Hi Lloyd, great to meet you. Could you please introduce yourself and what inspired you to join By Miles?
I’m Lloyd Holman and I’m the Head of Engineering at By Miles and I joined a year and a half ago. I studied a Computer Engineering degree at University (which almost became a Mechanical Engineering degree) and I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Thales. That was pretty cool being thrown into corporate land at 18 but with that, I got a lot of mentorship and sponsorship through the organisation.
From there I moved into, effectively, running my own business for 14 years as an independent software developer and delivery expert. I went into a lot of large corporates, like Aberdeen Asset Management and Tesco, to help them with the delivery of their software and it was DevOps before the term DevOps was thrown around.
Outside of work, five years ago I started as a Governor for my child’s school as a Finance Governor and now I’m the Chair of Governors for the primary school there. That compliments really nicely with my role in By Miles as well and it allows me to give back a bit as well, which is great and build on the leadership aspect as well.
I joined By Miles a year and a half ago. I met one of the Co-founders & CTO, Callum, around nine years ago when we were both working at Tesco on their entertainment platform. We stayed in touch, I saw Callum go through a couple of start-up ideas and this one really bit. We had the joke one day that if he needed help delivering software then give me a call.
And here we are!
Here we are indeed! It was great and it was an opportunity to be a part of something. When you’re off running around as an independent consultant being that ‘gun for hire’ your influence only goes so far.
I’ve got a direct line of sight to the Co-founders, as we run a really flat structure here and everybody’s voice is heard. In a big corporate you have those layers of middle management that slow things down.
With that, I get to bring my ability to scale like in larger companies, which is particularly good for By Miles and what they were looking for, especially as we grow.
Sounds great! Can you talk about the By Miles core platform and what makes you unique?
Sure, our core platform is a ‘pay by miles’ car insurance policy. What we mean by that is that you pay a fixed annual cost for your car parked and if you don’t drive anywhere that’s already been paid. Then we bill you for the journeys that you do from there, per mile.
If you drive 7,000 miles or less a year, we’re probably going to be a more attractive proposition. We take drivers aged from 23 – 78, so quite a diverse range of members across our platform. You can administer that policy using our mobile application, but you don’t need a mobile to be able to do that.
We give you a miles tracker that you plug into your car (any car from about the year 2000 onwards), that tracks your miles. We look at where you drive, not how you drive. It’s not a classic black box kind of insurance for young drivers, that’s really restrictive.
We’re built based on fairness and transparency to our customers and they seem to really like that.
You get a push notification about your journey about how much it costs, so you have an idea of what the ultimate cost is going, especially at the end of the month.
What are the cost savings, especially for someone who drives under 7,000 miles?
It’s hard to say because you’ve got so many different factors to base it on. We still have to price in a similar way that classic car insurance companies do, so we can’t you will save x% but what we’re finding is the more we get onto comparison websites, the more competitive we are.
A big step for us was getting onto Money Supermarket in 2018. We’ve got some others in the pipeline as well, but you’re dealing with the insurance industry which can be slow with adoption.
Aside from core banking, Insurance is one of the most archaic, long-standing industries in the world. The industry operates on a risk projection that is based on very limited data sources, can you tell me how the By Miles platform works?
Sure, predominately we operate similarly to classic insurance companies in that we have underwriting partners, AXA is one of the household names that you’ll recognise.
What we do differently, is that we manage that pricing model. We build it in the same way that we build the rest of our software. We undertake heavy testing where we pull a variety of scenarios which means we can adjust very quickly in favour of the customer but also to keep the underwriting footprint as the underwriters require.
There are two ways to access our policies, but you ultimately buy directly through us, so you can come through a comparison site with a quote or you can come directly to us and get the same quote. We always give you our best price and we don’t have any levers to pull. We offer the same price for first-time customers as we do old customers as well.
We offer that fairness and transparency, especially in the insurance industry, that hasn’t always been there.
After you get the quote and buy the policy, you’re given login details for the app and web dashboard. We then pop a miles tracker in the post. For the first 7 days, you drive as you would normally, then you put the tracker in your car and start tracking and we see the journey data coming in.
We’re on the phones 8am–6pm every day and we have our entire customer service team here in the office. The reaction from our customers has been great, our Trustpilot score is 4.8 and we are rated ‘Excellent’ at the moment.
From an Engineering perspective, can you tell us about the team and the exciting things that you’re working on?
To start, we’re relatively new so we’ve had to be pretty lean, we’re 7 people at the moment.
As a team, we have a pretty flat structure. I work on the scalability, infrastructure and delivery of the software. Then you have Matt, our Head of Development, who deals with quality and ensures we have good patterns, practices and consistency across the platform.
Every developer in our team is empowered to build and run their own changes. We felt it was very important to have ownership of what you’re doing. I have seen in big corporates where you have these big projects that are supposed to run for 2–3 months but they end up running for 6–9 months with more testing and operating in silos.
We believe it’s really important to have that cross-functional structure to what we do. We run a sustainable on-call rota so it will never burn anybody out and rotate that around the team, supporting members of staff by doing that.
On top of that, we offer all the training and continued professional development that people need to be able to succeed and excel.
What are the typical characteristics of someone who works at By Miles?
Communication. That aspect has been so important for us. It’s one of the challenges that we’ve found just growing the length of this office. For example, it’s great to be able to walk over to Customer Service and ask them directly about the problems that people are having.
We also like people who think it’s okay to make mistakes, and you learn from making your own errors. I’m proud that we don’t let our employees fail, we’ve got the guardrails to go out of your comfort zone and we like to operate and move very quickly. We still ensure we have that quality and observability over what we’re doing so, to reflect that, we’ve invested a lot into observability on our platform and metrics.
