March 10, 2017 |

Interview: GUARDHOG’s Humphrey Bowles

Insurance is a big thing within the sharing economy as people want to know that their valuables are secure when they share with or lend them to strangers. We noticed a UK based startup called GUARDHOG that deals with exactly that and thought it would be interesting to have a chat and learn more about what they do! 

1. What is GUARDHOG all about? 

GUARDHOG is a pioneering online platform for ‘users’ to manage their sharing insurance needs. We believe in the power of sharing while keeping people safe and we’ve built a model that for the very first time, makes sharing insurance accessible and efficient. We’re about trying to dramatically improve the way that insurance is distributed, discovered and consumed in a way that everyone can connect with and benefit from. That means we’re all about making sharing insurance accessible, and then really efficient to put in place.

We’re promoters of on-demand cover, as why pay for an annual policy when you only dip in and out of sharing activities? As an example, most hosts do not have guests to stay every day of the year…

Our flagship product is our Host Cover which has been specifically designed for the home-sharing market from the inside out. It’s full-fat home insurance by the day giving hosts the peace of mind and security that they, their home and possessions are protected. The insurance covers malicious and accidental damage, theft by the guest, and public liability. It covers buildings and contents so for those living in flats and apartments it’s a great way to make sure your whole building is properly covered – share the peace of mind with your neighbours.

2. Why did you decide to start GUARDHOG?

Having worked with Hosts at onefinestay, an awesome home-sharing platform, I’ve seen what a painfully frustrating battle it was for Hosts getting ‘proper’ insurance. Before GUARDHOG, Hosts only option was to move their whole home insurance to a more expensive policy, and one that still didn’t properly cover them. Insurers generally don’t understand the sharing economy although they’re slowly catching up! So I set out to solve the problem that I constantly faced… and the idea was simple, create a platform that allowed Hosts to take control, that allowed them to cover themselves and their assets (it is their biggest asset that is being put at risk) in a simple, quick and efficient way.

This was a win-win for both Hosts and Platforms as it enabled Platforms to pass on the responsibility of insurance to their Hosts, rather than having to take in on themselves.

3. Why is insurance so difficult to find in the sharing economy and how do you solve it? 

I love this question! The sharing economy normally characterised by fast-paced, lean try-it-and-see models couldn’t be more opposite to the slow-paced and cautious world of insurance, so it’s not great surprise they get on as well as chalk and cheese. Simply, traditional models of insurance do not fit and the sharing economy requires a very different approach.

Understanding what that approach is, is the key to our success. We’ve solved it because our heritage is 90% sharing economy, and 10% insurance. GUARDHOG is not an existing insurance company dipping a toe in this ‘new market’, we’ve spent years working, breathing, and understanding how the sharing economy fits together, how users interact and this has informed everything about us. I’ve been working in the home-sharing market for over 6 years, and only in insurance for 18 months. We truly are a sharing economy platform first, and an insurance provider second.

The sharing economy requires a model that allows users to cover themselves only when they need to, without subscribing to expensive year round policies. That’s what we’ve created; a platform where hosts can cover themselves quickly and easily when they’re sharing.

4. What is your primary challenge at the moment? 

The current home-sharing insurance environment can only be described as “confusing” with some thinking they are automatically covered by their underlying policies and more worryingly, many genuinely believing Airbnb and other platforms offer ‘insurance’. This is a real concern, in fact it is unbelievable scary that so many people are mistakingly placing their biggest assets at risk under the impression they’re covered for all eventualities.

So our biggest challenge is trying to raise awareness and help people understand what they’re doing, the risks involved, what they are/are not covered for and then help them fill in the gaps. The good news is that insurance is recognised as being a crucial piece of the puzzle, and as long as amazing influencers like Debbie Wosskow  continue to say things like, “Insurance is crucial to making the sharing economy work for everyone,”  then this awareness will slowly shine through. And for sharing platforms Esther Val is doing some amazing work with Sharetribe to help their marketplaces make the right insurance accessible for their members.

5. Why is it hard for sharing economy platforms to scale without insurance?

It’s no surprise that many who may perhaps be thinking about getting involved and participating in this new peer-to-peer world, are at best ‘put off’ by the horror stories, and at worst, dismiss the sharing economy as just too risky for them. So many sharing economy platforms see providing insurance to their members as a free membership benefit as a natural and necessary evolution of their business.

