Insurtech startup expands rapidly in US and clinches US$3m investment

Melbourne-based startup, handdii, is an insurance-technology (insurtech) phenomenon. In just three years, handdii’s online marketplace for small claims has transformed how people manage insurance policy repairs.

To help the company accelerate into the US market, Austrade provided one-on-one support, including:

  • Advising handdii on their go-to-market strategies for the US
  • Guiding the founders through a US capital raise and introducing them to venture capital (VC) funds
  • Mentoring the founders as they scaled their operations in Texas and California.

Co-founder and CEO, Christie Downs, says that audacious growth plans have paid off. In June 2021 the company gained US$3 million in venture capital to fund expansion across the US.

‘We had a genuinely unique selling proposition and we wanted to take it global – fast,’ says Christie. ‘The one-on-one support we got from Austrade was absolutely outstanding.’

To find out more about how to take your insurtech or fintech global, please contact Austrade.

Small Australian fintech makes big changes to insurance claims

handdii is an online platform that connects insurance claimants to qualified repairers and to their insurers. What makes handdii unique is that it enables someone with a small insurance claim to work simultaneously with the insurer (who bears the cost) and a contractor (who executes the work).

An online forum for each case called a ‘chat storyboard’ makes three-way communications transparent – and that’s a game-changer.

‘Our tool puts the customer back in charge,’ says Christie. ‘We make it easy to manage everything from the claim to repair work so that communications are transparent and works are authorised.’

Huge potential for fast-moving insurtech startups in the US

A brief trip to the US in 2019 made the founders realise that there was a golden opportunity to take the idea across the Pacific – if they acted fast.

‘We took part in a US accelerator in Connecticut and that experience showed us that we had potential in the US market,’ says Christie.

The tech company quickly found its first US-based client and a pilot in Texas proved customer demand.

But even when both founders relocated, the challenges of a US rollout were huge. Melbourne-based handdii would only succeed in the US if it expanded quickly. That meant establishing a business in the US and creating a contractor network at breakneck speed. To do that, they needed advice, contacts and investment.

How Landing Pads helped in the US

In February 2020, Christie began an intensive Landing Pads program with Austrade in San Francisco.

‘We had virtual sessions with experts including lawyers, accountants and go-to-market specialists,’ says Christie. ‘These sessions helped us with the “how to” challenges of scaling up.

‘Also we had mentoring sessions from an entrepreneur-in-residence. We talked about the stage we were at and how to adapt our contractor-recruitment process.’

Part of the mentoring included a virtual sales and marketing bootcamp. This helped to prime Christie for the day-to-day challenges of selling a new solution in a vast market like the US.

‘The Landing Pad gives you support from a friendly contact – and that’s a big value-add,’ she says. ‘You get direct support from someone that just wants to help you succeed and wants to help you grow.’

Austrade helps handdii to connect with venture capital

One form of mentoring that proved vital concerned venture capital (VC). Rapid expansion required cash. So finding an investor was a key challenge.

The San Francisco Landing Pad adviser and the Austrade entrepreneur-in-residence together provided guidance and advice to handdii throughout its US capital-raising journey.

‘The Austrade team guided us through the VC process and their advice was always practical,’ says Christie. ‘The mentor helped us refine our pitch, curate a target list of investors and build a forecasting model. They also helped us to practice our pitch so it met US tech standards.’

Austrade also advised on the etiquette of how to communicate with potential VCs and how best to follow up. By mid-2020, Austrade contacts helped generate introductions to 5 VCs that in-turn led to many others.

‘The one-on-one support we got from Austrade was absolutely outstanding,’ says Christie.

In June 2021, handii’s efforts paid off. The company announced a US$3 million investment led by Silicon Valley-based Brick & Mortar Ventures, with participation from Chicago based Nine Four Ventures and Australia-based Scale Investors and Fifty-Second Celebration.

This marked the first institutional round for handdii. It will enable handdii to ramp up its expansion plans and expand across the US.

Top tips for fintechs: go fast and don’t be afraid of VC

Christie encourages tech startups with a unique idea and product-market fit to consider scaling rapidly in the US. And she encourages other insurtechs and fintechs to partner with Austrade.

‘The venture capital firms in the US are really very friendly,’ she says. ‘There are so many and they support each other.’

And Christie confirms there is genuine openness to Australian tech scaleups in US markets.

‘Just be true to your values in foreign markets,’ she says. ‘Trying to be what they are after isn’t the key.

‘We found being our authentic selves made the difference: everyone loves an Aussie.’

Go further, faster with Austrade

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