These Are the 50 Most Promising Startups You’ve Never Heard Of said Bloomberg in March 2017. Now we want to change that for one of these startups! Clark.de the only startup from Germany, who made it on the list and it is headquartered here in lovely Frankfurt am Main.
Our guest is Dr. Christopher Oster, who founded www.clark.de (Crunchbase profile) in 2015. We had Christopher before in an interview when he newly founded Clark, which was published in November 2015. Before Clark he co-founded Rocket Internet’s version of Airbnb, called Wimdu.
This time we talk to him, since Clark is the only startup from Germany, on Bloomberg’s List of “50 most promising startups, one has never heard of” and an extremely good example of the increasing importance of Frankfurt, as a startup and fintech hub.
Learn more about Frankfurt as a Fintech Hub here.
Here you will find the transcript:
Joe: Hello and welcome everybody this is once again Joe from Startuprad.io your number one startup podcast from Germany, this time I do have a kind of repeating guest here hey Christopher how you doing?
Christopher: Hey very good how are you?
Joe: Am doing great, thank you. You are nowhere again for the second time and we do have a reason for it don’t we?
Christopher: Yes we do, very happy about that actually.
Joe: The story goes a little bit like this, I’ve seen Bloomberg list called the 50 most promising startups you’ve never heard of its based on the data from Market Research Company Quit that actually did it back in I do believe 2009 and they have crunched the numbers and they had of cause a lot of losers but also some big companies that they identified as most promising companies and actually you’re the only one from Germany who actually made it on the list.
Christopher: Yeah, as I said truly happy about that and also a bit of caught by surprise with my idea about the initiative from Bloomberg and when it was officially released basically yeah it was perfect news for the company.
Joe: So last time they identified as most promising startup companies like Cloudera, Palantir Twitch, Spotify and Evernote I mean it’s like getting your own sword or something like this getting your own ribbon being at least on a Bloomberg article in the same league there.
Christopher: Yeah I mean it’s a super big name all there that have been selected by the list before and I mean they have done like a great deal of research so I think they’ve screened 50,000 companies for that so it’s definitely a great honor to be on that list.
Joe: Congratulations and now let’s talk a little bit about why you actually came, so basically we had an interview with did publish end of November 2015 I do believe at this point you just founded Clark right in 2015?
Christopher: Yeah, we started with the first website life in June 2015 and then we had like the first customers basically joining till the end of the year then I think we accelerated the beginning of 2016 for the first time a little larger, yeah when we talked for the first time everything was still very fresh and very new.
Joe: You were more or less like an alpha status
Joe: Before that you actually did work with Rocket on their version of Airbnb called Wimdu and am happy that you brought a lot of your experience with you also I’ve seen on LinkedIn you’ve also being a consultant before right?
Christopher: That’s true I started my career 2006 with the Boston consulting group actually I work there mostly in the financial service sector and after then like I suddenly received an offer to (inaudible – 03:23) basically in the very early days and that caught my interest so I switched into the startup world I would say but now am at least liking the financial services industry with Clark obviously I kind of made the combination of both worlds the financial service industry which I did in consulting and startup which I learned at Wimdu.
Joe: That is pretty cool and can you actually tell us a little bit about why Clark is such a promising startup, what do you guys actually do?
Christopher: So Clark is an online insurance broker we offer our customers a platform where they can solve all possible insurance needs that they may have, so we give customers an overview of the existing contract, we show the details of the contract, what’s covered, what’s not covered how much they paid for that, how they compare to others also in this fairly for money features basically. Yes, also but I mean like the first part is basically the overview part where our customers understand the insurance situation and get transparency around the product that they have and many people don’t have that especially if you have collected over the years a handful of insurance contracts usually you lose control, you lose side and first we give customers insurance that look this is what you have, this is what you pay, this is what you get and then we start optimizing and you know we send them for example reminders when renewal date come up we compare their contract to the market and try to find a contract that have better terms that are cheaper or have better coverage detail basically proposed to them and then they can switch in the app with just one click basically we make it super easy for our customers there but also for any other case like if they have a claim for example they can come to us and we help them so it’s really meant to be like a go to platform for everything insurance related for you as a consumer.
