Starting one new company is impressive, but Gavin Sewell is now building his third. He talks to BQ about his reverse-auction marketplace start-up, honcho
What is it that the company does?
Honcho Markets is building the first reverse-auction marketplace for financial services products. What’s a reverse-auction marketplace you ask? Well, it’s an electronic marketplace where sellers of a product bid against each other, driving down the price, to win the buyer's business. We are launching our marketplace into the consumer car insurance market in the first instance before expanding to other consumer and commercial insurance products and then the wider financial services market.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I am responsible for the company as a whole, ensuring we have and are following a sustainable business plan, are well-financed and operate within the legal frameworks governing our business (we are an FCA authorised insurance intermediary). At the same time, I want to push us as a team to create a highly differentiated, effective and fun product that puts the consumer first and transforms insurance distribution through openness, transparency and equitability. And lastly, I want to grow a team of highly motivated and talented individuals that love what they do.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I studied computer science at Manchester University in the early nineties before going on to work in technology and operational functions at European and US Investment banks. Along the way I set up a software business with colleagues from Deutsche Bank, building trading systems for the financial markets and an alternative investment fund management business in France. The software business was bought by Sungard and the investment business sold its clever high-frequency trading tech to a leading US hedge fund. honcho is a combination of an aggregator model and electronic trading technology.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
If I am one, then it’s because I’m very passionate about what I do. I believe in the product that we’re building and have a clear vision for where we’re going. If I can enunciate all that eloquently then people can understand our goals and really buy into them. I don’t believe in bullying people along; rather, inspiring them with great ideas and the freedom and authority to make a difference.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
It’s not always easy, but I like to rock climb either outside or at The Valley bouldering centre in Ouseburn. Equally, I quite like to play a computer game or two now and again with my sons, and I have a fantastic commute to work over the A68 with its amazing views.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A formula 1 racing driver. That didn’t happen obviously, but the love for cars is still there though.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Unnecessary political infighting and an overemphasis on culture and hierarchy. Happily, it’s far, far less of a problem in a start-up business environment than it is in investment banks, for example.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
honcho wants to change the face of insurance and financial services distribution for the better. We will have built a strong consumer champion brand that really stands for consumer-centricity, openness, transparency and equitability. This will have allowed us to capture a good share of the insurance distribution market saving both consumers and insurers money. I would like to see honcho very active as a marketplace for other financial service products and moving the model into overseas markets.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Keep the faith. Start-up businesses are always a challenge and never go exactly where you imagined they would. You need to be flexible, pragmatic and remember to have some fun.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Remember, you can and should say no. It’s too easy to follow every lead and minor opportunity. You need to stay focused on the goal and say no to the things that don’t help in getting you there.
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