Since launching in 2016, Flock has raised half a million pounds from a combination of VC, angel and corporate investors. Pioneering a smarter drone insurance model based on Big Data analytics for quantifying drone flight risk in real time, the start-up has garnered interest from insurers, drone users and tech experts alike…and the first product hasn’t even been launched yet. In this week’s Future Planet Blog, CEO Ed Klinger tells us how they got started and explains why his investors have been “transformative” for the business.
“I’ve broken my nose four times,” says Klinger. He’s not a man averse to risk, either in the boxing ring or in business. Less than a year ago, after finishing an MPhil in technology policy at Cambridge’s Judge Business School, he turned down a cushy private equity job offer to work with Antton Peña: an engineer and designer he’d met on the tech circuit.
“Antton came up with the idea for Flock while studying for his Masters’ at Imperial,” he says. “He was working with the Data Science Institute, writing a thesis on the future of the drone industry and how it would evolve. He came up with the idea of developing more sophisticated analytics for drone flight risk, using real-time data to influence their flight path and help them interact with society in the safest way.”
It was a concept that Peña was able to nurture and develop while still at Imperial’s DSI. “He got funding from Innovate UK and was able to employ an artificial intelligence PhD at the DSI to work with him on it. … The work was done at Imperial, but Antton retained 100% ownership over the rights.”
In the meantime, Klinger was in Cambridge focusing on policies around autonomous technology, considering how governments, societies and businesses would handle the emergence of intelligent cars, automated drones and the like.
“When we met, we just started riffing about the future of the drone industry and what needed to be built, and talking about the software he had been building at DSI. I was about to start work at a private equity firm. Anton had founded another technology company around making wills online. After we met we became so excited about Flock that we decided to quit those jobs and jump into launching the business.”
Flock has now received three grants from Innovate UK and one grant from Ordnance Survey (from Geovation Hub, the firm’s start-up arm in London) which is accompanied by office space and developer support on their London premises, plus investments from VC firm Downing Ventures and a syndicate of 13 angel investors with expertise in relevant areas including insurance, data and mapping. They have also received a place on the RGA Accelerator.
“People seem to have been excited that we’re building something new in both the insurance and the drone space. It’s the potential for an innovative insurance model that seems to have caught people’s attention,” says Klinger.
The mixture of corporate, VC and expert investment is something that he’s keen to preserve. “Our investors so far have really been transformative for the business. We’ve had them at the other end of the phone, helping us, driving introductions, connections. Looking ahead [to the next fundraising] we’ve had a great deal of interest from traditional VC in the UK and the US, as well as from corporate venture including insurance companies based in London. We’re looking at both. As a start-up in two rapidly developing ecosystems it’s good for us to have access to that range of expertise.”
Right now, the team is still heads-down in product development mode. “We’ve advanced a working prototype but we’re still developing the first product, which will launch later this year,” predicts Klinger. “We’re working closely with one of the world’s leading insurers to take it to market. It will be sold directly to drone users, firstly commercial drone operators, but our technology is use-agnostic; soon it will be available to everybody. ‘
The product won’t just provide smarter insurance premiums. It will also act as a risk identification tool than clients can use on their smartphones, tracking hyperlocal weather patterns and nearby hazards. “Since the analytics are specific to the particular time of the flight, it will allow operators to choose less expensive times and routes.”
Flock’s new website recently launched at flockcover.com, where beta-testers of their software can sign up for early use. As he looks forward to a possible super-seed round next year, Klinger is already thinking about the longer term. “Our software will become more intelligent over time. We want to meet challenges with regulators, insurers and drone operators, pioneering Big-Data driven risk intelligence for the autonomous world.” This new entrepreneur is still a policy strategist at heart.
Future Planet’s Douglas Hansen-Luke says: “Flock is a fantastic example of UK university-bred innovation. Their story showcases the importance of developing a diverse investor base at a very early stage and the value that can be added by both financial and strategic stakeholders.”