Hello World: The Birth of Coya

This is the whole story behind Coya and the people who made it happen.

The story behind Coya.com: From mountains, dengue fever and a Best Marigold Hotel saying

The moment has come: we are finally live! With the launch of our home content insurance, we are laying the groundwork for our journey to offer a digital insurance that is affordable, transparent and easily accessible. The last two years have been a hell of a ride and we are so excited to just get started!

It all began two years ago in the summer of 2016 on a trip through Indonesia. The experience was amazing, I met new friends, surfed the waves of Bali and even completed my Open Water Scuba Diving course. The trip was perfect, for all but one thing: a tropical disease called “Chikungunya”. Similar to dengue fever, this disease with an unpronounceable name is spread through mosquitoes. It knocks you out flat in bed for a week at least, leaving you with nothing to do but lie there and wait.

Bali Beach during sunset
Bali Beach during sunset

The journey began…

As you can imagine, I was pretty bummed to be sick in bed and missing out on all the fun. However, what actually upset me more than catching “Chikungunya” (after all, I’m not the first backpacker to fall sick while traveling this region) was the experience I had with my insurance back in Germany. Besides seeming more concerned with selling their policy than my well-being, it also seemed virtually impossible to access my coverage from where I was. I’ll spare you the details, but the process involved a friend in Germany digging through countless papers, me sifting my way through endless terms and conditions, and hours spent on the phone trying to get a hold of the right assistant. I was feeling alone at a time of need in a distant place, and it made me wonder, why had they left me alone? It was not exactly the experience I expected after paying regular premiums, to say the least.

So that night we sat down and (one glass too many of Chilean wine) hatched out a plan.

Are we crazy?

When I told my close friend Sebastián Villarroel about this experience when I finally got back to Berlin, he wasn’t surprised. Having worked in insurance himself for many years, he knew how antiquated the industry was and why for most insurances today it was difficult to offer customers real-time support and transparent contracts. We found ourselves both fascinated by the same problem and motivated to improve it. So that night we sat down and (one glass too many of Chilean wine) hatched out a plan.

The idea seemed pretty crazy. Were we really going to build a company from scratch, let alone an insurance? We knew it would be difficult and would take years, but the seed had been planted. We wanted to build an insurance that leverages technology, with understandable, simple and fair contracts and most importantly which was always available when you needed help most.

Andrew Shaw and Christian Miele hugging
Andrew Shaw with Christian Miele, who believed and invested in Coya from the very first day

The tale of Coya

Decisions like these are not made overnight. So I took some time off to figure out whether my idea was visionary or just plain silly. Of course, as fate goes, it was while hiking on the mountain tops of Peru that I came across the tale of Coya, a South American Queen. She had been responsible for protecting her people in times of need, was the smartest and most beautiful of her people and spoke directly with them, unlike the king who had others speak on his behalf. The name seemed perfect for a company whose primary aim was to help you when you were in need.

Things went quickly upon my return. We drafted a pitch deck and within two weeks met a good friend and current investor Christian Miele at the NOAH Tech Conference. He loved the idea and after a conversation in their VC’s VW Bulli van, he offered us a term sheet to invest.

Many experts suggested we start a white label insurer, a pure sales model, which would be the ‘easier route’.

With his help we put together a team of amazing investors and mentors. Christian also introduced us to Peter Hagen, who had seen it all in insurance and had similar dreams of digitalising and improving insurance. Meanwhile, Sebastián had already left his job at a cyber security company to join our mission and good friends were helping us set up the operations. Things were off to a good start!

Llamas in the Peruvian Mountains
Rama Llama Ding Dong

Challenges ahead

Of course, things certainly weren’t easy from there. As the world turned its eyes onto InsurTech, competition and funding in the space was mounting. Many experts even suggested we start a white label insurer, a pure sales model, which would be the ‘easier route’. However, the dream was to create better insurance and not simply sell more insurance.

Our decision to secure the German BaFin license did not make things easier. As one of the most recognized but also difficult licenses to obtain in Europe, it took us 9 months and an application that spanned more than 1,000 pages to receive it. We had to explain our precise technical insurance business plan, the exact people in the exact seats, our risk management policies, labour policies, and pretty much all the details of the business — not exactly a walk in the park.

At our company we like to use the famous quote from John Lennon and the “Best Marigold Hotel”: “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end”.
Andrew Shaw on top of a mountain
Ain't no mountain high enough for Andrew Shaw!

In fact, I often found myself recalling moments where I was climbing the mountains in Peru, close to the summit, with the air getting thin, and where every step was accompanied by the thought: “Should I go down? Is this is crazy? No, I am not giving up, I just gotta keep going”. At our company we like to use the quote from the movieBest Marigold Hotel(originally from John Lennon):

Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end”. #MarigoldHotel #JohnLennon

A dream come true — but we are not there yet

Two years down the road our first major milestone has become reality. Coya is the name of our licensed insurance company with more than 60 experienced employees from 19 different countries and investors like Valar Ventures, e.ventures or LaFamiglia and many more who believe in us. As of today we are live with a B2C product that protect people’s home contents, a first product in a row to come.

Motivated to build a digital guardian for our users, we spent the past months testing and overturning concepts, finding partners, building the digital infrastructure, fine-tuning design and streamlining agile working methods between insurance, tech and startup approaches.

We know there is still a lot of work ahead, but Rome wasn’t built in a day either. Nevertheless, I often find myself astonished how much the world can change in just a couple of months. Two years ago, when I was in Indonesia, the world felt settled, the UK was still part of the EU, Trump was simply entertainment, and the augmented reality world of “Pokémon Go” a nascent trend. But the world is changing fast, for the better or worse, and in the end I believe that we need to move with it.

In our case, the feeling of having implemented something great together is what keeps us going. A new insurance for a new world. We are immensely thankful for everyone who has supported us along the way.

So, hello world — let’s get started!


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