Interview With Karn Saroya
Describe your product or service & the problem it's solving:
“Re offers reinsurance (insurance for insurers), and we’re building a decentralized Lloyds of London, effectively making it possible for people around the world via a protocol to back just about any insurance risk. We offer a level of transparency that's unrivaled.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“In general, you rarely end up where you think you’re going to when you set off on a new journey professionally. I started off my career as a management consultant, which, from a risk-adjusted return perspective, is a more rational professional path than entrepreneurship.
I left management consulting to build a body scanner for retail clothing shops to help their customers with sizing decisions as they migrated their purchases online. Interesting idea, but a little creepy, and with some iteration, ultimately morphed into a mobile application that tried to predict styles a customer might be interested in given their interactions scrolling designer ‘lookbooks.’ We were early enough to ride a mobile commerce wave to north of a million users, and ultimately joined Shopify to run a mobile app-focused team.
My co-founders and I then left Shopify to join Y Combinator with an idea for an insurance application, Cover. You may ask, how do you go from selling high-end fashion to insurance on the internet? We recognized that we had a unique ability to build beautiful, easy-to-use apps and drive millions of people to them. Insurance seemed like a lucrative business, with a dearth of compelling customer or purchasing experiences, and so we set off by trying to make getting insurance as easy as taking a picture. Over the next seven years, we strived to get closer to the ideal of simplifying insurance, building a national insurance agency, and eventually underwriting our own insurance policies.
From there, the decision to build Re, an on-chain reinsurer (an insurance company for other insurance companies), was borne out of learned secrets we accumulated building an insurance business from scratch. Reinsurance is a $1 trillion global market that is staffed by some of the brightest risk managers in the world. We saw an opportunity to create transparency and access to this market by memorializing insurance data on a blockchain, and providing on-chain proof of capital reserves to regulators, investors, and the world at large. Like a decentralized Lloyd’s of London, we set out to enable those underwriter/actuarial teams to set up shop at Re to underwrite and take risks on a broad variety of insurance business. Today, only a few months into existence, Re provides the insurance backing for tens of thousands of businesses, service workers, farmers, and other specialty insurance programs.”
How are you funded?
“For Re, I’ve raised a $14 million seed round from mostly SV-based investors.”
Who is your target market?
“We are a reinsurance marketplace whose customers are other insurance companies.”
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What is your primary marketing strategy?
“We work with global reinsurance brokers to help coordinate our work with other insurance companies. In many instances, we work on building direct relationships with other insurers.”
How do you track and measure your startup's success?
“We deeply care about building a naturally compounding business. So, we focus on all metrics that roll up into profitability for us. We care about the performance of deals we have in place with insurance companies and the OpEx that supports that kind of deal flow.”
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while launching your company? How did you overcome it?
“Interestingly, once you get past the early startup killers like founder conflict and not finding product market fit, most hard times stem from poor hiring and performance management discipline. It is incredible how much of company culture stems from who you hire, the systems you have in place to promote strong performers quickly, and inversely to let people go. On the latter, performance management doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and shying away from getting good at it can cost many millions of dollars. Definitely the most expensive tuition I’ve paid.”
What surprised you about entrepeneurship?
“I’m not an extrovert by nature, but if you query 10 founders, I’m sure no less than eight will tell you how lonely of a journey it is. You are singularly focused on bringing something new into the world, and very few people understand the extent of how much you need to scale as a person to make this possible. The plus side is you’ve scaled as a person, and now have the unrelatable superpower of being able to build just about anything.”
What's your #1 piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs?
“Launched is better than perfect.”
More on Re
In this episode of the Startup Savant Podcast, Karn Saroya, founder of Re discusses his advice for hiring, firing, and building a strong culture.