Matthew and Michael Vega-Sanz lead ‘the Stripe for insurance’
Lula, a Miami tech startup on a mission to modernize insurance, has raised an oversubscribed $18 million Series A round of financing led by high-profile investors.
Taking on the centuries-old tradition-bound insurance world are Lula’s young co-founders. Twin brothers Matthew and Michael Vega-Sanz are first-time founders and didn’t even enter the world of technology until five years ago.
The round was co-led by Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures, with participation from SoftBank, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, and previous investors Florida Funders, Nextview Ventures and insurance and logistics groups such as Flexport.
Lula intends to use this funding to onboard nearly 2,000 companies now on its waiting list for its insurance solution and to triple the size of its team in coming months.
Using technology and innovative thinking, Lula provide everything required to build and maintain a viable insurance program for companies of all sizes to conduct driver risk assessments, manage episodic insurance policies, claims handling and more. This includes car rental companies, trucking and logistic companies, car sharing platforms, rentals for military personnel, and other organizations where insurance needs don’t fit the traditional model.
“A lot of people call us the Stripe for insurance,” said Matthew Vega-Sanz, Lula’s CEO, in an interview with Refresh Miami. “In the way that Stripe provides companies with their full payment infrastructure via the API, we provide companies with their insurance infrastructure via our API.”
Within four days of launching its API for the trucking industry in April, more than 1,500 companies signed up on Lula’s waiting list. “Our team was pretty small and we just couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Matthew said. “So we had to say let’s build a war chest so we can start taking on all these different clients and make the most of these opportunities that we have knocking on our door right now.”
A pandemic pivot
Lula today is the product of a pandemic pivot. The company originally began as a car sharing app for college students, starting out of Michael’s Babson College dorm room. It was a rough launch for Lulu – which means convenience in Zulu. “It’s crazy. I think in 2019 we are rejected by more than 600 investors, everybody and their mother rejected us,’ said Matthew.
Still, the co-founders managed to grow Lula Rides quickly, and by early 2020, Lula Rides was on more than 500 campuses in all 50 states. It was also the first company to allow 18-year-olds to rent cars without restrictions.
But when the pandemic closed college campuses – and Lula’s business — the brothers made a key pivot that would change the course of the company. An investor in a car-sharing company for military installations who was having difficulties with the insurance piece of the business sought Lula’s help. As word spread, more car sharing and car rental companies reached out.
“We realized companies wanted to vet their customers, insure their vehicles on a per use basis, and manage claims, but didn’t have the resources to do so, We decided to repurpose our technology while leveraging our insurance partners to provide those resources,” said Michael Vega-Sanz, Lula’s president.
The co-founders spent the summer doing just that. “In August 2020 we launched, and by November, we had reached profitability. We also had raised money much easier than during our car sharing days and so we knew we were onto something,” said Matthew. After the launch of the trucking technology, and the waiting list that followed, “we knew we’ve got something special.”
From the farm to Babson
What makes the brothers’ journey particularly remarkable is they grew up far from the world of technology. The brothers are sons of Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants, and grew up on a small family farm in Kendall, where they raised horses and chickens. Prior to launching the car-sharing app at Babson, the brothers studied at Miami Dade College, sold shoes at Nordstrom and worked on the farm. “I didn’t know what tech was until I was 20 years old,” Matthew said.
But while at Babson on a scholarship, “one of the things that always blew my mind was that technology is the great equalizer,” Matthew said. They dropped out in 2018 to pursue their dream.
“The opportunities are boundless, they are limitless Take somebody that comes from humble beginnings like my brother and I, we grew up on a small farm. Now we are funded by Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures to create something really cool, and it’s because of our access to Wi-Fi during our days in the dorm. We were able to search on Google how to code an app and build pieces of technology. So I want everybody in Miami, especially the young people, to realize that technology can really change your life.”
The team of 15 is currently headquartered in South Miami, and Matthew said Lul:a plans to hire aggressively and grow to 40 or 45 people in the next few months. That’s critical for product development toward Lula’s mission to serve the growing sharing economy, where assets like homes, cars, and work vehicles are shared and the traditional way of pricing insurance doesn’t work.
The big vision
“Our thesis at Lula is that life is made of episodes and insurance should be, too,” said Matthew. “We want to get our technology to the point where we can service all of life’s different episodes and build insurance policies for that. That’s our grand vision.”
Take trucking, for instance. Lula started with trucking because the brothers grew up on a farm with trucks. The average truck is only used 200-220 days a year, Matthew said, “and so, our API integrates into their operating systems, and essentially allows them to buy insurance on a per episode basis.”
To be sure, there have been challenges. “Two 24-year-old dropouts don’t necessarily give them confidence when it comes to building insurance — it’s an industry that is dominated by gray hairs,” Matthew said. To build credibility in the industry, they surrounded themselves with industry veterans, and recruited team members from companies like AAA, Lyft and Uber.
Lula’s differentiator is that its API will offer the full infrastructure, with tools for convenient and efficient customer vetting, fraud detection, driver history checks, policy management and claims handling through their insurance partners. Lula sees 15 to 20 different industries that could utilize this technology for insurance sold on a per episode basis, Matthew said. “It’s a really cool piece of technology that we can plug into anything, whether it be boating, whether it be car sharing, whether it be fleet management or trucking.”
Make no mistake, the insurance industry is ripe for disruption, said Saxon Baum, VP of Investor Relations at Florida Funders, one of Lula’s earliest backers. While a lot of people in the industry are thinking about episodic insurance, they don’t know how to price it. Lula has figured out an innovative way to price it without taking on the liability of being the insurance company, Baum said.
“Michael and Matthew are just the types of individuals that you want to bet on and it’s been an amazing journey with these guys,” Baum added. “We’re very bullish on the space, on the two founders, and the team that they built. They have some spectacular talent over there.”
When the brothers returned to South Florida before the pandemic, leaving Boston, “everybody thought we were crazy to build a technology company in Miami,” Matthew said. Not anymore. For his part, Matthew has been especially impressed that Miami’s leadership is actively looking to improve the ecosystem, particularly in terms of talent educational needs. The co-founders will be discussing their startup news in an upcoming #CafecitoTalk with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
“I’m super excited to see what what’s going to come out of Miami in the next couple years and I am honestly convinced this is just the start,” Matthew said. The personal homecoming has been great too, as he is currently living on the farm: “I still wake up every morning to the sounds of horses and chickens.”
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