How meeting one of Britain’s richest men changed the life of this insurance boss
PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 November 2019
Her Sicilian dad ran a garden centre in Norfolk and her mum helped set up the Keeping Abreast charity. But this boss got her big break after a meeting with one of the richest men in Britain. Caroline Culot spoke to Pikl’s Louise Birritteri.
It was the meeting of a lifetime when Miss Birritteri got invited to a one-to-one. like something out of Dragon's Den, with the major entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, Sir Peter Wood.
But she never expected what would happen at the end of her meeting over coffee with the founder of Direct Line and Esure and one of the richest men in the country.
"I was excited to get a meeting with him at one of his houses, it was a really nice place and he was very welcoming," she said. "My expectation was I didn't think he would have read anything about my business but he had completely read everything and he cut straight to the point, he threw some questions at me, and we talked for a couple of hours. He then agreed to invest on the spot."
Miss Birritteri needed major investment to help scale her business and had successfully attracted finance from other CEOs and bankers. But she had needed more.
"He closed our funding round for us, it was a significant amount, our final fundraising was £2.5m including the introduction to private equity firm Bain - I ended up with two great investors.
"At the time, it didn't feel like it was make or break, I felt privileged to have got an introduction, I didn't have any expectation that he would invest, I just thought it was a chat, I didn't think he would come out with an investment, it was very Dragon's Den."
Miss Birritteri grew up with parents who worked seven days a week running the Overstrand Garden Centre, near Cromer and her mum co-founded the hugely successful Keeping Abreast charity, helping women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer and facing the possibility of mastectomy. Miss Birritteri went to school at Gresham's and studied maths at the UEA, dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. But after deciding she wanted to make more money, she started her first job working for Aviva in their finance teams, learning the art of predicting when someone is going to make a claim while also training to be an accountant.
Over a decade, she learned the art of developing, essentially, a start up in a big company when she helped with Aviva's the acquisition of the RAC and later its disposal - and when it was sold off, she moved to Bristol to continue the work under private equity. "People think insurance is dull but what I was doing was working out how to make a company profitable, being responsible for the pricing of premiums is at the heart of how an insurance firm is going to make money and if you don't get it right you can have a lot of big losses. So it really is not dull," she said.
She later worked for Sainsbury's setting up its insurance pricing division and then the Co-op, heading up a large team as contract head of pricing and it was commuting from Norwich to Manchester that she came up with the idea for her own business.
"I was getting stuck in hotels and a colleague said: 'Have you tried getting an Airbnb instead?' It was 2015 and quite new but when I looked into the insurance side of things, there was really no coverage, places you were staying in weren't properly protected."
"We had been talking about starting up our own business but you don't want to start insurance in a mass market, you need your own niche, so I researched the sharing economy, I really liked this community, the way it was growing."
She then started up Pikl, inspired by the idea you need insurance to get you out of a jam, while 'preserving' your precious items, working out of her dining room and basing the entire concept of the business on Airbnb-type platforms. "We were ahead of the rest and I think we still are. For any type of letting less than six months in your primary residence or a second home, there are few insurance policies out there to comprehensively cover you. Less than 30% of hosts have told their insurance providers and they don't realise they can be voiding their insurance policies. People don't know if they start doing Airbnb that they need to ring up their insurers and if they don't they are at risk of not having the right insurance in place if something goes wrong."
But like any big idea, the threat of competition was real and Louise realised she either had to "go big or go home." She needed £2m to scale the business sufficiently and so in mid 2018 began an exhausting round of around 200 fundraising meetings, culminating in the meeting with Sir Peter.
His investment enabled Louise to grow Pikl which now employs more than 20 people as well as move into their offices on St George's Street in Norwich and she is now looking to expand globally as well as expanding her sharing product to include the motor trade too.
"I feel we are just on the edge of things, we've only just started promoting ourselves this year and the funny thing is that, although we have been going for three years, and for 18 months I worked every weekend and every night, because we were in the pilot stage earlier, I get so many people saying to me: 'Wow, you've been an overnight success.'
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