Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Helvengo

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Benedikt Andreas and Vedran Pranjic are the Co-founders at Helvengo. Benedikt is responsible for product development and operations, whereas Vedran is responsible for sales and marketing.

Having a business background, Benedikt gained some first work experience in consulting before joining Google, where he spent three years working at their EMEA headquarters in Dublin. Benedikt entered the insurance world when joining wefox as the first employee and followed the journey for 5.5 years, building up the Swiss operations as well as later the transformation department, delivering strategic projects globally.

Vedran had a finance & controlling background before he entered into the startup world by joining wefox as one of the first employees. He was part of that European success story for several years before moving on to other insurtech positions as Chief Product Officer at Creadi and founder of an CRM-Agency.

Taking the learnings from all their insurtech stations into the SME space, the Helvengo team is in pursuit of reinventing how SMEs cover their entrepreneurial risk through insurance.

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Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Helvengo

What motivated you to do this? How did you get to do what you do today?

Vedran: I come from an entrepreneurial family background. My father is a first-generation immigrant who came to Switzerland, who very early on started his own business. I always call it existential entrepreneurship because he basically started something just to earn money to feed the family and get by, and at the beginning did not have a big vision for the company itself.

For a long time I thought that entrepreneurship was basically that, a way to earn money if you did not get into bigger companies. Very early on, I had the luck to join wefox, which became one of the biggest insurtechs in Europe. I’ve learned that there is much more to entrepreneurship and that you can build a company around a vision and culture and I was convinced to do it for myself once I’ve learned enough.

Benedikt: It was always clear that I wanted to go into business. I got the chance to join Google at the Dublin EMEA headquarters and really got into that tech scene and entrepreneurship space. As Vedran mentioned, we met at wefox as first employees and after years building it up alongside great founders we decided to use that experience and start Helvengo together.

Can you tell us more about Helvengo?

Helvengo is a digital insurance MGA (managing general agent). So, on the front we act as an insurance company – if a customer comes to get coverage, they will get a Helvengo policy. Even though in the background, we partner with the well-known insurance or reinsurance companies who cover the risks.

Our goal is to have as much of the value chain as possible in-house to digitalize and automate it, so that our customers have a seamless journey to cover their insurance need.

What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?

SMEs in general very rarely go to the insurance companies themselves. They usually go to a broker and that is where they face certain challenges. The amount of work that the brokers have to do to insure these start-ups or SME’s is actually the same for a 2-5 employee company is it is for a 20-30 employee company. The brokers lose time, focus and motivation to properly consult those companies because the reward is much smaller than if they invested their time bigger companies.

Speaking from experience, we also just recently went through this process as a new company, and it actually took us 2-3 weeks to get the right insurance. So, our approach there is to make that journey for the broker as easy as possible by being the best partner for that broker to solve his problems of very manual and time-consuming processes. We would have been able to finalize that within probably a day with Helvengo.

At this stage, we’re starting with P&C insurance, with the goal to build a full portfolio based on the feedback from our brokers and distribution partners.

What is your unique advantage?

Our solution is split into two parts. The first is the AI-based risk analysis part, where customers that go through the process are educated and shown what their companies need by understanding the risks and challenges that they face.

And from there, the second part is the automated underwriting and contract journey. If the risk analysis fits and the customer understands everything that he/she wants to get covered, within 5-10 minutes it can be converted into a policy (as opposed to 2-3 weeks).

How do you make money?

We work very closely with brokers and other distribution partners, by delivering them with tailor-made and fully finalized contracts. They don’t have to cut back on commissions as we pay them the same as they would get from our competitors, bigger insurance incumbents. Helvengo makes money by improving the whole value chain and cutting down on costs that are related to currently manual processes. Nowadays almost 40% of the paid insurance premium goes to cover non-distributive admin costs, all the manual processes that are still being done by insurance companies due to their inefficient and old legacy systems. We earn our money by improving those processes and lowering our costs thanks to automation and digitization.