The awesome thing about GUARDHOG is that we can work with platforms of any size, from tiny one founder start-ups to mega-international global platforms. We’ve completely re-written the rules when it comes to how easy it is for platforms to help cover their members; either by introducing them directly to us or putting a group policy in place.

6. What is your best advice to sharing economy platforms?

We’ve seen first hand how insurance can play such an important role in reassuring those worried about potential damage to their possessions to get involved in this new world of peer-to-peer sharing. If a disaster happens, the larger platforms such as Airbnb have the resources to weather such storms, but the little guys may find that if the participants on their platform have a seriously negative experience then the breach in trust that this will inevitably cause may be difficult to recover from.

So it’s not worth avoiding the issue, let’s work together and help make sure that everyone is sharing safely.

7. We are big fans of the sharing economy – what do you love about the sharing economy? 

I have four big sharing loves at the moment…

The first is Airbnb  as a superhost I love unleashing my inner hotelier and bringing the world to my doorstep. Making an income from our spare room has also been pretty crucial as we build GUARDHOG. If you haven’t yet thought of using Airbnb you have to try it…

The second is Fat Lama, a platform that allows you to rent anything. Take a second to think how cool that is…

The third is TrustedHousesitters essentially a platform for dogs and cats to pick the best ‘back scratcher’ to look after them whilst their person is away.

The final one is CityStasher. They’ve completely sorted what to do with your suitcase if you have an early flight/train and don’t wish to cart your bag around with you waiting to check into your Airbnb.

8. Where do you see the future of insurance within the sharing economy? 

I’m going to probably be the first person to ever use the words exciting and insurance together in the same sentence as I think the future of insurance within the sharing economy is really really exciting. Rather than being a grudge purchase like car insurance (sigh), GUARDHOG insurance is going to become a fundamental part of the sharing ecosystem as it’s going to help users feel safe and protected when using peer-to-peer marketplaces. It’s going to help encourage more people to get involved and we’ve managed to make it accessible and efficient for everyone to use. That’s pretty cool, and game changing.

9. Sharing is big in the UK – any news or cool services that you would like to share? 

We’ve developed a nifty bit of tech that allows us to take hosts online booking calendar’s (icals), read them and then automatically put insurance in place for when they have guests staying. This means we can offer ‘no-click, hands free’ insurance which we think is a first!

10. Trust is very important for your business – what are your thoughts on trust in relation to the sharing economy? 

Trust is one, if not, THE most fundamental value that underpins the sharing economy. It’s just fundamental to the sharing economy, but trust needs to be reinforced with insurance – because insurance can build reassurance amongst reluctant but potential participants who think peer-to peer-sharing involves too many risks for them.

Put it another way insurance, or rather the idea behind insurance, is wonderfully simple: rather than crossing our fingers in the hope that the worst will never happen (or only happen to someone else), we contribute to a pot that promises to compensate us if the unexpected, unplanned for and unwanted happens and our most valuable possessions are lost or destroyed or someone get’s injured. Buildings insurance is a great example as few of us could afford to rebuild our home if it was burnt to the ground.

So what we’re trying to do at GUARDHOG is help make the sharing economy a more resilient place, and by us all sharing into that pot, we’ll be able to help each other when the disasters happen and this consequently helps us trust each other that little bit more as we know there is a safety net in place in case something happens.

If you’re staying in someone else’s home, you want to know that if there is an accident and something happens then you’re not going to be left with a massive bill, and that your host is going to be properly covered. Put it another way, if you were to fall down the stairs and end up with serious injuries it’s important your host has the right cover in place to look after you!

11. This makes complete sense, if I’m a host what should I do now? 

The most important thing is not to stick your head in the sand, think it won’t happen to you and do nothing, it’s just not worth the risk so please sign up to GUARDHOG and start using our cover – it took my mum 3 mins to create an account and we’ve banished those long complicated insurance questions.

It’s also worth reading the 3 geeky steps to take before you share your home or just send me an email and I’ll talk you through the whys, hows, and whats of our cover.

Thank you so much for your time, Humphrey! Very interesting! We look forward to following your work 🙂