There’s no direct route to success. Just ask Aldo Monteforte, CEO and Co-Founder of The Floow, a telematics company that found its true calling via a few unexpected diversions. “I’ve been involved with this industry for the last 15 years and in fact The Floow is my second initiative in this space,” recalls Aldo. “The first was a company called Cobra Automotive Technologies. We worked to manufacture car alarms, but the problem then was establishing how to recover the car once it had been stolen.”
To solve this new problem, Aldo and his Cobra team created technology that would recover a car in the event of a theft, by installing boxes containing a GPS device detectable by satellite positioning systems. “In a period of five years, Cobra went from a non starter to what is still today the leading provider in Europe of stolen vehicle recovery services,” he explains, describing what for most companies would be a picture of success. But that’s not the end of his story.
“As I became more familiar with this market, it became apparent that stolen vehicle recovery was very much a niché area, typically addressing very expensive cars,” he continues. “Really, I was looking for ways to bring telematics into the mass market. The idea that formed in my mind back then was, ‘what if we could understand the behaviours of drivers and sell this data to insurance companies who would typically charge a premium for a motor insurance policy?’. If we became good at that, we could enable insurers to price according to behaviour instead of other proxies like postcode or gender.” Immediately, Aldo and his team hit two brand new issues: hardware cost and the handling of excessive amounts of data. “The Floow came about with the very clear objective of addressing these two powerful obstacles,” he says.
“We addressed hardware cost by designing The Floow to be completely device agnostic, which means we can gather data from any device out there, including smartphones,” explains Aldo. “We built unique, very robust smartphone-based telematics applications that turn popular smartphones into powerful mobility sensors, therefore the smartphone becomes a black box. The second factor was addressed by centering the company from the start around a team of data and computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, actuaries and psychologists who had all contributed and continue to help build the products and services we deliver,” he says. It’s a technique that worked, and worked well. It wasn’t long before The Floow had found itself on the radar of insurance giant Direct Line.
“After three or four meetings it became apparent that we had the type of technology they had been looking for,” says Aldo, recalling his first meetings with Direct Line back in 2012. “They became willing to experiment with our product and one year later we won the Global Telematics Tender. Today we are a key strategic partner of Direct Line, managing all data generated from their telematic policies, and one important consequence of this relationship has been Direct Line’s 15% investment in the company,” he adds.
Such success wouldn’t have been possible if The Floow hadn’t allowed itself to be flexible and roll with the punches, something that Aldo feels is a crucial component of any SME. “I think that the genetics of start-ups is that they are flexible,” he suggests. “Startups work really hard to get themselves off the ground by crafting a novel solution to an existing problem. The only way a young organisation can gain credibility with large established clients, who typically are very risk averse, is to show that the technology they develop is superior to anything they can find and achieving that superiority requires a huge amount of flexibility,” he says. “Fortunately large players are also very entrenched and inflexible and tend to be a little late in responding to needs. That’s the function that organisations like us can play in the ecosystem.”
Of course, a little support is also needed. The Floow received £75,000+£83,689 from our Business Loans Fund, something which helped greatly during the times when revenues were just starting to come in. “The capital provided was very useful. We used that money to accelerate the hiring of some early resources which helped us to solidify and strengthen the product and eventually get more revenue from clients,” says Aldo. Cut to 2014 and the future is undoubtedly bright for Aldo and The Floow, as bigger business and bigger goals await. “What we’re building is a global provider of telematics technology. What I hope the future will present to us is a continued growth trajectory as we engage with more clients globally and share with them the benefits that telematics can bring to their operations in terms of improving their ability to understand and communicate to their customer base.”