Sondre Rasch has created not one but two separate companies as a part of the Y Combinator incubator. His latest, SafetyWing, is disrupting the insurance industry for nomads. Learn how.
Services like AirBnb and Uber have disrupted the age old hospitality and transportation industries and vastly improved the experience for nomads. The insurance however remains largely in the stone ages in terms of usability, accessibility and alignment of incentives.
Sondre Rasch felt these pains intimately both from an employer perspective as well as a nomad consumer perspective. He encouraged colleagues to take up the torch and address the deficiency but when nobody did, he took it on himself and started SafetyWing. In this episode you’ll learn about pitfalls of the insurance industry, Sondre’s entrepreneurial journey with Konsus and SafetyWing, recommendations for aspiring YC applicants, productivity advice for entrepreneurs and more. Enjoy!
Sean Tierney: 00:02:30 All right. Hey everybody, this is Sean with the Nomad Podcast and I am here today virtually with Sondre Rasch. Sondre is co founder and CEO of safety wing, which is a Y Combinator company. He was formerly cofounder of concerts, also a Y Combinator company in a previous batch. Uh, Sondre studied entrepreneurship at Berkeley in California is a graduate of the Norwegian School of economics with a master’s of science degree and as a policy advisor for the government of Norway. Sondre welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Cool so let me just give some context for how, just for my listeners to how we came to know each other. And we don’t know each other yet, but how we met. So I met Enelin on the nomad cruise eight and she works for you guys doing the marketing. Um, you guys actually sponsored one of the events that I through here in Lisbon, a charity makeover, and then Ennelin put us in contact. And so it’s an honor to be able to talk to you today.
Sondre Rasch: 00:03:26 It’s great to be on your podcast and it looks to me like you’re doing a lot of good work in helping making the nomad life a little bit easier.
Sean Tierney: 00:03:36 Yeah, that’s definitely the goal. So, yeah. So can you tell us, you are the founder of SafetyWing. What is SafetyWing?
Sondre Rasch: 00:03:44 Yes. So at safety when we are building a global social safety net, um, and, uh, our first product is a insurance for digital nomads. So we essentially, uh, ensure, offers sort of travel medical insurance on a subscription to digital nomads, um, all over the world. And, um, and we made that because we are nomads ourselves and, uh, we, we experienced the trouble of having to figure out insurance when you live for extended periods of time abroad and work online.
Sean Tierney: 00:04:19 And so what, so you built this to scratch and own itch. You saw a problem yourself and what specifically, like what was the deficiency that you encountered that led you to believe that there was an opportunity here?
Sondre Rasch: 00:04:31 So I discovered that the deficiency in my previous company concerts. Um, and uh, so that was a freelancer platform and we had freelancers all over the world and we wanted to provide benefits for, uh, our people who had that as their primary income. And we try to buy it, but, but nobody offered it anything like it that we could use. And that was sort of when I realized that there was a big gap here that, uh, when you have employees or contractors in many different countries around the world, it’s no easy task to, uh, to buy things like, uh, like a health insurance. Um, and, uh, I also discovered it myself, of course, uh, living abroad being a lot in the u s but being from Norway, uh, the way I sought it out insurance was that I essentially went back every 45 to 60 days to Norway to reset my travel insurance. Um, and what I needed of course, was something that I could just have on a monthly subscription that would last, you know, forever. And, uh, so, so those were the sort of two angles I came at it. Uh, not working. It was like in my company trying to buy it and also with myself having this kind of solution to, to not having a infinite duration of, of uh, of the travel medical product.
Sean Tierney: 00:06:04 Yeah, for sure. I mean I’ve personally bumped into issues we can kind of get into this, but I think there is definitely a lot of room to improve based on the current offerings that are out there. Um, for the reason that you said like the subscription aspect seems really nice to be able to just to kind of start and stop when you need it. Um, and something I noticed from your website so you can actually start this when you’re already on the road, right? You don’t have to basically go back to your home country and apply and wait to get it. You can start this once you’re already out there.
Sondre Rasch: 00:06:35 Yes. Uh, yes, that is another sort of minor one, but one that I definitely had, uh, the problem with because I obviously was, I was perpetually abroad or not in my home country. So, uh, having to go home in order to, to buy the insurance when I discovered it. Uh, that just doesn’t seem very practical. And I see, we assume the same was true for many of our customers.
Sean Tierney: 00:07:01 Yeah, I would imagine you guys probably bump into like, there’s gotta be different rules based on where all these people are coming from. So you probably have to deal with a whole mess of different like jurisdictions and rules that change based on where people are applying for them. I would imagine. Is that true?
Sondre Rasch: 00:07:17 Yes. That is the hardest part about our, uh, uh, product development is to try to take this sort of very high complexity of, you know, a very, uh, highly regulated industry in that we operate in, you know, 180 countries. Um, and, uh, and, and trying to make that into something which is as simple as as, uh, sort of modern internet savvy digital nomad, you know, expected to be. Um, and, uh, and that’s, that’s a lot of what that is. Uh, our work is about is just trying to make things simpler, uh, having the same price, for example, across all jurisdiction, having the same, uh, contents of the insurance and for, you know, in all nationalities for all nationalities, uh, with the exception of the u s and, uh, and of course also having like a simple subscription you can have forever. Those were sort of the main simplifications that we did and it flew kind of where like, uh, against the current with what’s normal and insurance. So, uh, we had to, we had a lot of explaining to do, to get, uh, uh, sort of our underwriters to, to go along with it. And, uh, they really had to believe in us that there was this new group of people that didn’t exist before and they have different, you know, needs and expectations than, uh, than, than other people do.
Sean Tierney: 00:08:44 Yeah. Well, it’s funny to say like, we get so spoiled by things like Uber and, uh, you know, airbnb and the usability of those services. It almost seems like we are with insurance 10 years back, you know, it’s come so far in terms of just finding transportation or lodging, but the insurance is still kind of in the dark ages in some respects. So I totally agree with you that I think there’s a lot of opportunity to make bring that to a, an experience that’s commensurate with those other services that exist.
