Erik is the founder and CEO of Digital Fineprint, a Fintech startup that is turning social data into insurance data. This company was founded when a few MBA students got together and realized that there are many opportunities for making the insurance industry much more efficient, fun, and digitised.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
Before coming to Oxford, I worked in Twitter’s strategy team for Asia-Pacific based in Singapore. By bringing the social media knowledge into a new industry, I hope to bring new ideas and ways of working that was not previously used in insurance.
On my first day at Twitter, my boss gave me a t-shirt that simply said #GSD. I then had to figure out what #GSD stands for. As it turns out, #GSD is the perfect description of what an entrepreneur does: Get Sh*t Done!
I’ve run small scale or part-time startups since I was 14, but winning an academic scholarship to come to Oxford University enabled me to take the plunge and work on Digital Fineprint full time. The kind support from the university meant that I could focus fully on my entrepreneurial endeavours, and for that I will always be grateful to Oxford University and the Saïd Foundation.
So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Persistence (it takes a loooot of failures and rejections to be successful, just like I had to apply to Oxford four times before getting admitted), creativity (because so many plans go awry, we constantly need to come up with new ideas. Digital Fineprint was idea number 4 at Oxford) and teamwork (it’s impossible to do everything on one’s own, so building a strong, preferably Oxford-calibre team, is incredibly important).
Being able to solve problems without limitations, working with the most amazing people, and being able to choose where, how and what to focus on.
Elon Musk. Despite almost bankrupting all his companies in 2008, he turned around and eventually revolutionized three industries: electric cars (Tesla), aerospace (SpaceX) and energy (Solar City). Many entrepreneurs have one big success, but seeing Elon Musk do it for three industries is unmatched.
Whether I could help him issue new kinds of intraplanetary insurance policies for SpaceX, help Solar City become more profitable by issuing solar insurance and getting Tesla to profitability by insuring all drivers against mechanical breakdowns. I always try to help people first, and see how I can add value. Great things come to those who give.
Getting selected as one of five startups in the world to work with Allianz, the world’s largest insurance company. I thought we were too early stage, but Allianz was so impressed with our technology that we were chosen.
There have been so many mishaps and “failures” that I could easily fill up a trilogy of books. But conceptually I don’t believe that failures exist. What we label as failures are simply results, albeit different results than the ones we were hoping for. Therefore, when our lead investor pulled out after Brexit, or team members were replaced, or we had to shut down the website due to regulation, or many of the other mistakes I’ve faced, it should simply be seen as a painful but necessary learning experience.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
The talent pool is virtually unmatched anywhere in the world, and the link to the university provides a strong support network for students such as myself. I’ve also been surprised and happy to see such world-class events such as the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum where we got to pitch our startups to Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter. It is harder to raise funding in Oxford, which is why most startups here (myself included) spend a lot of time talking to investors in London.
There are many groups and meetups, but a few to note are the Launchpad, Enterprising Oxford, The Foundry, Startup Nation, Oxford Science Park, and of course all the resources available 1 hour away in London. Apart from these, you should also simply to ask other entrepreneurs for help, I’ve been positively surprised by how many Oxford-based startups are interested in helping us, for example when we organized the Oxford Insurtech Symposium.
Read The Lean Startup, From Zero to One, Venture Deals, The Startup of You, Paul Graham’s articles and Drive. But what I’ve come to realize is that no matter how much you read or study, you will never be fully “ready” to launch a startup. It will feel uncomfortable, and you will feel like you’re in over your head, and that’s the only way you will succeed. Nothing in the world that is worth having is going to come easy, but the excitement and freedom of the journey itself is worth it 100%. I wish you the best of luck, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you out.