Insurtech 50 firm Genasys Technologies’ group chief executive discusses growth plans with Insurance Times following the business creating two new units 

Genasys Technologies’ new group chief executive Andre Symes has revealed his ambition for the insurtech scale up to become a “zebracorn”.

Symes became group chief executive of South African insurtech Genasys in March 2023 when the business announced a restructure of its business units.

Prior to the restructure, Symes had worked as co-chief executive alongside Craig Olivier, who has now become chief technology officer himself.

Symes tells Insurance Times: “We are looking to become a zebracorn. Zebras are indigenous African horses, you can’t be a unicorn in Africa – you have to be a zebra.

”The reason I use the term ’zebracorn’ is because we want to be the first unicorn insurtech that comes out of South Africa and, if we continue our existing growth path, we will be there long before the decade is out.”

A unicorn is a term used to denote a startup company that reaches a valuation of $1bn or more.

For Symes, a zebracorn is a unicorn spun out of South Africa, the insurtech’s homeland. He has set the deadline for achieving this goal to a “few years”.

He continues: “There are means to achieve this quicker, but as a business and along with our shareholders, we have always taken the approach that controlled growth is sustainable growth.

”We have all seen what happens to insurtechs that scale too quickly – the capital dries up or [it] becomes more expensive. We don’t want to be reliant on raising cash for runway, we want to only raise cash to expand or accelerate product development.

“We have been self-funded for 25 years until we did a small raise beginning of last year. We never believe in hocky sticking this business for the sake of valuation because we want to make sure we have a sustainable business. We are a business, we are not a venture.”

Hockey stick growth refers to when a cash injection is used to push growth exponentially, creating a graph line that looks like a hockey stick.

Instead of utilising a cash injection, Symes believes building a business is all about resilience, for which the right infrastructure needs to be in place.

He also notes the difficulty of trying to reach a large customer base of a million or above.

“The average customer stays with Genasys for over a decade, which is unheard of in the Software as a Service (SaaS) space,” he adds.

Scaling up

Creating two new business units has also been of benefit to Genasys’ customers, says Symes..

Prior to Symes’ taking up his latest position, both him and Craig Olivier were co-chief executives but March 2023 saw the business create two new units – a product and innovation campus in Cape Town, South Africa and a professional services division in Johannesburg.

Symes continues: “We are scaling up the business and we have started to grow a lot. We have become laser focused on some areas such as technology – particularly Olivier’s division of product innovation, which is an app that we have fully launched.”

The pair have always been good at “blue sky thinking”, says Symes, by which he means disruptive thinking during business as usual.

“The main motive behind this was to have Olivier focusing on what is really important to the scalability of our business – that’s making sure that we have the best product for the foreseeable future and driving an innovative culture in Cape Town,” he adds.

Secret Sauce

For Symes, part of the reason Genasys opened an office in Stellenbosch, Cape Town was because of the location’s close proximity to all the technology colleges.

He says: “We are giving our secret sauce away. We come from the South African Silicon Valley, all the cool new digital banks have got offices there and the IT colleges in the Stellenbosch facility are sporting world class talent – we are right on their doorstep so they can jump into Genasys and get a full hands-on experience.

”New young blood coming into the business is certainly going to shake things up.”

On this note, Symes says the insurtech has developed a major graduate programme that it will be rolling out soon.

With Olivier looking after this part, it allows Symes to focus on business strategy for Genasys’ growth plans.

Genasys also hopes to grow its staff base over the next few years.

The insurtech scaleup is targeting MGAs and insurers. Symes adds: “The idea is to make sure as many people in the market can configure our software as possible.”