How start-ups cured my big business boredom
Wednesday, September 26, 2012/
David Urpani doesn’t like to stay still for long. He went from being an architect to a doctor of artificial intelligence to the founder of insurance comparison giant iSelect in 2000.
Urpani, who created the technology behind the iSelect machine, departed iSelect in 2008, confessing to StartupSmart that he got “bored” once the company was well established.
Start-ups are Urpani’s passion and he’s looking to hit the big time again with Moneytribe, a new app started with co-founder Andrew Coates that allows users to enter their information to see how much people similar to them pay for various insurance products.
Last year, Urpani sold 40% of his iSelect shares to US firm Private Equity for $15.50 each. With an iSelect IPO in the offing, Urpani’s remaining stake could fetch him $9.3 million, providing enough cash to back other promising start-ups.
Urpani speaks to StartupSmart about the lessons he learned from iSelect, what he looks for in a good start-up and how he uses innovation to avoid getting bored all over again.
What attracted you to this particular start-up?
I was introduced to Andrew by a friend. He initially wanted me to invest in a start-up called Cloud Super, which was a business that would provide information for super funds via mobile phones.
The poor guy was spending his time educating the big end of town about mobile. He was having a hard time.
We kept in touch and we hit on the idea of adapting the idea to the retail consumer. Over the course of a few months, Moneytribe was born. We played ping pong with the idea for some time but, with hindsight, the business is a natural next step to iSelect.
What’s the concept behind the business?
With iSelect, we wanted to help customers make informed decisions. It was a real improvement on what went before it because it provided a one-stop shop rather than having to call around everywhere for health insurance quotes.
But times have moved on and the next thing we need to look at isn’t one-stop shops but the advice you get from people you have an affinity with.
Moneytribe takes the mythical water cooler or barbeque conversation about your car insurance and allows you to see how you compare.
It gives you an online version of bumping into someone who can say either ‘yes, that’s what I pay’ or ‘you’re being ripped off.’
You can create your own dashboard for your car insurance, health insurance and so on, and see what people in your situation are paying.
Won’t that just attract disgruntled people rather than a broad range of opinion?
It’s not about being happy to unhappy; it’s about comparing yourself to your peers. It’s a question we are all trying to tackle – are we doing well with our finances?
We’ve made a soft launch and had 200 to 300 downloads so far.
How will you monetise it?
Advice in itself doesn’t sell, but it generates, through social means, leads that we can connect with insurance providers.
It’s a bit like déjà vu from iSelect in that I’m going to the providers and we are talking about the commission structure we’ve come up with.
The question back then was always, ‘What do you know about health insurance?’ The answer then was ‘not much’, but I knew then and now how to generate leads.
There is a real hunger and desire from the industry to get leads in social ways. They are very interested and keen to find out now.
People say we are in competition with iSelect, but we aren’t. We are an aggregated, crowdsourced service that shows what people are saying. In reality, it is breaking new ground by using social capital for these leads.
You must’ve been keen to dive back into start-ups after iSelect.
I didn’t ever have a grand plan. I generally take each day as it comes. I was working on iSelect for 11 years before I left in 2008 and that’s a long time.
Basically, it became boring. It grew into a mature business with 150 to 200 people and it just didn’t hold the excitement for me that it once did.
Call it a mid-life crisis if you like, but I just wanted to do something different. I was also mindful that founders of a business always outstay their welcome, so I was keen to sell up my shares and move on.
However, that was badly timed because of the bad situation that the world economy went through in 2008, so I held out selling my shares but still left the business.
I was bored out of my brain within two weeks. I became interim CEO of a tech business and then COO of a clean tech company. And now this. The common thread is that I like start-ups, especially customer-facing ones.