SPOKK: How are the startups doing?
To start with, could you briefly tell us your personal story?
I have graduated from “Eastern World” Kyiv University as a Japanese Language Specialist. But the real world was cruel, and I found out that there was no demand in Ukraine for that kind of professionals. So, after numerous unsuccessful tries to find a job connected with the Japanese language, I have decided to apply at least to something connected with international business. That is how I got into the insurance industry. I took the position of Head of International Reinsurance Department as an insurance broker. It was really exciting if you can imagine that something in insurance could be exciting: I have met high professionals from the biggest companies in the industry all over the world. I understood how risk management works from an international perspective and got my first corporate lifestyle experience. In 2 years, I have got an offer from American International Group (AIG) in the Ukrainian branch. My expertise in AIG opened up for me a number of insurance problems faced by clients and the inability to deal with them even by large insurance corporations. It was one of the reasons I left AIG in 2016 and created my first business – an insurance broker company for selling modern types of insurance. This company is still running and covers the demand for cyber insurance and insurance for IT companies. Finally, in 2018 together with partners, we decided to build something absolutely new in insurance and focus on solving the end-users problems. That is how SPOKK was born.
Tell us about your startup for those who hear about it for the first time. How does your startup change the industry you work in for the better?
SPOKK is a fully digital insurance platform for buying, claiming, and managing insurance policies. The “mobile-only” insurance provider offers affordable microinsurance products with a full scope of services online. In addition to a few clicks of subscription buying, we also provide seamless claiming. As a result, clients can get reimbursement in a simple, fast way: submit the claim in a few steps, the technology analyses provided information, and send reimbursement directly to the client’s payment card. While most insurtech startups focus on easy product delivery and improving distribution channels, we understand that insurance clients buy the policy itself and the “promise” by the insurance company to support the client in a critical situation. In other words, clients buy benefits that might happen in the future.
How did you come up with a name for your startup?
The word SPOKK has no hidden meaning. We were looking for something simple, maybe a bit funny, and for the term that can be used as a verb. We hope that one day people will say “I spokk my dog” or “I spokk my house” instead of “I bought an insurance policy.”
What were your biggest fears when you started?
There was no fear. If you have concerns about starting a startup, it is better not to jump into it at all. The same as astronauts do not think about their fears of leaving the Earth; they think about Space. From the very beginning, we believed in our idea, our necessity for the market, and the time we keep in mind the portrait of our clients, his needs, and his problems.
What does pet insurance cover?
Our pet insurance product covers accidents that may happen with cats and dogs, such as poisoning, car accidents, illegal acts of third parties, falling from a height, Injuries sustained during the pet walk, etc. We make a fixed payout in case of an accident. That means if your dog ate something bad during the walk, the client would be reimbursed with 3000 UAH no matter how much you have spent at the vet clinic.
What makes SPOKK unique? What differentiates SPOKK from its competitors?
Unlike most of our competitors, we are building a 360 service: on a single platform, clients can now buy affordable microinsurance products, manage the policies, file the claim and get reimbursement. And all these processes are provided entirely online, paperless, and with no need to call or visit the insurance company’s office.
Are you already monetizing your solution? What does it look like?
We launched our platform on 1st March, and now we are generating revenue. We already sold more than 130 policies and even paid out a few insurance cases.
What has been one of your biggest failures, and what did you learn from this experience?
The biggest challenge we had is building the right team of 100% dedicated persons who also believe in our vision and idea. During the last two years, we have reorganized our squad several times; some people left SPOKK, some new members joined us. It was a long journey, but in the end, we have built a team of high professionals with expertise from various industries: re/insurance, marketing, business strategy, soft development, and PR.
Founding and running a startup by a woman is still a rare thing. So what are the most common barriers for women to succeed?
The main barriers are stereotypes and traditionalism. For example, a girl should be a “good mother, talented teacher, caring doctor, loving wife.” But you almost never hear someone say to their daughter, “When you grow up, you will be the best boss.” I see regarding women in insurance that most of them are taking high positions in insurance companies “not because of, but despite.” Speaking from my own experience being part of the fintech community, I can say that the situation is better than in traditional insurance companies. Maybe the reason for this is that the insurtech industry is much younger itself, and most community members grew up with different social narratives.
Are you planning to scale? What markets are you considering for expansion?
We plan to scale in both horizontal and vertical directions: we will add more microinsurance products, so our clients will cover a broader range of daily risks. Furthermore, we are preparing our platform to start a simple pilot in the US to make a live test for the demand and generate early traction on this market.
Last year, you were involved in a Polish-Ukrainian Startup Bridge activity and received funding from the Ukrainian Startup Fund. What has changed since then?
From this moment, we moved to the next stage. We have finished the alfa & beta tests, got the traction, and started to generate revenue. In addition, we expanded our team with PR, SMM, and soft development specialists. The grant from USF became one of the main drivers of our growth and development on the local market.
How are you finding working with the Ukrainian Startup Fund and Polish-Ukrainian Startup Bridge project?
We see the value of working with USF and our experience with PUSB. Frankly speaking, after the positive decision of the board of USF, we prepared ourselves for strong bureaucracy and not a friendly position that you may often see in public organizations. But we were pleasantly surprised with reliable, smooth communication and partnership with USF. I hope this attitude also will spread to all other public departments that work with entrepreneurs in our country.
Do you have any advice for first-time female founders?
Dear ladies and future businesswomen:
- Be never shy.
- Take your place at the head of the table.
- Learn to say “No” to objectification and say “Yes” to all the opportunities with no self-doubt.
You are really good enough and even better.
We are grateful to the Polish-Ukrainian Startup Bridge team for preparing the material! You can read the original entry in English at this link. Translation and placement are made with the authors’ permission.