Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs [Part 5]

We’re excited to continue our series, “Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs”, where Co-Founder Sven Roehl sits down with founders of startups to chat about their exciting solutions and how they’re on track to make big waves in the insurance world. 

In today’s blog, Sven sat down with Cees van Dijk, Co-Founder and COO of Spearhead. Check out the full interview below! 

Experience the full interview — check out the recording above!

Cees, thank you for joining us! We met you two years ago at an event at Cookhouse Labs, where we introduced Spearhead to our audience as an exciting and interesting startup. I was personally very impressed by the work that you have done, specifically around the claims area. For our readers, let’s rewind and start with an introduction of yourself and your startup. 

Thanks for the opportunity! My name is Cees, and I’m a Dutch living in Switzerland in the Alps. I’m one of the founders of Spearhead. We are a company that focuses on motor claims and especially the first notice of loss. We see it as our mission to make that first notice of loss more digital and offer a better and more efficient experience. And since we started the business in 2016, that’s what we’ve been focusing on. 

You already mentioned a couple of words about motor insurance and insurance claims. Can you tell us a little bit about what Spearhead is providing in this area, especially how you came up with the idea? Every founder has a moment where you decide to start your own business because you really believe in something. So, what was this moment for you and what makes Spearhead unique? 

In my previous life, I used to work in the US and Canada in automotive claims. That was my first touchpoint with vehicle telematics. Someone asked me, “Cees, could you use this in a claim, too?” I started looking into this probably in 2013, and I figured out, yes, vehicles are actually generating potentially useful data that you can work with. Originally, the US and Canada were far more advanced when it came to self-service. So, the first trends of people managing claims online or through apps started in the US and Canada, and then later came to Europe. The interesting thing I discovered is that it’s always a problem for a consumer to describe a damage report for loss. But if the car starts telling part of what’s happened to it, then you make that self-service notification a lot easier. 

 Of course, the discussions inspired me; can we automate the claim, can we use smart analytics to automatically process, and what if you could use telematics? If you combine these things and make it easier with the help of analytics, then you can create a whole different claims process experience. I moved back in the meantime to Switzerland, and the idea came kept coming back. So, at a certain point in time I thought, “Let’s do that, but let’s really focus on that idea only because you can’t do 10 things at the same time and do them right.” 

I founded Spearhead together with a partner and decided to focus on the domain of using telematics data. Additionally, we focused on making the experience a bit better and using predictive analytics to basically provide (for up to 80% of the claims) all the answers in the first couple of minutes after an accident or a loss has happened. And in the meantime, obviously we built that and we’re successful with this approach. 

Impressive solution and a great idea! When you started the company and as you grew it, what were the specific challenges that you faced? 

How much time do you have? I would say it’s been a journey of challenges, but let’s take a few out of that. Of course, these kinds of things require a lot of investment and a lot of R&D. So, on one hand, you’re doing the R&D, and on the other hand, you’re securing finance, and on the third hand, at a certain point in time, you need to do sales. So, one of the challenges becomes running everything together and eventually separating these things. I’ll be quite open here, another challenge we faced was we originally thought in 2016 that telematics would be a great idea. I think we were right in the idea itself, but we were wrong in the timing because effectively it took three, four more years than we expected before that telematic data became available on the scale. Now we’ve reached that point, just a bit later. And of course, that creates challenges of its own. 

Looking back on your journey, what are some of the highlights and moments of success that stand out to you? 

I think there are a couple of them, actually. I remember the first one clearly, even the date: when we launched the first predictive model allowed repair cost. To our surprise, the first model turned out to be pretty accurate. That was a reason to celebrate because until that point in time, it was an idea that I thought should work. Once you see it working and of course, the first real customer to use your system productively, these are things I will always remember. We’ve learned to celebrate the successes because sometimes things don’t go as you would like and then you fall down, you get up and you continue. 

That’s great! Continuing this journey with all the successes, where do you see your organization in two to three years from now? 

For sure, a larger part of our transactions will be telematics-based. The second thing is, currently we are based in Europe, but in two or three years, I expect also to be on the other side of the Atlantic. There’s plenty of ambition! 

Usually, creating a successful startup comes down to collaboration in the beginning. So, what is your experience partnering with large organizations in the beginning and along the way? 

I think partnerships are essential, especially when you’re focused because you have your own mission, and you try to do it right. So, the first set of partners are those that work in adjacent spaces around your mission. What we’ve learned over time is that it is very important to select the right partners. The second kind of partner we typically work with are the larger companies that use our service as part of an overall service. For instance, we develop things together and we partner because we bring things to the market. 

