The venture-backed insurance world is more than the Lemonades and MetroMiles of the world. There’s more room in the industry for startups to shake things up. One such company, Cambridge-based Insurify, is out today with a new venture round that greatly expands its capital base.
The startup, which had accepted just $6.6 million over two rounds before its latest investment, has raised $23 million in a Series A led by MTECH Capital and VIOLA FinTech. Prior investors MassMutual Ventures and Nationwide took part in the new investment.
TechCrunch hasn’t caught up with the company since our own Sarah Buhr covered its first $2 million deal back in early 2016. As you’d expect, a lot has changed in the last four years.
Zacharia, formerly of Gartner, came up with the idea for Insurify after she had an accident years ago. Following an unsatisfying experience working with the insurance industry after the fact, she discovered that consumers “have very, very little idea of how much coverage they need,” and that insurance providers (Insurify started out working with car insurance and is expanding to life and home insurance, as well) were “really struggling to [access] digital consumers because they have very poor UIs, [and] their APIs [were] not up to date.”
Enter Insurify, which bridges that gap. Working to build “automation behind insurance,” Insurify wants to help people find the coverage that they need, online, at a fair price; it’s a good business for the startup, which gets paid when consumers buy new insurance through its tooling.
Insurify, according to Zacharia, operates as a licensed agent for the various types of insurance it helps consumers find.
It’s more than a middleperson, however. The startup wants to bring the buying of insurance more firmly into the digital world. Today, Insurify completes 65% of its new policies online, and provides pre-loaded information to carriers when it passes a consumer over to their side of things.
Insurify is also building out its own technology products that exist a little past insurance, including a “wallet” that lets users manage multiple policies in one place.
TechCrunch asked Zacharia why she decided to raise capital now. According to the CEO, after doing “a lot with almost nothing,” her company is ready to accelerate its go-to-market motion.
In practical terms, the new capital will help Insurify with “horizontal expansion,” like “launching new verticals” that will include home, rental and other types of insurance, she said. Even more interesting, the Series A will also be used to fuel the startup’s marketing arm, which Zacharia says is run like a “hedge fund.” Insurify’s marketing efforts are “automated through [an] artificial intelligence model,” she told TechCrunch, which estimates “the value of every click” through a set of algorithms that it tunes regularly.
(We’ll avoid making a joke about hedge fund returns at this juncture.)
The CEO went on to say that “putting more money and more fuel behind [Insurify’s] marketing engine could really help us tremendously at this point,” helping to explain why Insurify decided to take on more capital when it did.
The startup had options when it came to investor selection, with Zacharia telling TechCrunch that her firm “had multiple, different term sheets” from which to choose. Why MTECH and VIOLA as lead investors? Zacharia emphasized venture partner selection as key, also highlighting the experiences and expertise of each firm (insurance with MTECH, and fintech with VIOLA).
It will be fascinating to see what happens at the meeting point of new capital, an operating marketing engine and an expanding set of products. Presumably Insurify can grow like heck from that confluence of factors. We’ll ask in a few months.
“Move fast and break things” is a term we usually associate with Facebook (at least, until 2014) and the general startup ethos of being disruptive. Now in true entrepreneurial fashion, the phrase is finding itself as the center of — what else — a startup idea, which today is announcing a sizeable Series B as it gains traction.
Vouch, which offers business insurance specifically targeting startups, is today announcing a Series B of $45 million, led by Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund. The company was part of YC cohort that presented this past August, and between then and now it appears to have also raised a Series A of $24 million, with this Series B actually also closing back in September (I’m guessing the delay in timing was to coincide the news with the expansion of its service to California). PitchBook data indicates that Vouch’s valuation has also ramped up rapidly: it’s currently at $210 million. (Previous investors in the company include Ribbit Capital, SVB Financial Group, Y Combinator, Index Ventures, and 500 Startups, with the total raised to date now at $70 million.)
The company — not to be confused with the tutoring network Vouch, nor the ‘social network for loans’ Vouch — will be using the money that it will use to continue expanding its product and to bring the service to more geographies.
In addition to now launching in its newest region of California, today, it’s also live in Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. Today’s move is a key one, considering Silicon Valley is at the heart of the tech world, and therefore startups, and therefore fertile ground for acquiring new customers.
(It seems that although Vouch itself is based in San Francisco, it delayed a California launch in part to test out the product in smaller markets before hitting the big time: California, it notes, accounts for 50% of the whole business insurance market in the US, and California startups alone spend $44 billion annually on it.)
When Vouch launched at YC, founder Sam Hodges (who had been one of the original co-founders of Funding Circle, the business lending platform that went public in London) described the platform’s mission as a way of mitigating risks because sometimes “bad things happen to good startups.”
The company’s insurance covers all the tricky things that can befall young businesses in what is a very volatile market. (Common wisdom says that most fail, some have put the figure as high as 90%.)
That includes general liability (which includes damage to rented premises, personal or advertising injury, and related areas), business liability, management liability, fiduciary liability, cyber and crime coverage, rented and non-owned auto insurance and more. (Health or workers’ compensation are not included.) The products start at $200/year, which Vouch says undercuts most of what is already on the market. Munich Re backs the policies.
“Vouch helps founders manage the risks associated with starting up a new company, so they can focus on creating and growing businesses that change the world. We believe that’s a purpose worth pursuing,” said Hodges in a statement. “As an entrepreneur, I’ve spent most of my career building companies at the intersection of technology and financial services. I know first-hand that along the journey of building and growing a business, teams will face numerous high-stakes challenges. Vouch is here to support entrepreneurs and mitigate those challenges from the beginning, leaving more room for growth.”