Sondre Rasch: 00:09:13 Yes, yes, exactly. No, it’s uh, it, it’s like the Internet hasn’t happened yet. Like when we are in, in the insurance industry, um, both how they think about markets and selling and also the products themselves, they, everyone seems to operate as if the Internet, they know the Internet is there, like some of them are like scared of it or something, but they’re not, they’re not a adjusted to it yet. It might or it might as well be 1970 in, uh, if you talk to, uh, a typical insurance product and how they distributed
Sean Tierney: 00:09:54 because the product is the same. I think some of these old school industries, like I was involved in the early days in Arizona with the newspaper, which is a very old school publication and then specifically with car dealerships and bringing them online and so I think I definitely know bumping up against these, these people who are aware that the Internet’s there but they just don’t know how to interact with it or they don’t have the new mentality of what’s possible and how, how they need to adapt and come up to the level of now, the expectations of the people who are using it. Yeah, so 100% I have a question for you just about insurance in general, and this is something I’ve always wondered, but it seems like as an industry that the incentives are just weird. It’s an adverse incentives, right? Like so when I buy a policy, then the insurance company makes more money if they’re able then to deny my claims more often. So it seems like it’s set up in a way currently where it’s not really like you. I wouldn’t hire a realtor to sell my house who was then making more money. If I sold it for a lesser price, I would want the incentives aligned. So in the same way it seems kind of reverse like that. Like can you speak to that? Ask?
Sondre Rasch: 00:11:08 Yes, no, absolutely. And, uh, we, we were also aware of that from the beginning and uh, it’s very, it’s, it’s so silly that many insurance companies have put up their incentives sort of in direct conflict with their customers. Um, and I think that’s why yeah. That you end up with a lot of people having this sort of adversarial relationship with her insurer insurance company. Um, and it’s very easy to, to, uh, to take that out. Uh, and, and we have done that so we don’t make more or less money depending on how much we paid out in claims because it’s like we have sort of a fixed fee in a sense for, for running the policy. Um, and, uh, and that’s like a way to solve that. Uh, then the customers, um, it doesn’t completely solve the problem. It still is kind of the customers versus the rest of the customers. But then at least you can start to communicate to a, the customers that, uh, insurance when it’s made, like this is more like a community putting money in, a sort of common pile with sort of rules for when you can, you know, go, go take money out of the pile. And the average you have to watch you have to put in is like the average of what people take out.
Sean Tierney: 00:12:34 And um, and uh,
Sondre Rasch: 00:12:38 and that’s a change of course because people’s normal experience with insurance is that, that’s not how insurance works. It’s like a big, you know, anonymous company
Sean Tierney: 00:12:48 who makes more money the less they pay out and
Sondre Rasch: 00:12:54 Uh, but, but, uh, yeah, so, so that’s something that, uh,
Sean Tierney: 00:12:59 we saw right away and it’s, it’s kind of an easy fix incentive wise. Um, but there’s also,
Sondre Rasch: 00:13:07 uh, I think it’s also surprising for people because they’re used to dealing with insurance company, not as this kind of community product, but as
Sean Tierney: 00:13:16 more like, um, an adversarial relationship where they don’t really care much about the company and that’s who they think the other party is. But it’s of course other people like you who are the other people using the insurance? Yeah, well I almost think of it like the co op versus a traditional bank. Like I moved my money out of the, I’ve tried all the big banks from back in the U s wells Fargo, Bank of America, chase all the big ones and ultimately ended up moving money to a credit union because I just feel like it’s, again, it’s the same thing. It’s like the, the, the incentives are structured against you, so they’re making money the more that they can kind of nickel and dime you for fees, whereas the credit union is owned by the people in the credit union. So yeah, it’s, it’s fundamentally you gotta be set up, incentivize the right way.
Sondre Rasch: 00:13:58 Yeah, no, I think that’s exactly right. And I do think that’s where the expectations are going. Uh, for some reason, more than customers don’t tolerate that level of, uh, kind of incentive, this alignment
Sean Tierney: 00:14:12 to the same degree. So, uh, definitely see more that kind of product popping up, which, uh, is sort of a hybrid between a, you know, a private company and a, and a and a op style structure. Yeah. Well I think the millennials and the generation that’s coming up now has an entirely different set of expectations in terms of what they’ll put up with. And I think it’s finally, it’s now finally starting to make some of these really old school, uh, you know, infrastructure change to have to, to catch up in accommodate them because otherwise they’re going to lose them. So let me ask you what, what you said you yourself were nomad, so that’s where your affinity stems from in wanting to serve that segment. Uh, what have you learned through interaction? I’m sure you get like a very broad, like you deal with a lot of people, but like what common mistakes do you see nomads making in terms of risk and exposure with insurance? Like what are the common pitfalls that like, I’m assuming not having any insurance would be one, but are there other mistakes that you see made?
Sondre Rasch: 00:15:21 Well, I mean, not having any insurance is, is quite a common one and one that I also myself did. So let me just start there because that one, I can speak from my own experience of at moments. I would, you know, my insurance would time out. I couldn’t cause I couldn’t prolong it. And uh, I did go once to us a treatment thing without insurance. And uh, I ended up with a bill, which was more money than I had at the time. And it wasn’t even that much. I, it wasn’t like one of these horror stories you hear, but I realized then that it could have been, and if it was, you know, like I actually needed some expensive treatment, I would have been either in like mortal danger or I’ve been, I would have been severely bankrupted. So I really got that wake up call and I just, it was just like a little chest pain and I went to the doctor, took some tests and it was just very expensive, uh, as things are here in the u s and, uh, that, that really was a wake up call for me.
Sondre Rasch: 00:16:30 That of course everything is fine when everything is fine. Uh, but it is when they, uh, they think that the unexpected happens, which inevitably eventually will something bad will happen at some point. Um, you know, either you get sick or injured or something, uh, very few people go through their whole life without ever having any, uh, issues like that, then, then you want to make sure that that’s, uh, that’s like that you can, you know, get back to health and, and not, not be bankrupted by the process. Uh, so, so yeah, and, and I think many people who are nomads, like they take it a little bit for granted because they’re used to being in an a structure or a system where they’re like close to their families and they’re in some maybe national health system or something. Um, where things just seem safe and secure, but when you’re abroad, you don’t have any of those structures.
