When Phoebe Hugh was working as an underwriter for Aviva, she noticed a problem with insurance. ‘Millions of people were out of pocket,’ she tells MT.’ There were all sorts of payments to be made every year and people were losing out on hundreds of pounds often by just staying loyal.’
Hugh’s start-up Brolly is trying to solve just this problem. She describes it as an AI-powered insurance ‘concierge’ (it’s an app), with three novel features. The first, Bolly Locker, scans and stores every policy the user has taken out with the documents, contact information, renewals and premiums all ready to hand.
The second, Brolly Advisor, is where the AI kicks in. The user can provide information about their financial and lifestyle attributes, and the app weighs these up against their existing policies to identify and recommend policy gaps. ‘We also look to see where they have duplication and where they’re paying too much,’ Hugh adds.
The final feature, Brolly Shop, set to launch next year, is an ‘end-to-end insurance brochure,’ as Hugh calls it. ‘We’re actually helping customers go to the end stage and find policies to buy insurance through the app.
Hugh started the company after meeting her role model Alice Bentinck for a coffee, after seeing her talk on a panel at a tech conference. Bentink is the co-founder of Entrepreneur First, a London/ Singapore based company builder that invests in and works with ideas. ‘It was the first time someone had spoken to me about the idea I had in a way that really hit home,’ says Hugh of the encounter.
Handing in her resignation at Aviva on New Year's Eve in 2015, Hugh went on to co-found Brolly with Mikhailo Loginov, an ex-Skype/Microsoft engineer she met through Entrepreneur First, which helped with the marketing, development and approaching insurance companies along the way.
‘Starting out, you've got all of these ideas, but insurance is such a massive market,’ says Hugh of the early stages. ‘It's not an easy job so we had to make some quite big decisions early on. Every week we went to see customers, work with ideas, figure out whether or not it was something we could do and eventually things kept coming back to us about control. That’s what we decided to look at with Brolly.’
It has the potential to ruffle a few feathers. The insurance industry, worth $5 trillion dollars globally, has been slow to adapt to a digital first world, and Brolly has already received £1m in seed funding in a round led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures and tech VC Pi labs this summer.
Hugh says the response from the major insurance companies has so far been positive, however. ‘We're trying to build a relationship with the customers and insurance providers,’ says Hugh. ‘It will make more sense for the providers who can reward customers getting more policies with them and stay for more than one year. It works both ways.’
Brolly is still at pre-revenue stage, but expectations are high for when it launches next January. Hugh says that the challenge now is ‘keeping it all together’. It’s currently in the process of hiring, a challenge for many start-ups wanting to balance expansion with the desire to hold onto their culture.
‘I probably interview about three people a day,’ Hugh says. ‘We’ve gone from three to 11 people in the last ten months and we’re trying to add about six more roles so it's definitely hard. We have quite a thorough interview process where people will meet everyone in the company. We don’t want to have a top-down style and everyone is a huge part of that.’
Getting to this point has not been easy and Hugh has learnt to ‘not take no as for an answer’ in the difficult journey of development that claims many young start-ups as its victims. She says her toughest test so far has been ‘getting feedback and not nailing it, taking it onboard as a way to improve and get on with things...you have to be really resilient to keep going.’
That resilience will be tested even more as for Brolly, the biggest tests are surely yet to come.
Visit Brolly at heybrolly.com for more information.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Glean