Change-maker Series – Feather, a quest to disrupt a prosaic industry
Feather is an all-in-one platform disrupting the insurance sector, offering honest, straightforward insurance products for expats in GermanyMembers + News
Fresh and ready post pandemic, Feather recently joined the Techspace ecosystem by securing a workspace at Eiswerk in our newest Berlin building. With this in mind, our Marketing team had a call with Vincent Audoire, co-founder of Feather.
In a relatively short period of time Vincent founded and failed with his first startup, joined and left N26 (latterly a unicorn), joined Entrepreneur First, where he Co-founded Feather with Rob Schumacher, and, a couple of years later, went on to raise money for Feather (securing investments from some of his ex-colleagues at N26).
Like almost every company, Feather had their fair share of challenges, uphill battles and even defeats. However, it’s their victories that have defined them and set them apart from the competition.
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat
Vincent, a French engineering graduate, moved to Berlin almost 8 years ago to pursue a career in software engineering. He joined numerous startup companies with a focus on iOS app development, and even founded his own company after just a couple of years.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) that company later dissolved but in his own words: “it was a super fun experience”, “I knew I wanted to try that out [referring to creating his own business]”.
Despite the failure, Vincent’s passion and drive to make his own company was still prominent.
He would go on to join N26, a mobile bank in their early stages as an IOS developer. He helped create their app which catered to over 40,000 daily users. But Vincent was still very focused on creating his own company. He even stated in his interview for N26 that in five years he’d like to found another company.
And he did just that. But a lot sooner than 5 years.
In just 3 years the ideas were already on the table. He had left N26 and fortunately met Rob Schumacher at Entrepreneur First.
Rob, who came from a background of digital insurance consulting at McKinsey, and Vincent, an expert software engineer/coder both noticed a glaring insurance problem within Germany.
Inspired by a boring Unicorn?
While Vincent was at N26 the general attitude was that banking was uncool. But he thrived under that common perception. Why? Because he enjoyed trying to make it cool.
It’s clear he took inspiration from his days at N26, as he applied a similar philosophy with insurance. Insurance isn’t known for being the most interesting topic. In fact as a whole we feel quite confident in saying that it’s a rather boring and tedious task. For Vincent, this was (and still is) ideal. It’s a fun challenge for him to try and make it pleasant and more interesting.
But this was only part of the reason both he and Rob would later move into the insurance industry.
Together they noticed that in Germany there are certain insurances that you need to have, but no one is telling you that they need to have them.
One example of this is liability insurance. Every German has this type of insurance, but Vincent’s friend, an expat and Berlin local, was shocked to hear that he wasn’t covered. After speaking with others, Vincent realised that this was a common theme among the expat community in Germany.
On top of this, Vincent noticed that the process of getting covered was overly complicated and unpleasant. When he looked at his options, Vincent decided to pay extra to go through a company that had a better design, simpler process, and translated into English.
And, just like that, an idea was born.
After speaking to Rob more about his (terrible) experience, it was quickly determined that this was a common problem for expats within Germany.
“There’s some business to be done here”
A niche had been found. This is where they started researching more into the insurance sector and the expat demographic. Ultimately resulting in the founding of Feather.
Finding the niche was hard. It took time, and it had to be strong enough to be able to compete with companies 100 times the size. And then there was maintaining that niche.
To fund or not to fund
The team at Feather started with just Vincent and Rob, but now stands at 36 going on 40 employees. Having said this, the company grew slowly because they were using only their existing resources (bootstrapping), rather than getting external funding.
This goes against the grain in the start-up world and Vincent admits that he liked the idea of ‘trying’ to be profitable from early on. Feather only hired one person at one time, growing very linearly. But this was intentional after Vincent had a bad experience of hyper-growth at a previous company.
“I definitely don’t want to do that [hyper-growth] again”
It felt more sustainable for them as a company. New team members could be trained and upskilled in a suitable manner. In conjunction to this, it helped Feather curate their ideal workplace environment and culture, nicely setting them up for success.
Feather did ultimately raise some money through funding, but a lot later in its journey than would the typical start-up. The reason why? Because they finally had a clear picture of where they would spend the extra capital.
‘What if’ questions were common. “What if we had an extra 3 million?”. “What could we do with it?”. But they also had the answers. “We can spend it here, here and here.” They had outlasted the risk of receiving funding too early on, and not knowing what to do with it.
Although seemingly indecisive about whether or not to receive funding, Feather fortunately stumbled across one of the founders of Wise, Taavet Hinrikus (formally Transferwise). Taavet has since set up a €250 million early-stage venture fund called Plural, alongside Sten Tamkivi which aims to support ambitious scaling businesses across Europe.
Vincent and Rob warmed to Taavet and his team’s style and approach because they were entrepreneurs too, with lots of experience and guidance in similar sectors. At this point Feather also had started laying out plans for expansion and raising money felt right.
Feather announced their €3.8 million seed round early this year in April, ‘22.
In the end, Vincent and Rob raised money from angels from the likes of Monzo, Wise, Gocardless, and N26! A roster of highly credible success stories, but most notably, with N26, Vincent’s previous employer. Testament perhaps to Vincent’s own credibility and reputation.
It takes unaffected resilience to be different
When first starting out, Vincent struggled with social comparison. He would often compare his business to others. Although yes, this is a natural way for us to evaluate how we’re doing, it can very easily become toxic and negatively affect one's mental wellbeing.
Vincent was aware that people and brands always show off the positives, and hide the negatives. But it’s an easy trap to fall into, and still he found himself comparing.
A common theme that Vincent noticed within the insurance industry is that companies don’t always share the true story; and the struggles they’re enduring.
Swimming against the current and being honest can be tough when all your competitors are raving about how well they’re doing. For Vincent, it was a struggle to power on choosing to ignore the noise.
With the goal of Feather being to help expats get the necessary insurance, they also ensure that their customers are getting the most out of their policies. For example, with dental insurance, customers can get two free check ups per year. Feather, (unlike some competitors) will actively remind their customers to use these services.
This has helped them significantly, both in gaining and retaining customers.
Great leadership starts with great awareness
Bringing in new people to the company meant that both Vincent and Rob had to move away from their original responsibilities and take a more strategic approach where they are less hands on.
For Vincent this meant having to shelve some of his passions such as software engineering and coding. By taking a step back, it meant that Vincent had to connote his ideas across to his team. Which is easier said than done within a growing scaleup team.
Of course, we know this is a common growing pain among start-ups. Where the Founders quickly find themselves in a position of management. For Vincent this has meant taking the headphones off in favour of steering the ship!
Growth and future plans?
So what is next?
With strong traction in Germany already, Feather are now exploring other countries where they’ve identified a high number of expats; plus widening their scope of their current German market.
For a business that’s only 4 years old, Feather has already seen an array of success. Arguably due to failure being a prominent part of their journey.
Consisting of a largely remote team, their workspace at Techspace Eiswerk surrounds them with other like-minded scaleups and unicorns.
And we are very much looking forward to working with them as they continue to build their (anything but boring) business!
To find out more about Vincent and the team, check out: https://feather-insurance.com/
Follow them on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/feather-insurance/
Vincent's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vaudoire/