My Sherpa story

I am not an insurance person.

Winter of 2016, I was on the hunt for the next big project, travelling to Europe’s top startup hubs and being exposed to some very interesting concepts. However, I wanted something that was different in terms of its human impact where the problem was so real, it just had to be solved. And that is when I met Chris.

Over coffee, we spoke about the problem in insurance, with Chris breaking it down in a way that for the first time, made it comprehensible. I was not in the insurance industry and always thought it was that necessary evil type product. And when I saw insurance startups, I always found them to be simply the digitisation of the same problem, hardly solving it.

“The problem with insurance is the insurance product itself”. And “We need to insure people not buckets of risks they call products.” The conversation sparked curiosity and I started researching both the products on the market as well as customer reactions to them.

It was clear that the problem was real. Insurance products suffer from feature soup, with risks (think of them as features) being thrown in to the mix making it seem more valuable. The more features an insurance product has, the more complex it becomes, with the value added not necessarily needed. The result is the customer buying something they don’t understand, paying for features they may not need, resulting in the most painful experience possible. What about the post purchase experience? Well, if customer’s don’t know what they are being sold, the post purchase experience is bound to be terrible.

What Sherpa has set out to do is to transform the industry by creating protection a customer needs, supporting the customer throughout the process, and constantly being on the customers’ side. Sherpa is about moving from feature soup to giving customers only the protection they need; from an unfair commission based business model relying on hard-sales to a flat subscription service, from complexity that only the risk geek understands to democratised versions of protection.

The future of everything is exciting as long as it evolves and insurance will be positively impacted to benefit customers the world over. We have started with one of the most under-served customers in the U.K., the self-employed, and will continue to make Sherpa protection easier, simpler and relevant for more people after that.

I am still not an insurance person, but a person making insurance simple.

[As featured in meetsherpa.com]

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Pitching and winning at DIA

The Digital Insurance Agenda is a global event where startups from all over the globe pitch their start up to industry professionals.

Sherpa debuted their product and pitched their radical approach to underwriting people, not products.

Sherpa won the diamond award, placing it as a leading InsurTech startup globally.

For me personally, DIA was a super experience.  Having been in the insurance world for less then 12 months, and winning such a prestigious award, was certainly a moment I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Check out the pitch below:

 

 

 

Malta’s biggest digital business conference

The MCA, TakeOff and myself have been working together to develop Malta’s biggest digital business conference called ZEST.  An event looking to attract 500 people, over two days, with two stages (one focused on startups and the other on the established companies) and a super liner of speakers.

 

The event’s theme is Breaking Borders. What this refers to is the blurring of lines between industries, professions and countries or regions. The reason why it is so relevant is that the way disruptions are happening in every industry, and the speed at which rules are changing, is causing massive impacts on our definitions. What is a taxi company in 2016? Uber has changed the rules. What is a marketing professional? It is no longer just a creative, but more of a numbers guy, or a highly technical coder. What is Estonia doing with there digital residencies?

With all of this happening in the world, what we wanted to do is bring thought leaders together to discuss the subject in terms of both opportunity and impact. We also wanted to get companies that are actually pushing for this disruption.

That is why we have the CEO of Funderbeam, a company that is looking to merge crowd funding with stock exchange models. Jobbatical that are mixing up where we live and work, Leaf Music that took marketing/lead generation to a new level getting customer acquisition down to just a few cents. We then have thought leaders from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Gartner, Forbes, Leo Burnett and TechStars. And if that isn’t enough, we even have up and coming local disrupters like HotJar who are the fastest growing analytics company in the world at the moment, having merged multiple tools into one, and slashed prices drastically.

Lastly, we are also bringing in regional perspectives. Yes, we have several European views of the business world, but what about North Africa and the Middle East? We invited Flat6Labs, the regions largest seed fund to share there views.

We also have Jack Cator. Jack is the founder of HideMyAss, which he recently exited to AVG for a (very) healthy sum. Jack founded the business at 16, experienced massive growth and did it using remote teams and outsourcing. A great story and a true inspiration from a very down to earth guy.