Sondre Rasch: 00:17:30 You don’t have your friends and family nearby. And there is, the system isn’t made to accommodate, uh, you like wherever you are. And normally there are exceptions, but that’s normally the case. And, uh, so, uh, so you really don’t to, you know, do you like me and wait till it actually goes wrong before you, uh, realize that. So, so I mean, I, I know that’s, maybe it’s obvious for you, but it definitely is still the case. And then since I do it, I’m sure there are other people who do it who basically think I’m young and healthy. You know, it’s going to be fine, but when it happens, oh, another thing that people do is like, I’ll just go home. I remember having that thought. But if you’re seriously ill, you can just go right. It just takes too long. Uh, that would be my, uh, my worth. Like, don’t do like me, but, uh, um, learn the lesson in advance.
Sean Tierney: 00:18:27 Right? Or an air evacuation out of the remote, you know, jungle in Thailand ends up costing you $50,000 you can get home. It’s just different. Obscene amount of money. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I had, actually, I’ll just relay this story. So I was in Mexico City about a year ago and had an incident happened, which wound up me being hospitalized for three days and I was using a competitors’ insurance company. And long story short, they ended up basically claiming, you know, like we’re talking about if they’re in the business of denying coverage. So they basically ended up claiming through a very twisted method that it was a preexisting condition and that was $2,500 I just was out of pocket and I never got back. And of course you’re appealing to them, but they’re the judge and jury of their own appeals process. So it’s not really a arbitrated fairly. So anyways, I am happy to see that you guys have actually fixed the incentive problem at least because getting that right I think is the cornerstone of the relationship that you have with the client. And so if that’s wrong, it really doesn’t matter what you do on top of that because it’s all just lipstick on a pig at that point. Right? So you’ve got to get the fundamental relationship incentivized properly, which it sounds like you guys have. So kudos.
Sondre Rasch: 00:19:41 Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s a definitely as, as anyone has been, you know, if they’ve ever been in a personal relationship where you know, their interests are colliding with someone, you know, you, you quickly find that they have to be an exceptionally good person at that point. Uh, so it, you know, everything is much easier when, when everyone has the same interests.
Sean Tierney: 00:20:04 I notice, okay, so on your website you guys have, I saw at the bottom of hospital locator, so that tells me that you have some type of network. Is the insurance excepted, like the, the, the form of insurance that I used, uh, with your competitor, I had to basically file a claim, pay out of pocket and then try to get reimbursed, which didn’t actually end up working is years such that it can be accepted at the time and there is no out-of-pocket costs or how does that work?
Sondre Rasch: 00:20:30 Yes. If you, if you do go through one of those you find in our networks, the benefit to doing that is exactly that, that you, uh, you go in network, which means that they bill us directly and that’s a much better customer experience obviously, um, uh, and, and much simpler. And, uh, if you can’t do that then a, it, there is still a possibility that we can, can do that. But then you, I would advise, uh, calling or messaging so that we can try to set up so that they bill us directly. Uh, but in the worst case, if you do kind of go outside network and, and, and not reach out to us before, uh, then the risk, the risk that we, they cannot bill us directly because some hospitals and doctors don’t have a system set up for it and then you have to pay and get your money back.
Sean Tierney: 00:21:22 Right. So that it is both a cashflow advantage, but also there’s a risk advantage there. It sounds like you can, you’re, you’re essentially by going in network, you’re, you’re assuring yourself that they’re going to pay for it. And so yeah, it is any safer. Awesome. Well, I want to shift gears and if you don’t mind, let’s kind of zoom out a bit and talk about the actual entrepreneurial experience you’ve had in building this company. Y Combinator is obviously one of the most famous incubators in the world. What was that experience like?
Sondre Rasch: 00:21:51 Yes. Uh, well, I, I love y Combinator. Uh, I loved it so much that I, I went back and, uh, the main reason I did it again with a, with safety wing is that there are some benefits to doing it that you just can’t get anywhere else. And one of them is a, is kind of straight forward. It’s a, it just makes fundraising a lot easier because y Combinator has this, I guess, reputation for being a good, you know, incubator or selector, then, um, it’s, uh, it goes from being incredibly difficult to being a lot easier to, to raise fundraising, uh, to, to, to get the attention of investors so that, that would be a big thing. But the other thing was, you know, I had different cofounders this time. It was a great experience for me. I learned a lot. You really raised the bar, you get a, you know, a lot of entrepreneur friends who are at the same stage and you also get focus up a lot by Combinator is very good at, uh, getting people to stop doing a fake work and actually focus on what matters, which is, you know, at, at that stage to, to build your product and talk to talk to your customers and, and nothing else in is that,
Sean Tierney: 00:23:12 so if you say, if you had to say one major takeaway that you had having gone through the y Combinator experience that you could convey to some other entrepreneur who has not done it, uh, w is that what you’d say? It is? Just focus on what matters and that is talking to the customers and building the product.
Sondre Rasch: 00:23:29 Well, th there is another thing which is a definitely not a secret because it’s that welcome letter tagline, but it really is the hardest lesson to, to take in. And that’s to make something people want. So that comes out of like, why are you talking to your users? You can always imagine that you are like a new organism in some environment and the only way you can survive is by, you know, changing yourself or getting to know your environment. And, uh, and that’s why you build your product and talk to your users are kind of Anil analogs of, of those two, two aspects. Welcome there to really, really drives that home. This sort of to the need to talk to users and make something that people actually want like a, a problem that is real. Uh, by the way, a very good proxy to do that is to solve a problem that you yourself have and uh, with, you know, actually care about getting fixed because then you work, you know, you’re working on something that’s uh, that’s real. Um, so I think, uh, I think that would be it.
Sean Tierney: 00:24:41 Yeah. Although sometimes people I think get blinded by something that is real to them that may not necessarily be real to the rest of the world. And so I think maybe that’s why you’re advocating, get out of the building, talk to a lot of people and validate whether they truly have that same problem that you think they have.
