Meet the CEO of Ninety
Hi Dan! Super thankful to have you here. Tell me a bit about you!
I grew up in Burundi, the world's poorest country by GDP per capita, but now work in London's square mile, one of the wealthiest places on earth. The team at Ninety and I are trying to build a business that can rectify some of that imbalance. It's one of an increasing and exciting form of business called social enterprise. It's something I'm passionate about, and which we find inspires the people who join and work with us.
What sparked the light for you to get started?
For me, it was a personal change of heart: from pursuing personal wealth to pursuing social impact. I believe in business as the most sustainable and scalable way of changing things, so it was natural to build a business that could create a significant social impact. Ninety is very much a commercial business by day, but we give away 90% of our distributable profits to charitable causes, predominantly in developing countries, to address key causes of poverty. Hence the name ‘Ninety’. We've given over £250k to good causes in our first 5 years, and are targeting significant increases over the coming years.
Most of that is going to causes that try to tackle the underlying things that keep people trapped in extreme poverty. Things like unpredictability of income, or the inability to pursue education. Often, these are linked to simple things like access to clean water or affordable sanitary pads. So some of what we fund tries to deal with these issues, and at the same time we're investing in micro-finance globally, and in scaling business incubators in places like Kenya and Ghana, to stimulate the local economy and gives those populations a maximum chance of working their way into greater economic stability.
What do you think sets Ninety apart?
We take new insurance ideas to market in 60 days. No-one else can do that with such credibility, confidence and subject matter knowledge in the insurance sector. Our secret sauce is bringing Silicon Valley startup techniques and our own entrepreneurs into the big financial services corporates we work with. Ninety has won major insurance awards in the last few months for innovation and customer-centricity. We're particularly proud of some of the ground-breaking work we've done with Zurich Insurance, where we've recently helped them launch their Innovation Foundry, an internal corporate entrepreneurship programme that unlocks the whole employee base's creativity and stimulates innovative entrepreneurialism within a disciplined, fast-tracked approach to experimentation.
Cashflow is a big deal! What creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?
Ninety was self-funded, and has yet to take any form of finance. As a social enterprise, giving our profits away, we find ourselves strangely unappetising except to the most socially-conscious of lenders. If I may, a quick shout out to any socially-conscious angel investors out there: do please get in touch!
As regards working capital cycle and cash flow management, one of the best things we do is to insist on 30-day payment terms with every single one of our clients. We treat all of our clients the same in this regard, and I'd walk away from a new client relationship if they tried to insist on anything longer than that. We also manage the issuing of invoices and collection of payments very tightly. I recall working in a business years ago where someone forgot to send invoices. The staff couldn't be paid as a result. Not a path I want to ever have to tread. Keep your debtor days sub-30.
How did you conquer those moments of doubt that so often affect entrepreneurs or stop many with great ideas - what pushes you through?
We've all had those. And those who haven't just haven't traded long enough. A particular memory was a point a couple of years ago where it looked like we should throw in the towel. Were it not for wise words from Geoff, one of my trusted Directors, I probably would have done.
This is what he said: "When times are good, look ahead to much ground you still have to take. When times are bad, look back at how far you've already come." It gave me the perspective to carry on. I'm also a fan of Winston Churchill's "never give up" mantra. All true entrepreneurs resonate deeply with that. Professor Howard Stevenson of the Harvard Business School says "Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources available." Moments of doubt have got to come with that territory. Being able to handle them is the sign of an entrepreneur. I hope I'm up to the challenge when the next one arrives!
What would be your number one tip for young entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their own business?
Start sooner than I did. Don't put it off until you feel bold enough, brave enough, or ready enough. You never will. And you'll never learn as much as you do in those first few years of setting out. And a second tip, while I'm on the subject: be big, be bold, and bake purpose into your business. Think hard about why your business should be anything other than a social enterprise: if you can use a for-profits business to create strong social outcomes, why wouldn't you? The benefits of being a for-purpose business are significant. We find it significantly easier to recruit great people, and enjoy a level of warmth in our client relationships that I've not seen elsewhere. Try it!
What plans do you have for Ninety over the coming 12 months?
This year is one of significant change at Ninety. We've been selected for acceleration through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, run by the University of Oxford's Said Business School. That process is leading us as a team to re-think our focus, our plans and our investments. We'll be investing hard in marketing, events, delivery teams, and product innovation. We're expecting all that to help us reap significant rewards and, if we do, we'll be hoping to double our 90% charitable donation from 2017: that's our key motivator, since increasing our social impact is the 'Why' of our business.
The tech space is growing everyday. How do you think it will affect your industry?
Ninety sees technology in insurance as moving from being merely an "enabler of service" towards a "redefiner of products". We're at the fore-front, for example, of working with insurers to use the Internet of Things in commercial properties to fundamentally shift how commercial property managers maintain and protect their building assets. That shift from insurance being about restitution after loss, to being an active preventer of loss, is enabled entirely by evolving technologies. We're passionate about that, and about helping insurers to innovate in these areas more effectively and more quickly. Everything we do is geared around this.
What do you do to recharge?
I recharge with my young family, normally by going off into nature together, up mountains or down rivers on our canoes. Walking our dog gives me head-space, too. And a bottle of Argentinian Malbec invariably does wonders.