What about format, the event is not your typical suit and tie conference either. We wanted it to be as informal as possible. We are setting up a coworking space to allow our freelancers, digital nomads and entrepreneurs to catch up on work while at the event. We are organising a party on the Monday night (27th June) with an open bar, right on the beach. We are making sure that the vibe of the event is as open as possible. We don’t just want business cards to be exchanged but relationships to be built. We of course have a few surprises that should also make this event ‘memorable’!

Price? Well, this event is probably the cheapest conference of the year in Europe. Prices start at EUR 29 for students and EUR 79 for everyone else. This is for a two day event with awesome speakers and a liquid party! :)

All in all, a great event that looks to get many different views together on the island of Malta for two days. A great opportunity to see what the island has to offer, meet a few global movers and shakers, have a drink in the sun, and listen to great speakers talk about the future of business.

After 2 months at NOW Digital Academy

NOW Digital Academy has launched, the founders got excited, then the work began. Reality set in and boy were we surprised.

When we launched NOW, we didn’t know what to expect. We are offering free education, without lecturers or lectures, based on a new mode of teaching. We needed to create digital businesses that students can run and scale, and we had to make it all sustainable. We knew it was possible but it all depended on the quality of our students. We were also put to the test. If the students didn’t learn, and therefore add value to the business, than we wouldn’t make money! Quality of our coaching was everything.

We started off by creating a lot of structures based on assumptions, and frankly most were very wrong!

The reality is that the quality of our students surpassed our expectations. They were hungry. True, on day one, they were shy. They took notes. They spoke quietly between them. Five days later they challenged the business models we presented and fought for leadership roles of key functions within the business.

Two months later, and where are we? In the first few days, we gave our students a business model in one single line – “a fashion marketplace that promotes international micro fashion designers”. We know there are many of them, we said, so let us differentiate.

The students worked on this for a few weeks, speaking to micro designers, trying to go deeper in understanding the designers stories and ambitions. What were their challenges? What do they need? They discovered how designers are misunderstood, how they want to focus on the creative, how many want to help and be part of something greater than just there brand. They discovered how micro-designers and tech startups are very similar in that they both needed a community to support and engage with them. They learnt that the fashion world is tough and though many designers have egos (like any other industry I guess), a lot of them were fantastic human beings.

This is when rock and olive was born. They started working on the marketplace to support micro fashion designers that embraced the community concept and believed in collaboration beats competition. They added gamification concepts, challenged how the community communicates, discussed community evangelisation, and how to make ecommerce easy for the new designer to take on. They worked on revenue generations, fair commissions, affiliate and other models. They discussed go-to-market and developed startegic and tactical plans. They sweated, often till late at night.

More importantly, the students fought for work that needed to be done. They understood that the more they took on, the more they are exposed to. They proved that hunger is the most critical attribute a person needs to grow into a career. And they were super hungry.

What next? Well, we are now focusing on getting rock and olive some traction. This means working on the #stopsocksandsandals campaign, creating great content, understanding long tail keywords and analytics and both listening and engaging via social media. We are also working on new businesses, one in the travel space and the other in recruitment SaaS. Both interesting and we are very excited to get more of this great quality.

Lastly, we recently started working with Universities in the U.K. and offering NOW Academy as an extension to there Master’s courses. Interest in this has been phenomenal as it gives students real access and exposure to digital business experience, for free, in Malta!

All in all, we are and will continue to be very excited with NOW Digital. As it evolves with every new student and suggestion, we hope to give opportunities to tomorrow’s digital professions, and let them discover better versions of themselves.

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Why I believe in NOW Digital Academy

I work in digital startups and I see super ideas and technologies being created on a regular basis. It is exciting to see business models being challenged, and people becoming entrepreneurs over a few months. However, something that continuously surprises me is the lack of knowledge within the digital marketing space.

This post may be a bit of a rant but I highly think it is relevant in a 2016 business context. Why are marketeers coming out of courses at educational establishments unaware of how to leverage SEO, social media and content? How on earth do they not understand the king of digital businesses across the globe – THE FUNNEL? Any how can it be that there analytic skills are so basic, if at all. And although the book does have some value is Kotler still the be all and end all of marketing?

