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.
I’m Samuel, CEO of Akur8. I started my career at IBM, where I spent 15 years in various international sales and sales management positions before joining Insurtech Shift Technology as Head of Sales. At Shift, I drove the internationalization of the company, including in the US. After 2 years at Shift, I decided to take on a genuine entrepreneurial adventure and joined Guillaume, our Chief Actuary, and co-founded Akur8.
Akur8 is a cloud-based B2B Insurtech, automating the rate-making process thanks to proprietary algorithms powered by Transparent-AI, while enabling to retain complete control over the process and the output.
2. Give us the backstory- how did you get the founding idea, and how did the first sale come about?
Guillaume was head of R&D at AXA Global Direct prior to co-founding Akur8. He saw first hand how manual and cumbersome the rate-making process is for actuaries and pricing teams. That’s how the idea of Akur8 emerged. We then spent 4 years of R&D to develop unique proprietary algorithms to empower non-life insurers with a faster and safer pricing process. Quite naturally, our first sale was AXA, where the teams observed first-hand the development and the value brought by Akur8.
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?
Our journey to scale rather differs from traditional scale-ups. Because we operate in such a core and regulated process as pricing, we could not afford to go to the market with a Minimum Viable Product that we would keep on improving once commercialized. That’s why it took us 4 years of R&D to commercialize our solution, so that it was perfectly and rigorously ready-to-use by insurers.
After starting commercializing our solution in H2 2019, we had an extremely dynamic year in 2020, even though Covid came to disrupt the way we worked internally and interacted with clients with a sales cycle that tended to be a bit longer than usual – even for B2B SaaS sales!
Our use case is international by nature so we started our internationalization early in our jounrey. A key milestone in our expansion and business development was to open an office in the US in New-York City in Q3 2020. We are very excited about the market opportunities over there!
4. Which was the most challenging phase, and what would you have done differently?
I believe the most challenging phase has been to adapt to the new context in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. For two reasons. One being that we are still a young start-up and scaling fast so it is key for our teams to be able to maintain very close collaboration and emulation which was definitely a challenge in this context of remote working – though a one I believe we brilliantly passed eventually!
The second one was the imperative to adapt our ways of working with clients and prospects, entirely remotely in an environment where you need to be very close to the teams to listen to them, train them, and onboard them. We did manage to adapt, along with our clients and I believe it actually reinforced both our agility and robustness along the way.
5. When did you decide to expand to the international/ US market, and how?
The US represents a sizable market opportunity for an B2B SaaS insurtech like us. As I was mentioning, our use case is very international by nature, adapting to all geographies, insurers’ sizes, insurers’ typologies and so on. We decided to expand to the US quite early in 2020 and set up a local office there in September.
As for international markets, we signed with clients in Europe, Asia or Latin America as early as our first full year operating. We will most likely set up a local office in Asia in 2022.
6. When did you first decide to raise venture capital, and what has been your approach to financing growth over the years?
We raised a Seed series in July 2018 to sustain our product development and raised a series A of €8m in March 2020 to support both our geographical expansion, our product team while being able to hire the best talents to accompany this exciting journey.
7. How is building an Enterprise FinTech firm different from a “regular” SaaS / Enterprise Tech company, and what three things should founders get right?
In our case, we are evolving in a highly regulated industry and addressing a very core process with pricing. There is no room for mistakes, which is both exciting and demanding.
In my opinion, what founders should get right may sound trivial but is of the essence. First, have the right team by your side, with exceptional individuals. Second, make sure you are addressing an actual need – be it known or latent. Third, listen to your clients and always be ready to adapt and be flexible both in your approach and in improving your solution/products.
8. What’s on the priority list for you and your team for the next year?
We want to keep pushing! We are off to a very good start in 2021, with a busy product roadmap – we just launched a new module – and big ambitions to continue to expand internationally. The US will definitely be a big area of focus for us this year.
9. Where is the financial services sector headed in the next 12-18 months, and what should we be watching out for?
Looking at the insurance sector, the transformation imperative is no longer a question anymore. The current context is acting a further accelerator of such imperative, bringing massive and unprecedented changes. Customers’ behaviours are changing fast, pushing incumbent to adapt to entirely new standards. The use of technology, including the most advanced ones such as AI is going to rise significantly. Their application definitely has more than emerged already but I believe they are going to be applied to an ever growing number of processes, including the core ones, and in production – which is a big nuance. That is of course if this comes with the right execution and the right solutions – going beyond blackbox technology towards ethical, transparent ones.
10. Your favorite place(s) for a meal, coffee or drink (pre-COVID19)?
Ah, good times! To be honest any terrace with friends with a nice glass of wine would become
my favorite place right away!