The third set is, of course, the customers because you start co-developing things. I find that you learn the most from your customers. Fortunately, with several customers, we’ve actually managed to build a more partnership-customer relationship, where we really create things together. That brings me to insurance, because some of those companies are insurance providers. As a startup, you need a bit more time because you always want to go faster and insurance companies have their own pace, so it takes more time. Nevertheless, over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of insurance carriers are changing and trying to speed things up, especially in the digitalization area. There is hope that our timelines come together eventually, but for the time being, a bit of patience is required. 

We often hear this feedback from startups, and I agree, it is certainly improving. On the topic of collaboration, how do you think innovation ecosystems such as Cookhouse Labs can bring value to your journey? 

Organizations such as yours are very useful for two reasons. So first, insurance companies need to figure out what’s out there in the world, and you scout for ideas and connect people. The second thing is when you decide together with an insurance carrier that you want to do something, but you don’t want to do it the traditional way. Bringing both parties together in a slightly different, less formal, and less traditional way is very important and helping facilitate that co-creation is very useful. 

A final question we always like to ask: What advice can you give to an entrepreneur looking to follow in your footsteps in the InsurTech scene?  

Do the groundwork. Make your business plan and really validate it before you start. The second piece of advice is focus. Once you start, many new ideas cross your mind and although the temptation will be there to go sideways, it’s important to stay loyal to your original idea. The third thing is if you want to be able to spend your time on focusing on your idea and bringing it to reality in the early days, make sure that you have someone on board that can help take away the burden of financing your journey. 

Cees, thank you very much for sharing your time with us! I’m personally looking forward to the upcoming Food for Thought event with you and learning more about Spearhead’s offering and seeing the live demo. I saw some of it already and it was very impressive. You know, we’re happy to help you wherever we can on your growth path and your move into North America! 

Want to learn more about how you can use Spearhead’s incredible telematics solution to improve your claims process? 

Join our upcoming free 45-minute session, “Food for Thought ft. Spearhead: Connecting the Dots in Motor Claims”, on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. In the webinar, Cees will show you how you can make telematics work for you and how to optimize your claims process for non-connected drivers. 

Click here to secure your spot! 

StudentHack: Industry Wrap-Up

Our gift to you in these challenging times: Open and Free for Insurers, Reinsurers, Brokers, Insurance-Related Startups and Vendors, and Students.

The wrap up event will be live from 1 PM to 2:30 PM EDT 

This event will be open to the industry and all participants, as the top teams present their video pitches and participate in a live Q&A session. Our esteemed panel of judges will ask final questions about the solutions, before making the determinations and announcing the winners.

Event Format  

  • 2-day online hackathon + industry wrap up event  
  • Facilitated following Design Thinking methodology in breakout sessions   
  • StudentHack period: Thursday, April 29 and Friday, April 30, 2021  
  • The 2-day period will be held in EDT, from 9 AM to 5 PM  
  • Industry Wrap Up Event: Monday, May 3rd from 1 PM to 2:30 PM EDT  
      

Questions? 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Insiya Meherally, our Community Manager, at insiya.meherally@cookhouselabs.com

StudentHack

Our gift to you in these challenging times: Open and Free for Insurers, Reinsurers, Brokers, Insurance-Related Startups and Vendors, and Students.

We are partnering with the Insurance Institute of Canada and Career Connections to present our inaugural student hackathon. 

We are inviting students from across Canada to come together for a friendly competition, a chance to meet and collaborate with P&C industry leaders and win prizes! 

Join us for 2 days of excitement as you try to solve an industry challenge by leveraging current and future AI and big data capabilities. 

Event Format  

  • 2-day online hackathon + industry wrap up event  
  • Facilitated following Design Thinking methodology in breakout sessions   
  • StudentHack period: Thursday, April 29 and Friday, April 30, 2021  
  • The 2-day period will be held in EDT, from 9 AM to 5 PM  
  • Industry Wrap Up Event: Monday, May 3rd from 1 PM to 2:30 PM EDT  
      

Questions? 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Insiya Meherally, our Community Manager, at insiya.meherally@cookhouselabs.com

Member Stories: Meet Abhi from HSB Canada

Member Stories Abhi Gupta

At Cookhouse Labs, we’ve worked closely with many members to successfully innovate within their organizations. In the next part of our Member Stories series, meet Abhi Gupta, Business Development Manager for Applied Technology at HSB Canada. Read about Abhi’s innovation journey below!

Abhi, thank you for joining us today! Before we dive into your experience with the Lab, let’s start with a quick introduction of yourself and HSB Canada.

