How I’ve grown my own business: Cameron Shearer, co-founder Digital Risks
12 June 2020
Disrupting a one-sized-fits-all business insurance, Digital Risks offers bespoke cover to over 750 sectors. Cameron Shearer takes us on his five-year journey.
Launched five years ago in London to meet the under-served insurance needs of early stage digital businesses, Digital Risks provides personalised subscription-based business insurance to over 750 industries.
Cameron Shearer, co-founder of Digital Risks, oversees a growing team of 45, based in London and Legnica, Poland.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
While the increasing amount of data handled by businesses has unlocked revenue-growing opportunities, it also opens the door to risks. This affects business of all sizes, in all industries, making it challenging to get the right protection. I experienced this first-hand while working in advertising. When it came to getting insurance, finding a broker who understood and was willing to cover complex risks was a real struggle. I saw a gap in the market for two related things: firstly, a better insurance experience, and secondly, the need for insurance to meet current risks head on (rather than the industry playing catch up later, leaving businesses exposed).
What experience do you have in your sector?
My Digital Risks co-founder, Ben, has over 17 years’ experience in insurance broking, risk management, underwriting and claims. His network and experience have been invaluable in enabling us to navigate the complexities of the industry, sourcing the best commercial partners who have a real interest in the relatively untapped market for customer-centric business insurance.On the tech side, I’m the advocate. From my early coding days, I’ve developed a career that spans a range of industries: education, advertising and internet broadcasting. As a leader of a tech business, being able to play a part in the problem-solving process is not only essential to fast-growth, but keeps things exciting.
Do you consider your business to be a disruptor – what’s its USP?
Most definitely. I believe we’re fundamentally different to others in the sector. For Digital Risks, customer experience isn’t just an abstract concept – it’s at the heart of everything we do. We’re all about giving businesses the freedom to thrive – which is to say, giving them the time, money and peace of mind to give their enterprise all their energy, while leaving the risk to us.While business insurance offered online is generally bundled up, depending on which insurance products a single underwriter wants to sell, we’ve created the technology to re-organise this, so that we can provide tailored insurance to meet each customer’s individual risks. It’s also good for underwriters, as we’ll only match them to the risks they want to cover. It allows us to tailor our offering around each customer’s needs and provide a more comprehensive level of cover for lower premiums.
What part does technology play in your business?
This is probably my favourite question, as I’m first and foremost a tech guy. The insurance sector largely runs on a couple of software houses, which have been around for decades. They restrict innovation and impose limits from challengers in the insurance industry. To truly create something customer-centric, we realised that we needed to move away from these platforms. Instead, we invested in our own software, which has allowed us to innovate in the sector. Our technology allows us to provide an ‘end-to-end’ insurance product covering a broad range of risks. This allows Digital Risks customers to be more comprehensively covered, without having to use multiple providers. We’ve also dropped the traditional concepts of annual policies in favour of a subscription-based approach which delivers flexibility and monthly billing.
What funding did you have to start the business and where did it come from?
We started the business with a small pot of personal savings to live on, while things got up and running. I continued working through the first couple of months, until it was time to go all in. Getting started was a fairly lengthy process, as becoming regulated by the FCA is no quick task. While we were in the process of doing this, we focused on building relationships with insurance carriers and networking. Our first round of funding came from a group of angel investors, following a pitching event organised for tech in insurance. It was back when Insurtech was a brand-new buzz word – in fact, I recall debates on whether it should be ‘Insuretech’ or ‘Insurtech’. As the business has grown, what major challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? Restrictions on resources, people and cash is often a challenge at the start. Agility and creativity helped us to overcome this – through constantly testing and iterating on propositions and assumptions. This approach has remained with us, as it has enabled us to focus on developments that really add value, while quickly pivoting away from those that won’t.
Have you turned to external finance to grow? If so, what type – debt or equity?
Most recently, we raised $10.4m in a Series A equity funding round, led by BHL Holdings, which was announced back in February. BHL Holdings is a worldwide group with a strong reputation for insurance innovation and owner of popular comparison website Compare the Market. Nire Capital also participated in the round, alongside existing investors Concentric, Beazley and Seedcamp.
What would you say to any other business owners mulling over whether to bring in outside investors?
Raising capital isn’t for every business – there are definitely pros and cons. However, I would say that while it can be daunting to bring in outside investment, getting others to invest in your idea is invaluable regardless of your chosen funding route. Pushing yourself to structure and present your proposition and inviting others to challenge it can help you to build on your ideas. If you struggle to convince others, you might think twice about it.
How do you measure success for yourself, your investors, your staff and your customers?
While growth and customer satisfaction are key metrics, I don’t believe success can really be achieved without a happy team. Internally, we really care about being ‘authentically involved’. This means making sure that all our people, from customer success, to the tech team, to finance, are passionate about and committed to what we’re creating for customers.
What business (or personal) tip would you give to other entrepreneurs hoping to grow their businesses?
Invest in your team and welcome those who challenge your ideas, both internally and externally. Having people to bounce ideas off will reinforce and reshape your thinking – both equally important.
Who has most influenced your working life?
I was lucky to grow up surrounded by enterprising people, which gave me invaluable insight into the realities of entrepreneurship. As a child, I vividly remember the smell of hops and the buzz of energy around my father’s first major enterprise, the Hahn Brewing Company. His later ventures focused on tech. Towards the end of my high school years, I was able to get involved, which really opened my eyes to practical business challenges and how to approach them. This inspired me to take a software engineering route, which has been a critical advantage in everything I’ve done since.
How do you relax outside of work?
In the early days, I found managing the split between work and personal time challenging. Focusing on mindfulness through apps like Calm really helped me to train myself in this area. These days, I also enjoy running. Some of my toughest challenges have been solved on the treadmill. The typical candidates also apply: I love cooking, travelling and am a total sucker for action sci-fi TV.