Introducing GUARDHOG: Meet the founders

In this series of interviews, we’re chatting to the brains behind some of the InsurTech businesses benefitting from our incubator – getting the low down on their offerings and the stories behind them.

Today, we caught up with Humphrey Bowles (HB) and Andrew Boldt (AB) of GUARDHOG. The sharing economy has disrupted deep tracts of the mainstream economy. Millions of people are now using it to provide a secondary, or even primary, income. Traditional insurance doesn’t cover the risks created and that acts as a barrier to entry, or as an unhappy discovery further down the road.

GUARDHOG has a team dedicated to growing the peer-to-peer economy. They’re passionate about sharing and encouraging everyone to get involved. They know the risks, and simply, that is why they exist. So they’re here to make sure that insurance is not a barrier to participation and growth.

So, first things first: What’s behind the name? Humphrey, you’re a pet owner (with terriers confusingly named Goose and Badger) is it just a love of animals?

HB: So guard is straightforward and clear:

Verb (used without object)
to take precautions against, to give protection; keep watch; be watchful.

a person or group of persons that guards, protects, or keeps a protective or restraining watch.

And then the “hog” reference is all about how we work collaboratively across the sharing economy, and insurance community for that matter, by piggy-backing and working together to solve the insurance problem.

FYI Andrew also lives in something of a menagerie, with 2 dogs, 2 cats (and 2 recently departed rabbits)

Talking of barnyard animals, you’ve just moved into new offices out in the countryside. How has that been?

AB: It’s been total chaos!! Trying to kit out a new office over Christmas isn’t the easiest, but it’s been massively worthwhile. Our new “sty” is a beautiful big converted barn just outside Stockbridge in Hampshire, where we have built a team of talented Hogs to supercharge the next stage of our growth.

We love doing things that make sense for the business, rather than just trying to fit in. So good-bye Shoreditch and hello Stockbridge!

Humphrey, you’re a relative newcomer to insurance. Prior to GUARDHOG you were working on a platform called onefinestay. (It’s kind of the Four Seasons to Airbnb’s Travelodge, featuring only the dreamiest properties).

Have either of you found your experiences from outside the industry useful in founding GUARDHOG?

HB: My non-insurance background has been everything. From an insurance perspective, it’s all about managing risk, and unless you really understand your target market, have lived, breathed, worked, grown in it, I don’t believe that true deep understanding exists. So, my home-sharing background has given me the knowledge and insight to produce the right insurance products for this space and the ability to speak the same language as our customers.

AB: I was already somewhat involved in insurance before we launched GUARDHOG, but I have found it massively helpful to not come from a ‘traditional’ insurance background. Not only did this enable me to ask all of the “stupid questions” that you can’t when you’re an insider…but Humphrey and I have both have consulting backgrounds, which has really helped us in trying to challenge the conventions of one of the oldest industries out there.

It doesn’t always make us the most popular, but the ability to ask “why”, and particularly “why it can’t be done another way” has been invaluable!!

We’ve all heard horror stories about guests going wild in other people’s homes. The idea that a rave might go down in a client’s penthouse must be pretty nerve-wracking. Did you ever run into any insurance issues with onefinestay? If so, did they inspire GUARDHOG at all?

HB: Having guests to stay in your home is always going to generate interesting experiences for everyone, and clearly, things don’t always go to plan. The real inspiration for starting GUARDHOG was trying to open up the wonderful world of home-sharing to all. The lack of insurance is such a blocker to participation and GUARDHOG not only enables sharing to happen, but it also encourages more sharing to happen more often. That’s pretty cool. It’s like a mid-morning ginger shot confidence booster.

Andrew, your most recent project was Insurance Tailors. That service is all about providing traditional kinds of cover in a smarter way. GUARDHOG, on the other hand, focuses on an emerging niche. What took you from one to the other? How did your work on Insurance Tailors inform GUARDHOG?

AB: First and foremost, Insurance Tailors gave me the experience of growing a business from scratch, which I loved; being the sole business owner I was also forced to become an “expert” in areas that aren’t necessarily my natural strength. It was pretty full-on at times and a massive learning curve, but I genuinely feel I crammed decades worth of learning and personal development into a pretty short and successful period!!

The projects are actually probably much more closely connected than you might think. My motivation for starting Insurance Tailors was a desire to evolve and redesign the entire experience of an insurance customer, but what I discovered at the core was a range of outdated and inflexible insurance products…and limited excitement in the market about change.

So, I learnt from the ground up how to design and build insurance products, discovered it was something I was pretty good at and we launched a number of really successful products. Which I think is what lead the guys at LoveHomeSwap to get in touch with me when they realised that the Sharing Economy had insurance challenges…

LHS had launched a great home sharing platform and the demand to get involved was huge, but uncertainty around how insurers would react to such activities was really holding them back. It took a while but we managed to build the first Sharing Economy specific insurance product…and the first seeds of GUARDHOG (or at least one half of GH) were born.

The sharing economy can be magical. Under its spell homes become hotels, cars turn into taxis and unproductive assets *poof* are suddenly nice little earners. But it all hinges on trust…

Even the most glass-half-full of us can’t have total trust in strangers. You need confidence that you’ve got some back up if things go south. Insurers are the natural place to look, so why haven’t traditional providers met the needs of hosts and other sharers?

AB: I feel that insurers get a bit of a hard time here; most insurance products are based on centuries worth of historical data, which have provided fairly consistent underwriting returns to insurers. The Sharing Economy just doesn’t have that history and is at a scarily large scale…

The challenge we have set insurers is to back us in launching products for which there is limited or no history. Whilst there has always been “sharing” of a sort, global connectivity allows this on a monumental scale, and in the context of a different world and set of human values and challenges than ever before.

