A Franc story

Franc Jul 26, 2019

Before I tell you more about Franc, I thought it would be worthwhile to tell you a bit about about me. After school, I studied electrical and computer engineering at UCT and then went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship where I did my doctorate in engineering developing new technology to help doctors better identify potential risks in drug trials. I became passionate about using data to help people make better decisions.

Towards the end of PhD, I interned a product manager for Google in Zurich. However, after failing to convince them of the huge opportunity in the consumer health space, I decided to go it alone and founded two companies while moonlighting as an academic, first at Oxford and then at MIT. Both failed, sadly.

I learnt some valuable lessons:

  1. If you can’t convince people of your idea, don’t give up, build it. It’s far harder to ignore market traction than dismiss an idea.
  2. Don’t swim against a rip tide; basically, people follow incentives so don’t bet on people changing their ways unless you can realign those incentives or make the ‘decision’ default.
  3. Spend time building a great team with strengths that complement your own.

In 2015 I returned to South Africa and started working for Discovery, a global insurance firm made famous by the Vitality-based shared-value business model. I felt like a sheep amongst wolves - surrounded by actuaries and financial complexity.

Now given that I had been a student for most of my adult life, I knew I needed to make smart financial decisions with my new lush corporate salary. So I applied my mind and like any good academic I started reading. But there were so many conflicting views out there I didn’t know what to do. And the moment I presented financial advisors with a home-baked financial model of the products they were trying to sell me (which accurately unpacked the costs and net performance of those products) they ghosted me! So I decided to take another approach.

Before I left MIT I read a fascinating paper, entitled “How doctors choose to die”. As one might imagine, it is vastly different from the rest of the population. Basically, doctors value quality of life over the extension of life. So I decided to read how the Warren Buffett’s of the world manage their money. My conclusion was invest everything and self-insure as much as possible. What that means practically is prioritise investing and minimise your insurance cost by taking on as much risk as you can, basically invest for a rainy day.

So I did just that.

But then I started thinking, why don’t other people do the same:  

  1. Financial advisors are more likely to sell you something that pays them higher commission than something that benefits you.
  2. Complexity is king - financial service providers capitalise on information asymmetry.
  3. It’s just not easy to access low-cost, quality, liquid investments nor customise insurance cover.

The sad reality is that too many people don’t invest, are debt ridden and often over-insured. The trend is more financial exploitation than financial resilience. So I set out to change that.

I wanted to build a company and a brand that people will trust, with honesty and transparency at the core of our brand. We are targeting people who currently can’t (or don’t) invest, either because they don’t meet the minimum requirements or the complexity and jargon scare them off or they simply can’t be bothered trying to unpack all the noise and deal with all the paperwork.

Since we incorporated last year, I’ve been able to build a great team around me (there are now 13 of us) with skills in software engineering, design, asset management, finance, legal, accounting, compliance and actuarial science.

It’s been a hell of a ride thus far, most days I wake up energised but I won’t lie, resilience and grit are the name of the game. My advice to any would-be entrepreneurs out there, stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve and why. And surround yourself with people who complement your skills and believe in your vision.

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Thomas Brennan

Passionate about developing technology to help people live happier and healthier lives.