I am a Business Development Manager for Applied Technology, which is a new part of HSB Canada. It’s part of the Leap initiative, which accelerates innovation for HSB Canada. As part of this initiative, we promote different kinds of technologies, especially for the insurance space, in the space of sensor-based devices. These are devices that help in communicating and minimizing losses for insurers, and so working with our clients and insurance companies is part of my responsibilities.

Thank you for sharing that! We were happy to see you quite a bit this year — you’re one of our active and engaged innovators. We’d love to know what inspired you to become an active participant!

HSB Canada has always fostered innovation and there is no better place to start than Applied Technology, because it’s all about innovation. We were looking for opportunities where we could collaborate with people who could help us and our teams think differently, and I found that perfect fit with Cookhouse Labs. You foster innovation like no other and you work in the insurance space, so in terms of synergies, that is the perfect fit. We want to collaborate and gain certain synergies and competencies, even in the way we do our business. That is the perfect driver for us!

Reflecting on your experience, what made you happiest when collaborating with us?

I would have to be biased and say that I loved the team! There are certain places that talk about innovation but are not really centric to innovation, but the Lab is one place that really fosters innovation in every sense of the word. I have been fortunate enough to be associated with Sven (Co-Founder of the Lab) and from personal testimonial, I can say that there have been times where I have reached Sven after-hours and he has been just as active. I talk about the entire team — you’re still happy to connect after-hours. I’m not trying to promote working after-hours; all I’m saying is that it’s just the spirit and the infectious enthusiasm that really talks to you about a certain place, location, or people, and we found all of that at Cookhouse Labs.

Thinking about your experience from a different point of view, what has surprised you most during this collaboration?

When you are looking to do business in a new way, you want to be pleasantly surprised. The biggest surprise was how exponentially beneficial these takeaways could be. I have attended workshops in the past in different organizations, but what I found extremely useful to us was the true spirit of working with teams. It’s because of all the amazing events that you do, where you put us in a time crunch so that we have to work very collaboratively as a team. The Lab is so great at putting everything together to create those kinds of workshops and tools, and it really helps someone who wants to learn about these new technologies, methodologies, and tools achieve this holistically. I talk particularly about Design Thinking, and I think using all these tools and bringing all these people together from different facets and industries to work and collaborate together, that creates magic really.

What is your favorite memory from your time with us?

I have to say, jogging down memory lane, that we stood second place at WinterHack 2020 — what could be a better memory than that, right? Competing with 11 other great organizations from all over the world and coming second — to this day I cherish this, and I’m not saying this because it was a victory, but because it was incredible how the team came together despite having disagreements and time crunches. Everything came together and was a beautiful symphony. How can you describe that? I think it speaks volumes when you’re doing something so beautifully in a team environment, and that’s what truly brings out the spirit of our organization: an organization like Cookhouse Labs.

On that note, what have you been able to achieve since attending these trainings and events?

I keep referencing the Design Thinking workshop, but I think it has had a huge impact compared to other workshops. Cookhouse Labs offers a better way to work towards creating more innovative insurance products and services, and so holistically I would say that it is fostering a different way of thinking about insurance, which is invaluable. The tools I have taken away from these workshops have helped me think innovatively, which is the first achievement.

The second is that these workshops have taught me how to create teams and work amazingly well and collaborate with teams. I do thank Cookhouse Labs for that skill, because I have always led teams, but I have never learned the skill and art of leading them so well, so thank you for that.

You have already recommended the Design Thinking training, but besides that, what trainings would you recommend to others?

There is a plethora of trainings that Cookhouse Labs does, and Design Thinking is just one of those. There are different kinds of sprints, where Cookhouse Labs helps companies collaborate and create better teams. The Lab will help you think about how to design a product or service, empathize with the customer, and understand the customers’ needs. I am extremely interested in attending one in the future myself.

In terms of the hackathons that the Lab hosts, those are great opportunities for people to come together to create something innovative. It gives you a different toolbox and mindset; I would never underestimate it because that is so invaluable. I also had the great opportunity to speak at the Back to Business Summit, and that was phenomenal because it gave us the opportunity to think from a customer’s perspective. Insurers are generally one arm’s length away from the customer, and in order to bridge that gap, there have to be different ways to engage with the customer. I think Cookhouse Labs really brings together the insurers and the customer, so hats off to you!

Final question: Is there anything you would like to add?

I just want to express my gratitude to Sven, Ibeth, yourself, and to the whole team. I really love to work with you, and I talk about HSB Canada as an organization. I have come across so many people, and they all have one thing to say: these workshops have added value. That automatically says to me that we feel really good about having an insurance partner of sorts that we can use as a springboard to reach higher levels of success in the future. That’s all thanks to all of you, so keep on doing the great work!

