September 14, 2020

Why We Are Building the First Health Insurance for Remote Startups

Sondre Rasch

Tell us a little about you (name, age, country, job before starting a company) and what you are working on

My name is Sondre Rasch and I’m 32 years old and from Norway. Before SafetyWing I was founder of another company now called SuperSide. But before I venture into startups I was a policy advisor for the government of Norway.

With SafetyWing we’re working on building a global social safety net as a membership. This means things like health, disability and pensions available globally for remote workers. We started building this because we’re a remote company ourselves, and saw that remote work was taking off, but the old national systems for a safety net doesn’t work in the new world.

SafetyWing

What does education mean to you? Do you have any educational qualifications?

I think it is helpful to learn a lot, but that learning can be done separately from education as well. I think the main thing education means for people though is credentials, or signalling to employers and others how employable they are.

I think in the modern age this sort of signalling can be gotten cheaper elsewhere. This is especially true in the United States of course, where education is very expensive. There are now some programs coming out of Silicon Valley like Lambda School that seems to understand the credential part of education well, but are doing it in a way that is much less costly than the traditional Universities.

For us as a company though we don’t put much weight on credentials. One of our best developers is a nineteen year old who hasn’t studied anything, and we don’t give credentials weight in the hiring process. There are just other signals that are better, like doing test tasks.

For my part I studied economics mostly. I’m quite happy about that frankly. In Norway it’s free, and I’m also very interested in the subject matter so I would read a lot even outside of the curriculum. And even if I didn’t learn much in the subjects themselves I would use later, I met many good friends and I probably needed those years to figure myself out anyway.

What moment or experience inspired you to start your own business?

It’s hard for me to remember a time before I knew I wanted to be a startup founder. I was as young, 12 or 13 I think, when I first started working on my first startup with two friends from the internet, which became the web hosting company SolidHost. What I was particularly interested in, in the year preceding that was programming and also philosophy. One moment might have been when I was reading through a website called HotScripts, which was collections of semi open source PHP scripts I was looking to use for my alliance in a MMORPG game called Planetarion. In looking through these peoples websites I got inspired to make a product of my own.

Anyway, after high school I had some years where I got interested in politics and policy instead. But I always knew I would return to startups, and I did with SuperSide 2 years after college.

I very much remember the day I decided to quit my job to start a company. I had just gone for a walk where I realized it was time. But at the time I didn’t yet have a plan. So quitting my job would have been a reckless step into the unknown. I then went to the cinema and watched this movie Walter Mitty. There’s a scene in the movie where he’s in Iceland, and this drunk helicopter Pilot is about to take off, and the song plays in the background. In the end he decides to run for it even though it is very reckless and in a lot of ways stupid, becuse he has to complete his adventure. And that was the moment I decided to do it.

As fate would have it though the next day I got an offer to be policy advisor for the government of Norway. So instead I started my first company part-time, which in retrospect was a much better idea then quitting my job without a plan.

Describe the process of starting and launching the business.

With my first company SuperSide it was my first time, so I really had no idea what to do. The only redeeming quality looking back was that both my cofounder and I had a strong tilt towards speed and fast decisions. This turned out to be what saved us I think, because we had never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for moving so quickly that we got through all the wrong ways rapidly.

With SafetyWing it was a lot different because I had done it once before, so I had a much clearer picture of what to do. I was a lot calmer because I sort of knew exactly the steps I had to get through, and perhaps most importantly what was important (product people want and great team) and what wasn’t (everything else).

Safetywing team

Did you ever doubt yourself or face any significant challenges along the way?

Sometimes in startups there often seem to be little else except significant challenges. One enormous one I thankfully didn’t realize before we started SafetyWing was how hard it was to get a global insurance product to market for a startup. Had I known how unlikely it was that I might not have done it. But this is one area where not knowing what was possibly probably helped me, I just tried 71 different methods in parallel and by a great stroke of luck one of them worked out through a series of fortunate events and some very good helpers.

When it comes to doubting myself I’m not so sure however. It certainly is very painful to go through all the rejections you get when fundraising. But I can’t say that I often doubt myself though. I generally have this positive optimistic attitude that all problems are solvable, and that I can figure it out. And in many ways that’s all I need, even if I don’t know how I’m going to solve some catastrophic problem, I’m always fairly confident that there is a way, and that I’m the kind of person who can find it.

If so, how did you overcome the self-doubt and make your idea a reality?

Well so self-doubt isn’t one I experience much. But I do remember being super worried when I was about to actually quit my job and work full-time on my startup. Mostly because I didn’t have a plan for how to make money. I remember the way I overcame that fear was to make a decision of when I would quit, that was the key turning point. Only then did I actually start planning to increase my runway, cutting costs and getting a freelancer income.

How are you doing today and what does “success” look like for your company five years from now?

SafetyWing is doing surprisingly well, which I am very thrilled about. We’ve been growing 20-30 % monthly on average since we graduated from Y Combinator almost two years ago now.

Success five years from now looks like a completed product. Since SafetyWing’s product end-state is so difficult, being able to complete it would be a success. That would mean we have succeeded in building a global social safety net as a membership that really is the best social safety net ever made.

In terms of customer acquisition, what is working? How do you attract and retain them?

We grow so far mostly by word-of-mouth (2/3rd) and the rest is our affiliate/influencer-program where we do sponsorships for people to either review our product or recommend it if they think it’s good.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the core YC slogan is the one I think about the most, which is to make something people want. And that you do that by talking to users and building your product. It’s better to make something a few people love, than many people kind-of like. Secondly on how to find a good product, to solve your own problem. If you want to buy your product, you know you’re working on something real. And then you grow when your product is so good that customers spontaneously tell their friends.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Sococo for video conferencing. Slack for chat. Notion for internal knowledge sharing. Gsuite.

What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

For sure you have to read Paul Graham’s essays and the YC startup school videos. I’d also recommend reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel for the basics there. For attitude though I loved reading the book Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman when I was early.

Advice for professionals who want to get started or are just starting out?

Start looking for good co-founders and great ideas today. Start it as a side-project and try to get something live before spending any money. Don’t wait, and make all decisions on the spot, everything can be changed later.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes we’re currently hiring for both head of sales and head of partnerships.

Where can we go to learn more about you and your business?

For sure check out SafetyWing.com, and perhaps read the blog post we wrote about our project before we launched: Why We Are Building A Global Safety Net.