An Interview with Nestor Solari, Co-Founder of Sigo

Founder Visibility is an interview series that highlights founders that inspire us and shares how they found their firsts: co-founder, customer, capital, and confidence.

Meet Nestor, Co-Founder of Sigo, a mobile-first inclusive car insurance platform focused on providing immigrants and the working class affordable access to auto insurance. Nestor has taken an empowering and innovative approach to community-building and shared his experience and words of wisdom with us. Read his founder journey below.

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In the U.S., immigrant and working-class populations struggle to get insurance because they don’t have an insurance history, credit score, or live in the “wrong ZIP code.” So I decided to build an inclusive car insurance provider for these communities by providing affordable access to auto insurance.
— Nestor Solari, Co-Founder of Sigo

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey leading up to starting Sigo.

I’m Nestor, and I’m the Co-Founder of Sigo, an inclusive insurance provider focused on providing affordable access to car insurance. My parents are Uruguayan immigrants, and I was born and raised in northern New Jersey. I was also the first one in my family to go to college. I attended Penn State and was fortunate enough to get a job on Wall Street.

I started my career at Goldman Sachs in investment banking, where I focused predominantly on Latin America. I did that for a little bit before realizing that it wasn’t the long-term career path I wanted for myself. That led to me moving over to the investing side, where I worked on growth equity and late-venture stage investments in financial institutions in emerging markets. I spent a lot of time in India, Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Cambodia), and Latin America, and I made investments in all of those regions. I also worked at two funds—one in Connecticut called Developing World Markets (DWM Asset Management), and another in Chicago called Creation Investments.

I decided to go to business school at Wharton to found Sigo because I had seen first-hand that it was really challenging for some people to get auto insurance. I didn’t understand why—partially because I was lucky. I went to college, had a good job, and lived in the right ZIP code, so getting insurance was pretty easy for me. But my aunt, who has been in the U.S. for over 30 years, has a U.S. driver’s license, has had a U.S.-authorized job, and has never even gotten into a car accident, still struggled to get auto insurance. And the more I dug there, the more it became clear that she wasn’t the only one struggling.

In the U.S., immigrant and working-class populations struggle to get insurance because they don’t have an insurance history, credit score, or live in the “wrong ZIP code.” So I decided to build an inclusive car insurance provider for these communities by providing affordable access to auto insurance.

Not everyone has a computer to access the internet. Fortunately, smartphone penetration has gotten to a point where many people can surf the internet through their phones, which is why our platform is mobile-first. We’re also bilingual end-to-end; we offer services in English and Spanish.

Over the last year, we’ve created our own insurance product that directly eradicates disparate impact that usually affects immigrant and working-class populations. We’re not using employment, education, or credit score to price insurance because we believe those metrics negatively affect our target market. Instead, we’re introducing telematics, for example, which allows people the opportunity to share driving data with us to receive discounts.

What was your motivation to start Sigo?

After my first job, I moved into impact investing. I focused on serving the ‘base of the pyramid,’ meaning the working-class globally. I executed investments in microfinance institutions and realized I was interested in a career focused on impact.

I saw the opportunity to help my community here in the US, which includes people like my family—my father who came here without an education, without any money—who would’ve struggled to get auto insurance, as well as a bunch of other things. Auto insurance is where we see ourselves entering, but there are tons of other opportunities to help our customers within and beyond insurance. So that really motivated me to take a big pay cut and jump into this instead of getting a fancy job after my MBA.

How was the process of finding your co-founder, and what were you looking for in a co-founder?

It was brutal, to say the least.

I started Sigo by myself at business school. I got there, put together the first pitch deck, and got the first check. But I needed someone with a technical background to build the product. I’m a finance guy, not an engineer, so I was looking for a CTO as my co-founder to help me build the vision.

I pounded the pavement on that. I reached out to old classmates from high school that I hadn’t spoken to in almost 15 years, and I searched all over the place, trying to find an engineer to no avail.

Fortunately, I built a relationship with a classmate of mine, Julio Erdos, a Brazilian immigrant. He was getting ready to go into product management and had the experience of building technical products, even though he’s not technical himself. However, I saw that he had a very complementary skill set to mine. We also shared a lot of the same values, which made the vision easier to accomplish.

When Julio was looking at internships towards the end of our first year at business school, I asked him if he wanted to join me and build Sigo together. He agreed and came on board, and after being friends for about nine months and analyzing each other’s work ethic, working together was a good decision. Julio and I worked on Sigo during our summer in between first and second year, and we found our technical co-founder together, who joined after we graduated to build our product.

What were some of the challenges you faced at the earliest points of your startup journey?