Joe: That sounds interesting I got to admit I see your advertisements on Facebook from time to time and of because I do love the Simpsons here in Germany at 6pm and I do see your TV advertisement there as well. Right now it has not caught up with me but since am a married man am soon going to try out your services on the other hand I do understand as you said you are a broker so you don’t offer insurance yourself, you don’t take the risk yourself?
Christopher: Exactly, there’s no Clark liability insurance or no Clark car insurance we are collaborating with the established players so we have access to the product of all large insurance or prominent insurance brands you can imagine in Germany is a 160 in total and we basically pull the information from those insurance companies and then compare their details and present to you as customer only what really matters of cause you can access all the details if you want to but yeah you’re correct there’s no owned Clark insurance product we see ourselves more as the access point that basically sits, if you imagine it like a table we are sitting on the side of the customer and help in navigate policies and contracts from everyone, it’s almost impossible for you alone to find the right product so we see our self as sitting on the side of the customer and helping him to navigate through this jungle basically
Joe: So you bring more transparency into the market?
Joe: I understand but truth be told if I would be an insurance company I actually would not like that very much because it gives you an overview where am more expensive, when am more cheap, so how do you initially get the insurance companies to work with you?
Christopher: So the model is not new to insurance carriers because we are a broker and a broker model has being around in the market for years actually for 10s of years, so the only difference in the first place has being that we do things online where others do it offline and of cause we bring additional transparency that is easier to bring to the customer online compared to offline but many of what we do is actually also required by law yeah, so for example we’re also transparent about the commissions that we earn from the insurance companies for managing contracts or for selling contracts basically to some extent this is actually required by law also but it’s possible to hide the details somewhere for example to make the numbers very difficult to read and we trying to be very upfront about all this and bring the transparency there and yeah I mean as it is an established model the carriers are used to working with basically there has being not so much of problem.
Joe: And what kind of insurance are you actually dealing with because in Germany you can have life insurance, health insurance, property insurance and you can basically add to all the government provided insurances as well like unemployment, retirement and all those stuff so they are a lot of insurances out there.
Christopher: So we offer all types of insurance and is categorize in personal, product that is for example car insurance, liability insurance, household insurance, real estate insurance, life insurance, product obviously retirement planning and the third column is the house insurance governmental and private, health insurance and we cover all three areas so personalize, health, life insurance and actually because we said to ourselves if we want to be a platform where you as customer can solve all your insurance matters if you then come to us and we say we don’t have car insurance then it doesn’t works o we said from the beginning on they must be a way of to offer access to everything and then we found that it’s possible and also doable via the app so today we are offering everything.
Joe: And now of cause the star letter question, what then makes a company unique, what is your so called unique selling preposition that differentiates you from all other companies our there? In our video format startup (inaudible – 10:21) we had some discussions with other inter tax they are also all insurance brokers as well admittedly all of them have certain focus so what makes it different from all of them?
Christopher: What we want to ensure the customer is being transition we call the state the smart insurance state where the customer really makes a grim tick marks after insurance has changed ok well now am well covered I have no too much no little insurance basically and am exactly where I want to be regarding my insurance and for some people this means that you only have basic coverage because they don’t want to spend too much insurance and they are ok to cover a damage to a certain degree themselves where as other people are completely different they want to be ensured against all types of risks and we see it as our duty to find out what the customer wants and what’s his personal smart insurance situation and then get them into the state as convenient for him as possible and for that it takes a lot of works and the product, a lot of work and customer journey on information’s that we provide yeah and I think what we do there is pretty much unique because we have, we’ve experimented with large variety of data basically to understand the situations today and also the target dates of our customers and then sort of tailored the journeys towards this end goal
Joe: A customer journey here means basically that you play along how a customer would first encounter you then punch in all the data then manage all of his insurance on your platform and along that way right?
