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From a financial newsletter firm to a full-fledged insurance startup: Zerodha-backed Ditto Insurance’s story

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The corporate nine-to-five grind wasn’t for either of us,” says Shrehith Karkera, who along his Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, batchmates Bhanu Harish Gurram and Pawan Kumar Rai, had decided to opt out of campus placements. The bug of entrepreneurship had bitten all three.

For any business to succeed, it must address a need. One of the things startups must always do if they are to work is—solve a problem. The trio had discovered their problem statement early on as they scanned through financial reports, market documents and analytics during their time at IIM.

“How would a layman understand all this if they are to, say, enter the stock market or buy insurance or do anything related to their engagement with the financial market or personal finance?”

The founders’ aim to “simplify financial information” for the audience led to the inception of their two ventures, Finshots, a financial newsletter media company, and Ditto Insurance. Two very different startups in two contrasting sectors but with a common aim at the core.

The second venture Ditto Insurance was a “natural extension” of Finshots, with the ‘content community commerce model’ at play. The founders managed to build a large community of readers through their content business first and eventually built an insurance advisory and commerce platform on top of it.

Started in 2019, Finshots has gained a solid footing in the market while the relatively new venture, Ditto, is starting out on firm ground. The entry of Zerodha as an investor-cum-mentor holds significance here, as it helped the founders gain a clearer perspective of their business models.

Making financial information ‘simple’

“We started with simplifying the stock market for millennials. Pawan was already working on a similar project and we eventually joined him to explore our synergies together. The idea was to bridge the knowledge gap for people who are excited about stocks but aren’t intimately familiar with the nuances. We decided to solve this through robust content that can help people understand the complexities better,” says Shrehith as he talks about the incorporation of Finception (the brand name) or Finshots (the name of the popular 3-minute newsletter) in 2018.

Six months down the line, the founding trio was joined by Bhanu’s brother, Lokesh Gurram, as the fourth co-founder.

For the first 12 months, the startup focussed on publishing content around stocks. Initially restricted to one article per week, they managed to crunch a 30-40 pages worth highly technical subject matter copy or an elaborated balance sheet into a 12-minute read to help people get the gist of the company or a financial service/product.

“We never managed to scale up as we were able to push out just one story a week.” The year 2019, marked a turnaround phase for the startup with the entry of Zerodha.

Interestingly, one of the Finshots’s videos on the journey of Jet Airways’ business had caught the eye of Zerodha Founder and CEO, Nithin Kamath, who invited the co-founders for a chat.

“They (Zerodha) liked our content and we were asked to talk to Nithin. We were obviously more than thrilled to have that conversation. He believed that much more can be done with our humble idea,” says Shrehith.

Zerodha invested about Rs 4 crore in a seed round. Following its entry, the team started putting together a contour of how Finshots would look like and grow. The content, enlarged into everyday financial news, explains interesting business models of companies, their business journeys, acquisition stories besides other financial developments around the globe. Some of the interesting reads include — Why did Amazon buy MGM studios, Zomato and the unit economics problem, What does LIC do with its money, Citibank’s $900 million blunder and so on.

With zero marketing spend, Finshots has about 5,00,000 subscribers and has published over 400 reads.

Content to commerce, media to insurance: Unlocking the possibilities

Content was not the ultimate offering for the founders but rather the core around which different business models could evolve. The end goal, however, remains the same — simplifying finance for masses. Besides, the startup was yet to channelise its monetisation streams.

However, starting out with ‘content’ definitely helped them test the waters and get a better understanding of what resonates with the masses and the next big step was plugging in commerce.

In one of his blogs, Nithin Kamath writes, “I can’t think of the number of people that have approached us asking for help on the investing front. The only thing we could do to help was to suggest a few mutual funds, understand their needs and priorities, and help get their finances in order. We even ran an AMA (Ask me Anything) asking our subscribers to write to us if they had questions on personal finance. And out of the 2000 odd people that saw the post, a whopping 600 people wrote back to us asking for help. And that’s when we figured we had to do something about this.”

