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While the Midwest continues to lag Silicon Valley in the total amount of venture capital raised, there is still progress being made as more of the region’s fast-growing tech startups raise rounds that are closer to Silicon Valley-size.
Root Insurance, a Columbus-based car insurance startup that calculates insurance premiums based upon driver behavior, announced today that it has raised a $51 million series C round, led by Redpoint Ventures. Other participating investors include Scale Venture Partners, Ribbit Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank. Columbus-based Drive Capital has also previously invested in Root Insurance.
According to Crunchbase data, Root Insurance’s round looks to be one of the largest, if not the largest, series C round ever raised by a tech startup (a company called Altus Pharmaceuticals also raised a $51 million series C in 2004). Cofounder and CEO Alex Timm declined to comment on how much the new round of funding valued Root Insurance at.
“Root’s model of using mobile phone data to reward safe driving is fair to drivers, economically rational, and represents an impressive technical accomplishment,” Elliot Geidt, a partner at Menlo-Park based Redpoint Ventures and now a member of Root’s board of directors, stated in the press release announcing the funding.
Root Insurance claims to be “the first car insurance company to incorporate individual driving behavior in every quote,” though there are a number of other companies seeking to disrupt the way car insurance quotes are calculated.
Root Insurance’s business model is unique in that it acts as an insurance broker itself, rather than selling its data to other companies. True Motion, for example, uses smartphone sensor data to determine how distracted a driver is and then sells that “distraction score” to auto insurance companies. There is another competitor that sells insurance directly to consumers — Metromile, backed by First Round Capital and SV Angel. Metromile differs from Root in that it lets consumers pay per mile for insurance.
Root Insurance first launched in Ohio in 2016 and is now available to customers in 12 states. The plan is to launch nationwide by 2019.
Timm, a former consultant at insurance company Nationwide, said in a phone interview with VentureBeat that he launched Root out of frustration that traditional insurance providers weren’t moving quickly enough to create better pricing models using mobile data.
“All of this sensor data started to fly in, and one of the things that was pretty obvious was all this data was more important in predicting than a good risk or a bad risk, and certainly a lot more important than something like credit score,” Timm told VentureBeat.
Interested customers first download Root’s smartphone app, and Root then measures the customer’s driving behavior for 2-3 weeks before customers can sign up for a policy. Timm says that Root’s algorithms can tell when a driver is tailgating or driving too quickly around a corner, for example, using data collected from the smartphone’s GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscopes. Through Root, consumers can save as little as 20 percent or more than 50 percent compared to car insurance policies offered by traditional brokers, Timm claims. He declined to state how many customers Root has.
The biggest hurdle that Root will face is regulatory — not all states currently allow insurance companies to underwrite policies based upon their calculation of how distracted the driver is or whether he or she tends to text and drive. Timm says that Root is now licensed in 20 states, however, so the company will be rolling out operations in another 8 states shortly.
In addition to today’s injection of coastal capital, Root, which has roughly 80 full-time employees, has also benefited from attracting mid- to senior-level talent who want to “boomerang” back to Columbus from the coasts. The company’s chief creative officer, Travis McCleery, was formerly a lead product designer at Netflix, while the company’s VP of corporate development, Kumi Walker, was previously a business development manager at Twitter.
“The most common thing we’ve heard is people [who want to leave Silicon Valley] are sick of living in a place that’s prohibitively expensive to raise a family,” Timm said.
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