As part of our interview series catching up with previous winners of the UK Tech Awards, we chat to Theo Duchen, co-CEO of Acturis, the leading insurance software as a service provider and also the 2016 winner of the ECI sponsored ‘Tech Growth Business of the Year’ award.
Hi Theo – talk us through some of the biggest changes in your business since your 2016 win?
In 2016 we’d just embarked on our international venture and since then we’ve invested in Germany, Canada, and France. We’ve gone from about 400 people in 2015 to about 820 people across 12 offices and in 6 countries. During this time revenues have doubled. We are at a point now where at least a quarter to a third of the group’s revenues are international, considerably higher than back in 2016. And hopefully we should get to 50/50 international and UK revenues soon.
Is there anything you’ve learned about international expansion along the way?
On our journey we have learned that you have to find the right acquisitions and partners to be successful, or you have to do it organically which tends to be slower. Finding the right acquisition partner takes time and patience. So, yes: you have to be very careful.
How have you seen the insurance market change in terms of adopting tech?
I think we have technology that is unique and makes brokers and insurers more efficient and digital, so there’s no shortage of potential clients who are interested in that. The industry has been a bit behind (relative to some other segments) in terms of automation, but people are now thinking about things differently to how they were thinking before the current crisis. Every broker is making investments in automation, digital channels and technology, and we tend to be a beneficiary of that.
So, you’ve found the business has fared quite well in the wake of the current crisis?
We’ve obviously felt an impact like everybody has and we have seen the impact this crisis has had on our clients. However, even in these times, we’ve continued to sign quite a few deals, and that’s because people need efficiency, automation, and a digital presence more than ever. The big issue for them is can they make the investment right now? Our transition to home working has been pretty seamless and we haven’t seen any fall in service or product quality. Just the other day we signed our largest international deal to date. It’s a huge project, and the main goal is to roll out the Acturis SaaS platform in another geography.
What advice would you give in terms of maintaining company culture as you grow through M&A?
You have to have a number of uniform and consistent processes in the business, we learned that at McKinsey. It’s not easy to do if you acquire businesses that have been run in different ways. Often the smaller the businesses you acquire the more they are a product of the previous owner.
So, whilst it’s a bad word to use, you do have to ‘institutionalise’ the business to some extent. Put in place processes for example for reviews and rewards that are consistent with all the rest of the business. And the biggest advice I’d give is, don’t make exceptions. Rules and processes need to apply universally – it’s something we’re very firm on.
What would be your best advice for a tech entrepreneur looking to scale their business?
Have a really clear aim and try not to deviate. We see a lot of entrepreneurs that don’t know quite where they’re heading. They have a hammer, and they’re in search of a nail.
In companies now, you need a great deal of domain expertise and to be crystal clear about the benefits you’re delivering. People like to say they’re ‘pivoting’, but if a company is constantly pivoting it looks to me like they don’t quite know their direction.
The other advice is that business building takes time. People don’t always appreciate that it takes a long time for most entrepreneurs to build their business properly, and I think that appreciation is getting increasingly lost.
What advice would you give to management teams who, like yourself, have had private equity involved on their journey?
We’ve had a very good experience. I’d say it’s important to pick you partners carefully. Our private equity investor, Astorg, a minority partner, have been more like a partner than a boss. I know ECI does minority investments as well, so I think you also understand that point. People need to pick their partners carefully, and the relationship has to be right. But from our experience with Astorg and previously Summit partners, I’ve got nothing but good things to say.
Find out more about the 2020 UK Tech Awards here!