Marketing, as a discipline is changing at a very fast pace. Today we are creating fantastic Instagram content, tomorrow we are broadcasting on Periscope. The thing is, with such a dynamic and fast moving discipline, it is impossible for educational establishments to create an always current course. It takes months to create the content. Months to find qualified teachers to teach the stuff. And then months to sell the courses!

Now is a digital business academy and it is very different. It is looking to teach marketing or digital business, in a real and relevant context. Now does not have teachers, it has coaches. It does not have course material, it has real digital businesses. It does not have exams, it has KPIs. It does not give certificates, but rather gives a report on how you have hit your metrics.

It is as real as it gets.

So, clearly, I believe in the concept. But its not just the relevance of business. I also believe in the approach. It is FREE and ACCESSIBLE!

Having an average mark of A while at University or school does not mean you will succeed more within a digital business. In fact, your background and education has very little effect on your ability. Because of this, NOW is a free school, open to anyone from any background, from any school with any grades. Now is also open to anyone in terms of age, sex and race. We only have one entry requirement – HUNGER. How hungry are you, as a person, to make things happen. How much do you want it.

Yes, I believe in NOW…

 

Failure Misunderstood

[As featured in MONEY magazine] MONEY MAG COVER

Failure is tough. Emotionally, financially and socially. It is often seen as an embarrassment, as though a failed business venture defines your future and your capabilities. In the startup world, we should see things differently. Simon Azzopardi talks about why startup failures are seen in a very different light.

Nine out of ten startups will fail. This is a fact that every entrepreneur in the startup world needs to be fully aware of and comfortable with. This means that not only failure being very likely for an entrepreneur, but also that one should have the emotional and psychological readiness for failure. A lot of this readiness has to do with culture.

First of all though, one must keep in mind that technology based startups have a very different approach to creating businesses than what traditional business school teaches. The eco system of startup founders push for a lean approach of selling before building, and typically the building part involves very little money. Startups try to mitigate the multitude of risks though still the odds of failure are not in the favour of the startup.

With all this said, the cultural differences in how we approach failure is significantly different depending on which ecosystem you are involved in. If one had to compare the US to Europe, failure is treated astronomically differently.

Failure in the US is seen to be celebrated, like a badge of honour of sorts, worn proudly by entrepreneurs. Conferences such as FailCon even exist where entrepreneurs talk about their failures and the lessons learnt from it. Truth is, such conference have gone a long way in pushing the culture of accepting failure even though it is, in my opinion, oversold.

In Europe, failure is seen as the end of the road. Reputation is tarnished and labelling happens. In fact, we see that entrepreneurs that fail in Europe are less likely to try again, or receive the funding required from investors. Comparing this to the US and we see massive cultural differences where several angel investors and venture capital firms look for a previous failure to ensure that lessons have been learnt, and mistakes will not be repeated.

In my opinion, the concept of failure is misunderstood on both sides. The Americans go too far in celebrating failure, overplaying failure as some form of milestone reached. The celebration should be the lessons learnt, and not the failure in itself. And quite frankly, a lesson learnt is only defined or realised to have had a positive effect once success is achieved. Therefore, failure should only be celebrated in hindsight of success.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have us, the conservative Europeans. Europe does not see any positive whatsoever in failure, yet if you look at the mantra of startup thinking, including the mantra “fail fast, fail often”, there is a clear mismatch in how we think versus how tech entrepreneurs should approach such a high risk industry.

The ideal is a culture whereby failure is understood for what it is, nothing more and nothing less. Failure should simply be seen as a path taken that didn’t work, where life lessons are rich and difficulties associated with it need to be overcome as quickly as possible.

So what next? What can Europe do to be better entrepreneurs? The first thing we need to do is talk about failure. Failure is not some taboo though simply a step many entrepreneurs face before success. I am not talking about the celebration of failure, but rather the promotion of its discussion without prejudice.

