COVID sparked a revolution in home working and a remote-first model which many businesses continue to adhere to today.

However for Nigel Lombard, CEO and founder of fully remote InsurTech PeppercornAI, this effect of the pandemic was a pure coincidence.

“Our decision to be a fully remote company was due to several factors: it was primarily informed by my own experience of remote working for quite a few years prior,” says Lombard, who previously founded InsurTech startups Drivology and Hedgehog.

“COVID was simply a coincidence which helped us all better adapt to the possibility of working remotely.”

PeppercornAI, star of our sister publication BusinessCloud’s InsurTech 50 ranking late last year, has a strong presence in Cardiff but its team of 23 is spread around the UK.

PeppercornAI – cutting-edge conversational AI experience

The serial entrepreneur says the business has benefited in five ways from the policy: access to talent, retention, reduced impact on the environment, more exciting interactions with co-workers and – crucially – lower costs for users.

“Given that we offer a digital experience, it didn’t make sense for us to have a physical office space. We’d rather offer our people the option to work from wherever suits them and have a few key moments in the year when we meet up and are excited to see each other,” he explains. 

“Being fully remote also means that from a talent perspective, we aren’t limited to talent in one region and can benefit from more diverse thinking. Of the 23 full time employees at PeppercornAI, we have people working in every home state: a physical office simply wouldn’t have allowed us to tap into that kind of talent.

“Not only does it make for a more flexible working arrangement for our staff, which helps with recruitment and retention, but it’s also much more cost efficient as well as ESG beneficial. 

One of the biggest expenses for insurance companies are physical offices and call centres, which our model just doesn’t demand. It’s a huge expense which is ultimately passed onto customers in the insurance premiums they pay.”

Pros & cons

On the drawbacks of working in separate locations, he answers: “The first is ensuring that the team don’t feel isolated while working remotely. We have core working days and hours, but key is ensuring our team are given opportunities to work both collaboratively and autonomously. And we use collaboration technology extensively.

“The second is ensuring that when we do come together, it’s something that the team genuinely looks forward to, rather than ‘forced fun’. We tend to get together in person a couple of times a year and we always think carefully about how we can best use everyone’s time. 

“Usually this is a balance of company-wide meetings, team-specific meetings and team activities.”

To date, his company has received £2.1 million in seed funding from EHE Capital and will soon be closing another fundraise.

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No blame

The geographical spread of employees also ensures that PeppercornAI benefits from new ideas.

“We believe that diversity of thoughts and ideas – as opposed to only employing people that live within commuter distance of the UK’s major cities – shape better business decisions and help to reflect the diversity of our customer base, which ultimately result in a better product. 

“This can only happen in an environment where experimentation and empowerment are the norm.”

Lombard says cultivating a ‘no blame’ culture – where trying new things and learning from them is encouraged – is a foundation for success.

Continual improvement in a no-blame, collaborative environment is the foundation. It’s all about the team. I can’t emphasise that enough.”

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