From the Ground Up: Building a Reinsurance Technology Tribe

January 31, 2022


Ben Rose
Ben Rose

I couldn't resist some reinsurance wordplay in the title. Read on for a first-hand view of company building, from the earliest concepts to a steadily-growing tribe of thirty reinsurance technologists.

Don’t forget to follow Supercede to stay up to date with more like this. And in case you missed it, check out a whole new podcast dedicated to reinsurance!

Dreamchasers

Out there, somewhere, was a reinsurance platform waiting to be built. Too long had reinsurance people been left at the back of the queue for the latest technology, too often were we forced to twist insurance systems to fit our bespoke, handcrafted deals.

But a dream was all that platform could be, in the absence of volunteers willing to take that first, fateful leap: a jump not even worth attempting without the right blend of experience across reinsurance dealmaking and software development. Cue the first players on our stage: the Founders of Supercede – Jerad, Jezen, and of course, me – who quit our jobs in 2019 to create the prototype reinsurance dealmaking platform known as Riskbook.

We leaned into our local reinsurance communities for guidance, with brokers and underwriters testing and refining the earliest MVP of what we hoped would, one day, become an all-in-one digital ecosystem for reinsurance practitioners. What we lacked in progress back then, we made up for in principles: firstly, that we would remain fiercely independent for maximum neutrality; secondly, that we would be an enabler, not a threat, to the important role of brokers; and thirdly, that we would focus our efforts on radically improving the daily working experience of reinsurance practitioners.

Raft builders

Our ambition was grand, and our destination, far away. But that didn’t stop us from setting to work on the raft that would take us on the first leg of our journey. Determined to prove our concept as the potential conduit for demand evident across the global reinsurance industry, our initial goal was to prove the desirability, feasibility and viability of our solution. How? We decided to build a usable prototype that we could test with our ex-colleagues and partners around the market.

To do so, we brought on our first band of software engineers: expert programmers who could collaborate remotely, and would leap at the chance to learn the ins and outs of a new, highly complex industry like reinsurance. Our remote model enabled us to prioritise talent above location, and although we did not know it at the time, it would also future-proof our team for collaborating at a distance during the global pandemic.

In the Autumn of 2019, we were able to organise our first company offsite in Belgrade, bringing together our international team of reinsurance and software specialists for the first time. Sharing knowledge was the primary objective and – as well as a software development bootcamp for Jerad and myself – the entire team (including Supercede veterans Seva, Nikita and Fedir) embarked upon an in-depth reinsurance training course. As a passion for pro rata and a love of limits spread throughout the team, alongside the kind of mutual respect that can be expected to blossom when experts of different fields meet and share their worlds, Riskbook quickly became a one-of-its-kind reinsurtech family.

Navigators

In Blitzscaling, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman describes the ‘family’ stage of company building as a ‘tiny, close-knit team with ability to only focus on product-market fit’. The next stage for us to target would be the ‘tribe’: a full team with the ability to launch a product and engage customers.

For us, this meant turning our raft into a battleship and pointing it in the right direction. Cue three key hires who enabled us to transition from Riskbook into the first iteration of Supercede.

First, our early efforts caught the attention of Paul – a former pricing actuary at Aspen Re and startup veteran with Cytora and Hokodo – who, after unveiling his vision for enhancements to Riskbook, joined our team in 2020. Channeling his first-hand frustrations of receiving unstructured and error-ridden data from cedents into product development efforts, we were able to introduce an entirely new and complementary concept to Riskbook’s emerging ecosystem: the fully digital submission pack.

Soon afterwards, we were joined by our operations mastermind, Marc. His goal was to put in place the rigour needed to sustain the kind of rapid growth that would accompany the queue of enterprise-scale clients soon knocking at our door. His accolades to-date include an onboarding process that reportedly trumps all three of the big brokers’ own systems, and a third successive year of ISO 27001 information security (re)certification.

But it would be all for nought were it not for Ellenie, the former matchmaker extraordinaire and conference-builder behind Insurtech Insights. Her first challenge: project managing a rebrand that would take us from Riskbook to Supercede, and putting us on the map, globally. In virtually no time at all, Ellenie had us invited to join seven different podcasts in (almost) as many continents, while also ensuring we appeared in every trade journal we’d ever heard of. We’re also thrilled that Ellenie will soon be delivering the first Supercede team baby!

And these three weren’t the only folks lighting a fire under our growth potential. To round off 2020, I must give a shout-out here to the legend known as Gads: his advocacy of Supercede to his extensive network was a priceless badge of honour, and in turn, gave many cedents the confidence to open up about the data challenges they had been struggling with for years.

Likewise, a hats off to our so-called intern, Ed, who worked for us for a year during his MBA after ten years of underwriting at Munich Re. Some rather useful insights there, as I’m sure you can imagine, and for Ed, an unimaginably busy schedule!