Abhi, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoyed collaborating with you and HSB Canada in 2020 and we wish you all the best in 2021. We can’t wait to continue this collaboration with you in the New Year!

Current Times and Innovation

Let me share a brief summary of a story from my perspective. It all started on March 13, 2020. That was when I was informed that I no longer needed to go to our Lab space in Toronto and that suddenly, I needed to ideate on how to we were going to deliver our planned activities for the next three months in a virtual space. AH! Sound familiar? Perhaps you don’t deliver trainings or facilitate sprints, but you also had to redesign how you presented to your clients, how internal meetings were going to take place, even how your workspace was going to look and how you were going to share space with your new colleagues (spouse, pets, children, etc.). In other words, change all, or as I prefer to say, redesign.  

So how has the current situation impacted me personally as an Innovation Coach? Here are ways in which I have used my Innovation Coach skills to get me through these times: 

Embrace creative mindset

From day one, it was obvious that I needed to put my creative mindset to work. I was expected to redesign our programs and how we delivered them while ensuring our participating members still had a pleasant Cookhouse Labs experience. It was an opportunity to let go of all limiting beliefs and get to creating ideas and putting them to test. Sometimes I was afraid of failure, but I knew that the biggest failure would be to not show up.  

Dance with change

Most of us hide from change and try to avoid it. In my area of work, what I am passionate about – creativity and solution-focused mindset — change is the constant that keeps showing up in all aspects of my life. Instead of avoiding it, I choose to create a song with it and dance to the melody. Dancing with change allows me to see the situation from different angles as I continue to move. Can you see how that is possible? How are you choosing to dance? At what speed? And which partners are you bringing along to the journey? 

Accept uncertainty

As solution-focused as I am, there was a point when I realized no one actually has an idea of when things are “going back to some normality”. That realization invited me to choose between fighting that feeling of uncertainty and feeling angry, sad, frustrated OR accepting that uncertainty had become the only certain thing around me. Accepting this fact made it easier for me to flow and look at life as many opportunities because it allowed me to play with one of my favorite two words – WHAT IF? And if you have been on our campus, you know that ‘What If’ is a door to creativity and ideation. Accepting uncertainty, asking what if, and staying solution-focused definitely made my daily work more fluid.  

Connection, connection, connection

These current times have definitely highlighted the importance of staying connected. And in the world of innovation, connections are vital because it is how we can collaborate and in our Lab, it is how we can co-create. After seeing and hearing many of our participating members share how much they miss being in their offices, it really invited the opportunity to reach out more often and stay in touch with our community, which leads to our continued purpose to #MakeInsuranceBetter as a community.  

I invite you to reflect on how these times have impacted you, changed your habits, expectations and/or ways of working. But most important, as an innovator, how have these times invited you to expand and develop your innovative skills?  

I’d love to hear from you and read how you are levering these changes for your growth.

Member Stories: Meet Tommy from Munich Re

Member Stories Tommy Kim

At Cookhouse Labs, we’ve worked closely with many members to successfully innovate within their organizations. In the first part of our Member Stories series, meet Tommy Kim, Senior Actuarial Analyst at Munich Re Company of Canada. Tommy is an active member of our global community and is a two-time winner of our Design Thinking ideathons in 2020!

Read about Tommy’s unique experience below!

Tommy, thank you for joining us today! We’d love to know how your journey began; what was the first Cookhouse Labs event that you attended?

That’s a great question! In early 2019, our Senior Executive members asked for volunteers to participate in a Design Thinking training. Even though I saw myself as a non-ordinary individual (I personally enjoy my thinking time, too), I wanted to be more structured. I thought, “How can I improve my thinking process?” Everyone has ideas, but there has to be a way for us to narrow down these ideas so that we can get close to executing them. That was my first session at Cookhouse Labs and I really enjoyed it. Not only did I enjoy working with the experts at Cookhouse Labs, but I also enjoyed working with representatives from other insurance organizations, who were awesome too. We were all there for one single reason — to make insurance better — and we just wanted to tailor it better by leveraging the Design Thinking process.

Thank you for sharing that! On the topic of collaboration, I imagine you’ve worked with many teams at the Lab since 2019. What was your best team experience?

I’m going to answer your question by saying that working with Ibeth (the Lead Innovation Coach) was the best team ever, and I guess that would be every session I’ve ever attended. The reason is that I am an introverted person, which means there are a lot of thoughts going around in my head. Introverts need a comfort zone to be more open to collaboration and for their ideas to be rolled out. I think building that trust is the most difficult part. Ibeth encouraged everyone to open up by making everyone laugh and sharing her life story. It helped everyone engage, and that was the most important component of my experience with Cookhouse Labs.  

