TopCheck is a Nigerian based start-up that allows users to compare and buy car insurance online. Launched earlier this year, they plan to offer a broader portfolio of financial products further down the line.
The founding team, comprised entirely of European entrepreneurs, have worked for various distinguished companies in the past – PwC for instance.
One of the founders, Jose Figueiredo (26), spoke to us about his company’s strategy and some of the difficulties an e-commerce business faces in African countries like Nigeria.
1. How did you finance your start-up?
We raised US$1.12m (€1m) from European investors in a funding round led by globally active venture builder Mountain Partners and business angel Dr Cornelius Boersch. The European Investment Fund, the founders of Trivago, and business angels Alexander Fugger, Ron Hillmann and Martin Scherrer have also put money in. Lendico’s co-founder, Clemens Paschke; the founders of Radcarpet; and former Rocket COO Ferdinand Kalm have invested as well. The current financing follows a smaller round in March this year by individual angel investors.
2. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?
Our budget is mainly allocated in the three pillars we consider essential for success: one, hiring the best talent which guarantees operational excellence and superior customer service. Two, developing a perfect and disruptive product/technology. And thirdly, maximising the return on investment from our promotion/marketing channels.
3. What risks does your business face?
Being a first mover in the Nigerian services price comparison sector is a challenge. Although Nigerians are getting used to buying products online through big players like Jumia or Konga, shopping for services online is something they didn’t realise was possible until now. Additionally, the insurance industry in Nigeria still has a low penetration and the population is relatively unaware of the benefits of insurance. We believe we have an important role to play in the growth of the retail insurance sector. These are probably the major obstacles we will face.
4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?
Given the fact that we are first movers in the market, any referrals – both from satisfied customers and PR campaigns – have so far proven the most efficient channels. A client that comes through a referral, has an increased trust level in the business than that of a customer who visits the website for the first time. Nigerians are also very engaged in social media and we are experiencing very interesting results through this channel. Promotions are a method that has proved rewarding as well.
5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.
The first sale and a respective satisfied customer is definitely the best reward of a long journey of setting up operations and processes. But of course moments like the first hire, moving into our new office space, or closing the financing round are also very exciting.
6. Tell us about your biggest mistake and what you learnt from it.
There have been certainly many mistakes, but all of them were essential to get where we are now. Looking back, and being foreign entrepreneurs in Nigeria, the entire path we took makes a lot of sense to us. From entering into a partnership with a local insurance broker in the beginning of the year, to bringing in the first insurance companies as service providers a couple months later. From gathering product information and developing our technology, to finally setting up local operations, hiring, and starting our marketing campaigns.Every piece of the puzzle seems to have fit the right place, at the right time.
The biggest learning experience is probably related to hiring and fundraising. It makes all the difference to work with the best people, even if it seems more costly. Whereas, in fundraising it’s a long process where everything can change from night to day – so persistence and caution are now imperative to succeed.