Y Combinator has always had a soft spot for startups that built services for startups, and this is no exception. It makes perfect sense as a follow-on investment for Continuity, which has also backed Brex, Gusto, Instacart, LendUp, and Stripe. In this sense, it becomes a strategic investor, not unlike Silicon Valley Bank (which tells startups that do business with it that Vouch is its preferred insurance provider).
“Y Combinator and Vouch share a common goal – giving founders the support they need to build successful, innovative companies,” said Anu Hariharan, Partner at Y Combinator Continuity, in a statement. “Vouch is built specifically for startups, so founders have the peace of mind that their business is covered. This platform is fundamental to the startup community, as it enables founders to focus on growing their companies — which is why we were bullish on leading the Series B.”
French startup Luko has raised a $22 million Series A round led by Accel (€20 million). Founders Fund and Speedinvest are also participating in today’s funding round.
When you rent a place in France, you have to provide a certificate to your landlord saying that you are covered with a home insurance product. And, of course, you might want to insure your place if you own it.
While the market is huge, legacy insurance companies still dominate it. That’s why Luko wants to shake things up in three different ways.
First, it’s hard to sign up to home insurance in France. It usually involves a lot of emails, a printer, some signatures, etc. It can quickly add up if you want to change your coverage level or add some options.
As expected, Luko’s signup process is pretty straightforward. You fill out a form on the company’s website and you get an insurance certificate minutes later.
Luko partners with La Parisienne Assurances to issue insurance contracts. So far, 15,000 people have signed up to Luko.
Second, if there’s some water damage or a fire, it can take a lot of time to get it fixed. Worse, if somebody breaks into your place, you’re not going to get your money back that quickly.
Luko wants to speed things up. You can make a claim via chat, over the phone or with a video call using the mobile app. The company tries its best to detect fraud and pay a claim as quickly as possible. Luko also recently announced an integration with Lydia, a popular peer-to-peer payment app in France, so that your payment is instant.
Third, Luko has a bold vision to make home insurance even more effective. The startup wants to detect issues before it’s too late. For instance, you could imagine receiving a water meter from Luko to detect leaks, or a door sensor to detect when somebody is trying to get in. We’ll find out if people actually want to put connected objects everywhere.
Finally, Luko has partnered with a handful of nonprofits to redistribute some of its revenue — it has received the BCorp certification. The startup makes revenue by taking a flat fee on your monthly subscription. If there’s money left at the end of the year, Luko donates it to charities. Investors signed a pledge so that Luko doesn’t trade this model for growth.
Over the past several years, ‘fintech’ has quietly become the unsung darling of venture.
A rapidly swelling pool of new startups is taking aim at the large incumbent institutions, complex processes and outdated unfriendly interfaces that mar billion dollar financial services verticals, such as insurtech, consumer lending, personal finance, or otherwise.
In just the past summer, the startup community saw a multitude of hundred-million dollar fintech fundraises. In 2018, fintech companies were the source of close to 1,300 venture deals worth over $15 billion in North America and Europe alone according to data from Pitchbook. Over the same period, KPMG estimates that over $52 billion in investment pour into fintech initiatives globally.
With the non-stop stream of venture capital flowing into the never-ending list of spaces that fall under the ‘fintech’ umbrella, we asked 12 leading fintech VCs who work at firms that span early to growth stages to share where they see the most opportunity and how they see the market evolving over the long-term.
The participants touched on a number of key trends in the space, including rapid innovation in fintech infrastructure, fintech companies embedding themselves in specific verticals and platforms, rebundling and unbundling of financial services offerings, the rise of challenger banks and the state of fintech valuations into 2020.
The great ‘rebundling’ of fintech innovation is in full swing. The emerging consumer leaders in fintech — Chime, SoFi, Robinhood, Credit Karma, and Bessemer portfolio company Betterment — are moving quickly to increase their share of wallet with their valuable customers and become a one-stop-shop for people’s financial lives.
In 2020, we anticipate continued entrepreneurial activity and investor enthusiasm around the infrastructure and middleware layers within the fintech ecosystem that are enabling further rebundling and a rapid convergence of product themes and business models across the consumer fintech landscape.
Many players now look like potential challenger bank models more akin to what we have seen unfold in Europe the past few years. Within consumer fintech, we at Bessemer are more focused on demographically-specific product offerings that tap into underserved themes, whether that be the financial problems facing the aging population in the US or new models to serve the underbanked or underserved population of consumers and small businesses.
What trends are you most excited in fintech from an investing perspective?
I suspect that many enterprise software companies become fintech companies over time — collecting payments on behalf of customers and growing revenues as your customers grow. We have seen this trend in many industries over the past few years. Business owners generally prefer a model that moves IT expenditures from Operating Expenses into Cost of Goods Sold, because they can increase prices and pass their entire budget onto the customer.
On the consumer side, we have already made investments in branchless banking, insurance (auto, home, health, workers comp), cross-border payments, alternative investments, loyalty cards/services, and roboadvisor services. The companies we funded are already a few years old, and I think we will have some interesting follow-on activity there over the next few years. We have been picking spots where we think we have an unfair competitive advantage.
Our fintech portfolio is also more global than other sectors we invest in. This is because there are opportunities to achieve billion dollar outcomes in fintech, even in countries that are much smaller than the United States. That is not true in many other sectors.
We have also seen trends emerge in the US and move abroad. As an example we seeded Flutterwave, which is similar to Stripe, and they have expanded across Africa. We were also the lead investor in Yeahka, which is similar to Square in China. These products are heavily localized —tin for instance Yeahka is the largest processor of QR code payments in the world, but QR code payments are not popular in the US yet.
How much time are you spending on fintech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated, or just right?
Fintech is about a quarter of my time right now. We continue to see interesting new ideas and the valuations have been more or less consistent over time. The broader market doesn’t impact us very much because we tend to have a 10 year holding period.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t?