This interview is part of Scaling Enterprise FinTech | The Handbook, launched in Mar. 2021 in partnership with SixThirty Ventures and Finovate Europe. The Handbook includes proprietary research on ca. 65 Enterprise FinTech scaleups in Europe, Q&As with 16 founders on their journey to scale, as well as insights from 10 leading investors and financial institutions. Whether you are a founder with an idea, an early stage startup looking for inspiration and learnings, or an investor or financial institution looking to understand the difficult but rewarding journey to building a world-class Enterprise FinTech firm – download the Handbook here http://www.fintechforum.de/sef/
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your company.
Zelros is a software editor specialized in artificial intelligence for the insurance industry. After working at AXA Data Innovation Lab and Datarobot I cofounded Zelros together with Damien Philippon and Fabien Vauchelles in 2016. Today Zelros counts 50 employees operating in 3 countries (France, Germany and Italy) and doubling size each year. Our technology is used daily by thousands of advisors and agents from 15+ leading insurers and bancassurers.
2. Give us the backstory- how did you get the founding idea, and how did the first sale come about?
Fabien and I had worked formerly at AXA Data Innovation Lab. which was the trailblazer initiative about leveraging data and AI at scale in Europe. Together with Damien, we decided to create Zelros with the vision that algorithms would completely change the world around us. Both in our private and professional lives. Some industries have already been completely disrupted by algorithms. For example Airbnb doesn’t own one single hotel or one single house, but a state-of-the-art platform fueled with state of the art algorithms. Our conviction is that what already happened in a number of industries and will materialize in the insurance industry in the years to come.
3. Could you summarize your journey to scale from a sales, go-to-market and business development perspective, perhaps split into 2-3 key phases?
At inception, we made the structuring choice to bootstrap the company, i.e. start generating our first revenues, and finance our early R&D without raising funds. This first phase helped us to create a lean culture, doing more with less, eliminate some directions, and understand the market needs.
Then after 2 years, with our understanding of insurance pains to solve, and first customers trusting our product, it became the good moment to raise a large first round of funding to confirm our vision. It helped us to develop our partner network, launch new product features, and gain market shares.
Two years after, with enough data points and demonstration of our business model, we were able to raise a doubledigit series A.
4. Which was the most challenging phase, and what would you have done differently?
The most challenging phase at early phases of a startup, and I believe also at any stage, is to hire and create a best-in-class team. It means having a clear vision of your mission, and of your corporate values, and gather everyone around a compelling project
Things we could have done differently is give even more trust and ownership to the members of the team. You never provide enough confidence to smart people.
5. When did you decide to expand to the international/ US market, and how?
From the beginning, we wanted to make Zelros an international company. We started to expand in Germany and Italy in 2020.
In February 2021, we successfully closed a Series A fundraising round of $11M led by Silicon Valley-based BGV with new participation from ISAI Cap Venture and Plug and Play. And we will use the funding to scale operations across Europe and expand into North America, strengthening our leadership position in the insurtech space. Damien Philippon, co-founder and COO will relocate and launch the company’s Montreal-based North American headquarters in Q3 2021. We also plan to hire five full-time employees at our North American location by the end of the year.
6. When did you first decide to raise venture capital, and what has been your approach to financing growth over the years?
7. How is building an Enterprise FinTech firm different from a “regular” SaaS / Enterprise Tech company, and what three things should founders get right?
Insurance is a regulated industry. There are some specific challenges to consider, like how you ensure AI is fair, auditable and transparent
Insurance is not like other industries: if you think about it, it’s about care, equality, and helping to solve major society issues like climate change, diseases, insecurity, etc. … This provides an extra dimension compared to other traditional industries
8. What’s on the priority list for you and your team for the next year?#
● grow the team, by preserving our diversity and culture alignment
● continue to add AI features to our platform, like voice processing
● make our customers happy and conquer new customers
9. Where is the financial services sector headed in the next 12-18 months, and what should we be watching out for?
Tech will be king. As financial services become more and more tech driven, we should watch how regulators will control usage of AI, and the development of a new breed of transparent and fair algorithms.
10. Your favorite place(s) for a meal, coffee or drink (pre-COVID19)?
https://www.lafelicita.fr/. The restaurant of Station F, the the world’s largest start-up campus, located at Halle Freyssinet in central Paris.