Written by Andrew Seale
Abstraction aside, nothing quite validated Danish Yusuf’s small business insurance startup quite like trying to find small business insurance for his startup Zensurance.
Phone tag, stacks of forms filled out by hand and faxed to brokers, followed by massive 60 to 70 page insurance contracts to sift through – it was a mystifying process even for someone who has spent the past couple of years navigating the jargon-heavy world of insurance, says Yusuf.
“I could make do but the average person, I don’t know how they would,” says the entrepreneur. “It was a time consuming, arduous process and my policy was only $500 at the time I bought it, we had no employees, no operations, no revenue, no customers or office – imagine what it’s like for a slightly more complicated business… that was validation that this was real opportunity.”
Mind you, Yusuf didn’t delve into Zensurance, a platform that uses data analytics to curate and recommend appropriate insurance packages for different types of small businesses, just on the grounds of his own challenges. It was a survey he worked on while consulting for McKinsey and Co. that first enlightened him to small businesses and their insurance woes.
The common theme was that they needed something simpler to purchase and manage their insurance.
“Small business owners don’t have time to play phone tag between nine and five, they’re busy running their own business,” he says. “I want to allow them an opportunity to quote, purchase, manage – do everything insurance related when they way to.”
He brought the idea to Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and joined the incubator in February 2016.
“(The DMZ) is a really good community, everyone is quite helpful – if you’ve got technical questions there’s a ton of other founders here willing to help and if you need advice on the business side, the executive director literally has an open door policy,” says Yusuf. “Pancake Wednesday, Good Scotch Friday, Beer nights – it creates that community that you just can’t do in your own office.”
Zensurance also gleaned insight from Ryerson Futures – the investment wing of the DMZ – when they were fundraising for their seed round. In October they won first place and $25,000 at the DMZ and BMO’s Next Big Idea in FinTech competition and in November they closed a seed round of $1 million dollars, led by Ferst Capital Partners.
He’s also found unlikely support through the insurance community.
“I grew up in Toronto (but) I was surprised at how strong the network here was – investors… lots of talent,” he says. “(And the) insurance community, it started right from the beginning as a partnership – Intact and Aviva who are our partners – I didn’t know them before I started doing this (but) within two weeks of our first meeting we had an agreement in place… I’m very impressed with how quickly they move.”