Christopher: Yeah, exactly and I mean cause it need be easy we know that no matter how, how many features we put in the app or animations or this type of things it will never be fun or sexy for the customer to do insurance it’s not going to be something he takes extreme joy from so we say ok we need to make it extremely convenient and easy for the customer to also achieve little things like a contract which are a contract optimization with just a few clicks for that we’ve found a very good way the customer needs to provide us a broker mandate in the very first place which empowers us like which makes us broker a record for him and that empowers us to interact on his behalf with insurance carriers. So basically we can propose things in the app and he just makes a few clicks and we can go ahead and make the full execution for him and yeah that’s I think the most important thing in our journey that we make it super easy and little effort for the customer.
Joe: Sorry just one question here you already talk about like insurances not lot of joy for your customers how do you actually keep up the joy for your team?
Christopher: We take our motivation from like getting the customer into this we call it smart insurance delivering that very little effort at getting the customer in this state if we see that our customers are happy with their insurance situation or basically have ticked their insurance off then we’ve achieved what we wanted to do.
Joe: Speaking about the team in this Bloomberg list you are listed as a Berlin based startup but right now I do believe you’re Frankfurt based startup is this true can you talk a little bit about this?
Christopher: Yes, actually it’s not a split we have the full team in Frankfurt we are now 30 people half of them roughly in the tech team of cause we have insurance experts, we have people in business development and marketing and operations obviously so there’s a nice split between the function but the full team is sitting here in Frankfurt so we have one sitting and working for us in Berlin anymore that use to be different at the beginning because we had the first couple of weeks of the company we are in Berlin and that was because our major investor one of our major investors basically has this office in Berlin and provided that to us at the very beginning which was great because you know when you’re just three or four people in the city here in a lone office room in Frankfort you know simply more convenient to be in a nicer and larger office location with more people around and that we talk at the very beginning when we’ve grown to a certain size and I think like 10 people then we finally made a full move to Frankfort but that was planed from the beginning.
Joe: I see and everybody was cool with moving from Berlin to Frankfort?
Christopher: Yes it was the other way around so we were only people from Frankfort but we traveled the first couple of weeks we traveled to Berlin and basically worked during the week sometimes also stay the weekends and then basically travelled back to Frankfort so it was more that way around.
Joe: So the question why Frankfort I would assume is rather your all originally from Frankfort, is your formal address I mean your headquarter is it still in Berlin at least formally or is it in Frankfort?
Christopher: It’s in Frankfort, so we have documentations everything coming here to Frankfort basically and
Joe: So one has to assume Bloomberg made a mistake?
Christopher: Don’t know, what I wanted to say is regarding why Frankfort what was the reason, of cause the team is from here and that of cause was the point but I mean we have extensively researched whether that makes sense or not to fund the company in Frankfort because obviously you know in advance roughly what kind of talent you need and where your bottleneck as a company would be and we’ve made massive research before we started and in the end the result was basically was not a single reason not to found here so far we super happy with the choice actually.
Joe: What were some of the bottlenecks you identified during your initial research?
Christopher: I mean obviously typical bottle neck that probably each company has at the very beginning not only at the very beginning tech resources is a topic but also access to great online marketing and product management talent these type of people are not so easy to find so we had to look can we find those people at all in Frankfort and we actually made some job ads before the company was founded just to see what’s happening and what kind of applications are actually coming in and when we realize actually it’s great talents here around we started to start.
Joe: Changing a little bit the topic of the interview here, I was originally planning to ask you if Bloomberg reached out upfront before they published the article here that we are discussing but apparently they did not as you already stated and am very confident the company behind them they are the next company called Quit behind is actually not this close in how they arrive to their conclusion.
