Jean-Charles Velge is the co-founder of Qover, the InsurTech company he co-founded with Quentin Colmant in 2016. Today, Qover delivers insurance solutions covering 1.9 million people in about 32 countries. Their promise? “Keep it simple, transparent, and accessible.” We got together with Jean-Charles to discuss the future of entrepreneurship and technology.
Jean-Charles, what has been the most significant development in the BE/EU entrepreneurial ecosystem in the last 10 years, according to you?
Clearly that entrepreneurship has gone mainstream. Ten years ago, starting a business was a niche thing, something people did in San Francisco.
That’s no longer the case. It’s more fashionable, in a good way. More young people see it as a career path, and there is more recognition for entrepreneurship that didn’t exist previously. That also applies to the idea that entrepreneurial ideas should be allowed to fail, which lowers the entry threshold.
Entrepreneurship has become a legitimate career track. Let’s say you want to become a strategic consultant. Today, starting your career as an entrepreneur will probably increase your chances of making it through the selection by a factor ten.
And the ecosystem is becoming a lot more mature and bigger. When we raised €1.5 million in seed capital in 2016, that was exceptional. Today it has become mainstream. Who would have thought this ten years ago?
So I think looking back, Cresco detected a huge trend very early on.
How do you feel about the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem today in BE/EU?
I’m optimistic that in the next five to ten years, growth will continue. Tech is here to stay, and talent will go where it can grow, namely in tech and entrepreneurship. I’m convinced that technology will continue to bring jobs and innovation. It’s a very fundamental trend, and I think it will last.
It used to be that big companies drove innovation. Today that’s no longer true. The entrepreneurship wave is fundamentally being driven by three things: lower barriers to entry than ever before, easier access to capital, and easy scaling in the cloud. These three things will continue over the next ten years.
Compared to France, I think we have a lot of room to grow in Belgium. In Paris, there’s this amazing, rich ecosystem with large enterprises, scale-ups and political support. Macron has really boosted the ecosystem by drawing the attention of the economic players on the tech sector.
In Belgium, more could be done on the political level, and universities should also push more people towards entrepreneurship. We do have the talent, and people are interested in tech, but we still seem more risk averse than in some other countries.
What we do have in abundance is talent. If we compare the talent pool to London, it is a lot deeper in Belgium. For us as a scale-up, that’s a huge competitive advantage. I’m also happy to see that media like L’Echo are really putting their weight behind the Belgian start-up- and scale-up community.
What do you see in store for your industry? Open banking and embedded finance are the buzzwords – is that where you are directing your attention?
Most of our attention goes to finding the right business model for the right innovation.
We were part of the first wave in insurtech. What I see is that many things have been tried, many have been heavily funded but also many have failed. That’s normal – it’s all part of the process.
So I’m sure that insurance can be disrupted digitally, but not necessarily in ways that seem to make sense. For instance, if I were to name the biggest waste of money in our industry, it has to be direct-to-consumer digital insurance. That just doesn’t work. But some business models show that a lot can be done, and Qover is a good example of what is possible.
Either way, I’m convinced that fintech & insurtech will co-exist with the legacy players for a long time. One will not necessarily overtake the other. I don’t believe in replacing the legacy players – they perform extremely well. We try to find ways to exist with them.
Maybe the biggest business model innovation in the last thirty years was SaaS – a fundamental new way to deliver and sell software. Do you see similar things happening in fintech? Innovations that really opend the entire industry.
Let’s look at blockchain technology for instance. It’s interesting in theory and it has many use cases, but in practice, it makes little sense in insurance. In the end, you don’t use tech for tech, there has to be a business application. Right now, blockchain doesn’t have that yet.
You’d need a live blockchain that costs a fortune for something you can do with a regular API. It’s an amazing technology and you’ll find entrepreneurs who’ll fund it, but it’s all trial and error at this stage.
In our sector, it eventually all comes down to marrying insurance, legal, and tech. You have to find the right business model and combine it with the right technology. At Qover, we’re good at coordinating legal and insurance. Thus, an API makes sense.
Any tech in particular that you’re watching closely?
For sure, artificial intelligence. We haven’t implemented AI at Qover yet, but it is a logical next step. What’s more important is that you need data and enough training methods to implement it. Either way, we’ll be using it at Qover quite extensively in the upcoming years. Not necessarily to automate things completely, but rather as a tool to support us both internally and externally, to enhance people.
Do you consider the following things as a hype or as a real futureproof concept?
Aha, the “Meta of Mark” (Zuckerberg).
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a pitch in the Metaverse. It was the most absurd, surreal, ‘doesn’t make any sense’ type of experience I’ve ever had, and I pitch Qover ten times a day. So right now, I just don’t see it.
In the gaming world it makes sense, but to bring real-life relationships up there? Maybe Zuckerberg sees something I don’t, but to pitch it in the Metaverse was strange. There is no interaction possible with the audience, it was so fake, and it felt wrong.
Besides, there is simply no point to entering the Metaverse. That’s how bad the quality is. You want to leave as soon as you’ve entered.
I don’t have any competency to speak about it, but, as a society, we should go for it. If I had a say in the debate, I would put my money into fusion power.
Self-driving cars vs eVTOLS
Look, flying cars are bullshit, for sure. You don’t want flying drones everywhere. Just think of the noise everywhere. Self-driving cars, on the other hand? Yes, they will come, and faster than you expect. I think self-driving cars will be great.
If you were to start your career today, which company would you join?
I would join Qover. (laughs)
And apart from that?
If I were young and had to start my career all over, I would join a company that’s somewhere in Series A, close to Series B phase. Where you’re still among the first sixty employees, and you get in right before that hypergrowth kicks in. That’s the sweet spot, I think.
Who (BE/EU) would you like to start a company with if you had the chance?
I would try something new with my co-founder.
Working with Cresco
Cresco are extremely good at their job. You know, they have the power of experience in an area where few people have that knowledge. A fundraising process, for instance, is a very specific type of negotiation. In our world, you’re dealing not just with a counterparty, but also with an ecosystem, and that requires another way of thinking. Cresco feels a responsibility towards the ecosystem, not just the client. The ecosystem has to work for everyone. Cresco understands that on a very deep level.