We like to be diverse as well, for example, we’ve got people in our team who are ex-military, a chemist, someone who ran their own business and someone who was a professional gardener. We’ve gone through all the channels to recruit and we, ultimately, want the team to reflect our customer base as well.
It’s great to see genuine diversity in a tech team. You’ve been here for about a year and a half now, what do you think the biggest challenge has been?
I think it’s been around proving we’re genuine, but I think we’ve done that. We’ve won a ton of awards and accolades between 2017 and now which shows that we are a genuine, honest disruptor. We’re humble and we’ve won a Plain English Award for our policy which reflects our transparency of what we’re doing, and that’s reflected in all of our employees as well.
You’ve also been named one of the UK’s Top Start-ups and one of Europe’s Top 100 InsureTech Companies. What do you think your biggest challenge has been?
It links to what I think my biggest success has been. It’s been hiring great people. Tech stack aside, which is really cool by the way, hiring great people and building that team and looking to continue doing that and ensuring that technically, as the Head of Engineering, that I’m the single point of failure for the team.
Are you pretty hands-on then?
Yeah, I am hands-on, but I can also go on holiday! Which I also expect from all of our staff as well. I’m open to saying that I can delete Slack and my emails off my phone for two weeks when I want to go on holiday.
That’s quite rare to hear from a start-up!
Yeah, it’s part of not burning people out, especially in this industry. You can push people too hard and not give them that space.
One of the technically linked successes is that we achieved ISO 27001 in 2018 which is incredibly early for a company to get, and that’s working with the business in ensuring that we have the mature policies and procedures to recognise to ISO that our software security and delivery is on par.
Especially as you scale, it’s better to get it sorted sooner rather than later…
Exactly, it gives us so many options to work with. It was unexpected to go through that so quickly, but we agreed very early on that if we’re doing this, then it’s not box-ticking exercise but how we want to work as an organisation.
It’s that transparency through security with all of the data that we hold and being one of our highest priorities.
We are certainly lucky from a greenfield perspective because we build everything inhouse. Frankly, it’s quicker and more effective rather than going to incumbent insurers.
How many customers do you have at the moment?
We’re in the tens of thousands now, which is exciting, to say the least.
What does 2020 look like?
2020 is exciting. To give you an idea, we track how many miles our members have been insured with us. In January 2019, it was around a million miles.
Today, we’ve recently hit 17 million miles which is going up as customers come on board. Meanwhile, on the other side, we also support Don’t Drive Day that happened in London, trying to get everyone to not drive their cars in London for one day. We actively supported that, even if you have a policy with us!
The numbers are huge, we only sold our first policy 16 months ago and now we’re in the tens of thousands.
There are loads of initiatives on the way, one of which is a world-first, coming next month…watch this space!
Post-2020, where does the company see itself?
It’s all come so fast to this point, but we want to continue our strong growth. We’re chasing the LV’s and Direct Lines’ of the insurance industry.
Ultimately, we want to be the dominant platform for pay-by-mile insurance and we believe we are currently at the forefront of the pay-by-mile revolution.
As a fast-growing start-up, what are the data challenges you face?
If we look at a normal car insurance company, you have to deal with quotes, policies and GDPR sensitivities of that data.
We have to deal with all of that on top of the process and telematics data coming from the miles trackers and the processing of the journeys that come in. Journeys come from many points, all over the map and we have to make sure it’s the most accurate representation of that data, so customer trust is really important from the accuracy & security of that data.
We’re processing 24,000 journeys a day at the minute, and that’s obviously going up and up. We want to cut down the lag of time between completing the journey and processing it. Sometimes, we have issues with a malfunctioning miles tracker, but it’s how we spot the problems early and ensure the data is still consistent. That’s the journey processing side of things and from a classic insurance company point of view, it’s the volume of quotes that we get from the platform.
I can imagine scalability is going to be quite a big challenge as popularity grows…
It’s already a challenge for us, but it’s about being able to get business intelligence across the data continuously and quick enough to be able to stay nimble, which is what we’ve always been very good at, we’ve always been able to uncover intelligent insights & make decisions in a small window of time. Whereas, classic large insurers have a month of data, for example, and they have entire teams who have to collect this data and build reports.
As our data sets grow, we’ve started building out our data pond which is quite humble for the size that we are at the moment.
We know we want to do stuff with this data, and we want to keep people’s data safe. It’s completely anonymous on its way out, so from ISO, FCA & GDPR perspective, we are tight and better than we need to be at this point.
We’re confident that, if the worst happens, the impact is as small as possible for our members. There’s super exciting tech behind it as well.
It could be a case where you explode with customers and you need to be prepared!
It’s a high-quality problem to have, but we’ve got an overarching think and don’t break perspective across our organisation. We come together every month where everybody can elect a 5-minute spot and talk about what they’ve done.
As we grow as a business and we’re 25 at the moment, it’s easy for things to slip past you so it’s an opportunity to share successes once a month. It’s great to be able to find out stuff from other people in the office that you might not even know about!
How do you build culture as you scale?
We have an all-company stand-up every morning, only 5 minutes, where we all contribute. It gives everybody context about what everybody’s up to at the moment.
It’s usually an opportunity for the Founders to invigorate the team as well.
Are the Founders quite hands-on?
Yeah, they are sat out on the floor with the rest of us. Callum, our CTO, for example still codes and built the first proof of concept.
What are the plans for the office in the future?
Hopefully, we’ll outgrow this office soon! There will be some amazing growth in the team next year.