Following eight months of research, Ditto Insurance was officially launched in February 2021.

The founders correlate their journey with Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s venture Goop, which started out as a weekly email newsletter providing new age advice and eventually expanded into e-commerce, launched pop-ups, podcasts, print magazine, wellness, cosmetics and so on.

“We wanted to see if we could do something in the financial domain, similar to what Paltrow did in fashion and lifestyle and how she went on to build an empire from a simple newsletter. This was meant to be a long term play where first we build an active community to whom we educate on financial news, make sure the content pipeline is sorted and then build on top of that by helping them make better financial decisions through our financial products,” says Bhanu.

Why insurance? Out of all the financial products, insurance is the most complicated one. Hence, our motto of simplification would bode well with the insurance business, he adds.

What exactly does Ditto do?

At present, the insurance market is crowded with fintech players in the industry selling insurance. Ditto clearly doesn’t put itself in that category.

We are a premium advisory service, explains Bhanu. If someone is looking to buy health or term insurance, Ditto’s suite of 30 trained advisors will effectively handhold them through the entire process.

They understand the needs and priorities of the buyers and recommend 2-3 policies that suit individual needs for consideration, make sure they understand what they are getting into, simplify the technicalities stated in the policy documents and overall what the product actually offers, in the most simple manner. They help in the purchase process like filling up forms, making disclosures along with post purchase services in case the buyer needs to make a claim.

The startup makes money (commission) in case the buyer decides to purchase the insurance via the platform. On the distribution side, though Ditto does exactly what other platforms such as PolicyBazaar do, its core offering and focus remains advisory, which is free of cost.

In such a case scenario, it is important for the platform to optimise for conversions and make sure its lead funnel is sorted since it handles limited calls/clients. Interestingly, 70 percent of the people who have bought insurance from Ditto have come via Finshots.

“Our major USP (unique selling point) is that we don’t spam people or make cold calls. We treat them with dignity and respect. You can buy directly from the insurance company or via Ditto. Again, no pressure! We are building something for the long term and do not push sub-optimal products for commissions,” says Bhanu.

Another major differentiator according to the founders is the experienced advisors in contrast with ‘agents’ who are mostly trained for about a week and have restricted engagement with customers through a script. “You ask them anything outside the script, they will be clueless.”

Not swayed by commissions

Being driven by commissions and cross-selling products do not quite fit with Ditto’s philosophies, the founders point out.

“It’s a short term play. We can sell a bad product on our platform but that would not take us too far. Eventually the customer would know that they were cheated. This doesn’t go with our motto. We put users first and recommend plans that are actually good for them and not products that are good for us.”

Ditto has grown its team from 10 to 70 in the past 11 months and hopes to become a company of over 250 people in the near future.

Though still at an early stage, the founders say the conversion numbers are fairly high at present. It has partnered with nine insurance companies. (health, general and term/life).

“We are looking to scale up our numbers and will definitely leverage Zerodha’s partnership. The focus right now is operational efficiencies and customer experience,” says Shrehith.

Going ahead, the founders would continue to explore the ‘content community commerce model’ across other financial products, once they manage to establish their proficiency in the insurance sector. That said, they do not intend to do anything outside insurance for the next 2-3 years and want to continue to focus on building Ditto while Finshots “runs on autopilot”.

According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the future looks promising for the insurance industry with several changes in regulatory framework which will lead to further change in the way the industry conducts its business and engages with its customers. The online insurance market in India is expected to reach a value of approximately Rs 220 billion by 2024, as per advisory firm Mordor Intelligence.

The founders in one of their blog’s post say:

The most riveting part of this whole endeavour?

The fact that for the first time ever, a newsletter media company would evolve into a full-fledged insurance company.

Edited by Ramarko Sengupta

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Cyber Monday shopping expected to set record but annual growth has slowed | Adobe

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Cyber Monday shopping sales hit at least $6.3 billion through part of the day in the U.S. today, according to the latest online shopping data from Adobe Analytics.

