Mike Brockman broke away from InsureTheBox to set up next-gen telematics start-up ThingCo. He spoke to Insurance Times about his global ambitions, cutting-edge technology, and how he hopes to build a new telematics ecosystem

In 1908, Henry Ford’s first Model T rolled off the production line. The motor car had previously been available only to the very rich, but Ford sought to change that by using an assembly line and simplifying vehicles so that they could be mass produced.

Mike brockman thing co

Ford’s modus operandi was to make the car affordable for the everyday American. He certainly succeeded, and his legacy lives on today.

Fast forward 110 years, and telematics maverick Mike Brockman hopes he can follow in Ford’s footsteps.

The former InsureTheBox chief executive is building a fresh start-up, with a view to revolutionise the telematics market and change how people interact with the vehicles that were first made available en-masse by Ford.

Moving the telematics proposition forward

ThingCo will look to mass-produce a new telematics device and conquer the global mass-market.

With just six staff in its Bank-based London office at present, a couple of weeks into its journey, and still at the proof-of-concept stage, this may sound like a hefty ambition.

The team has only just worked out how to use the heater in the room they share; chief executive Mike Brockman’s daughter gives him a quick demo after the interview.

But, ThingCo has one very important thing going for it: Its small team, including Brockman, chief technology officer Jonathon Valentine and partnership director Richard Trebble, includes instrumental players in the success of InsureTheBox.

This is Brockman’s third new business.

“InsureTheBox is 10 years old now. When it started it was revolutionary. It’s been massively successful,” explains Brockman. “In that time where everyone told me no one wanted a box, no one wanted to be monitored, we’ve sold over 800,000 policies. Which is pretty amazing.”

Now that Brockman has agreed a deal with InsureTheBox owner ANDIE to sell his remaining shares, the team are seeking a new challenge. And they claim to have the tech to do so.

Should incumbents be worried?

“We want to be a B2B business supporting the industry and interested parties in taking telematics to the next level,” Brockman explains. “We are creating a business model that supports everyone”

Brockman wants to work with car rental companies as well as insurers. He even has his sights set on the broker market and is exploring the possibilities there.

“The UK is so dominated by aggregators. While that’s very good for the consumer, to some extent it stifles innovation because everything is pushed towards price,” says Brockman.

He struggles to see a way that his new device would work on an aggregator, as it is so different to other propositions out there.

The ”holy grail of telematics”

ThingCo is building a device that is part-dashcam, part-telematics, part-voice assistant and part-ADAS. Brockman is certain there is nothing in the market out there like it.

“The good thing about this device is it’s attractive to anyone. It’s valuable in its own right,” he says. “It’s not just underpinned by insurance. The holy grail of telematics is to break away from that. If you can find something that’s economically viable and attractive to everyone, you’ve solved that equation.”

Brockman expects it will be professionally installed in a user’s car.

As well as collecting useful data that he hopes to offer the driver the option to sell to insurers or other third parties, the machine will offer additional enhanced functionalities.

For example, in a first notification of loss (FNOL) situation, Brockman suggests it could give voice instructions to help assist an injured person. He has been working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to see if this capability is possible; he says tech companies are willing to reach out and help develop his product now that he has broken away from an incumbent.

In the event of a crash, Brockman says his idea is: “Alexa could be talking to you, asking ‘have you had an accident? Are you ok? Is anyone injured?’ It could triage automatically and lead you through the process without any human intervention.”

He also wants the device to congratulate drivers when they have had a particularly good journey.

It will have ADAS capabilities, but will not be attached to a car’s computer, instead communicating via sound. This, Brockman explains, makes it far less vulnerable in the event of a cyber-attack, as the vehicle is not put at risk.

“It could be worth £150, but could be able to generate £800. We don’t know the value yet,” Brockman concedes. He is animated, clearly excited about the possibilities. He believes in this product.

“I know it’s big, but I don’t know how big it is.”

Sticking out from the crowd

Brockman knows that ThingCo still has a long way to go before the company is ready to hit the market.

However, he jubilantly exclaims that the team has achieved more in two weeks than they thought possible. All they have to do is keep up the momentum, now that they are free of the politics and procedures of working within a large insurer.

He hopes that in four months ThingCo will have developed its proposition to the proof of concept level, at which point he aims to engage with a “range” of businesses.

Eventually, he wants to go global, including attacking the Chinese market. He has been warned not to approach the loosely regulated behemoth, but Brockman has hit back: “We are renowned for doing things that people think are impossible or very hard and my answer to that is always: if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t bother doing it, because everybody would be doing it. You have to stick out from the crowd.”

He adds: “China is another one where people say they’ll steal all your ideas, they’ll never pay you, regulation is terrible. There’s 101 reasons why no one will trade in China, so we’re going to give it a go.”

In 1927, Ford was able to watch the 15 millionth Model T, by then affectionately known as the Tin Lizzie, roll off the assembly line in the US.

Who knows, perhaps in another few years, Brockman will be watching via videolink as his 15 millionth Thing Lizzie is fitted in China.