Simon Azzopardi is known as the start-up guy in Malta.
He has been responsible for managing incubators, supporting a network of startups, advising corporates on spin-off start-ups, mentoring early risers and working closely with investors to spot new and fresh opportunities out there.
If that wasn’t enough, his latest venture has taken the start-up world by storm. Sherpa who has successfully secured over two million pounds in funding, is responsible for building a new and exciting insurance product. As well as being Head of Product, he also finds the time to be president of Silicon Valletta, an association collectively started by a group of tech-entrepreneurs, with the sole purpose to shape and accelerate more tech opportunities across our Maltese islands.
How did the role of President of Silicon Valletta come about? What is your vision of this?
Silicon Valletta was started by a group of entrepreneurs who saw Malta desperately needed a community of like-minded people within the tech industry; a place for entrepreneurs to work together and celebrate Malta’s tech successes. I was approached in the early days to help launch the association and eventually was voted as committee president. Initially, we worked with our members to understand exactly what support we should be providing, so we set out to create a platform to help build deeper and more meaningful relationships. We soon learnt we had to foster a peer to peer collaborative community to act as a reference for third parties interested in the tech world in Malta and help early-stage companies through structured mentoring.
With regards to Sherpa, a highly successful startup that raised £2M – what do you think set you apart from competitors and how did the idea come about?
Sherpa is unique in the insurance space because what we are changing is how we define an insurance product. Whilst this sounds complicated, we’re actually simplifying and personalising the whole offer. Something the market had been demanding for too long!
We are shifting from an off-the-shelf product to one that is tailored for our members, its dynamic as it changes when our member’s risks change too. It’s actually never been done before. What we are changing is not just a new insurance product, but something bigger, a mental shift in how we think about insurance.
Are there any Gadgets you use for work that you can’t live without?
No surprise but I can’t live without my phone…I do everything on it! I constantly check analytics, jump onto conference calls, update my slack chats, monitor digital ads and generally manage my day. I’d be lost without it!
Do you think Malta is leading in Europe with regards to the startup sector? If so, how is it setting itself apart from the rest?
Most certainly not. Malta is not leading in the startup space but what Malta does have is a handful of exciting tech companies. We’re making all the right noise with our approach to putting the focus on the future of blockchain.
But our next focus should be on attracting the best tech talent out there. We aren’t competing on a local level, it’s international now. To be the leaders we need the opportunists, the leaders, the geeks, the innovators and doers to come together here on our rock.
What we shouldn’t forget, is to attract these people we need a sustainable culture and the right environment for them to work but also live and play.
What piece of advice would you give to Maltese people in the tech and computer science space?
If I was speaking to my 21 year old self, understand that everyone is accessible. With social networks, everyone on the planet is connected and you can easily build relationships with them by understanding how to incrementally add meaningful value. Secondly, get a mentor. Find a person that inspires you and reach out, build a relationship and get honest feedback. Spend as much time as possible with people that are exposed to more things then you are. Join communities, get active, reach out and help, do side gigs, figure out what excites you, then get good at it. Of course, do exactly that.
With patience and a lot of hard work, you will first understand how to define your own success then make achieving it possible.
What inspires you to keep going and to keep working on bigger and better projects?
I think the answer is right there in the question. It’s those ‘bigger and better’ projects that keep me inspired.
The challenges, complexity, uncharted and unknown territory is what keeps me excited and motivated every single day.
I love the risk of failure because I love the game. The potential for creating something that is fundamentally different in the world. That is exciting as f***.
Which particular types of technology, such as Blockchain and VR interests you the most, and why?
The value of any new technology depends on its ability to add value to users. That’s it.
Blockchain is very interesting. but if you are creating a blockchain product for the sake of the technology or purely because its a buzzword, rather then asking how can this new technology cause substantial competitive advantage; then that technology really has little or no short-term appeal. It won’t work.
What is exciting me at the moment is how artificial intelligence and blockchain are looking for solutions to problems in different ways, causing massive shifts in markets.
Examples would be how artificial intelligence is democratising investment advice by making it significantly cheaper and often better than the human version. This is giving people that did not previously have access to advice a fantastic opportunity. If you look at blockchain, we are seeing the emergence of a contract that is dynamic, that is a contract that includes variables that change, yet still maintaining the integrity of the contractual obligations.
What was the most exciting project you have worked on?
The change in value that Sherpa is bringing to the game, is phenomenal! We are literally working to change a global mindset, in one of the oldest industries to date, whilst tapping into a massive market need.
Our teams are globally spread and each person comes from different backgrounds with such different and unique skills, we’ve managed to create a fast and agile culture of learning across the business …it’s an exciting opportunity!
What is a key factor that allows you to predict whether a startup will be successful?
Anyone that says they can predict an early stage startup will be successful with certainty, is either delusional or very likely, emotionally biased.
There are key signs that show higher probabilities of success, such as a having a fantastic team, an ability to show consistent traction and unwavering drive. A great idea, product or investments, though may be important, are always secondary.
Do you know any local tech-gurus excelling in their field? Send an email to [email protected]