Christopher: Yeah no they have not reached out to us before they published the list so while they did the research I assume when they look at 50,000 companies almost everyone is in there in the first place so I think it’s not difficult to be on the start list and then I’ve no idea about the filters that they apply.
Joe: Talking about this list you’re starting with 50,000 companies and narrowing it down to 50 startups was this mentioning on this list a praise for you talking about the most promising startup part or was it like a challenge you’re marketing you’ve probably never heard of what was it for you?
Christopher: Ok, so I think in the first place you can’t be successful as a startup without creating a hype around you, that’s why the part of I’ve never heard of I think is not so critical or not important of cause we emphasizing on the most promising and I think that’s what the list is suppose to display and not much the other part so yeah we take it as a praise we felt honored by it but I mean never stop and rest on what you have and of cause we working extensively also to make Clark more prominent.
Joe: What has being those reactions to the article I mean except for us reaching out to you asking for interview on a very short notice but we thank you, you made it possible
Christopher: Actually to be honest I have not heard about this ranking or list before we were now nominated and put on the list it was the first time I got in touch with the research and the results at all and I was surprised how many reactions we have received so from all types of stakeholders potential business partners, potential investors of cause, media, it helped on many things actually already so am very happy about it.
Joe: And so the question what would be your next step with Clark?
Christopher: Product, always product delivering on what we promised the customer of cause it’s never ending journey but I think this is what is the most important thing we find a way that customers are like using our app like really often not only once per month but once per week maybe in a way to get the customers to open the Clark app even more often and to learn a little more about where they stand regarding their insurance, so I think this is still the most important thing and for that you have to see that product, we’ve basically started from scratch there’s nothing that you could look at and learn how to do this right the product is a very long journey for us to get really to the point of the insurance situation and make it really right for the customer this is where we take a great priority in next couple of months but we have also taking big priority in the last couple of months.
Joe: I had like two questions when you’ve being taking the first one what is your geographical coverage with Clark?
Christopher: Germany, we are active only in Germany at the moment.
Joe: And you’re looking at other markets right now?
Christopher: Yeah I mean we are permanently looking but the German insurance markets so incredibly large they basically everyone needs insurance now that’s the good thing about the market we are in that it’s a relevant topic for every individual basically so you have a potential of 80 million customers in Germany like from our point of view we need to have a significant size in Germany before we go abroad and adjust our model also to other markets so I will say we permanently looking but we are not in the process of making a move in a different country right now.
Joe: When you’ve being taking about the size of the insurance market in Germany what came to mind with my German interview with Tim (name – 21:19) from frensurance also an insurance tech but they having a different approach than you have and he told me the insurance market in Germany is as big as the global fashion market.
Christopher: Yeah, it’s a nice comparison like the first research I did was also on the size of the insurance market it’s a 200 billion market in Germany and the first slide I made was comparing it the aviation industry and to the ecommerce industry in Germany and the number am looking at always is that the insurance industry in Germany is 4.5 times larger than the entire ecommerce industry
Joe: I see so you’re looking at a market that is even bigger than Amazon and Alibaba. And my second question would be if you kind of lift the hood of Clark what we see there is it like a really big database you’ve built there?
Christopher: Yes, I mean it’s a hell lot of information that you need to digest as I said the market is extremely large for that reason of cause they are many, many players in this market if I take Tim’s example with the global fashion market imagine how many fashion companies they are out there the insurance market in Germany then of cause is similar the 540 companies they all have different contracts and somehow you have to press all of that in the data base because if you want to give the customer access to all of that and really find the best product for him then you need really to have a lot of information in your data base around the insurance market and the product out there so that you can pick really the right stuff and how to find reasons for why this is exactly the right thing for the customer so, there’s a huge database that is at the core of everything that we do and then you can imagine that they are algorithms that are sitting on the database, the algorithms then will basically that is running and that is looking for specific situations in the customer life circle basically and then picking recommendations from this huge pool of data and this is roughly how the architecture behind works.