Settlers

Having landed on the map, it was time to prepare Supercede for the next stage: what Hoffman would call the ‘village’, comprising many teams with the ability to work on parallel threads and projects. To prepare for this phase, we needed leaders who could lay the foundations for critical departments that were yet to exist formally at Supercede, and that historically, had been led by the founders. I’m talking, of course, about Business Development and Product.

True to form, we found candidates for these roles with a unique blend of reinsurance and technology know-how (and a willingness to wrestle us away from doing everything ourselves!). Tom, our Head of Business Development, had spent years working with reinsurers to develop cyber products leveraging new technologies. With his fluency in both the tech and industry parlance, there’s nobody better equipped to help you through the process of procuring cutting-edge reinsurance software.

Meanwhile, on the Product side, we found an ace up our sleeves when Aydin, former Chief Technology Officer for Willis Re, decided to join Supercede. Driving the vision for Supercede’s reinsurance ecosystem, with meticulous attention to the needs of cedents, brokers and reinsurers, Aydin is taking the Supercede user experience to the next level.

Artisans

But despite their impressive credentials, there was a limit to what Tom and Aydin could achieve alone. It was time to introduce specialists to our new departments and give Supercede depth, as well as breadth.

On the Product side, this took the form of ‘Product Managers’, a role that may be unfamiliar to many in the reinsurance world, but one that sits at the heart of new product development, guiding the planning, design and implementation of every feature. In Aydin we had an expert teacher and figured, with the usual Supercede spirit, that the best strategy would be to double down on reinsurance expertise.

Thus enter two new practitioners: George, an actuarial analyst with experience both on the underwriting and broking sides of the business; and Joe, a US-based reinsurance broker and analyst with experience at two of the big three brokers. Both have learned the product management skill set with startling rapidity, and are now putting their expert insights to work through close collaboration with Supercede’s ever-expanding team of software developers.

At the same time, in the Business Development department, Tom recognised the opportunity to bring Supercede’s customer acquisition process up a gear with specialist hires in Marketing and Client Success.

If you haven’t met our marketing guru Cordy yet, it’s probably because he’s busy behind the scenes, preparing the latest episodes of The Reinsurance Podcast: a genius idea of his own creation that’s already attracted a sizeable following. You’re rather more likely to have met Jess, who is busy ramping up our client experience, from trial through to renewal.

Having helped the Whitespace platform to gain the bulk of its traction in commercial insurance, Jess has honed an astonishing ability to second-guess a client’s every need, throughout the adoption and integration journey. With a wider background in (re)insurance and eight years on the industry’s NGIN (Next Generation Insurance Network) committee, it goes without saying that Jess is a very safe pair of hands.

Cultivators

Speaking of safe hands, we should probably talk about our fabulous QA team, Natalia and Svetlana. With the support of our new Delivery Lead, Gizem, they are monitoring and testing the Supercede application with an attention to detail that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of - while in the meantime, Gizem is helping our Product and Engineering departments to chase down, and possibly overtake, the efficiency frontier.

And that’s not all. To avoid breaking the momentum of this company building narrative, I’ve neglected to mention many of the superstars who joined our steadily growing engineering and design teams at various points during our growth upwards from the family stage. Valeri, Alexey, Pavan and Tatyana have brought wizardy to our front-end, in close partnership with Rodion and his intuitive design work, while Jappie, Isaac, Luke and Mauricio have strengthened our back-end beyond belief. You are all my heroes!

Together with a few new roles on the horizon, these conscientious and hardworking cultivators will help Supercede’s reinsurance tech tribe grow into a first-of-its-kind, globally distributed reinsurance technology village. And when I say globally distributed, I mean it. Today our team spans eight different time zones, from CST (-6) to AEDT (+11): in other words, we’re literally working non-stop, around the clock, to bring incredible software to reinsurance people everywhere.

For example, I’m hugely excited by our most recent hire, Logan, who joined in January as our Director of Business Development for North America. Dealing with hurricanes first-hand over in Texas, he’s spent the last seven years at Hartford Steam Boiler, working closely with Munich Re. Let alone a village, Supercede is becoming a movement in our industry, and in true reinsurance style, it looks set to be a global one, too.

Rocket designers

In that spirit, I wanted to finish by sharing one of my happiest memories of 2021. Having also gotten engaged last year, I’m choosing my words carefully!

The setting – a yacht sailing lazily off the sunny Turkish peninsula – saw a host of Supercede superstars meet for the first time after the pandemic. We quickly forged new friendships through fun activities, tasty food and fine company, while aligning on our shared mission to build reinsurance that connects. And, although company building is the focus of this article, it is very much the team building part that earns pride of place in my happy memories jar.

The Supercede team will continue to evolve over time, and I’m grateful to everyone who has been a part of our exciting, ongoing journey from pirates to the navy, to date. Reimagining reinsurance aside, you are a fantastic bunch of humans and I cannot wait to spend time with you all again at our next offsite.

Until then!

P.S. Did you remember to follow Supercede? Quick, do it now!