Sondre Rasch: 00:24:59 Yes, no, definitely. Um, and uh, you know, there’s a corollary to that, which is also one of the, one of the things you, they really just try to hit you over the head with during the program and a, it’s the saying from Po Book Heights, this old blog post school. If your product is great, it doesn’t have to be good. And, uh, what that means is if you’re solving this key, this central problem that your customers are having, uh, in a, in a way that actually solves it, that’s what makes it great, then it doesn’t have to be good, which means that it doesn’t have to have like all the features, right? Uh, in order to be attractive and, uh, so to, to really figure out what that essential problem you’re solving is. And then to do that really well, that’s how you get someone to, to actually love your product. And, and that’s when they start recommending it to France. And, and you, you, you actually become a startup.
Sean Tierney: 00:26:05 Is there a method other than just talking to people and you know, building a lot of stuff and testing it, is there anything framework wise of how you can arrive at that or, or a systematic way to achieve that?
Sondre Rasch: 00:26:19 Well, say if I go from my first to second company, a lot of the things has to, has to do with what you’re not doing as much as with what you’re doing. So from my first, the second company, I, I locked a lot of doors that I kept open before. Uh, so one of those was how to get customers. So with the second one we said, uh, no ads. You know, we, we want to grow, uh, sort of, uh, by customers recommending it to friends primarily, uh, or, or people writing about this authentically. And the reason why that is, uh, actually was, I’ve found for us, this is not a work on worthless, this is just a listener I had on my own. Is that when you think that you can, when you tried to get customers with ads before you made something, people actually love, uh, you can very easily fool yourself because you can, you can kind of trick people into signing up if you, I don’t know, Ab test your Facebook ad till someone starts clicking on it for some reason.
Sondre Rasch: 00:27:31 Um, yeah. And uh, but they of course don’t. They not only don’t, they don’t retain, they don’t stay customers of your product, but, um, they definitely don’t love it and recommended to France. And, and by you at this point, before you made something, people love spend time on learning that which is, it’s possible to spend years and millions of dollars, uh, to get better at that. Uh, you’re, you’re not building a product, which is what you should be doing, so you can really sell. So I think, um, by, by, uh, um, by limiting what you can do, uh, I found that to be very clarifying and focusing, uh, and, and to do things in the proper order, uh, to build something people are, before you start trying to grow it, just say you’re in the better face or something. Yeah. Right.
Sean Tierney: 00:28:30 Did you guys do anything, I know the term growth hack is abused these days, but did you do anything early on to jumpstart the adoption or mass outreach or how did you guys get things going early on?
Sondre Rasch: 00:28:43 Yes. Uh, well, so we do one other thing. In addition to, uh, word of mouth, which is a primary and that’s that we ha we, uh, we do, we try to support the community essentially. Um, which, uh, uh, you, you do know about, but we did in the beginning especially, but we still do, uh, sponsor a lot of stuff that we think are cool and interesting and that we might have gone too. So, uh, and, but that’s also been very helpful because of course, you know, the, the people you might sponsor also, uh, you know, people who have a lot of, uh, influence often, uh, there, there are people who, who are listened to in the community. Uh, so a way to kickstart word of mouth is often to, to start by getting the people who other people listen to in the community of your customers, to, to, uh, to get to know you and therefore maybe recommend you. Yeah. So, so that’s, that’s how it gets started. And that’s, uh, I think that’s actually a universal strategy. Uh, I think I would sort of do it with every product. Uh, even though we, we didn’t do it on purpose as a strategy, we just did it because we thought it was fun and cool and we, uh, which we did a lot in the beginning. But in retrospect, I actually think it’s a very viable strategy, uh, to, to, uh, to kickstart word of mouth.
Sean Tierney: 00:30:12 Yeah. Like the influencer design pattern or whatever you want to call it. It just seems like a very, uh, like you can pick that up and plop it in and pretty much any scenario and it translates. Um, and I mean it’s literally how we’re talking today. You know, you guys sponsored the charity makeover that led to this conversation. I’m sure someone maybe hears this podcast and then, you know, it just ripples out from there. So. Yeah, definitely. Cool. Well, can you talk about, um, consensus cause that was the other, or sorry, not consensus consis what was that? Y Combinator company?
Sondre Rasch: 00:30:47 Yes. Um, so, uh, Konsus is still is, uh, it’s like a freelancer platform where we assembled teams to do design task projects for companies. So you can imagine like, uh, uh, projects come in that are posted in like a work feed. We have these pre freelancers on the platform and they can like sign onto projects. I’m not sure if, but yeah, getting that across, that’s how it works behind the scenes. And that was a fantastically fun company to start. Very difficult because we’re trying in a sense to, to, to, uh, to see, you know, her, her cats who were trying to organize something which is hard to organize. Um, but, uh,
Sean Tierney: 00:31:35 let me just make sure I understand it. Are you bringing, so it’s different from something like an upwork or an Elance or one of those in that you’re actually assembling a team of freelancers. So there’s some, some project management.
Sondre Rasch: 00:31:48 Yeah.
Sean Tierney: 00:31:49 I don’t know what you’d call agency involved in there. You guys are bringing them together, not just connecting like a brokerage where you’re connecting someone who needs a freelancer with a freelancer.
Sondre Rasch: 00:31:58 Correct. Uh, there are project managers who are also freelancers, so, so we kind of assemble this team, uh, on the fly, but, uh, but yes, there we, the differences, we work with teams and we sort of took responsibility for the outcome. So, uh, um, yeah, so kind of like you think of it as a sort of design agency for the Internet Age, uh, with, uh, with sort of more flexible scale. Um, yeah. Got It.
Sean Tierney: 00:32:30 But you ran that for two years and then decided that your, what your heart was in the, the nomad.
Sondre Rasch: 00:32:37 Okay.
Sean Tierney: 00:32:37 The protection game or what? So that’s still running. Like what, what led you to depart?
Sondre Rasch: 00:32:42 Yeah, so, uh, I discovered in Konsus the problem that there was no way to buy health insurance for our freelancers. And I spent a year trying to get someone else to start this company to start safe doing so. And I, uh, almost succeeded, but people were very hesitant. I think it seems very hard and it is hard. So I understand people now that I’ve done it, uh, it because of all the regulatory barriers involved. Um, but, uh, yeah, after a year realized nobody was going to do it, but it occurred to me as something that had to be done and it was already overdue. Like you need global, simple products. Uh, so because now I think the, the result is that you basically have millions of people who are uninsured on protected because it’s so hard. And uh, yes. So, um, nobody else was going to build it and we decided we had to build it ourselves. And that was why I eventually then depart it.
