What happens behind the doors of insurtech start-ups? James Stuart Clarke of Digital Fineprint explains how free coffee and coconut water are used to attract talent, but won't necessarily solve the culture clash between salespeople and developers.
Team meeting day, and the topic of company branding is raised. “Should we get some cool branded t-shirts?” our CEO Erik (Abrahamsson) suggests. Is this generally a good idea or a terrible one? When do people ever wear such items? At pitch meetings in the HQs of multinational insurance giants? At annual staff picnics? I could almost imagine us wearing company t-shirts at an inter-start-up 5-A-Side football tournament, but given the sporting prowess of the typical web developer, this is hardly a realistic scenario…
In addition to preparing for a big ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitch event (fingers crossed), the team continued an ongoing debate about job titles.
Job title inflation has become so proverbial in tech that it’s hard to gauge anyone’s seniority. Until recently I believed a vice-president was a serious power-behind-the-throne type of role. In fact, VP seems to be a title reserved mostly for school leavers.
In our firm, we have overcome this issue by having fluid titles and by constantly vying for cool-sounding roles. I started as ‘head of sales & innovation’, but this upset our developer who felt that innovation is in the purview of the tech side of the business. I disagreed but conceded the point out of diplomacy and have settled for the slightly less rock ‘n roll title of ‘head of sales & partnerships’.
Today an insurer sent us a document outlining which professions can and cannot be insured for life. Jobs on the naughty list included escapologist, lion tamer, pop singer, acrobat and our favourite, rag-and-bone man. Reminder folks, this is 2017!
Team lunch day. Like any successful start-up, we have a diverse team. In terms of diet, our team includes a Scandinavian fan of muesli and vegetables, a UK vegan, an Austrian lover of large portions of meat and potatoes and an all-singing and dancing omnivore. This makes collegiate lunchtime meetings something of a challenge.
Typically we have to bow to the ‘moral superiority’ of our vegan and share avocado toasties at the café downstairs. Of course an hour later, a guilty trip to the greasy spoon for a sausage sandwich and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps becomes a necessity.
To his credit, the boss encourages healthy eating as far as he can, which mostly involves offering us his large bag of almonds at regular intervals. In offer letters to new hires, promises of ‘free coffee and coconut water’ have attracted more than one coconut water-loving developer to join the team. Sometimes the smallest but most attractive perks are what’s needed to get from interest to hiring. Hopefully these modest perks will one day escalate to pinball machines and helicopter pads.
Searching for new premises. Our start-up began in a university dorm room and then moved up to a cheap shared workspace in South London. We are currently part of an accelerator programme run by a major management consultancy that has generously offered us free office space in Canary Wharf for three months, saving us a lot of precious cash and thereby extending our runway by a month.
This arrangement is shortly coming to an end and now we need a new home.
We discover that office space in the square mile is pricey (we shouldn’t really be shocked by this!), but we still need easy access to insurers in the City so… the decision comes down to Bankside, Bermondsey or Tower Hill. The foodies on the team are pushing for Bankside since daily lunch at Borough market improves team morale by 87%, according to hastily assembled research!
Today the boss tried to address a ‘cultural issue’ in the team; that is sales culture versus developer culture. This is quite a common thing, according to start-up lore. While our touchy-feely sales & marketing team might have an empathetic debate about how and why a task has not been completed on time, our developers are more likely to bark ‘No! Too busy!’ and return to their earphones.
This evening we are invited to an insurer/start-up networking event, fully catered, but who in the team wants to attend? Management? Yes. Sales & marketing? Yes. Development? No. A question is raised: ‘Why don’t you want to come? You love free beer!’ Answer: ‘Yes, but I hate people…’ That’s developers.
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