Do you also reach the SMEs directly?

Currently, our distribution channel is really a B2B2B.  In the insurance business, you need trustful relationships – which already exist with brokers in Switzerland and almost all of Europe, with about 70-80% of insurance products in the SME sector being sold via this indirect channel. So, our approach is really to enable those brokers to better serve their customers – who are the SMEs in their portfolio.

Where are you at now in terms of your journey?

We have achieved a lot over the last 10 months. From the start, we went in two directions. Obviously, being in the insurtech space or a startup in general, funding is always very important and we’re very grateful that throughout the first half year of our journey we received a lot of positive response from angel investors and VC’s.

Connie & Co is a great investor who supported us from the early stage. On the other side we worked tirelessly to build out our products quite quickly and found the first risk carriers that would support us on our journey. It’s a fun ride, a big adventure and we’re hustling every day to push the boundaries and get us faster off the ground.

How big is your team right now?

Right now, we are 11 people, where we have tech people onboard to support our product development. We also have some talents working on the areas of sales & marketing, and some all-rounders that can jump on every challenge that we face to solve them.

This has gotten us so far. We are obviously very much looking forward to also growing the team. We’re particularly looking for additional roles in product management, service, operations and sales.

Can you share some lessons learned from your journey?

Benedikt: I’m a strong believer that sharing these kinds of lessons is a very important piece to the whole entrepreneurial journey, especially in Europe where things are not going that well. Sometimes failures are considered as such and not as a learning experience.

For us internally (also what we want to shape within our culture), doing things fast and then realizing that it might not have been the best way is much better than not doing them. This is something that we continuously tell everyone that is joining our team.

In addition to that, I’ve learnt a lot during my journey with a team of very experienced founders at wefox in terms of experience and viewpoints on entrepreneurship. So, if there’s anyone out there who might not have an idea yet but have decided to go into the entrepreneurial space, it is always good to work together with serial founders that have experience in that space. Learn from them, and then embark on the entrepreneurial journey at a later stage when you feel like you have the right idea.

Vedran: After wefox, I had also started my own CRM agency, helping insurance brokers with adapted CRMs and also coding new ones from scratch. The difference between then and now is really having the right co-founders. The experience that everybody brought to the table, to have different mindsets, different approaches to solutions and problem-solving helped Helvengo grow quite quickly.

And we had such success in such an early stage because we have those three different mindsets in general. How we approach company-building is just a great mix, to have co-founders alongside who work on a vision together.

I can imagine that it is very important to have sparring partners…

There were a lot of arguments that we’ve had where we basically found a solution that worked for everyone at the end. This is because you talk about it, you stand your point, you see the other point of view, and then you realize that the other way is better or you are all inspired by each others viewpoint and come to a completely new solution.

It’s about challenging each other’s ideas, as opposed to having a democratic view on decision-making because then you might not actually reach the best possible solution. You would rather want to go for a bulletproof, challenged and fully accountable solution in the end.

Where do you see yourselves towards the end of the year?

There are three pillars to our goals for this year and the year beyond.

The first one is the market growth in Switzerland. We’ve started this past 2-3 weeks with the live version only for our alpha and beta brokers. We are working very closely with them to get feedback, improve the final details of the product to then go live for all the brokers in Switzerland.

The second is international expansion. We plan to go international this year with a strong focus on Germany due to the background of our investors. We have with Hypoport a very large company from Germany as an investor who is very strong in the insurance market in who are waiting for us to join them and use their sales channels and network.

The third pillar is the next funding round. We will soon start the next funding round which will be a lot bigger than the current one to tackle the first two pillars.

Is there a book or something that inspired you that you would like to recommend to the readers?

Benedikt: One book that actually has inspired me a lot over the past couple of years is ‘Delivering Happiness’ by the founder of Zappos, Tony Shieh who recently passed away, unfortunately. I think it’s really a great book that looks into passion, purpose and how you can actually build a company, have fun doing it, have a great culture in place and still produce profit and grow your business.

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