Blog: Diary of an insurtech start-up, episode 3: The quickening

Percy the dog at Digital Fineprint

Start-ups have to go to great lengths to attract business, both literally and figuratively, writes James Stuart Clarke, head of sales and partnerships at Digital Fineprint.

It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since our last diary. Start-up time is like dog years: you blink and summer is almost upon us. This week has been characterised by public speaking, late-stage negotiations and slow travel through England’s green and pleasant land. And a dog.

Monday

Today we are invited to speak at a special event that Accenture has organised for its internal insurance community. Unexpectedly, the event is held at The New Den, home of Millwall Football Club. The last time I came to Millwall was in about 1991 to watch Charlton Athletic at the Old Den. Which, for those of you who might remember such things, was a far, far less welcoming place than it is today. They don’t even search you for weapons on the way in nowadays.

The speech is well received and it helps to cement our relationships with Accenture, which is a key part of our partnership sales strategy. And the evening’s presentation at Instech London gathered an even wider audience, brought together by super connectors Paolo and Robin.

Tuesday

Another unexpected but welcome development has been sudden uptick in interest from Japan. In the last month, we have been approached by five major Japanese insurers that tend to be looking for tech inspiration in London (as well they should). One insurer’s interest is considered serious enough that we decide to arrange dinner and drinks in Borough.

Having lived in Tokyo for four years, I understand that beverage-focused entertainment is often key to building trust in business negotiations, so as a team, we adopt a no-hold-barred approach to the evening. An increasingly boisterous guided tour of SE1’s charactered hostelries concludes at the fabulous historical courtyard of the George Inn many hours later. My slurred attempts to recall half-remembered Japanese conversational gambits are met with a mixture of confusion, derision and delight. If memory serves, the exercise was a great success, but then, memory is not serving me so well on this occasion. The lengths we go to, to win business!

Wednesday

Last month, we described a week of glamourous-sounding shenanigans in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. This month, the pendulum has decidedly swung in the other direction. The members of the team from tech backgrounds expected most of our UK meetings to be in the Square Mile; they have recently been disavowed of this notion. Our late-stage proof-of-concept negotiations are building to the phase where we need to invest in rail passes.

Recent jaunts (divided equally and deservingly across the sales team) have included Peterborough, Bournemouth, Leeds, Cheltenham, Bournemouth again and High Wycombe. If the UK had fast, cheap rail connections with working wifi, these trips would be quite joyous. As it is, we are playing rock paper scissors to see who will be at Victoria Station next week at 7am buying pasties and coffee on the way to Portsmouth.

Thursday

Our new offices at the Metal Box Factory are proving to be a great investment in some ways and not so much in others. The food options, for example, have been a revelation. Having Borough Market, Flat Iron Square and about 73 new burger joints on our doorstep means that team lunches often descend into ugly street brawls as ravenous developers assert their various rights to choose the venue. It also means that, collectively, we are about 50kg heavier than in early spring, when we had to pick among the culinary scraps of our old offices at East India Docks.

In addition, we have a (shared) ping-pong table where disagreements over coding etiquette, proof on concept pricing and sales strategy can be thrashed out fairly, like medieval jousters in jeans. Best of all, we now have our office mascot and saviour, Percy the dachshund, whose adorable antics have made us feel like a family.

Friday

To paraphrase Game of Thrones, summer is coming and for many start-ups, that means one thing: hiring brilliant, overqualified interns. The volume of CVs we have received has been staggering, but it’s not clear whether this is due to our general awesomeness or a massive glut of desperate graduates-to-be.

While we have seen some unbelievable candidates, we have also had to plough through some real question marks too. Our favourites are the gentleman who referred to us as ‘Digital Fingerprint’ multiple times throughout his cover letter (lesson 1: spell your own name correctly, lesson 2: spell the company correctly) and the fellow who explained that ‘even though I don’t have any skills, qualifications or experience, I still think I would be a great addition to the team’.

In fact, maybe we ought to hire him. Honesty and bravery are both fine qualities - no, terrible idea, forget I said that!

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