Sean Tierney: 00:33:41 And what, at what point will you consider safety wing a success? I mean by any measure, it’s a success in that you’re, you’re ensuring people now, but do you have like a bar at which you’re, you’re celebrating, you’re saying we did it.
Sondre Rasch: 00:33:54 Yeah. So we have a lot of things we have to build before we’re done with the product. You know, we have our first product out now, we have another one coming out in September or October or end of this year, which is global health insurance for remote teams. And, uh, and after that we want to do, you know, disability and pensions. And then we also want to do like a membership, uh, where you sort of pay 10% and, and you get everything that you essentially get in Norway. What we used to have in Norway when I worked there with the social safety net, but, uh, but online and available for everyone. Uh, I’m saying all of this because it’s not a success. Before we finished the product, uh, that’s, that’s a primary primary goal is to, to, to finish the product. We do need some scale in order to finish it. So growth is also necessary, uh, because it’s such a grant and state in a sense, but uh, but yes, finishing the product which, which will take years, uh, is
Sean Tierney: 00:35:00 it’s the measure of success. Cool. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, it’s refreshing to hear an entrepreneur speak in that way about the, uh, measuring success based on the state of the product as opposed to like 90% of the time it seems like it’s all a number, like a growth metric and we’re trying to have x percent of the market or x million number of people. Uh, so it’s, it’s a completely different state of mind to look at it and say, no, when it achieves this state, uh, product wise, then we’ll be happy. That’s actually pretty cool. Cool. Well, so you’ve done y Combinator twice, so you have some experience there. What would you, what would you say to someone who is a wannabe y Combinator entrant who is applying for it? Did you learn anything about what they’re looking for in an applicant or what would improve your odds of getting into y Combinator?
Sondre Rasch: 00:35:53 Yes, definitely. And a, I do review a lot of y Combinator applications from, from, from friends and other people from Norway. Uh, that gets sent to me. And, uh, one thing that I have to, that I always have to give feedback on but which is very hard to, to, to implement, I think is to be concise. One thing that y Combinator values highly is being able to communicate well because you, they know that you need to, they’re not the last person you will be communicating with. You need to communicate to get, you know, great people to join your company and your community, you know, to customers to get them to buy product and to investors to, to get a investor investments later. So having the ability to communicate concisely and clearly is, is, is very highly valued on the application in the interview. Uh, and, uh, you know, if you, whatever, if someone is listening to this and they’re written a draft, I can almost assure you that whatever you’ve written should be cut in half, uh, and in a way where, I don’t mean like you just delete the bottom half, but that you make it more concise.
Sondre Rasch: 00:37:05 Uh, and uh, and, uh, and, and that’s, I’ve yet to read an application where that hasn’t been the case and, uh, to, to cut out all the jargon and, and, and communicate it in a way so that anyone would understand what you’re saying. Uh, that is, I think the, the main thing that I would recommend if you’re able to do that, your arts goes up dramatically because so many of the applications are unreadable and, uh, and that, you know, it’s obviously, it’s, uh, it’s hard to admit someone if you can understand what they’re doing. And that’s surprisingly common. Um, so, so that would be I think, top one, you know, big, be concise, communicate clearly in simple words. Uh, so, uh, yeah, and I think, uh, I think that would be the top one and know there is another one, uh, in a t two small ones and uh, in that welcome NATO, definitely PR prefers peep teams who can build the product themselves.
Sondre Rasch: 00:38:09 So make sure like you have someone on the team who is able to build the product a themselves that’s sort of valued, uh, in, in y Combinator. And another small thing is you essentially have to, it seems to me when I was in there, I thought it was two types, two very broad types of companies that got in. One were the ones who are sort of ideas stage or prelaunch, but they all had amazing teams and amazingly ambitious and interesting projects. And then the other kind where the people who got in because they already had growth, that that means that had three months of 10% per week growth when they applied. And a, the first time I applied I was in the second camp. And in the second one I think I was more in the first camp because we hadn’t launched yet. So, uh, so make sure you’re in one of those two camps.
Sean Tierney: 00:39:01 And are they taking solo founders? I know they’ve, they favor when there’s at least two founders, but has their stance changed at all on that? Or do you, should you go find a cofounder before you apply?
Sondre Rasch: 00:39:11 No, that they do accept solo founders, but, uh, they do recommend based on their data. I think, uh, that your two or three founders and you know, having done it now once with two and once with three, it’s, it’s incredibly useful to be more than one because especially if it’s someone you trust and is a friend and someone you can talk with because it’s hard to problem solve in your own head. Uh, it’s hard to think alone. It’s better to think in a conversation and a, you know, there’s a lot of hard problems to solve when you’re building startups. So having someone you can talk to is I think very good. And, and the problem when you get more than four or more is that, uh, it just seemed to get a bit messy quickly. Uh, it’s, it’s a bit hard to, to keep the, the ship type, but the two or three that’s perfect.
Sean Tierney: 00:40:06 Cool. Yeah. I’m a huge fan of y Combinator. We were talking beforehand, but I’ll just tell the listeners. So I was actually an early reviewer of a Jessica Livingston’s book founders at work, uh, way back in the day. And I got the chance to meet her when I was in San Francisco and it’s just been so neat to watch YC grow as big as it has. And I think you are in the 18th and 16th cohorts, it looked like from your linkedin. Right. And there’s just still adding them today, which, so what an incredible story.
