One year ago, I could never have imagined that I’d be living and working Accra, collaborating with a local insurtech startup in addition to juggling school and personal projects. In the one week I’ve been here, together with Insurerity’s founder, Richard Adarkwah, I’ve analyzed Ghana’s national insurance industry, broken down software-as-a-service cost models, pitched to potential clients, and discovered the addictive drive that comes with building a business from the ground up.
What I love about my work is that I get to brainstorm ideas, refine the business’s strategy, and constantly interact with brilliantly minded entrepreneurs who are just as eager to innovate, disrupt and make things happen! I’m a big believer in learning by doing – and so far, the aXd program has given me the opportunity to do exactly that.
Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Even though I’ve lived in 7 countries, adjusting to a new place takes time. Accra is a bustling city that never stops moving. At the crack of dawn, “trotros” can be heard speeding down the highways. Sundays are filled with the sound of energetic church services in full swing. On the roadsides, the informal economy thrives: young and old are peddling their wares – from warm, deep-fried bofro to fresh, whole coconuts. As a visitor, your challenge is to adapt, explore and appreciate the experiences and lessons this place has to offer.
If the last 7 days are anything to go by, I can’t wait to discover more!
This week was all about pivoting and adapting. I came to Accra to work with Insurerity on refining their business model as an insurtech startup. In the last few days, we’ve realized that the product we want to offer – an online aggregator for Ghana’s insurance industry – might not be the product that the market needs right now.
Richard and I have spent countless hours pitching to potential clients and getting advice from industry experts. What we’ve concluded is that there is a huge gap in the market for insurance software. This means back-end and front-end systems that simplify business processes, are more client friendly, and facilitate data-driven management.
The advantage of working on a tech product is that being agile is relatively easy – you don’t face massive sunk costs and sometimes, giving a client what they want is as straightforward as changing a few lines of code. This is where we currently find ourselves. Ghana’s insurance industry is ripe for digital solutions that help them reach their clients better – and that’s exactly what Insurerity has to offer.
Do, don’t say
One thing I love about working with Insurerity is that our small team is flexible and efficient. We have one developer who works remotely, one person doing sales, another handling finance, and then Richard and I leading business development. As we’ve incorporated feedback over the last few days, it’s been wonderful to see how fast new ideas get implemented. There is a general “can-do” attitude that I think other work cultures have a lot to learn from.
Do I ever get frustrated? Yes! I’m used to an action-oriented approach – I cut to the chase and want to discuss results. Sometimes, however, I find that far more emphasis is placed on relationship-building with clients. What seems “inefficient” to me might just be a different way of doing things, and I’m learning to be patient with that while still challenging my colleagues to reach for more.
Every meeting, interaction and task is a learning opportunity on both sides. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone, but I’ve also felt empowered to lead where I know have something to offer. There is so much value in learning to work with people from different backgrounds and in different contexts. Now more than ever, our world needs people who can bridge these gaps – and right now, it feels incredibly meaningful to be doing just that!
It’s week 3 in Accra, and Richard and I are learning fast that doing business with a traditional sector that has historically been slow to adapt is no easy task.
We’ve been pitching to both brokers and insurance providers with our software model. To put things in perspective, most providers still use manual processing and don’t have a digital client front-end or an all-in-one back end for managing business processes. In 2018, the industry saw a 318% increase in customer complaints. The national penetration rate dropped to <1 %. Talk about a tough environment.
We’re moving fast with one potential client, but this week we realized there were a whole lot of gaps we still needed to fill. For example:
- Creating a software agreement. Thankfully, the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Ghana (AHK) has been really helpful in providing us with legal services.
- Ironing out a complete project plan. Right now, we’re using Trello to manage product-related tasks.
- Thinking about hiring and compensation. When your startup is a smaller than five person team, you suddenly realize that landing your first major client requires additional hands.
In other words, you might have a great minimum viable product, but the magic really lies in execution. Are we nervous? Yes. But we have wonderful support from the likes of AHK and Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed startup accelerator.
Is it all work though?
To be quite honest, most of my time in Ghana has been taken up with juggling the work I’m doing for Insurerity and university coursework. It hasn’t always been easy. But I also came into this knowing that it certainly wasn’t a holiday. One highlight this past weekend was visiting Bojo Beach and Krokrobite, two hotspots for relaxing in the sun, wading in the water and eating fresh fish by the seashore. I’ve accepted that sometimes, experiencing the bustling work life in other countries is just as rich – if not, more – as the standard “tourist experience”. You get to see what it’s really like living in a place on a day-by-day basis, so no regrets here.