Nigel Fellowes-Freeman is the founder and CEO of Kanopi, an insurtech that uses data-driven insights, embedded within the platforms people already use and love to provide relevant and timely insurance offerings. Originally from Hampshire in the UK, Nigel is no stranger to the entrepreneurial path – though he had an unconventional start. We caught up with Nigel about his journey from physiotherapist to founder, the lessons he’s learnt along the way and his advice for other founders out there.
You’ve had an interesting journey so far. You started off in physiotherapy before making the jump to startups. How did that change come about?
It’s a pretty big jump! But in my mind, it’s more similar than you might think because it really all boils down to problem-solving.
I’ve always been very inquisitive and interested in solving problems; as a child, I loved to take things apart and put them back together. I think that’s what drew me to physiotherapy after uni; it’s a physio’s job to figure out the best treatment plan to alleviate someone’s pain.
It was during this time that I started to dabble in startups on the side. It led me to realise that starting a company really isn’t all that different: founders identify problems and seek the most efficient way to solve them. As much as I loved the impact I had on my patients as a physio, I realised that I’m most motivated by having a big and positive impact on the world and starting companies allows me to do that.
What about being a founder excites you the most?
Being a naturally curious person, I love being able to work with a group of people to solve problems that we really care about and that can have a direct impact on the world. Our team at Kanopi is driven by the idea that insurance, when done right, can have a positive effect on society. It removes those everyday worries or stressors and ultimately allows people to focus on what matters most to them.
You’ve worn the founder hat a few times before. Are there any standout learnings you’ve picked up over the years that have shaped your approach with Kanopi?
We recently pivoted from Expense Check, which focused on using data to help SMBs make cost-effective decisions, to Kanopi, which saw us zero in on the insurance side of things. Going through this process as a sole founder – and a non-technical one at that – was challenging. I leaned on folks like Folklore, our board and mentors to help me see the bigger picture – such as “where do we want this business to go in the next five years?” – to feel confident in my decisions.
There were several lessons I drew upon during this time, which I always keep in my back pocket really. A key learning I’ve picked up is to strive for authenticity and openness, both with yourself and your team. The more open and honest you are with your team, the more you’ll be able to achieve together. This also helps to combat imposter syndrome and the pressure you might feel to prove yourself to everybody all the time. Another important thing I have come to realise is that as a founder, you’ll always have good days and hard days. But the lows are never as bad as you may think.
Strive for authenticity and openness, both with yourself and your team. The more open and honest you are with your team, the more you’ll be able to achieve together
Your team is distributed across a few time zones at the moment – which has no doubt been made more challenging by the pandemic. Do you have any wisdom to impart to other founders looking to manage teams and maintain company culture and values across different markets?
Our team is at 14 now and we’re currently spread across Australia, Singapore and the UK. It’s been challenging, but we’ve prioritised our internal communications and collaboration. Work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone, so we try to ensure that we use people’s time effectively and give them the tools they need to work how and when they can. For instance, I send around pre-recorded video updates that the team can watch on their own time. Once a week, we do an all-hands meeting to get everyone in the same room (or Zoom).
We’re very open about our vision, mission and core values with our team and are constantly bringing it back to the “why are we doing this?” It helps to stay motivated when you remind yourself what you’re a part of and why it matters to the world.
Another tip is to plan social events throughout the week where team members can drop in at any point of time that suits their schedules. Eventually, when we can, we’ll plan to bring everyone together once a year for a full team, in-person offsite.
Do you have any good book and podcast recommendations?
I recently read Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. It’s a really fast read and easy to execute immediately.
My favourite podcast is Masters of Scale by Reed Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. It's a great resource for people working in startups. If there’s anything you might be curious about, it’s very likely that he’s probably interviewed someone who is an expert in that area.
What's your grounding place?
At two o’clock in the morning, on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean when the moon is shining above you, the water around you is completely still and there’s this gleaming trail of phosphorescence following the boat...
Who would you love to sit next to at a dinner party?
I’ve never met my grandmother on my mum’s side, so I think it’d be really nice to meet somebody that’s in your family who you never got the chance to get to know and have only seen in photos. On the other hand, I think Martin Luther King Jr. would be super interesting. I’m fascinated by his passion and belief, as well as everything that went on in that era of time.
Is there any other advice you’d give to founders?
You’ll have good days and hard days but always celebrate every small win. Do whatever it takes to stay in the game… or to not run out of money!
Keen to work with Nigel and the Kanopi team? Check out their open roles here.
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