What is your favorite memory from this past year of collaborating with us?

All the components were great, but it is really tough to pick just one. In my first hackathon (SummerHack 2020), I participated as a mentor and the 24-hour journey was awesome. But working with the folks at HSB Canada as a collaborative WinterHack 2020 team was awesome and one of my favorite memories, too. Of course, any help from you, Ibeth, and Sven is great. Not just the idea aspect of it, but also the content and patience. I can tell, from one human to another, that the team really does want to make insurance better and doesn’t treat it as “work”. All of these are my favorite memories from Cookhouse Labs.

That’s wonderful to hear, Tommy! Speaking of winning the ideathons, what have you been able to achieve since you started attending Cookhouse Labs innovation events? In other words, how has it helped you?

It might sound weird to say that, even though I have participated in the ideathons, I think the word “achievement” does not fit me. This is just me learning and going to different sessions. Maybe it’s just not the best timing for me to answer this question, because I think there is more to learn from Cookhouse Labs’ sessions and events. One day, if I actually contribute to making insurance better, only then will I be able to say that I achieved this. Right now, it’s too early for me to say anything!

Final question: Would you recommend Cookhouse Labs’ events to others, and if yes, which events would you recommend?

I would definitely recommend Cookhouse Labs training sessions, but if I had to pick one out of the many great trainings, I would pick Design Thinking. This is not only a matter of innovation itself; it can be applied to any sort of work and even your thinking process in your daily life, too. I thought about how you could make the best out of it. No one wants to make a mistake, right? Even when we get groceries, we do a price check and see where it’s from. There is caution with that thinking process, but there is no harm in learning an even better approach to apply to real life. So, I would definitely recommend the Design Thinking trainings.

Tommy, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoyed collaborating with you and Munich Re Company of Canada in 2020 and we wish you all the best in 2021. We can’t wait to continue this collaboration with you in the New Year!

The Human Side of Innovation

The Human side

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

— Steve Jobs

Innovation is a word that has been used over and over in the last years. Everyone wants to be innovative; everyone wants to launch an innovative solution, and everyone wants innovation all around. The interesting part about these wants is that most people expecting innovation expect it fast, easy and comfortable, when really it requires patience, patience and patience! Innovation requires patience to move through the interviews and research phase; patience to embrace the failings during testing phases and learning how to accept feedback; and patience to step out of the comfort zone.

I have spoken to many people who visit our innovation lab and many mention the disappointment they have experienced when it comes to innovation, the frustration with the design methodologies and working with teams, and the pain of seeing ideas change over and over through testing phases. Yes! Not so pleasant descriptions. And these descriptions come from top down. It is no coincidence they first questions they ask are, “Can you help us get to an innovative place and help us understand what we are doing wrong?” and “Can you help our team understand why we are not coming up with innovative ideas?”.

Of course we can!

What is innovation about?

What does innovation mean to you? The most popular answers are new, fun, useful, building from something old and make it new. No matter which way we look at them, all the above require a set of fundamental steps like:

  • Research (to understand the problem and what already exists)
  • Listen with human-centric mindset (to understand the need)
  • Test (to understand usefulness) and
  • Remain open to change (to either create something new or shift on something that already exists)

In a nutshell, innovation is about being open to change based on research, testing, etc. And let’s be honest, that word “change” is not something that people are always excited to do, especially when there is uncertainty, which you know exists when working in innovation. Being open leads to accepting the fact that to create this amazing product, service, or idea, one must be prepared to change rapidly and often. And experiencing change leads, in most cases and at some point, to hitting a wall of (as most people relate to innovation) frustration and pain. But why the frustration and pain? And why, many times, giving up? Well, because we forget about the most important element in innovation. YOU!

What is the most forgotten and overlooked element in innovation?

The most forgotten element in the journey of creativity and creating something new is the HUMAN and all that comes with it. Let’s break it down:  we know that to be able to create something ground-breaking, we have to be open to uncertainty and change. We already know that for most of us humans, those words most often lead to fear. Then how can we expect to create anything revolutionary when we forget the human side of innovation? That involves you, the team member and/or you, the team leader and/or you, the decision maker. No matter what your role is in an innovative journey, you must be aware of your human side, which includes mindset, attitude, behaviors, and patterns. In summary, it asks that we remember that we are human and, based on our day and how we are feeling in the moment when we are working on our solutions, innovation and creativity will be impacted. Therefore, it is vital to remember this important fact – the human side.

