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Episode 10: The Australian Entrepreneur Behind DSM USA Insuretech Company Pablow

Startup Stories DSM

August 3, 2018

Australian Steve Sherlock had to google Iowa when he and his brother Des considered being part of the very first Global Insurance Accelerator class in 2015. When they saw that the city they would be based in Greater Des Moines (DSM) shared the same name in part as Des, they saw it as a sign.

“It was a formative experience,” Steve told Startup Stories DSM podcast host Mike Colwell. “To be in a highly regulated insurance industry, we had so much support … to help us navigate how we would become compliant as an insurance startup was invaluable.”       

The start of Pablow

The Sherlocks' startup, Pablow, is an insurance aggregate focusing on the travel insurance space. The platform connects with the APIs of six major insurance companies like AIG and Allianz to provide access to travel companies offer travel insurance vacation rentals after the sale.

The business incorporated in the U.S. in March 2015. A mere 115 industry licenses later, they received their first sale in August 2016. 

It’s not the first time Steve has had the entrepreneurial bug. Lessons learned from previous endeavors means he’s growing Pablow organically to avoid expensive marketing efforts.

Learning from previous failures

Leaning on his experience in the German and Australian travel industry that began in 1997, Steve’s first major startup involved a car rental platform aimed at German tourists in Australia that raised $700,000 during its first round of fundraising. Steve said he made every mistake possible.  

“Don’t let the money go to your head for one,” Steve said on the Startup Stories DSM podcast. “And don’t raise it unless you really need it. If you can, have freelancers or people working part-time where the commitment isn’t going to cripple your business. So that’s the approach I’ve taken with Pablow.”

Steve is the only full-time employee at the company but has nine freelancers who work on projects. Steve says Pablow is 80 percent self-funded and received a low-cost loan from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IDEA) from its Demonstration Fund

According to Steve, the insurance industry hasn’t been known for taking risks. However, that’s starting to change. “It’s got to a point that if you’re not innovating, you’re a sitting duck because all their competitors in the insuretech space are.”

Insurance companies are the biggest investors of insuretech companies, Steve said. The Global Insurance Accelerator, where Pablow got its start, is proof of that with 14 insurance companies including Allstate, EMC Insurance and Principal, supporting the DSM-based accelerator. 

Having moved from Australia to DSM to kickstart Pablow, Steve has taken the lessons learned from past business failures and is applying them to his new venture.

“Don’t become an entrepreneur unless you’re not going to be able to live without it because it’s going to be really hard,” Steve said.

Hear the stories of other small business and startup business owners in the community in The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub or sign up for the Small Business Resources newsletter to stay connected for information about upcoming events, other resources and the latest announcements in the small business community in DSM.

Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.