CEO reflects on his journey of building a digital insurance business in Africa
Jeremy Leach is the founder and CEO of Inclusivity Solutions, a company which designs, builds and operates digital insurance products. It partners with mobile operators, banks, insurance firms and other financial institutions to deliver simple and affordable insurance cover through mobile phones. The company has launched digital insurance initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Kenya, in partnership with Orange, Airtel and Equity Bank’s Equitel respectively.
In May 2020, Inclusivity Solutions secured an additional $1.3 million in the second tranche of its series A round, bringing the total series A fundraising to $2.6 million. Its investors include Goodwell Investments, UW Ventures (in partnership with Allan Gray) and MFS Africa. The business was started in 2015 and has its head office in Cape Town, South Africa.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
There are quite a few as you would expect from having chosen to found a startup in one of the hardest spaces in financial services – insurance in under-penetrated markets. But one of the most stressful was facing our ‘Day Zero’ at the end of 2018. Instead of running out of water, as Cape Town’s Day Zero countdown was tracking, we were coming perilously close to running out of funding. Thankfully and with particular appreciation to a friend, Dare Okoudjou – who prompted Goodwell Investments to expedite their assessment of us – and Nic Botha, representing Allan Gray and Umkhathi Wethu – who contacted us out of nowhere – we were able to secure a great series A with amazing investors. But it was a very close run.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
There are many, but the ones that stand out are:
- The impact of all our existing products on the lives of people who would previously never have had access to insurance protection. And more importantly that none of our products have exclusions for Covid-19, so all 750,000 clients are fully covered during this pandemic. This is what insurance should be about. When I meet the claimants or read our customer testimonials, it evokes a sense of ‘it was all worth it’ – the sleepless nights, the long sales cycles, the difficult company meetings.
- Building a diverse team and culture in Cape Town. Of our 17 employees, we are from 10 nationalities. In fact, each exco member represents a different country. Our software development team, for example, operates very effectively as a virtual entity with team members based in South Africa, Cameroon and Kenya.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I have been at one FailFaire conference and whilst I speak regularly at events, I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. This question feels something like that. I am generally very impatient and like to get things done fast and I expect that of other people too. However, a previous mentor once told me the following after I was pushing things too hard at a large corporate:
“Leadership is like a piece of tinned spaghetti which you must drag from one side of the table to another. If you drag it too fast, it will break up behind you so you will get to the end with no one behind you. The art of leadership is to drag that piece of spaghetti from one side to the other whilst keeping the spaghetti intact.”
I have taken this to heart and restrained my impulses as far as I am able. The tricky thing is that on the team we also had very impatient people so I had to try and navigate between those pushing hard and those who weren’t ready for it. It is was a tough balancing act because I am on the side of the impatient.
4. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I was advised that we needed to focus our energies and not spread ourselves too thin. That makes a lot of sense if you can control your destiny and speed. However, when you are partnering with large corporates like banks, mobile network operators and insurers it doesn’t matter how much you focus, you can’t get them to move any faster than they are willing to go. So, I wish we had spent more time innovating and testing with smaller players and following a few more rabbit holes at the beginning rather than focusing too much attention on our big three “supertankers”.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
I am not sure it is necessarily entrepreneurship per se, but there were two areas which I would have wished I could have known more about:
- Sales cycles: whilst we knew sales cycles were long at the beginning, they ended up being far longer than we envisaged as a startup without our own distribution. This led to some major sleepless nights when I felt paralysed as things were moving forward so slowly.
- Frugal innovation taught that you should not re-invent the wheel. So, we ended up trusting a well-regarded and vetted partner to provide the platform whilst we provided the IP and skills beyond technology. This ended up being a complete disaster, lost us two years and almost brought our journey to an early demise. We then decided to custom build our own digital platform, ASPin, which is built around what we knew we wanted and what we didn’t want. Our technology capabilities now serve as a key differentiator for us and sit at the core of our value proposition.
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