Secondly, the startup world needs a reality check. Startups and particularly tech entrepreneurs are celebrated today, almost seen as the rock stars of society. Only a few years ago, young people spoke about John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. Today we talk about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Thankfully, such profiles are better celebrated than the Kardashians.

The result of this tech rock star phenomena is that many people want to be like them, yet without being primed of what being an entrepreneur really is about. We talk about the successful entrepreneur but very few talk about the challenging milestones along the way or the failed nine out of ten that never made it on Forbes. We talk about growing a business, but very few understand the legal implications of bankruptcy.

Like with most things in this world, solutions to challenges lies in educated conversations. Failure is not the end of the world, and could be the last failure before success. Lessons should be celebrated when they take a positive impact on how you do things, and if a person talks about his failure, accept it for what it is, a wrong path taken that does not define that person’s abilities, personalities, or future potential.  Lastly, we should strive to fail better, in terms of being more educated about both the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, without overselling the startup path, and falling part of an ecosystem that understands the risks entrepreneurs take and can support better decision making.

 

Malta is hot for startups

[As seen on Times of Malta]

On the weekend 17th to 19 July, Startup Weekend (a non-for-profit event), the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) and the University of Malta TAKEOFF Business Incubator put their heads together to organise the biggest startup event to date. The event brought in reputational mentors and speakers which firmly puts Malta on the map as a startup destination.

The event began on Friday morning with a conference entitled ‘DISRUPT. STARTUP. MALTA’. The aim of the conference was three fold: to highlight to the local corporate and public world that a vibrant startup community exists; to discuss the local and international startup investing world; and lastly to bring to light a few Malta based startups that are leading the front.

“The Friday morning conference was thrilling. Not only was it well thought through in terms of content and set up, but the vibe and energy in the room was felt on all four corners. Having speakers with backgrounds working at global brands such as Amazon AWS, Citrix, Soundcloud and Seedcamp helps of course, but we managed to balance the international names with local success stories” says Simon Azzopardi, organiser of Startup Weekend.

“The event began with a clear message. What we wanted to do is explain that the startup world is not about tech or software developers. What the startup industry looks to do is disrupt business models by thinking differently, and hacking industries that have always been a certain way. We look around us and see 3D printing, sharing communities and internet of things and businesses around the world should be thinking about what effect such could have on their own businesses,” continues Azzopardi.

Bernard Agius, Business and Innovation Development Manager at the MCA argued that “it is very important that we realise that disruption brings more to our economy than mere threats. This conference has given a taste of the opportunities that may lie ahead for a small economy if it can locate its niche in a disrupted environment. Being small and nimble can give us an edge in making our economy attractive to disruptive start-ups. This is the right time to talk about disruptive startups especially when one considers the push for a European Digital Single Market amid other global technology driven trends.”

“Malta’s startup scene is still relatively new in comparison to the larger centres, but what we are seeing is that with the little effort done by the local community, we have already seen early successes. Companies like HotJar, Reaqta, DiscountIF and Oulala have already achieved impressive traction and we believe that they deserve Malta’s support and attention,” says Andy Linnas, TAKEOFF Business Incubator Manager.

The event came to a close with Reinhold Karner giving a talk on what Malta should do over the next few months to realise its potential. He spoke about attracting startups, creating a platform that nurtures businesses, retention of intellectual property on the island, as well as building a foundation of trust and reliability within the ecosystem.

The Friday morning’s event came to a close in the afternoon, only to be followed by a second startup event.

“At 6:00 pm that Friday, the internationally renowned Startup Weekend began. From the Friday to the Sunday, we provided 10 ideas with coaching and support to create business models and live the startup experience,” says Azzopardi.

The event invited mentors from global brands such as AOL, Seedcamp, Amazon AWS, Citrix and Microsoft, to support the teams during this intense competition. Moreover, the event also included mentors from the Malta-based eco-system with several reputable entrepreneurs showing up to give back to the community.

“It was great to see early ideas with little substance become viable business models in a short period of time. Not only that, we saw personalities and characters being formed, with leaders emerging from the event,” commented Azzopardi.

