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!
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!