It’s was incredibly hard work to get insurers onside, but we are really grateful to those that have seen the opportunity to help support the growth of this huge new sector…and they are now seeing their rewards for that faith. Unlike in the past, our technology and deep integration into the Sharing Economy means that we are learning about the sector thousands of times faster than has been possible in the past…allowing us to make automated, real-time decisions on what is happening right now.

And lastly, there are real risks and substantial claims in this sector, which traditional insurers aren’t currently equipped to underwrite. Our products allow us to be better placed than anyone to help prevent these losses in the future…

The line between what we consider ‘private’ and ‘business’ is increasingly blurred. It’s something regulators and other ‘status quo’ organisations have struggled with. Has the fact you’re experienced in both B2C and B2B services helped you respond to this change quicker?

AB: When it comes to the sharing economy there just is no line. It’s a whole new way of living that is not catered to by the traditional insurance market. We’re incredibly agile and able to respond almost immediately to market conditions. Working with B2C and B2B channels means we collect tons of awesome feedback from our customers which allows us to change, ideally before our customers even know we need to change.

Employment is also less black and white than it used to be, with fewer people going down the nine-to-five route. Now, gig economy workers aren’t just flexible in when and where they work, but also in what they do. Going solo and wearing a lot of different hats can be great, but insurance-wise there are risks, right?

AB: Yes, there are and, although it might be the last thing anyone wants to think about in the excitement of “going solo”, insurance has always had a part to play; both in protecting the worker and any customer from the impact of something going wrong.

The growing gig-economy workforce has merely shone.

Given our “usage-based” approach to insurance products, it’s not been a huge leap to support the growth of this market – we, for example, provide global insurance coverage for an amazing task platform called Shepper.

For what it’s worth this still feels like a really early stage part of the Sharing Economy and it doesn’t fit all work types (I doubt for example that people would choose to use a lawyer/plastic surgeon/dentist who didn’t have permanent insurance!!!)

On the subject of new ways of working, GUARDHOG offers its employees a lot of flexibility. As a business, what kind of benefits do you see from that?

AB: One of the fundamentals of the Sharing Economy is to make the most of under-utilised assets, and chief amongst these are the skills of highly talented people for whom the world of work doesn’t offer sufficient flexibility…for example Mums and Dads who would love to get back to work, but for whom the costs logistics make it too difficult or not worth doing.

We both believe that work is changing; that by creating an environment and opportunities that are designed to offer flexibility and to fit alongside vital things like our families…we will build a seriously happy, motivated, loyal and high achieving team.

This new world doesn’t just change the way individuals insure themselves. Platforms need cover too. Do you think insurance issues have been a barrier to innovation in the sharing economy? How do you see that changing?

AB: Absolutely, but it’s a far wider question than this…TRUST is the key factor that opens the world up to sharing, and insurance solutions are just one of the pillars on which trust is built. But yes, nervousness or lack of trust has definitely been a barrier to the growth of the Sharing Economy…this was exactly why LoveHomeSwap initially asked for help.

However, the numbers would support that eagerness to get involved has won out for many over any fear of the unknown, and we are doing our best to fill in any risk gaps that might exist.

The Sharing Economy platforms have so far actually taken on a big portion of the insurance burden for their customers, and we have helped hundreds of them to open the doors to growth by creating solutions for them. But for my part, I would like to see more direct customers taking responsibility for protecting themselves, their assets and their sharing counterparts…

Thanks to your work with GUARDHOG’s partners, you have direct experience of helping startups realise their vision. How important has the InsurTech Gateway been in helping you make yours a reality so far – and going forward?

AB: Hands up, we’re no ordinary Gateway startup. We took the decision to hold off fundraising until we’d proven our model, our approach, our cover not only worked but was scalable.

Going forward though, we are so excited about how the Gateway is going to help us scale our business, from a start-up to a rocket-powered spaceship.  Clearly, we’re building the rocket as we go along and so having their help, advice, and rocket fuel is a big boost.

As entrepreneurs, you obviously have an appetite for risk. But as insurers, you’re all about mitigating risk. It’s a bit of a balancing act…How does having a partner like The Gateway help with that?

HB: Building the business is a team sport and a competitive one at that. It’s not just about risk, it’s about winning. The Gateway gives us some new tools that we believe are going to enable us to win.

And in terms of the risk, we prefer to think of it as unfulfilled opportunity.

What’s next for GUARDHOG?

AB: We’re in a great place at the moment. We’ve got a brilliant team, we love what we do and we’re fully-focused on collaboratively solving the sharing economy’s insurance issues. We’re building some neat AI driven tech that is going make people’s lives easier and cheaper and propel us up to new heights!

Taking a wider view, what do see over the horizon for the sharing economy as a whole? (and the insurers who help it along, naturally…)

AB: It’s a horizon that is growing and growing, filled with constant innovation and opportunity. Whether insurers (plural) help it along would probably be met with a high degree of scepticism from within the sharing economy, but our hope is that GUARDHOG can be at the forefront helping encourage sharing and participation.

We’ve talked about the upsides and the potential downsides of the sharing/gig economy. What have been your best and worst sharing experiences?

HB: Being involved brings so many positive experiences. The sharing economy is almost the perfect antidote and the antithesis of social media. Rather than all interaction being online, all interaction in the sharing economy actually happens in person. Kinda crazy in this digital world isn’t it! It’s a magnificent way to meet, and share experiences, with people who otherwise would just have never happened.

In terms of amusing anecdotes, 2am, mistaking guests for burglars and confronting them starkers on the stairs. A true case of over-sharing! Luckily, we still got 5-stars.