It’s not unusual for Cyber Monday and Black Friday online shopping results to break records, but it this economic climate it’s encouraging to see it happen. Still, growth has slowed from 2021 and 2020 holiday seasons.

Consumers spent $6.3 billion up through 3:00 pm Pacific time for Cyber Monday. Adobe expects that when the final tally is in, consumers will spend between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion for the day, making Cyber Monday the biggest online shopping day of the year (and of all time).

Today, the top 15 hot sellers (not in ranked order) have included Legos, Hatchimals, Disney Encanto, Pokémon cards, Bluey, Dyson products, strollers, Apple Watches, drones, and digital cameras. Gaming consoles also remain popular, along with games including Mario Party, FIFA 23, Madden 23 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.

Over the past weekend, the top sellers were included Hot Wheels, Cocomelon, Bluey, Disney Encanto, L.O.L. Surprise dolls, Roblox, and Fortnite in the toys category. Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 remain the top selling gaming consoles, with popular games including FIFA 23, God of War Ragnarök, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Madden 23, and NBA 2k23. Other hot sellers included Apple iPads, Apple MacBooks, digital cameras, Roku devices, drones, gift cards and Instapots.

Black Friday online shopping sales were $9.12 billion, up 2.3% from a year ago, and Thanksgiving itself came in at $5.29 billion, up 2.9% from a year ago. Those were above Adobe’s projections. Last year, consumers spent $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday.

Strong consumer spend has been driven by net-new demand, and not just higher prices. The Adobe Digital Price Index, which tracks online prices across 18 product categories (complements the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which also includes prices for offline only products and services like gasoline and rent) shows that prices online have been nearly flat in recent months (down 0.7% YoY in October 2022).

Adobe Analytics says Cyber Monday will set a record.

Adobe’s numbers are not adjusted for inflation, but if online inflation were factored in, there would still be growth in underlying consumer demand, the company said.

On a category basis, toys were a major growth driver in the days leading up to Cyber Monday, with online sales up 452% over the average day in October 2022. Appliances (up 305%) and baby/toddler products (up 289%) also saw strong demand, in addition to electronics (up 276%) and apparel (up 258%).

Shoppers will find record discounts today for computers (peaking at 27% off listed price). Deals will also be found in nearly all categories tracked, including apparel (19%), toys (33%), electronics (25%), sporting goods (16%), televisions (15%), and furniture (11%). Those looking to buy an appliance should consider waiting until Thursday (December 1), when discounts are set to peak at 18% on average.

Weekend spending remained strong

Consumers spent over a Black Friday’s worth of ecommerce over the weekend at $9.55 billion, up 4.4% YoY ($4.59 billion on November 26, up 2.6% YoY / $4.96 billion on November, up 6.1% YoY). Season-to-date (November 1 to November 27), consumers have spent a total of $96.42 billion online, up 2.1% YoY.

And while the big days (Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday) have reached new heights, consumers spent at record levels all season. Since November 1, shoppers spent over $2 billion every single day, with 19 days above $3 billion in online spend. Broad, early discounts were the main drivers for the shift in consumer spending.

“Shoppers have seen massive discounts this past week, which is the exact opposite situation from last season when supply chain constraints kept prices elevated,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement. “While discounting will have an impact on margins for retailers, it is also driving a level of demand that can help brands build long-term loyalty and net some short-term gains.”

Additional Adobe Analytics Insights

Over the weekend, online sales of toys were up 383% (compared to average daily sales for the category in October 2022), with baby toys seeing strong demand (up 252%). Other categories that surged over the weekend include jewelry (up 230%), sporting goods (up 239%), and apparel (up 217%).

With online spending hitting new records and inflation impacting consumers, flexible payments have become a big story this season. In the last week (November 21 to November 27), “buy now, pay later” orders have risen 68% and revenue has increased 72%, when compared to the week prior.

