Swedish Startup Space

Started by himself in Ghana – now his company is worth over $120 million

Written by on October 22, 2015

Gustaf Agartson is the man behind Sweden’s latest company within tech valued at over $100 million – insurance broker Bima.

It was Henrik Persson, at the time responsible for investment company Kinnevik’s ventures in digital companies, who came up with the proposition:

“Gustaf, we want you to initiate a mobile insurances’ startup in Africa” – that was the core in Henrik Persson’s message when they met in Kinnevik’s headquarters atSkeppsbron in the Old Town, five years ago.

Gustaf Agartson did not have to think about it for very long. He already had a promising career at another Kinnevik company, Tele 2, but Henrik Persson’s proposition was hard to say no to.

Gustaf Agartson’s mission was to use Kinnevik-money with telecom operator Millicom’s customer base, and build an entirely new global business under the brand Bima.

But at the beginning he was all by himself.

“I moved down by myself to the capital of Ghana, Accra in 2010 and started building the business”, Gustaf Agartson says.

The founding idea was to sell various private insurance solutions through Millicom’s customers. On average, 5 percent of the people in developing countries have a health insurance.

“The core problem is that you pay your insurance every month and most people in these countries do not have a bank account. Instead, they have to pay cash, which causes most people to ignore signing up for an insurance”, Gustaf Agartson says.

But with Accra as base, Gustaf Agartson created a solution where insurances can be signed and paid through the mobile. At the same time, while he was negotiating with authorities regarding an approval of the insurance model (“This was the greatest challenge, the insurance industry is strictly regulated”) he started to recruit sales people for Bima.

“We needed lots of sales people working at both call centers and out on the street to reach a lot of customers”, Gustaf Agartson says.

Already from the beginning, the company was heavily focused on international expansion. Gustaf Agartson acted on the African continent during the first two years but in 2012 it was time for the next step – Asia.

The Asian venture has been very successful. As an example, the number of insured people in Bangladesh has grown from 3 percent to 5 percent of the population. Expansion continued to Latin America during 2014, where telecom operator Digicel also came in as share-owner and partner.

Our business model is based on very large volumes. The revenue from each customer is low but can turn a profit it becomes large enough in total for there to be profitability”, Gustaf Agartson says.

To this date, Bima have sold insurances to more than 18 million customers and the number is increasing with around 700.000 each month. The growth is made possible by Bima’s current army of 3.500 salespeople.

“Our model has already proven itself. We are profitable in Ghana and on several other markets”, Gustaf Agartson says.

He himself owns a minor share in the company together with some other co-workers. The largest owner is Kinnevik who holds 39 percent of the shares. Last summer, Bima’s owner Milvik issued new shares valued at $38.4 million. It’s the second largest financial round this year among Swedish tech companies, just trailing Spotify. With the transaction, Milvik is valued at more than $132 million.

“The money from the latest new issue will be enough to achieve company wide profitability”, Gustaf Agartson says.

Bima are present in 14 countries today, but the plan is to expand into 6 other countries within the next two years.

“We are currently looking at big countries like Brazil, India and Kenya”, Gustaf Agartson says.

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