Sondre Rasch: 00:40:36 Yes. Now, I mean, what community is definitely changed the startup worlds a lot, not least because they were kind of the original accelerator or at least one that many people look to after. Uh, and uh, and that has just, you know, that almost defines our time now is, uh, how many startups there are in so many countries. And, uh, and that’s seemed to me to be wholly a good thing
Sean Tierney: 00:41:03 was there was an investor, I believe who, I forget his name, but for all YC companies, the ones that graduated, he just puts down like $100,000. It’s basically like betting essentially on every one that they graduate. Is that still happening? Do you know? Uh,
Sondre Rasch: 00:41:19 no, it actually became part of the core, uh, program. That was how the amount y Combinator invests went up so much. Uh, so this was, I can’t remember exactly the year, but it was quite early. And, uh, this, this one investor kind of came in and just said, I would like to invest in all your companies, uh, uh, uh, and on and sort of uncapped safe. Like I just want to give money to every, every single one here. And I was well received. Uh, but after, I think that’s a pretty awesome, that’s a pretty awesome perk. Uh, so I think it was 150,000. Um, you know, in retrospect, an incredibly shrewd move. Uh, and this was before that, you know, the whole, you know, the whole Silicon Valley has really had really noticed that a lot of good companies were coming out of y Combinator. You know, Airbnb was this latest 2009, for example. So what, uh, but after a couple of years they, uh, they, they, uh, integrated that into the main program. So they increased the amount from, I think it was 20,000 to to what it’s now 150,000 that, that they invest themselves. So it’s part of the core program now. Cool.
Sean Tierney: 00:42:37 So transitioning, uh, but still on the entrepreneurial vein, do you have any habits or any, any thing that you do regularly as an entrepreneur that helps you focus or be more productive or just like be as high output as you are?
Sondre Rasch: 00:42:56 Yes, uh, I do do one thing which, uh, I would very much recommend and that’s to prioritize what I do based on, on impact or effect. And, uh, I, I learned a good while ago and this was a really happy lesson, uh, that a few of the things I did made almost all the difference. Uh, and of course this is this known stuff. This is like a 80, 20, Perato principle and, um, but that is applying to, to your actions. So, you know, I, I had this time where I reviewed all, you know, the small tasks and action I had done and I looked at which made the most impact and uh, it’s quite a few that makes almost all the difference and the rest is just noise almost when you look back. And I also found that there is, there are some, there are some characteristics of those actions that makes all the difference in there.
Sondre Rasch: 00:44:02 They’re not random, uh, which is very good. So it’s, it’s a, it’s possible to, to sort, it’s possible to say whether something has potentially high impact and um, you know, some things that I definitely found, you know, uh, recruiting great people, uh, uh, making and going live with a product, uh, applying to things or communicating externally. Uh, our examples here of, of things that I found in my own review, and you can say this maps on a bit too, building a product and talking to users, but there’s some more too. It’s also so, so what I do is that I, uh, I sort, I list items and then I sort them by by impact. And I, I do one, I tried to do at least one impactful action every day, you know, one proactive one. And uh, and then I sort of know that as long as I have done that, then I can sort of check off the day. So that also makes me much more relaxed with what I do that the rest, which increases my sort of slack because I know that I have done a higher output thing that day. Um, yeah.
Sean Tierney: 00:45:10 And how are you, when you speak confidently about impacts, but are you, how are you measuring impact for each thing?
Sondre Rasch: 00:45:19 Uh, so just a one, one to 10 on, on my own, you know, fairly subjective scale, but it’s related to goal accomplishment. So you would say that you have like a year ago and the 10 is like, yeah, if it’s works it will for sure accomplish a year, a year ago and uh, um, and uh, one is even if it works, it will make a negligible impact on that.
Sean Tierney: 00:45:45 Got It. So it’s a, it’s a subjective, like you’re looking at that activity and making kind of a judgment call that hey, this looked like it was really effective. It’s not like you’re, you’re actually hard metrics or anything that you’re relying on your, it’s more of a gut kind of judge.
Sondre Rasch: 00:46:01 Oh yeah. Yeah. Uh, I mean because some things can be measured, but some things are, are, are, are a bit hard to measure, but you usually have some idea checking to see if there are, I dunno, better accounting programs will, even if I do a fantastic job at that almost certainly will not make me achieve my goals this year. And, uh, you can kind of tell it’s not, it’s not, it’s not that hard. But, but during that exercise of actually ranking them and making sure that you do at least one, at least one a week, very impactful thing, I think it’s absolutely critical to, to, uh, to have him help with because it’s possible to spend all your time doing non impactful things. It’s even possible to work very hard and only do not and not, uh, low low output things. Um, which is, you know, that’s a terrible, terrible waste of time.
Sean Tierney: 00:46:51 Well, it’s one of these things where it’s, it’s common sense once you hear it and you can say, of course we want to do the things that are going to have the most high impact, but when you’re in it, I feel like you’re navigating the maze and you say, well, where do I turn next? What should I be doing next? That is like the hardest question to answer as a startup. I feel like,
Sondre Rasch: 00:47:10 yes, absolutely. Uh, no, it’s, it’s, it’s like, it’s the question, you know, what should I be doing next is a, you know, everything, everything, uh, applies to that, you know, like, uh, signing productivity, you know, what you want to do with your life, morality. Like everything boils down to that. Down to that one question. What am I going to do next?
Sean Tierney: 00:47:33 Well, well Sandra, we’re coming up, uh, approaching the one hour mark and I want to be respectful of your time at this point. Uh, I have kind of a rapid fire tactical question section and it is called the breakdown. So are you ready for the breakdown? Yes. Break down baby. What is one book that has profoundly affected you?
Sondre Rasch: 00:47:55 So that would be a book called the beginning of an affinity by David Deutsch, the beginning, he was like the father of quantum computing and your theoretical physicist at Oxford. The beginning of infinity is, it’s a book about many things, but some of the key concepts that I took away from that book is something I use almost every day. And it’s just a handful of heuristics that are always true. Uh, and, uh, but what the book does is really persuade you that they are true now in a, in a, in a sort of scientific sense. And one of them is that all problems are solvable, you know, within the laws of physics. In that book, David Deutsch goes a long way to showing why, why that is actually true. Like there is no, you know, between one state and another. The only thing that prevents you from going there is knowing how to, and that’s true in the, in the most extreme scenario you can imagine.
Sondre Rasch: 00:48:51 And certainly in the one you’re currently in and the other, there are some other ones in that book, like people make mistakes and that’s okay. Actually, that’s a requirement for creativity and it’s much better to fix mistakes than to prevent them. In fact, if you try to prevent your mistakes, you end up in stagnation. And, uh, so there are many of these things which are actually kind of common sense things now that I say the conclusions, but what that book does so well is really, uh, persuade you like without a shadow of doubt, it’s sort of impossible to believe otherwise then that this is not just something say because it’s useful, but it’s actually true. Uh, so that really influenced me.