How can one unlock and embrace the human side of innovation? Empathy and Courage

Empathy! Not only is it important to have empathy for customers when using creative methodologies, it is also vital to practice empathy with your team members and yourself. Empathy will organically create a safe place for creativity to show up and live.

Courage! Have the courage to trust the process; time and time again, we hear stories of creative minds solving problems and creating pioneering solutions. These creations happen when the team trust a process that is proven, even though the path to the answer is not clear, and when the team move past fear and doubt and into an uncomfortable place of trust.

In summary …

Accept that sometimes you and/or your team will have bad days, not because of the project or because of the team, but because you or one of the team members may be going through a challenging time on a personal level, or perhaps there are limiting beliefs that are blocking the flow of creativity. Perhaps it is the first time you allow yourself to trust a new process. Regardless of the reason why – the answer is patience.

 “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by discomforts.” 

— Arnold Bennett

Want more insights from our Lead Innovation Coach?

Join our upcoming free 1-hour Introduction to Design Thinking session, where Coach Ibeth will walk you through the first 2 key steps to get you moving to an innovative idea. Check out this session and other global opportunities on our 2021 Events Calendar here!

Startup Bites: Meet The Young Chefs (Part 4)

Startup bites: AskBrian

We’re excited to continue our series, “Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs”, where Co-Founder Sven Roehl sits down with founders of startups to chat about their exciting solutions and how they’re on track to make big waves in the insurance world.

In today’s blog, Sven sat down with Pavol Sikula, Founder and CEO of AskBrian. Check out the full interview below!

Experience the full interview — check out the recording above!

Welcome to our first interview of 2021! Pavol, we met recently through a mutual contact and found your new venture very interesting. Before we begin, tell us about yourself, your startup, and how you came up with the name AskBrian!

I’ve been in top management consulting in Munich, Germany for 15 years. My founding story is related to management consulting, where I saw some annoying recurring tasks that were a waste of talent and time. As technology became better and better, I started to automate many tasks in management consulting, but many of them are relevant to businesspeople in general.

Brian is a digital assistant for businesspeople, especially management consultants, who performs tasks 24/7. We called him Brian because it’s short, it’s easily recognizable because of the movie Life of Brian, it includes the letters used in AI, and it rhymes with “Brian the Brain”, which is what we call him internally.

Behind every story of a startup, there is a moment when someone says, “Okay, I’m going to quit my job, leave my life behind, and I’m going to start my own journey”. When was this moment for you?

One evening in 2017, some colleagues and I had to translate slides for a proposal we were working on. It was already late, and nobody had time or fun translating documents. This was the moment when I realized that AI translation has become so good that there must be a way to integrate the state-of-the-art translation service and enable full document translation. The technology was out there and all we had to do was make it accessible. We chose to do this via natural language, where Brian uses human communication channels (like email) to perform tasks. This evening and this journey have driven my path in the last three years.

For the first two years, I worked on Brian in parallel to my regular job, thanks to the support of Stern Stewart & Co. where I participated in their startup program. But I realized working at nights and on weekends is not enough if you really want to become successful. In January 2020, I left my amazing job in consultancy to follow this dream because I kept thinking, “I have to do it, I can’t think about anything else”. It has started to pay out in the form of impressed users of Brian!

What challenges did you face while growing your business?

As I started to experiment the backbone technology, there were basic challenges such as how to get the Chrome browser on a notebook, which was not allowed for data protection reasons. There have been technical challenges, such as finding a way to make multiple data sources and digital services available via human language. We wondered if it was possible for a machine to understand what a user wants and to deliver presentations and to adjust documents.

We don’t only have technical challenges: the biggest one is managing human expectations. What is real? What is fake? Sometimes people think that Brian is a program that can answer any question and complete any task, but that’s not the case. We are managing expectations, making them real, and showing what the technology can do.

Along with challenges come highlights, so what are some moments that really stood out to you? What was the moment when you thought you made the right decision to launch AskBrian?

One highlight I celebrated hugely was when Brian translated his first PowerPoint presentation without mistakes. This was on a Wednesday at 1 o’clock in the morning. After many months, we finally did it and I was so happy that I drank champagne at breakfast!

Another moment came at the end of 2019. I googled “AI Forbes” and wrote to the first author to ask if they would write about us, and it worked out! They wrote a case study about AskBrian and it was cool to have reached a point where Forbes would write about us.

One more highlight was in May 2020, where despite COVID-19 we managed to close our first financing round. Even though DAX was down by 40% at the time we asked our angels to invest, I think it was one of our biggest achievements. To achieve that, we showed really positive traction in the usage of our service.