Over the weekend, smartphones drove over half of online sales for the first time (52%, up from 48% last year). Adobe expects mobile shopping to dip on Cyber Monday however, based on historical trends. Many people are back at work and using laptops, which will be the preferred device for shopping online.

Forecast for Cyber Week

Adobe expects Cyber Week (the five days from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday) to generate $34.8 billion in online spend, up 2.8% YoY, and represent 16.3% share of the full November through December holiday season.

Cyber Monday is expected to remain the season’s and year’s biggest online shopping day, bringing in between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion. Black Friday generated a record $9.12 billion in online spend, up 2.3% YoY, while Thanksgiving brought $5.29 billion in online spend, up 2.9% YoY.

Adobe analyzes direct consumer transactions online. The analysis covers over one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.

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Snowflake 101: 5 ways to build a secure data cloud 

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Today, Snowflake is the favorite for all things data. The company started as a simple data warehouse platform a decade ago but has since evolved into an all-encompassing data cloud supporting a wide range of workloads, including that of a data lake

More than 6,000 enterprises currently trust Snowflake to handle their data workloads and produce insights and applications for business growth. They jointly have more than 250 petabytes of data on the data cloud, with more than 515 million data workloads running each day.

Now, when the scale is this big, cybersecurity concerns are bound to come across. Snowflake recognizes this and offers scalable security and access control features that ensure the highest levels of security for not only accounts and users but also the data they store. However, organizations can miss out on certain basics, leaving data clouds partially secure. 

Here are some quick tips to fill these gaps and build a secure enterprise data cloud.

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1. Make your connection secure

First of all, all organizations using Snowflake, regardless of size, should focus on using secured networks and SSL/TLS protocols to prevent network-level threats. According to Matt Vogt, VP for global solution architecture at Immuta, a good way to start would be connecting to Snowflake over a private IP address using cloud service providers’ private connectivity such as AWS PrivateLink or Azure Private Link. This will create private VPC endpoints that allow direct, secure connectivity between your AWS/Azure VPCs and the Snowflake VPC without traversing the public Internet. In addition to this, network access controls, such as IP filtering, can also be used for third-party integrations, further strengthening security.

2. Protect source data

While Snowflake offers multiple layers of protection – like time travel and fail-safe – for data that has already been ingested, these tools cannot help if the source data itself is missing, corrupted or compromised (like malicious encrypted for ransom) in any way. This kind of issue, as Clumio’s VP of product Chadd Kenney suggests, can only be addressed by adopting measures to protect the data when it is resident in an object storage repository such as Amazon S3 – before ingest. Further, to protect against logical deletes, it is advisable to maintain continuous, immutable, and preferably air-gapped backups that are instantly recoverable into Snowpipe.

3. Consider SCIM with multi-factor authentication

Enterprises should use SCIM (system for cross-domain identity management) to help facilitate automated provisioning and management of user identities and groups (i.e. roles used for authorizing access to objects like tables, views, and functions) in Snowflake. This makes user data more secure and simplifies the user experience by reducing the role of local system accounts. Plus, by using SCIM where possible, enterprises will also get the option to configure SCIM providers to synchronize users and roles with active directory users and groups.

On top of this, enterprises also should use multi-factor authentication to set up an additional layer of security. Depending on the interface used, such as client applications using drivers, Snowflake UI, or Snowpipe, the platform can support multiple authentication methods, including username/password, OAuth, keypair, external browser, federated authentication using SAML and Okta native authentication. If there’s support for multiple methods, the company recommends giving top preference to OAuth (either snowflake OAuth or external OAuth) followed by external browser authentication and Okta native authentication and key pair authentication.

4. Column-level access control

Organizations should use Snowflake’s dynamic data masking and external tokenization capabilities to restrict certain users’ access to sensitive information in certain columns. For instance, dynamic data masking, which can dynamically obfuscate column data based on who’s querying it, can be used to restrict the visibility of columns based on the user’s country, like a U.S. employee can only view the U.S. order data, while French employees can only view order data from France.