Sean Tierney: 00:49:28 Nice. I have not read that one. Um, I am, I’m reading one right now by the founder of duck duck go, which I believe was also a y Combinator company. Um, it’s called super thinking and I 100% agree. Like getting to the first order principles and having like these trusted mental models that you can use in your toolbox is so valuable. And so yeah, this, this one’s called super thinking. It’s, it’s really good so far. Okay, cool. Uh, so what is one tool or hack or software that you use that saves you time or money or headaches?
Sondre Rasch: 00:50:07 One we use every day in our remote company is, uh, so coco as COO, CEO. Uh, so that’s a video in a virtual office service. So it’s kind of look like the same as you have like a bunch of rooms and you can, you know, accident into that. You can also see who in the company or like online and in other rooms. And it gives this sense of working together even though you’re not a live on video and virtually, uh, and it also makes it very easy to like the equivalent of tap someone on the shoulder by kind of knocking on another route door, um, and uh, or if we have meetings to disperse into separate rooms. So that’s something we use every day. And uh, not a lot of people use it. Every time I tell someone about it, the, they have not heard about it and they find it to be great. So that’s, uh, that’s my go to one.
Sean Tierney: 00:51:05 That’s interesting. So yeah, we use, we slack, but it doesn’t have this concept. It sounds like the Sococo, what you might get out of it is where is your emphasis? What room are you in right now? And maybe, maybe there’s some indication of when it’s okay to bother you or not bother you. But yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve never heard of it.
Sondre Rasch: 00:51:22 Well, I mean we, I should say we also use slack, so, so, so cocoa is more replacement for Google meats. It’s a video,
Sean Tierney: 00:51:29 audio conferencing, you know, when you go. Okay. Live audio video. Yeah. Cool. Have not heard of that one. Check it out. What about, what is one piece of music that speaks to you lately or it could be a musical artist?
Sondre Rasch: 00:51:44 Gosh, to admit that. Uh, my music exploration of late has been, uh, lacking, you know, the one artists that, yeah, the, the one artist that pops up into my head, which is so, so, uh, but we, I, I did finally get an Alexa in the, in the living room. And uh, very often we’ll, if we have guests or something, I have to turn on some music that will be for certain pleasant in the background. And uh, and uh, one artist that I found that checks that box is John Mayer. And so I listen to a lot of John Mayer and a, just find him to be a surprisingly smart, smart guy. Listened to the lyrics and the topics. For someone who sounds like someone your aunt would listen to. Uh, it’s a surprisingly insightful lyrics. So, uh, I’m going to say that. Go with that one.
Sean Tierney: 00:52:39 Cool. Yeah, John Mayer’s. Great. I’m a guitarist and so I just mad respect for his guitar skills. I tend to not listen to lyrics so much. I tend to focus on the guitar, but yeah, he’s great. Cool. All right. I am stealing this question from Peter Teal who I’m sure you know from Silicon Valley, but what, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Sondre Rasch: 00:53:02 Well, uh, that would be the fundamental truth that safe doing is based on, uh, which is that, uh, the next, the, we are a, you know, about to see the first country on the Internet. Um, and uh, there’s like a whole analysis that goes along with that. But, uh, that’s something that people definitely not, uh, agree with me on, but that I almost made secure certain that that’s, uh, that that’s true. When you say country on the Internet, you mean like a redrawing of boundaries. So there is no real geographical borders, you know, will produce insignificance in quite dramatically. Uh, so, so essentially what what is happening is that, you know, as people work online, they, they, they, they live online, they work across borders. They also then become more mobile as a, you know, working remotely. But there’s the second and third order effects, which means sort of effects that causes, cause the other effects, uh, that comes from that.
Sondre Rasch: 00:54:11 So one is that, uh, as people can move their companies around between countries or move themselves, the competitive dynamic between countries changes, and that’s, that will first be like an opportunity where countries that are, you know, very tech savvy, uh, can attract a lot of talents like Estonian, you know, who, who make a lot of digital nomad things with the residency and digital nomad visa, uh, but also other countries that that happen to have it. Um, but in the long run, what it is doing is, uh, it will make it less and less practical for a country to, to offer it services in a, some geographically bounded way. Uh, because if you can imagine that if you’re like us, we’re a bunch of some northern Europeans and from all over the world really who have, are working in a u s corporation. Uh, but we hire people remotely from all over the world.
Sondre Rasch: 00:55:11 And how is government going to provide services for us? How are they going to, you know, effectively tax us and, and our employees and contractors? And what you find is that, that’s, that just doesn’t work that well either side of that coin. I think what we’re about to see is that this structure is just on working. The environment has changed. And geographically, uh, countries that exist by sort of geographical border, uh, definition, I won’t be able to work as well for the people who need it. And, uh, so I, you know, the only solution is that similar structures have to come up on the Internet that, that, uh, that, uh, are globally. And, um, and, uh, the reason I think that countries can do that is because they’re kind of slow, uh, on purpose. And also by accident, they’re slow because they’re big and they’re also slow because they’re, you know, because they want to avoid catastrophic errors, which is sort of a good reason to be slow. Uh, but they’re also not very software or technology savvy. And uh, so I actually think that these structures be built, but they won’t be built by the existing countries still be built by other, other, uh, other structures. Uh,
Sean Tierney: 00:56:33 yeah. Well I think a perfect case in point to what you’re saying we’re seeing now with the Libra, Facebook, Libra, you know, you have the u s sending a letter, which is essentially begging them to stop development on it because they don’t know, I think they see the writing on the wall. Right. And it’s going to be backed by a basket of currencies, which makes it really interesting. It’s, it is the first time that you have like corporate money, you know, these multinational corporations essentially forming a currency and the traditional country doesn’t even know how to do.
