An estimated 162m people across the EU and US work in the so-called gig economy, hired on short-term contracts or as freelancers rather than full time.
Some of them may actively choose flexible employment options, while others are forced to take on insecure work through necessity. But all independent workers share one problem: they are very poorly served by the current financial system.
Enter Sten Saar, chief executive and cofounder of Zego, who started the company while working at the online food delivery service Deliveroo when he saw a gap in the market for flexible on-demand insurance to serve gig-economy workers.
Zego provides insurance for those only working ad-hoc hours (such as Deliveroo couriers or Uber drivers) and for whom it wouldn’t be economical to pay for a conventional policy. It has won €47m in funding from big-name investors like Balderton Capital and Local Globe. Zego plans to launch in 10 new countries next year.
After founding his first company aged 17, Saar won numerous young entrepreneur awards before graduating from Tallinn University of Technology. A move to London shortly after saw him run operations for the high-end accommodation rental platform Onefinestay and later food-delivery platform Deliveroo.
Sifted caught up with Saar to ask him about the books that have motivated him through his journey as an entrepreneur.
You’re a serial entrepreneur, but is there a book you wish you’d read before starting a business?
“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni highlights the basic pitfalls of people working in groups. It’s key for leadership to work well together and an effective team is two times more productive than one with a weaker dynamic, so it’s important to get that right in the early stages.
What was your favourite childhood book?
“Winnie the Pooh” and “The Little Prince”. The Little Prince made me cry. I read it when I was 12, then again at 24 and it had the same effect on me! You get an incredible feeling of energy, inspiration and ‘yes, I can do it!’
Winnie the Pooh was just a nice friendly chap, caring and supportive. I’m a big fan of that so I identified with the character in a way. In school I had a friend who was a lot smaller than I was and I always looked after him when people tried to bully him, like Pooh and Piglet. I was always very protective of anyone being bullied — can’t stand it, whether it’s in the playground or a work environment.
Is there a book you like to give as a gift?
I don’t give books as gifts — they’re a hard purchase. There are millions out there and people have their own preferences. Some people like an e-book, some prefer audiobooks, some go to the library. I share TED talks and Medium blogs all the time to spread knowledge.
To give a gift or show appreciation I like to give spa vouchers and I take people for dinner or breakfast. Taking time to relax or hang out together is more valuable than an object.
Have you ever overcome a specific business problem with an idea from a book?
“High Growth Handbook” by Elad Gil has been incredibly helpful in defining my role as chief executive and giving me guidance on how to build a leadership team. It’s like an encyclopaedia — I pick it up and look up the topic I need.
There are three things I need to do: make sure there’s a clear strategy, money to grow and an exceptional team. After reading this I made a change to expectation-setting for several roles in the business and learned to hold board members accountable. I keep telling them they work for me because they want Zego to succeed — so they’ve got to help me with that!
What is the best introductory book on your particular area of expertise (insurance)?
There is no particular book but there are several great research pieces by BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and McKinsey. Boring but well-structured and easy to understand.
I’d love to have something like ‘Insurance for Dummies’ for people who have never worked in the industry. It’s absolutely fascinating how the evolution of insurance has happened, how it’s been an enabler and a roadblock for different types of activity. It has made many things possible and is about to be transformed thanks to the rise of big data. Insurance is going to impact everyone’s lives whether they know it or not.
It would be great to have a book that simplified things because insurance is actually very cool and exciting.
If you were to write a book is that what it would be about?
No, I’d probably write a book with 100 short stories about customers that I’ve been involved with since I began my career. This would include stories from Onefinestay, like how guests discovered reptiles in their accommodation, all the way to Zego, where customers upload very inappropriate ‘driving licence photos’!
I think it would be a fun read while also opening people’s minds to what many customer-facing teams have to do on a daily basis in order to offer excellent service.
Which book is most frequently recommended to you?
“Principles” by Ray Dalio, which I hear about in almost every conversation. A lot of problems and challenges that businesses have come down to dealing with people — being clear, setting the framework. That book really shows you how to do it.
Enough about books, what else has had an impact on you?
Oh, I consume information much better via video. “The Green Mile” is one that sticks in my mind. You see massive cruelty, bullying, suffering, but kindness at the same time. Watching those extreme emotions being played out gets you really riled up. It made me cry!
During my first company sales meetings I played the team that ‘always be closing’ clip from “Glengarry Glen Ross”. In a weird way that’s a great inspirational speech. With some people it absolutely works, with others it does not! First place salesman gets a Cadillac, second gets a set of steak knives, third gets fired… not at Zego though!