Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
My name is Sondre Rasch and I’m the co-founder and CEO of SafetyWing. We’re working on a global social safety net. That means that eventually we want to offer things like health, disability and pensions worldwide for people who work online as entrepreneurs, freelancers or remote workers, as a substitute for a national safety net.
Currently we have our first product live, travel medical insurance for digital nomads like ourselves. Since we launched out of Y Combinator it last year we’ve been growing an average of 30 % per month for a year and a half, and recently raised $3,5M seed funding to continue building the project.
The SafetyWing team last autumn, on the roof of our San Francisco HQ.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I was born in Bergen, the picturesque town on the west coast of Norway.
Growing up I was early interested in the internet and entrepreneurship. I played text-based massive multiplayer games online. I started a web hosting company in my room when I was 14 with a Dutch and Romanian internet-friend I met in that game, using a server in my room. It didn’t work out that well, but I learned a lot, like the need to build a differentiated product to avoid competing on price. My parents had little knowledge of what I was doing.
Solve a problem you have, and care about.
I started another company when I was 18, which aimed to recruit high-skilled people from Romania to Norway, right after the EU expansion. I learned then the perils of having a business model that was reliant on a market being in a boom, as when the financial crisis hit, the market completely disappeared.
After that I left the world of computers for a few years when I was drafted to the Norwegian military as a sharpshooter. I became interested in society and politics, and decided to study economics and run for election. I ran a campaign when I was 20 and we managed to get 7 young people elected to the city council in my hometown. This is the closest thing to a startup, that isn’t a startup, that I’ve ever done. After my studies I worked a few years as a policy advisor for the Norwegian government, working on labour and social policy. I was disillusioned by how slow the government works, and decided to return to my roots and start a startup with a friend from college.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I always had entrepreneurship in my heart. So one day in the cafeteria at the parliament I had a visit by that old friend from college. We talked about how what we really should be doing with our lives is to start a startup and move to San Francisco. It was during that lunch, that we came up with the idea for what became Konsus.com.
I started Konsus part-time, but it worked out surprisingly well. After some months I decided to quit my job, which was a surprisingly scary thing to do. Shortly after I achieved my years-old dream of joining Y Combinator. In Konsus I learned a ton of things about building a company and hiring good people, but perhaps most importantly the importance of building a great product first before trying to scale it.
In Konsus we had freelancers all over the world, we wanted to provide them benefits, but no one offered it. This was the moment I realised there was a huge gap here. At first I tried to get someone else to start a company to solve this problem for over a year. I was unsuccessful. In the end we figured we had to build it ourselves. So I left Konsus to build it, and that became SafetyWing.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’ve been quite surprised how well the first product was received. To this day our main acquisition channel remain word-of-mouth, together with an affiliate-program, which thankfully makes our customer acquisition cost is very low. We have decided against running paid ads so far.
We earn a fixed share of what the customers pays, which ensures that our incentives are aligned with those of our customers.
We are a 12-person team that works remotely using Slack and Sococo, with an additional 8 people part-time. We have a Monday-meeting where everyone updates on what they are doing, and a creative Thursday-meeting where we build the company together.
Right now our big focus-area is the upcoming launch of our next flagship product Remote Health, a global health insurance for remote teams. We are very excited about this product, and look forward to the challenges of serving startups instead of just individuals.
Our main long-term goal is simply to complete our product vision. We have a very ambitious product vision, and so we need a lot of scale and knowledge simply to get there, which we hope to do in less than 5 years. So far we are more or less on track.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In each of my entrepreneurial ventures I have learned the hard way, by doing something very wrong.
In the web hosting product, I learned the importance of making a differentiated product and brand. By trying to sell something that was the same as everyone else, I discovered that when you do that, you end up competing on price until there are no margins left, and the product becomes very difficult to sell.
In the recruiting product, I learned the importance of having a long-term business model. By basing our business model on a regulatory change and business cycle phenomenon, we found that while it might be easier in the short-term, it doesn’t last. Better to build something that would last forever.
In the freelancer team product, I learned that the right sequence to build a product in, is to first make something people want, and then scale it. By scaling the product while still getting the product right, we made things a lot more difficult for ourselves than it needed to be.
I also learned one more thing in a project that was never launched, and that is the importance of solving a real and important problem for real people. I didn’t realise fully how easy it is to fool yourself. And that the only way to be sure, is to solve a problem I myself have, and make a product I myself would buy if it existed.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Slack for text communication, Sococo for video conferencing and Notion for internal knowledge sharing. These are the tools I would absolutely recommend to others as well. We also use Bonsai and Gusto for contracts and payments, and G Suite for all the things G Suite does.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential book to me that I recommend everywhere is The Beginning of Infinity by the physicist David Deutsch. This book is worth reading for anyone who is intellectually curious about how the world works. But most importantly for founders it shows scientifically the case for optimism, why the right attitude to have is that you’ll always have problems, but that all problems are solvable with the right knowledge, within the laws of physics.
A podcast I listen to that I think deserves more listeners is Julia Galef’s Rationally Speaking podcast. I always learn something new there, which ends up being useful in surprising and unforeseen ways. I also listen to Y Combinator’s startup school episodes as well as Masters of Scale, which are great for startup insights.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Well my top advice is, don’t make the same mistakes I did. If you take the lessons I wrote above, you can save yourself a lot of grief.
TL;DR: Solve a problem you have, and care about. Make a new product you would actually buy, and think is cool. Better to make something 100 people love, than something a million think is kind of nice. Start with a new and small market, then expand once you are big there. Use words people understand and get to the point. In the beginning, focus on building your product and talking to users, and nothing else. Grow organically by customers recommending the product to their friends, that’s when you know you’ve made something that works.
And also be a good person, be honest and authentic both with your marketing and investor pitches, the brand and reputation from having integrity will be worth more than any short-term gain you lose from it.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.safetywing.com
- Twitter: srasch
- Instagram: nomadcities
- Facebook: safetywing
- Reddit: safetywing
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!