It looks like your company is doing well and you’re making great progress in your journey! Where do you see your business in 2-3 years? What’s your vision?

Of course, we want to impress our users! I hope hundreds of thousands of users will use Brian’s services, and that we will teach Brian cool new skills to perform. I hope he will be capable of tasks we cannot even imagine today. I’m very excited to see what Brian will be capable of in 3 years, because we always take state-of-the-art technology and build it into Brian. In 2025, we want to have one million users. It’s an ambitious target, but we believe we can do it!

Starting a new venture is all about partnerships, so we’d love to know about your experience with collaborating with larger organizations!

Our current target market is consultants, from one-man shops up to the Big 4 with 250,000 employees approximately. What we see is that there is no real correlation in the speed of processing in these organizations. Sometimes, consultancies with 20 people are as difficult to approach as a Big 4 company. This is in the area of consultancy, where the companies by nature are entrepreneurial, dynamic, and open for innovation, because they must deliver what they teach their clients. In the area of corporates, it’s kind of difficult to get through to the purchasing department and to get all the approvals you need. Therefore, we prefer to start with in-house consultancies and bring them on as friends and supporters. Then, we get into corporates through this channel and become available for employees in large corporations. We have to get 2.5% of the early adopters, and from there on, I believe we will succeed step-by-step in convincing more and more companies to work with us.

Moving to the insurance market, how can Brian benefit insurers?

Where we see potential is in the area of Claims Management, which is an area that requires high capacity, high intensity of human work, and costs a lot of human time and resources. In the area of document handling, Brian can help with translation and conversion of documents or reports from different languages into your targeted language using PDF or other formats. Brian can significantly accelerate the process, reduce the cost, and improve the quality of the assessment of claims of individual companies.

As a startup from outside the insurance industry, how can collaborating with organizations or ecosystems like Cookhouse Labs bring value to your journey?

What I find amazing about your Lab is that you are a platform where innovators from the industry meet young and wild companies with crazy ideas. It’s a great place for innovators to meet the market and the market can meet the newest ideas, and I believe that both parties can benefit a lot.

For a startup, it is quite difficult to find the innovators within companies. People working with innovation labs like Cookhouse Labs are people who want to find ideas, further develop, learn and get inspired, and want to get things done. You meet people who are searching for new ideas and that’s why I find it so interesting to work with you!

Final question: What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps?

I find a lot of people have great ideas, but I think 95% of them don’t move forward with their ideas. My recommendation would be this: if you are crazy about an idea, if the idea doesn’t let you sleep, then just do it! Beware that it is extremely hard to progress, but if you are crazy about an idea, then just do it. It is connected with certain risks, especially if you have been in your profession for multiple years or you have a lot to lose financially. However, the learning will be extremely rewarding and will turn into something. So, if you are crazy about an idea, then just start working on it!

That’s valuable advice, Pavol! Thank you for sharing some great insights about AskBrian. We’ll definitely stay connected to you and your journey and definitely celebrate your first million users with a bottle of champagne!

Want to learn more about how you can leverage Brian’s 24 skills in the New Year?

Join our upcoming free webinar “Food for Thought: AI-Powered Brian Rocks Consulting. What About Insurance?” on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. In the webinar, Pavol will share more details about Brian’s relevance to the insurance industry, with a deep dive into claims management.

Click here to secure your spot!

Global Innovation and Collaboration: What to Expect in 2021

As we approach the end of 2020, one of the questions we frequently hear is, “What do you see on the horizon of 2021?” 

The answer: A whole new year of opportunities to innovate, collaborate, and network with like-minded thought leaders around the world! 

We’re delighted to share that our 2021 Events Calendar is now live, chock-full of exclusive innovation events for our global members! Whether you’re curious about our innovation Masterclasses or interested in experiencing a Design Thinking sprint yourself, there’s something for everyone in our 2021 menu — so let’s dive deeper into what we’ve got planned for the New Year. 

Before We Begin… 

At Cookhouse Labs, we have a lot to be thankful for. We wanted to say ‘Thank You’ to our community for supporting us on our global journey to #MakeInsuranceBetter. As a token of our appreciation, we’re offering a 50% Virtual Discount on our Annual Memberships! The offer expires on December 31st, 2020, with Memberships starting at only $250 CAD monthly — don’t miss the exclusive opportunity to innovate with our global network of member organizations in 2021! 

Customized Innovation Consulting Services 

Since 2007, we’ve been mastering co-innovation and co-creation at Cookhouse Labs. Our experts have enabled 50+ organizations to become innovation anticipators, designing their own futures. We are happy to announce our new specials — a menu of virtual innovation services that cater to your individual organization’s co-creation needs. Whether you choose from our Innovation Masterclasses, Sprints, or Tools, there is something on the menu to satisfy everyone’s taste buds! 

