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Ruffle feathers or make friends – how to be a disruptor

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My co-founder and I caught the disruption bug about three years ago. We wanted to build a new type of insurance brand for businesses. My background is insurance, whereas Cameron [Shearer] comes from digital advertising and, on experiencing the industry from different perspectives, we realised nobody was meeting the needs of digital SMEs.

We wanted to make buying insurance easy and accessible for the innovative and digital-savvy, with features such as a flexible monthly subscription model and smooth, jargon-free customer experience. With a little more brainstorming, we came up with the idea for Digital Risks.

Of course, being a disruptor in an industry as old and complex as insurance wasn’t going to be straightforward. The fact that it’s such a close-knit, interconnected community is one of the key reasons why disruption has taken so long.

To realise our vision, we had to strike a balance between challenging the old ways and respecting years’ old networks and processes. Here’s some of the key lessons we’ve learned along the way.

(1) Insider knowledge

My background was vital to understanding how the industry worked, the buttons to push with the different players and who we needed to be talking to at different stages in our journey. For example, the challenge of persuading underwriters to sell products on a monthly basis rather than through 12-month contracts goes against the grain. It was important to take that into consideration in how we were framing our pitch to the big insurers.

(2) Know your customer

To be a disruptor we had to realise that equally important alongside insider knowledge was having the outsider perspective that comes from [Shearer’s] background in advertising. This experience means he sees things from the customer’s side and can challenge the historical way of doing things. If potential partners fall back on old arguments, he is great at explaining why that view is outdated.

(3) Aim for the big fish

When old-fashioned practices and attitudes are so entrenched in how things are done, change needs to come from the top down, so those on the frontline feel confident changing their approach. That’s why we decided early on that we needed to get buy-in from senior management before approaching individual underwriters. It took patience, networking and pitching, but it meant we were able to convince those with the power to take a risk on us.

(4) Don’t scrimp on the research

When you do get in front of the right person, make sure you’re ready with research to backup your ideas. We compiled a mixture of quantitative and qualitative studies of our target audience, as well as secondary research on the size of the potential market. To be classed as a disruptor we had to demonstrate that the way customers want to do business has changed and make the case for an offering that would take them into new markets.

(5) Make it as easy as possible

The easier we made it for the big players to work with us, the greater our chance of success. For Digital Risks that meant building full back-end software to sell our products to the customer, rather than relying on existing legacy insurance systems available on the market. All we needed potential partners to do was underwrite our products, and we would do the rest. So, less resource investment and risk for them – and fewer reasons to say no!

(6) Don’t burn your bridges

As we’ve grown, we’ve constantly looked for ways to collaborate with others rather than working against them. We now have a number of brokers selling Digital Risks products, which helps us to broaden our potential market, while giving them access to products that better suit technology and media companies. So, it’s a win-win!

Ben Rose is co-founder and insurance director at Digital Risks

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