Wei Zhu spent much of the past two decades working for some of the biggest names in tech. Just over a year ago he decided to cash in his corporate credentials and fulfill a long-held ambition to launch his own startup.
Inspiration for Axinan – the startup Wei Zhu founded in mid-2016 – came from China, where a number of new fintech companies were making waves in the insurance space.
Startups like ZhongAn – which has attracted funding from Ant Financial, SoftBank, and Tencent, and became one of the biggest ever fintech IPOs when it listed in Hong Kong last year – have revolutionized the sale of insurance plans by taking the process completely online.
Wei Zhu observed the trajectory taken by China’s insurance industry, and noticed similar trends taking root in Southeast Asia too.
“One thing driving this to happen is very rapid adoption of mobile and online for all aspects of life in China – whether ecommerce, mobile payment, ride-hailing, delivery,” he told Tech in Asia.
“I’ve been in Southeast Asia since 2012, having spent 20 years in America,” said the China-born engineer. “I can see the change in society and the economy in that time. If history is a guide, Southeast Asia is following in the steps of China.”
Axinan is looking to offer high frequency, low premium microinsurance products tailored to the digital economy, mitigating risks that traditional insurance companies are yet to fully address.
“One of the first things we work on is related to [product] returns. It’s definitely a pain point for consumers, merchants, as well as for the ecommerce platforms. As ecommerce becomes more sophisticated, consumers have increased sophistication in demand as well.”
The long-term plan is for Axinan to become a “full-stack tech company with a full insurance license,” he added.
His market research revealed that two of the top three complaints most often made by ecommerce consumers are related to product returns. The top complaint was the cost of delivery. This encouraged the Axinan team to develop parcel return insurance as their first product.
Axinan’s tech can assess the likelihood of returns based on user demographics, online shopping behavior, and more. It has already partnered with Indonesian ecommerce player Tokopedia, among other firms, to test-run its offering.
“We want [ecommerce] to flourish, and people need confidence. We want to address this matter of trust, as well as reduce people’s worries when they perform activities like online shopping or book tickets – to give them peace of mind.”
Investors seem to think Wei Zhu and his team are onto something. Axinan has just landed series A funding in the high seven figures in US dollars, with the potential for more investors to join the round, Tech in Asia understands.
Singapore-based NSI Ventures, part of private equity firm the Northstar Group, led the round. China’s Linear Venture was among several other investors to take part.
Wei Zhu will use the fresh funds to hire people with business development, operations management, and insurance expertise. The startup will also deploy some capital to open new offices, with Indonesia and China the two key target markets for expansion.
The latter could bring Axinan into direct competition with some of the longer established insurtech companies that inspired its foundation, as well as traditional insurance providers.
“There could be whole number of players that become our competitors,” said Wei Zhu. “We feel what we are offering in terms of company culture and vision is quite unique. I don’t think many players, if any, actually work in same space as we do. Having said that, it’s the players you don’t know that can be the biggest problem. So it’s really up to us to execute.”
Wei Zhu has plenty of experience on the inside of larger tech companies, which could serve Axinan well as it seeks to extend its footprint.
After an eight-year stint in software development at Microsoft, Wei Zhu moved down the US west coast to Facebook in 2007, where he helped create Facebook Connect – a feature that enables people to use their Facebook sign-in details to access their accounts on third-party sites.
In mid-2014, he was poached by Singapore-based ride-hailing firm Grab to become its first chief technology officer.
His tenure ended in unclear circumstances after barely a year. Wei Zhu subsequently sued Grab in a dispute over share options. He did not comment on his time at Grab when quizzed by Tech in Asia.
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