Our members receive a special 25% discount on our consulting services; check out the full list of services here

Open Co-Creation Sprints 

Experience Design Thinking in action in our week-long co-creation projects!  

Collaborate with other members as you tackle key challenges in the insurance industry. Our Certified Innovation Experts will guide you through the 5 stages of the Design Thinking methodology and support you as you build your MVP. At the end of the project, pitch your solution to an audience of your colleagues and global industry experts! 

Wondering what our innovation sprint experience is like? Check out some of our previous project infographics and recap blogs — for example, this blog on The Recipe to Attract and Retain Young Talent

Exclusive Access to Young Talent 2021/22 Projects 

Every year, Cookhouse Labs invites its members to work with a team of E-commerce and IT students to specifically tackle one of their business challenges. Over the course of 1 semester (and up to 250 hours), each student team will work exclusively with our member organizations in guided Design Thinking sprints, facilitated by Cookhouse Labs innovation experts. 

Are you interested in your own guided global student project dedicated to tackling a challenge in your organization?   

Get in touch with our Innovation Team to become a member! 

All-new Innovation Masterclasses 

Join our Innovation Team for virtual Masterclasses on a variety of useful innovation methodologies to apply to your organization! Here are some of the sessions our members can attend: 

Design Thinking 
Solve real industry problems by developing customer-focused solutions in a short amount of time! Use this methodology to innovate quickly, channel creativity and when used correctly, save a significant amount of time and money when launching new products or services. 

Google Sprint 
Tackle critical business challenges, validate product/service ideas, and test your prototypes in this five-day process that any team can use! 

Lean Startup 
Identify what your customers really want and get your products into their hands faster with this tried-and-tested, cost-effective innovation methodology!  

Design Tools 
Learn the fundamentals of design theory to help turn your ideas into MVPs — then try your hand at building your own Lo-Fi mockup under the guidance of our Senior UX/UI Consultant!  

Train the Trainer 
Add new styles of facilitating, communicating, presenting, and telling stories to engage your project participants!  

Brand-New Food for Thought Series 

Stay up-to-date with the latest InsurTech trends, hear valuable insights from industry trailblazers, and discover up-and-coming startups in our brand-new webinar series! Every session will focus on a current industry topic and feature a special innovator with intriguing stories and experience to share with our community. Our first webinar will be held in January 2021 — keep an eye on our LinkedIn page to find out who next month’s guest speaker will be! 

Exciting Global Design Thinking Ideathons 

We’re back with our much-anticipated global ideathons!  

Preparations are currently underway for our SummerHack 2021: Global Design Thinking Ideathon and our 24-Hour Global WinterHack 2021 — and we’re looking forward to welcoming insurers, startups, vendors and students from around the world back into our innovation space! Whether you’re joining us as a SummerHack corporate team or mentoring a WinterHack team of young talent, there’s experience to gain and big prizes to win in these fun races against the clock! 

If you missed the excitement of our last ideathon, we recommend taking a look at a summary of the event — click here to access the blog, “WinterHack 2020: A Global Race To Digitize Insurance”. 

We’re excited to begin another year of global innovation and collaboration with our community! Our first event of the year is our free Introduction to Design Tools” session on January 14th, 2021, where we share key components when creating a prototype and what 2 key items to look for when choosing the right tool. We invite you to check out the events listed above and other perks of becoming a Cookhouse Labs Member — hurry, our 50% Holiday Discount ends December 31st, 2020! 

From all of us at Cookhouse Labs, we wish you a safe and wonderful holiday — and we can’t wait to see you in the New Year! 

Google Sprint Masterclass

Explore what you can accomplish using Google Sprint and learn how to ensure you keep solving problems in just five days

Google Sprint is a methodology that uses the understanding of Design Thinking and helps you solve complex problems in five days. The process is strategically designed so that solutions are defined within an equivalent of a working week, and same as with Design Thinking saving money and time.

Join this workshop to learn another design methodology that you can implement in your daily projects.

  • By the end of the one-day Google Sprint Workshop, you will be able to:
  • Understand what Google Sprint is
  • Recognize the differences between Lean Startup, Cookhouse Labs methodology and Google Sprint
  • Learn when you can use this methodology to make the most of it
  • Identify the benefits of a Google Sprint
  • Practice the methodology and receive feedback on the spot

How can I join?

This training is exclusively for members of Cookhouse Labs. Here’s how you can get started with your Cookhouse Labs membership!

Location

Online, virtual