Both features are pretty effective, but they use masking policies to work. To make the most of it, organizations should first determine whether they want to centralize masking policy management or decentralize it to individual database-owning teams, depending on their needs. Plus, they would also have to use invoker_role() in policy conditions to enable unauthorized users to view aggregate data on protected columns while keeping individual data hidden.

5. Implement a unified audit model

Finally, organizations should not forget to implement a unified audit model to ensure transparency of the policies being implemented. This will help them actively monitor policy changes, like who created what policy that granted user X or group Y access to certain data, and is as critical as monitoring query and data access patterns. 

To view account usage patterns, use system-defined, read-only shared database named SNOWFLAKE. It has a schema named ACCOUNT_USAGE containing views that provide access to one year of audit logs.

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WhatsApp rolls out new ‘Message Yourself’ feature globally • TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

We’re joining the Cyber Monday fun with 25% off annual subscriptions to TechCrunch+ content and analysis starting today until Wednesday, November 30. Plus, today only, get 50% off tickets to discover the vast unknown and attend TechCrunch Sessions: Space in Los Angeles!

Okay, we haven’t done a newsletter since Wednesday, and while the U.S. team was chillin’ like villains, the rest of the team was hard at work, so here’s some of the highlights from the last half-week of TechCrunchy goodness! — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Talking to yourself just went digital: Instead of having that internal monologue stay in your head, now you can play out all of your thoughts to yourself in WhatsApp, Jagmeet writes. The messaging platform began rolling out an easier way to talk to yourself today after completing beta testing.
  • Great Wall of porn: That’s how Rita and Catherine describe the bot surge in China that is making it difficult to get any legitimate Twitter search results when trying to find out something about Chinese cities. Why, you ask? Rita writes that “the surge in such bot content coincides with an unprecedented wave of (COVID) protests that have swept across major Chinese cities and universities over the weekend.”
  • Your calendar, only more productive: Get ready for your calendar to be more than just a place to record things you have to do that day. Romain writes about Amie, a startup that grabbed $7 million to link your unscheduled to-do list with your calendar. The app also enables users to be social with coworkers.

Startups and VC

Dubai-based mass transit and shared mobility services provider SWVL has carried out its second round of layoffs, affecting 50% of its remaining headcount, Tage reports. The news is coming six months after SWVL laid off 32% (over 400 employees) of its workforce in a “portfolio optimization program” effort geared toward achieving positive cash flow next year.

There’s a couple of new funds in town, too! Harri reports that Early Light Ventures plots a second, $15 million fund for software ‘underdogs,’ while Mike writes that BackingMinds raises a new €50 million fund to fund normally overlooked entrepreneurs. He also writes about Pact, an all-women led VC for mission-driven startups, backed by Anne Hathaway.

And we have five more for you:

Lessons for raising $10M without giving up a board seat

Blackboard showing soccer strategy

Image Credits: Ihor Reshetniak (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Over the last two years, intelligent calendar platform Reclaim.ai raised $10 million “using a more incremental approach,” writes co-founder Henry Shapiro.

“We’ve done all this without giving up a single board seat, and Reclaim employees continue to own over two-thirds of the company’s equity,” rejecting conventional wisdom that founders should “raise as much as you can as fast as you can.”

In a TC+ post, Shapiro reviews the process they used to identify follow-on investors, shares the email template used to pitch the SAFE, and explains why “a larger cap table means more founder control.”

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

Amazon’s recent cost-cutting measures seem to be affecting more than just its delivery business. Manish writes that the company is shutting down its wholesale distribution business, called Amazon Distribution, in India. Amazon had started this unit to help neighborhood stores secure inventory. The company didn’t say why it was closing this particular business down, but Manish notes that this is the third such Amazon unit to be shuttered in India.

Meanwhile, Natasha L reports that Meta has gotten itself into trouble again with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (aka, the agency that regulates data protection). Facebook’s parent company is being hit with $275 million in penalties for what the agency said was breaches in data protection that resulted in some 530 million users’ personal information being leaked.

Now enjoy six more:



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