Gustaf Agartson is founder and CEO of pioneering insurance tech start-up BIMA, which specialises in providing low-cost insurance solutions to customers through mobile technology. BIMA’s first presence on the continent was in Accra, Ghana, where the company began operating in 2010. Following its runaway success in the West African country, BIMA has since expanded to 14 other emerging markets across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
I’ve found one of the biggest challenges as a founder has been the need to adapt myself constantly to the changing business dynamics, including the way I work and the way I lead our business.
When I first created BIMA, I was the only employee and had to do everything myself. As we expanded into new markets, the demands on the business changed, and new complexities and requirements came along.
Steering a fast-expanding company with an increasing headcount presents a different set of challenges compared to piloting and launching a business idea – and it requires [a] different leadership and management style as well.
I myself, as well as my entire senior management team, must be mindful about how the business is evolving, so we can adjust and adapt the way we think, behave, and lead in order to bring the best out of every employee.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to bring low-cost insurance to 26 million emerging market consumers around the world. Seventy five percent of our customers are only accessing insurance for the first time in their lives.
Using mobile technology, we’ve been able to widen access to insurance on a massive scale and provide families in the developing world with the financial safety net they so desperately need in case disaster strikes. Leading the way towards greater financial inclusion in emerging economies is, I believe, one of our greatest accomplishments.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
As founder of BIMA, I have been used to making decisions quickly, and being action-oriented has helped me tremendously in launching and scaling the business. However, our company has grown so much over the years that I quickly realised that it could no longer be a one-man show.
I have had to come to terms with delegating tasks and allowing people to take ownership of the things that they are great at. As an entrepreneur, I think you are naturally inclined to want to get involved in everything, but that’s just not sustainable and I have learned to let go and trust in other people’s decisions.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
In Africa, people tend to think that technology alone will be able to change and transform entire industries, but that’s a misconception.
Technology is, no doubt, a game changer, but there must be a human factor. You cannot build relationships with people relying only on technology.
BIMA’s success has been based on our mobile technology as much as our on-the-ground agents, who are dedicated to educating customers about the role and importance of insurance. They have been essential in raising awareness about our services and building trust with our customer base.
The technology by itself wouldn’t cut it – and you should never lose sight of the human touch.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
Most people know the difficulties of founding your own business: identifying and accepting your strengths and weaknesses is just as important as building the right team around you.
But I never fully appreciated just how crucial it is to select the right people and to put in place a strong team who can help me achieve success.
Just as important as it is to constantly evaluate your business strategy and the market environment, as an entrepreneur, you need to review your teams continuously – their strengths and weaknesses – and give them the opportunity to take on tasks where they can make the most impact. Building a committed and supportive team will be key to driving company growth.
‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.