Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO and founder of Tapoly
“It’s important to be able to break the mould, if you want to achieve something greater than what your family or society expects of you.”
Janthana Kaenprakhamroy is a force to be reckoned with. Two years ago she launched Tapoly, Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy. Since then, her innovation in the sector has been widely lauded, and she was recently included in the Insurance Institute’s top ten insurtech female influencers list.
As we meet in Marble Arch on a sunny afternoon, Janthana, who cycled here, says the acknowledgement took her by surprise. ”I didn’t expect it, especially so soon after launching the business. It’s definitely an achievement to be recognised for my hard work.”
“The idea came to me by accident. I wanted to let out my spare room through Airbnb over the summer and tried to purchase affordable insurance. I reached out to insurers and was told that they either weren’t able to offer me insurance, orthe only cover they could offer would cost about ten times more than my home insurance.”
Janthana conducted some research and found many other people who were in similar situations – frustrated with not being able to get the cover they needed. Consequently, she decided to take the plunge to see if she could fix the problem herself.
“I was willing to work for as I long as I had to in order to see this through. My vision for Tapoly is to become an on-demand insurance provider for the global business and freelance communities. It's so important for us to be able to do that because a lot of freelancers and small businesses are very vulnerable, and many of them don’t have appropriate insurance they can easily access at a cheap price. I've always wanted to run a successful business, to be able to create jobs, make money and contribute to a city that has been so kind to me, so I see Tapoly as a way of giving back.”
Despite the epiphany, Janthana admits that her entrepreneurial journey has not been easy. Having grown up in a small village in the northeast of Thailand, her family relocated to Sweden when Janthana’s mother was given an opportunity to work there.
“I faced a lot of challenges when I moved to Sweden. I was only 12 years old [when we moved] and I couldn't speak the language;. Sweden is such a completely different country to Thailand, and it took a while for me to adapt to the culture and new way of living, including to the cold climate. I had to spend a year learning Swedish.
“When I was 18 years old, my careers adviser told me that I would only amount to being a waitress.’ This was really frustrating. I felt disappointed and a sense of hopelessness as I was expecting more of my life.
Determined to make something of herself, Janthana left Sweden and arrived in London with just £300 and a suitcase. “I immediately felt at home here. I went straight to Chinatown, and for the first time in my life, people didn’t ask me where I came from. I always said to myself that if I had the opportunity to learn English, then I would do the best that I could, which is what I did.”
Janthana began training to be a chartered accountant and worked in investment banking. After 15 years, she reached the position of internal audit director at UBS, which gave her a strong grounding in dealing with complex operational, regulatory and governance issues, ideal for her future entrepreneurial venture. However, she had always dreamt of running her own business. In 2016, she quit her job to focus on Tapoly full-time, fully aware that her self-doubt would determine the success of the business.
“I realised I had to change my mindset. I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. If I'm wrong about that, where else am I going wrong?’ I think that's when I started to think maybe I was wrong about my own capabilities.
“It was very hard to overcome some of the mental challenges, especially coming from where I came from, when your entire society and your family expected a different life for you.
“I’m the first person in my family to have ever graduated from university or run their own business. To truly be independent has been a big personal achievement. I think it's important for other women to know that they do have the choice.”
Janthana is one of the few females in insurtech with an investment banking background. She recognises the difficulties of building an insurance company in a heavily regulated and capital-intensive industry.
“Raising finances has been a big challenge as you need a lot of capital to be able to build and scale the business, especially now we are on the brink of Brexit. It’s been very difficult because you need to raise millions to reach the next milestone, but you haven't got the level of traction to be able to attract a lot of investment from the get-go.”
“It would have been easier if I had received some encouragement and support from my family; to do what I do, I needed to break the trend and go against everyone’s expectations. There is a stereotype against women in business, maybe because of a fear amongst some investors that successful female entrepreneurs will go off and start a family as soon as they are able. This makes it harder for a woman to raise funds. On the other hand, I think this makes us better at managing our resources as we know we have to make the money go further.”
Janthana is eager to raise awareness around Tapoly, and scale the business while developing the business strategy and scouting operations.
“It's been a journey. Over the last two years, I’ve grown so much mentally and emotionally. I also I learned how to build a business from the ground up, which I never thought that I could. When we first started, I didn't know how to raise money or build a team. Now I have done both, but I never thought that I would be able to.”
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