Joe: And I would assume those algorithms are actually your USP talking about the database you’re using a professional product or it like (inaudible – 23:52) itself build open source stuff?
Christopher: No, no of cause we are using professional database standards for that.
Joe: Now getting a little bit back to my questions that I wrote up before the interview, what was your best investment you did with the Clark so far?
Christopher: I think it is the investment and actually what I’ve just described because that makes it brings scalability to the platform, if you have a large database and you have algorithm that conside on specific insurance situations and picks product for the customer you can do this independent of the amount of interactions that you have in the database, so for us the investment in building up the system has being very big and that’s why also I think over the last one and half years a lot of our focus has gone into that making sure that we have a solution that is completely scalable because you’re tackling this massive market with potentially 80 million customers there’s no value if you build a solution that is not scalable and only can serve 40, 50,000 customers you need to build a solution that is able to serve like a six and seven digit customer base and this has being the greatest investment so far and it’s also the one that probably would deliver the highest value in the long run.
Joe: Once again my brain worked and I was wondering when you will remove all the data that is in the data base, feed it up with the data of different insurance market, let’s say Italy, let’s say France, let’s say Spain, will your algorithm still be working assuming they need a little bit adjustment?
Christopher: Yes, I mean the frame works obviously but you need to adjust the roots, like the data I would suggest don’t differ that much of cause the rules need to adjust and you need to feed in the insurance company and the contracts locally, so I mean definitely there’s work and work it’s not simply translating a website and suddenly there you are in the market there’s much more work to do but it’s also not impossible to go in other countries.
Joe: When I’ve being going through this article there was no specific information about individual companies like yours but they have being some information on the companies in general and in general all the companies had on average a little bit over three VC rounds so far from what I understand from a crunch based data you have only had two VC rounds so far?
Christopher: Yes, it depends of it how you counted, I think the serious A was the most notable one but yeah probably following that definition it’s two.
Joe: And of cause this does ask the question are you intending to raise money any time soon?
Christopher: We are not in a need right now to raise money we’ve done a very good serious
A last year and it’s still carrying us for some time but there’s a great opportunity of cause you never say no you have to be flexible in our business so not actively looking but always open.
Joe: The article said the companies usually raise every 230 little bit days we see around, so it appears from what you tell us right now before you’ve done some pretty good extra cheating here right?
Christopher: Yeah we the only German company on the list we are prudent using the money.
Joe: Are you originally from (name – 27:35)?
Christopher: No, no am not. Yeah I think we had a plan basically when we raised the serious
A and had a plan also how long that will carry us and so far we’re following this pretty nicely, so yeah even if we passed the deadline already for the raise, we will still take a bit of time for that.
Joe: Ok, then between just you, me and a few thousand listeners of this interview out there when is the next round due?
Christopher: I mean there’s no fixed timing for that but maybe beginning of next year probably.
Joe: Finaly got a date out of you and of cause we will be more than happy to forward every request we get and help you with that. And the very last question unreally related to the interview but we’ll like to tease you a little bit, if you could describe your life a little bit either as a book title or a movie title what would it be and why?
Christopher: I didn’t expect that question I should have read that, I think when I had to pick a book I would go for delivery happiness from Tony Sheer from Zippos and it’s a book about how they built a company and how things are working out on their side and its basically about how they deliver happiness obviously as the title says to their customers and I mean I see it a bit broader because as a startup company there’s this many people that you need to deliver happiness to, you want to deliver happiness of cause to your customers but for example also to your employees in the end also to your investors obviously and also to yourself and to the founder team yeah because you have lots of things that you need to balance somehow and the more people are happy with what you do the better it is I think that’s probably the right title.
Joe: Really great is there any thing of importance that we may have missed till now?
Christopher: No can’t think of anything right now.
Joe: Great thank you and thank you for the interview and hopefully see you next time
Christopher: Very much looking forward. Thank you so much for the interview bye, bye