On the Sunday, after the final pitches, four ideas emerged as having stood out from the crowd. The wining startups included HealthHero, a crowdfunding platform supporting individuals that cannot afford or are covered by insurance for key surgeries or operations; AirMeeting was a flight search engine that looks to solve the problem of multiple dispersed people looking for a destination that makes financial sense for all; Sure Guides, a startup looking to bring the AirBnB model to tour guides; and the winner SiteProject, a startup looking to translate customer requirements of a website into a functional specification.

“The winner was selected on a single criterion that is, if the judges had EUR 100,000 to invest, which would be the ‘investable’ company. HealthHero was awarded as the startup with the greatest social impact, therefore the judges agreed that they would invest though not for the sake of return,” concluded Azzopardi.

Startup Weekend was sponsored by Altaro, V&A Investments, TakeOff and the MCA.

Startup Weekend: Ideas become high growth startups in under 54 hours

StartupWeekend Malta_Logo4

[As featured in TimesofMalta and several other online news portals]

The hardest part of creating a new company is knowing whether the idea is any good and creating a business model for it. Knowing whether you are creating a solution to an actual problem, and whether your solution can earn you money is not easy. Getting to real answers needs support and processes. Malta has Startup Weekend to deliver just that.

For the fourth time, Malta will be hosting the international event, Startup Weekend, in collaboration with the Malta Communications Authority. “Startup Weekend is a Google powered programme where ideas become high growth startups in under 54 hours,” the organisers said.

“Every year, the event attracts individuals of different ages with a wide range of backgrounds. Developers, designers, marketing, sales, you name it. This blend of people, together with ideas creates a perfect ambiance for startups to become a reality,” according to Startup Weekend organiser Simon Azzopardi.

Simon continued, “this year’s event however, is looking to be even bigger and bolder. Every year we involve mentors and judges who add a lot of support to the startups over the weekend. This year, startup teams will be mentored by leading angel investors from Berlin and Silicon Valley, accelerators, pitch doctors, and successful entrepreneurs. Names such as Amazon, AOL and Seedcamp, are flying in for the occasion from as far as Singapore.”

“The MCA is very excited about this event as it is a model that has been applied with great success, both abroad and in Malta. Moreover, we strongly support what is happening in the startup space. Events such as these fully reflect the MCA’s vision and activities that are aimed at spurring entrepreneurial flair and a change in mindset towards economic growth,” said an MCA spokesperson.

Anton Bartolo, director for Corporate Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Malta, Gold sponsor and host of the events said, “TAKEOFF seeks to help Maltese Startup Community grow. It is very important to have international startup events organised in Malta, which bring foreign talent in terms of teams as well as mentors to enrich local entrepreneurial culture. TAKEOFF is proud to host this exciting event, and we augur that it will generate new high-growth start-ups that may seek our support to improve their growth prospects.”

David Vella, CEO of Altaro and sponsor of Startup Weekend commented, “Altaro used to be a startup. We know that early days are tough, but we also know that it was worth it. We continue to support Startup Weekend as we believe that creating a vibrant startup community is essential for Malta to have more success stories.”

It all gets underway at 6pm on Friday, when participants can pitch an idea or simply listen to others pitch theirs. Once all that is done, voting takes place on which ideas to work with. This is followed by formation of teams to work on these ideas.

Then at 10pm everything kicks off. The high profile mentors coach and collaborate with team members. The aim here is to present one’s startup to investors and judges on Sunday.

“It is super interesting when you see lawyers, accountants, doctors with sometimes great ideas, knowing nothing about software, pitching their solutions to problems. Moreover, it’s great seeing future entrepreneurs, even if no ideas are pitched, take these ideas and make them great,” said Simon.

“In past events, we had entrants travel from Germany, Italy, Spain and India. Results have shown that this mix of background and cultures adds another layer of excitement and energy into the room,” he said.

“The beauty of startup weekend is that the idea, though it has value, is not everything. Uber is a taxi service. Groupon is a deals site. The trick is how it’s done, and startup weekend shows you the ropes.”

The event, happening from the 17th – 19 July is being hosted by TakeOff Incubation Centre at the University or Malta, in partnership with the MCA and sponsored by Altaro.