An interview with Nikolaus Sühr, CEO and Co-Founder, Kasko
How did you get involved with the insurance services industry?
The short version is that insurance is the family business.
The longer version;
My family’s business is an insurance MGA specialising in vintage and high-value cars. Insurance has taken a larger lead in my upbringing than most – and I had to show an interest somewhere – cars wasn’t my thing but insurance was.
My path to co-founding and running an InsurTech startup was a bit different. Having helped my sister with her own startup idea, a project that started as a ‘localised Tinder’ and morphed into an events app called Buzzly – I got a taste for starting my own business.
From here, I reached out to my now co-founder Matt. We had rather fortunately ended up in the same halls at University. Quietly, that is because I chose the wrong campus… So instead of being at business school, I ended up living with friends majoring in engineering, English, philosophy and economics. Anyway, we were good friends, but as so many startup stories will tell you, that doesn’t mean we were fit to run a business together. Being pragmatic people, we formulated the plan of a practice run. Whilst still working full time on our consulting jobs, ‘real jobs’ as we called them at the time. Matt, a few friends and myself, set up “Quotes of Glory”, a small content app. We were not in this one for the money (and a good thing it was as we sure as hell didn’t make any), but to see if we could work alongside each other and be both friends and business partners. Several months later, we were the only ones still standing and we decided to start working on something substantial.
In January 2015, I took a three-month sabbatical with the aim of working out how to take this new-found partnership to the insurance world. The idea we went with was to build an application for short term car insurance products. Instead of building it out properly, we started applying for startup competitions and grants. Our plan was to have an idea after three months as to whether we were in a place to quit our jobs and go full time. “KASKO Drive” won the three day pitch at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and that was our moment of realisation that we had to put all of our efforts in. We quit our jobs and pushed on, just two weeks into the sabbatical.
Later the same year, we were convinced by Seedcamp that London was the place to be – so for the third time in about four months, we were on the move again. In August of 2016, we had been working on our B2B2C intermediation model with very little fiscal success. Sales cycles took too long and getting traction with the big banks and retailers was a lot harder than we had ever imagined.
Fortunately, we had met with Baloise CH. The Swiss insurance giant liked the tech we had built and they had the network reach that we desired – a match made in insurance heaven. The team from Baloise decided that Matt and I were worth a shot, so offered us a license per product model and a small setup and success fee – KASKO’s “InsurTech as a Service” was born.
How do you compete with the insurance firms of old?
In essence, we don’t. Our goals have changed from the early days when we wanted to be the all encompassing insurance providing startup – and we are happy to say that. By partnering with the traditional firms, we enable them to compete with the newer InsurTech providers claiming to take them out of the game and existing competitors alike. We give them market leading flexible technology, they use the reach and brand they have spent decades building to push our technology further and wider than anyone else. It is the perfect win-win.
What are the main challenges?
As a startup there are several challenges – the first being the toughest, convincing the old established firms in our industry that there is opportunity for change with modern flexible technology like ours. The good news is that the business has been growing and we have an ever expanding product range and partnerships with the likes of Baloise, Allianz, AXA, Zurich, Swiss Re and many more.
The other is staying lean whilst we grow – KASKO has managed to prove its value as I mentioned, but in doing so we have proven that there is a market for companies like ours. I have been keen to grow the company whilst developing our offering, not leaving space to be filled. From the start, our USP has been to produce products for insurance companies in a fraction of the time that they used to take – meaning turning around new products in around four weeks, not 18 months. Whilst we increase our size, we have been aware of what makes us unique to our customers, so with every hire, we look to slash the time of turnaround for partners.
What does the future hold?
I think to turn to the future we have to look at the past briefly, we have come so far in a very short space of time, so I am going to take some rest over the holiday period. It has been a crazy year. At the moment our focus is P&C insurance there are fewer long-term risks involved (it is simpler from a regulatory development perspective).
But as next year progresses, we will branch out into life and health insurance, expose our internal tooling to create and manage insurance products to external developers and roll-out a partnership license model to IT-consultancies and large system vendors to improve their capabilities to bring products to market for insurers quicker.