Sondre Rasch: 00:57:08 Yeah. It’s super odd. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is the, in a lot of countries now, there is this string of congressional hearings, uh, where they invite, you know, tech companies and, and, and Congress, uh, people are, you know, um, questioning them and, you know, sometimes they pop up into my feet. And it’s very funny because it’s such a good example of, of, of what’s happening, you know, because you have these, uh, you know, all their congress people who have no understanding of like one question was exactly about that. Like, I, I can’t understand why someone would, and then the question was something I think about snapchat, you know, uh, and he was like, do you understand that? And that really sort of summarizes, you know, the, the, the, the fundament, uh, that, you know, these institution face, which is that the world is changing and they don’t understand it. Add or, uh, so much less that they’re not, you know, changing fast enough or trying to adapt fast enough. Like they don’t even understand what’s happening. And, um, and I really saw that when I was a policy advisor in a try. You know, I saw a lot of changes happening. I, you know, made a lot of proposals, but, but, uh, but, uh, yeah, the people you’re trying to persuade, they live in a different world and, uh, and they’re not going to change in time. So it’s almost like,
Sean Tierney: 00:58:39 I think of it in terms of if the founding fathers were still here witnessing this, what would they do? Because I, what’s, what’s been revealed from these hearings is just how clueless the legislators and these, these congress people are. And that’s terrifying because they’re the ones that are setting the policy. So they need to understand it better than anyone. And yet the average millennial is watching this thing. What is this app even thinking about right now? What are they like, what’s going through their head that they’re asking this?
Sondre Rasch: 00:59:11 Yes, no, exactly. Yeah. Uh, no, exactly. Yes. No. W W we, you know, uh, in order to adapt to such a rapidly changing social environment, uh, you know, you have to be very alert and like really adapt quickly. And, uh, and, uh, you know, what we are observing instead is, is, is something akin to, you know, trying to make it stop or something like that. Uh, but that’s, of course not gonna work because it’s, it’s not, it’s not that kind of a change. It’s, it’s an effect that happens because of the technology we’ve all already adopted, which is Internet and, and mobiles and, and everything that comes with that.
Sean Tierney: 01:00:00 Well, so not to, I didn’t want to take this in a political direction, but I am very curious, like, if, if you were in a position of power and you know, legislator wise and you could actually affect some changes there, what do you think, what realistically, what, what is the best change that could be made to right the ship, so to speak?
Sondre Rasch: 01:00:20 Yeah, no, I mean, we absolutely think about that. We actually have a policy project in safety wing where we are collecting of best practices, uh, now and talking to people in Africa, trying to figure out what, what problems are you facing? And we’re gonna that’s gonna result in, in like a, uh, a series of policy proposals that we’re going to send out to, to ministers in countries. So that’s a bit of a fun idea. I know it’s definitely something we care about and our customers do face, uh, problems both as entrepreneurs of, you know, Internet companies, distributed companies, and of course as digital nomads, visa issues, tax, uh, things like that. So, uh, labor, uh, hiring people abroad. I mean, there are many things that, that, that where they kind of turn structures just don’t work at all. Um, and it’s both and interest of the countries and a great opportunities for, uh, you know, for those who are fast moving, you know, awake and alert and you know, ready to, to, to change, uh, they can, uh, they can, you know, gain a bit of big advantage by beings, you know, the first movers in, in, in making their country work for the 21st century.
Sondre Rasch: 01:01:37 What would I do? Well, there are, there are some basics, some basics. You definitely want to be able to let, uh, to hire people who are foreigners. And, uh, to let foreigners start companies in your country, uh, you really want to flatten and universalize taxes and benefits so that it’s simpler, uh, and kind of allow people to opt in and opt out of it as they move in and out within your borders. Uh, you, you definitely want to, uh, make, uh, these a US passports systems for these kinds of new working, no mad people, people who aren’t, they’re neither tourists nor necessarily permanent residents or citizens, but they might be working in your country for a year and a that’s, that’s just a new category. So you need a new visa for that. And these are people you do want you do want in your, in your, uh, in your country. Um, and they, they will help, you know, invigorate your society and, and bring, you know, growth and, uh, innovation and ideas, you know, from their travels. So, uh, I think it’s a good thing and, uh, I would, you know, embrace that instead of trying to make it stop.
Sean Tierney: 01:02:58 Cool. That’s great advice. Um, okay, one last question here. What one piece of advice, if you had a time machine to go back to your 20 year old self and tell yourself anything, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself?
Sondre Rasch: 01:03:11 So 20 I made a fatal stupid decision when I was 20. Now it’s small. It’s not like a real bad one, but I actually changed my mind in the wrong direction. So when I was 80 I was, there’s a draft in Norway draft, like forced military service. Um, and right before that, you know, when I was a teenager I was kind of connected to this new world and I have like a little internet company and you know, did some online and remember RPG gaming things and it was connected to that. And I had the right idea, which was something like, oh, it would be cool to, you know, start, start maybe, maybe to do a little bit of studying of computer science. And I wanted to do that Stanford. But then I went to the army and I kind of got, you know, knocked the nonstandard ideas, got knocked out of me and I thought I should study economics in Norway.
Sondre Rasch: 01:04:05 And Stat and uh, and kind of become a bit more normal. But, uh, in, in, in retrospect, I was not, not the right thing to do. I would say today I would say, um, uh, just, uh, I would, I would actually become a nomad, I would say start to start to build your freelance and live some years abroad and see the world. Uh, there’s still, you know, if there’s any time to do that kind of exploration, it is in your 20s. And you know, now I’m 32 and it’s, I can still kind of drag it out a little, but it’s becoming less and less feasible to act as if, you know, the way you can in your twenties where there’s like, there is no future in a sense. Like you can just really explore all the time. Um, and uh, I would really have taken much more advantage of that had we been able to do it again. So, uh, you know, start some projects that you do only for fun and, and, and see the world. And, uh, studying isn’t that that important because you can learn by doing and uh, and you don’t need an education to be, to be an entrepreneur.
Sean Tierney: 01:05:16 All right, we’ll up there. Sandra, what’s the best way for people to follow you or get in touch with you on social media or a website? Do you have any, any online resource where you steer people to Twitter? S R a. S c h s rush is my handle there. So I guess that’s it. Well, Sondre, best of luck in building out your product. It’s been awesome chatting with you and thank you so much. Thanks, Sean. I really appreciate the conversation. Cheers.