22 Nov 2021

We are inspired by the innovative and entrepreneurial businesses we help to shape a better world.

Our clients range from Fortune 500 technology multinationals through fast growth, venture-backed and owner-managed businesses, to individuals driven by great ideas and defined by a passion and resilience.

What links them all is their drive to innovate and deliver positive impact and this deserves to be celebrated. This time, our spotlight shines on the Marshmallow which redefined car insurance using tech, their conscience and a little help from us.

Marshmallow entered the car insurance market from a unique angle. Co-founders Alexander and Oliver Kent-Braham and David Goaté were working at another start-up when they learned a friend who’d just moved to the UK was struggling to insure their car. The quotes seemed unfairly high and unaffordable.

Throwing out the rule book

Digging deeper, they found traditional insurance premiums are heavily loaded for migrants, the unemployed and people without a credit history or a UK driving licence, based on a default position of distrust and outdated, impersonal systems. So they started Marshmallow, with an open mind, a clear conscience and a fresh, app-based, AI-driven tech approach.

As newcomers to the insurance market, they started with a clean sheet and no office – initially working from a gym they all used, as it had the benefit of good wi-fi. Their success has been driven by innovative use of technology (known as insurtech in this sector), plus their natural competitiveness and entrepreneurial talents.

Having reached the higher echelons in tennis, they understood winning is hard-fought and determination is essential. Breaking into a market that was new to them didn’t deter them either; even as pre-teens, Alexander and Oliver were making money by selling golf balls fished from a lake.

From flat broke to a billion

Setting out with nothing, Marshmallow has become only the second UK start-up with a black founding team to gain unicorn status – meaning it is valued at over £1bn. The first unicorn black-founded business achieved it just a week earlier.

The hardest part of Marshmallow’s journey proved to be raising capital. CEO Tim Holliday joined them and was enthused by their vision, but at that early stage they simply had no money to pay him.

Breaking into the world of venture capitalists is tough, particularly without a personal introduction. If you’re black, it’s even harder. Less than a quarter of black founders are able to secure funds for their start-up from venture capitalists. Little surprise then, that a recent Government survey reported only 6% of UK SMEs are minority ethnic group-led.

Never likely to give up, the Kent-Braham twins won the attention and crucially the support of Investec founder Bernard Kantor. With that vital first connection made, Marshmallow could access the funds they needed. And their growth has been phenomenal.

Inspiring ethnic minority founders

At the start of 2020 (a year many businesses would rather forget) Marshmallow had just under 13,000 customers. They ended it with over 50,000. In January they were a team of 41; by December they were 87 strong. And they have recently sailed through three funding rounds (advised by us) to become the UK’s latest tech unicorn, valued at over $1.25bn.

Marshmallow has succeeded by understanding the need to make insurance more inclusive. It gave the co-founders a different perspective and an unrelenting ambition to make car insurance fairer, faster and more responsible. On the way, they have unwittingly become role models for aspiring black and minority founders. Unsurprisingly, Marshmallow supports diversity, with 50% women employees and 15-20% ethnic minorities.

As Oliver Kent-Braham says, “We think it’s useful for other founders to see firms led by minorities be successful. It is nice for the space and hopefully it gives people role models, but it’s not our core, core message.

Marshmallow has already reshaped UK car insurance in a new mould and now plans to break into other insurance markets. In the meantime their pioneering carbon-neutral driving programme has offset 1 million kg of CO2 in just the first two months of this year. Marshmallow is undoubtedly a tech force for good and an inspiration to other founders.