Insurance is really complicated—a lot more complicated than I thought it was. I wasn’t an insurance guy before this, so I thought I would be able to easily build a technical platform and plug into these insurance APIs, and we were going to be able to sell insurance. It turns out that was not the case.

There is a lot of regulation surrounding insurance, and it is a big, antiquated industry filled with old tech and anachronistic processes. Unlike startups in other sectors, you can’t really break things in insurance. You need partners, and you’ve got to make sure they’re not nervous about taking the risk and working with you, especially at an early stage.

You’re going to meet a lot of people who have opinions. You’ll find that they will give you conflicting feedback and advice; they’ll tell you to do two completely different things. As a first-time founder, you need to be able to sort through that and decide what the right path is for you and your company.

At one point, I was advised by someone to start selling and get the revenue as fast as possible. And on the other side, I got the feedback not to rush to get revenue because once you’re at that stage, you’re going to be judged on your growth. I decided to follow the latter, but in hindsight, I wish I had rushed sooner to generate revenue and sales because getting to the revenue stage taught me a lot about our customers and the product itself, which was the steepest learning curve for me over these past three years.

How did you find your first customer?

We were in Philly for business school, and as an insurance agent, you need to be licensed in your home state and find insurance carriers to let you sell insurance. I got my insurance license, but it is very difficult to cultivate those relationships as a brand new insurance agent.

After reaching out to a dozen insurance companies, I was finally able to go through a startup agency network that would give us insurance carrier appointments and give us a product to sell in Pennsylvania. At that point, I started throwing a couple 100 bucks at Google Ads, and we started getting people to fill out our WordPress forum (name, ZIP code, email, and phone number). With that, I started calling and quoting a lot of people. Ultimately, I realized that the companies we were selling insurance for in Pennsylvania weren’t competitively priced. So we didn’t sell one policy despite reaching out to hundreds and hundreds of people.

Fast forward to a little bit after graduation; we learned that Pennsylvania doesn’t have the same challenges as some of our more customer-concentrated states, such as California, Texas, and Florida. So we got licensed in California. At that point, we had gotten an insurance company that was competitively priced, and we were running Google Ads, jumping on the phone, and responding to our WordPress forms.

Fortunately, a gentleman who had recently arrived from out of the country was looking for insurance. We were the best option for him, and we sold our first policy over the phone like that. Our customer is still with us, and he renews each time the policies come up for renewal, which is incredible.

Selling that policy was a huge learning experience in terms of understanding what is important to customers and what it takes to get money in the bank. Going through that process and being in touch with the customer enough to learn what questions they are asking and what they truly care about was so vital for our growth, and that’s how we found our first customer.

How did you come across your initial funding?

My family doesn’t come from money, so my “friends and family” were only friends. Fortunately, I had a friend from business school and a few friends from high school and undergrad that believed in the mission and the team, so they ended up becoming the first source of money for Sigo. I pulled the documents off of Y Combinator, filled in the blanks, and got our first couple checks from a few close friends of mine. That was enough to pay for our licensing and some initial marketing to see if there was even any demand for the product.

I was also very fortunate to take advantage of several programs at Wharton that offered funding for startups. I applied for every grant possible and ended up getting $28,000 through four or five different programs.

The first institutional check was from an accelerator called Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, which we applied to right before graduation, and they decided to invest in us. They gave us money and office space, which allowed us to go full-time and pay our salaries.

We recently announced our $1.5M seed round, too!

Do you have any advice for first-time founders battling imposter syndrome?

Absolutely. By definition, if you’re building a startup, you’re building something no one has ever built before. So in the initial stage, it is alright not to know where you’re going or what you’re building. What’s more important is to tighten the feedback loop to learn as fast as possible.

The founder that wins keeps moving and learns the most. Early on, particularly as a first-time founder, it’s going to feel like you have no idea what’s going on, and you’re going to be doing a whole bunch of random stuff like building a brand, establishing a landing page, looking for a CTO, putting together a product sample, etc. And you’re not sure if it’s working or if that’s where you should be spending your time, but keep doing it. Have a bias for action and keep learning, even if you’re not sure if it’s the right thing. The worst thing you can do is wait.

Eventually, even though it feels like it’s not working, something will click, and things will have a way of coming together. And all of a sudden, you’re making sales, and you’re growing.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your future self?

Remember how you felt at the beginning. Oftentimes, you lose sight of where you initially were and what your mindset was. It is so important to remember where you came from and how hard it was. Remember the time, effort, resilience—the blood, sweat, and tears, essentially— that it took to get to this point. Keep yourself in check; remember all of the work that went into getting here.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Nestor.

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