a vital part of band and start-up brand projection…

Get Signed

Robin and the Risketts get signed to a small independent record label, now with a polished lead-singer. They get loaned a bit of cash (an ‘advance’) to record an album using the label’s own people and a few months later an EP is released on iTunes. They shoot a curious low budget video too, which gets lots of likes. So they now need some management, a promoter who can drive airplay and whip up a social media frenzy!

Meanwhile Frigg get a paid Proof of Concept ‘PoC’ and on the back of that some angel investment from a rich uncle. They develop a Beta version of their product on laptops and augment the team by appointing a COO and CMO. At this early stage everyone recruited must have a ‘C’ in the front of their title.

Touring

Both now go into full-scale promotion. Robin and the Risketts play small venues in their home town, get a place touring as a support act to an established band for a month and get a few mid afternoon slots in the smaller tents at minor summer festivals. Meanwhile, for Frigg it’s all about relentless networking. Meetings with incumbent innovation teams, and investors, pitching at all the InsurTech events, speak at innovation conferences and writing several self-serving white papers on disruption in insurance.

Breakout

Then, just when they were starting to wonder of it would ever happen, they both “break out” to use the music industry parlance. On the back of a slow burning festival hit and an endorsement or two from social media influencers, Robin and his Risketts get a slot on Later with Jools, and are nominated for the Best New Band award by NME. Downloads soar and big record companies come calling.

Meanwhile, Frigg steal the show at an InsTech London event “Insurance Products of the Future” and shortly after that, they are nominated and win Post Magazine InsurTech of the Year spending their last remaining angel cash on a table at the awards dinner. On the back of that, they do a ‘fireside chat’ with the InsurTech guru Nigel Walsh which goes viral, get capacity from a major carrier, raise their first £1million funding round from investors and graduate from garage to WeWork.

Fame and fortune! 

To hear the next chapter in the parallel lives of Robin and the Risketts and Frigg, tune into the next episode in a few weeks time – to be continued.