The Pluto second quarter 2020 update
We wanted to give an update on what's been going on over the last 3 months at Pluto HQ. Like all travel businesses, these are testing times. But, we're confident we can weather this storm and that we're doing the best we can with what we can control.
If you only have a few minutes, you can read the exec summary below.
And if you want even more:
- You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram
- And, keep an eye on this blog for more regular informal updates
Exec summary and highlights
The really important things that have happened in the last 3 months
- Launched a set of coronavirus related help materials and FAQs, as well as a new dedicated section on our website to explain what you are and aren't covered for relating to coronavirus.
- The FCO updated their travel advice, and we've started to see customers returning, after ~4 months of almost no sales.
- Continued with the design, development and launch preparation for our travel planning tool, Pluto Pinboard. We're aiming to do a soft launch before the end of August.
- Committed to a set of 10 actions to become a more antiracist, diverse and inclusive business. We also managed to get some other startups to sign up to these as well.
- Announced our intention to become B-Corp and have been blown away by the support for this from the shareholders we've spoken to so far.
- Signed up 5 new travel insurance partners to help more people get covered with Pluto.
- We were approved for a £50k Bounce Back loan from the UK Government.
- Continued our efforts of establishing Pluto as a travel brand, by working on more high quality travel content, running a successful photo competition, and getting some quality press mentions.
So, what's next for Pluto in the next 3 months?
- Start to re-market Pluto's travel insurance and continue to make necessary changes to the product to ensure it's suitable in light of coronavirus.
- Launch an early version of Pluto Pinboard to our early access users, and prepare for a bigger public launch.
Coronavirus continues to heavily disrupt the travel industry. Although there are signs of improvements, with the recent changes in FCO travel advice leading to an increase in sales and traffic to our site. We are cautiously optimistic though as we've seen second waves and spikes resulting in localised lockdowns. Seeing as this may continue until a vaccine is available, we will continually monitor the situation to ensure we are not trying to grow too quickly if the market isn't ready.
As for what we can cover, like most other insurers, we can cover people if they catch coronavirus abroad, but unfortunately we can't cover any travel disruption caused by the virus. We've made numerous updates to our website and app to ensure this is as clear as possible for our customers. There isn't an opportunity yet to provide specialised coronavirus cover, because this isn't something insurers are willing to provide.
But there are clear signs of hope when we speak to our target audience about how coronavirus might affect their desire to travel in the future. The short answer is, it won't. In fact many want to travel more in the short term to make up for lost holidays. It's clear from our research and industry reports that younger audiences (<45 yrs old) are much more likely to bounce back quickly. Also, that travel is a mega trend and once back to normal, will continue to grow again. You can read our full write up on this here.
You can always see our team here.
We've haven't made any hires this quarter and don't plan to for the next quarter either. We did furlough one member of our team, in growth and marketing, from the 1st June. We're aiming to bring them back part-time and then full time as things return to normal. The rest of the team is continuing to perform well, be happy and remain productive during these times.
We haven't lost any of the team in the past quarter either. Our attrition rate for the first half of this year was 0%. This is our unintentional churn. Benchmark: 25% attrition rate in high growth startups and 13% in tech (calc).
We have expanded the remit of our training time and budget to cover education on antiracism, diversity and inclusion, for example, unconscious bias training.
Finally, as a result of the last few months of lockdown, we decided to leave our private desks at our co-working space (Soho Works). This means, as of March, the whole team has been working completely virtually and will continue to do so for the next few months. We are deciding on how best to return to the office and how often. We have agreed though, that a more flexible working environment will be a permanent feature at Pluto.
Diversity and inclusion
This is a new section to our quarterly updates. We've thought a lot and spent considerable time to start taking action in this space over the past several weeks, although it's a shame it took the horrific events in the USA to kick start this.
We started by assessing our own business and identified the actions we need to take to ensure we're building an antiracist, diverse and inclusive company. It's clear there is a lot to do and we believe as a small business, it's good to set these principles, processes and guidelines in place early on.
This culminated in our Pledge. A set of 10 actions we're committing to as a business. You can see the full pledge here and also a more detailed write up on this topic. We committed to reporting on our progress towards these actions, please see this below.
Update on Pledge actions (show/hide)
1. Update your company values
- Update your company values to ensure that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of every decision.
- Complete: We have added a 5th value, "promote diversity and inclusion within the travel industry". This, along with our other values, will be at the heart of all our decisions.
2. Diversity and inclusion as a business priority
- Establishing diversity and inclusion as a business priority, consistently being part of your business objectives, to ensure you're committing to on-going action.
- On-going: This quarter, we committing to creating this pledge and starting these actions. Also, every quarter, we will also include a D&I related objective or action for the business.
3. People and hiring
- Ensure diverse amongst your team by setting diversity goals for hiring and interview candidates, taking affirmative actions and setting a date for meeting these goals.
- Not started: This is one of the biggest areas for improvement. We'll begin by updating our hiring process but also to start engagement with communities and groups from different under represented groups to ensure we have a balanced and diverse candidate pool.
4. Product and marketing
- Ensure your marketing and products enable, promote and encourage diversity and inclusion.
- On-going: We have done a full audit of all our brand assets, images, etc. to ensure we're promoting diversity. We've set guidelines and targets to ensure our research participants are diverse. And, we've reviewed the diversity of our contributors for our content, like Pinboards, and committed to diversity targets over the next few months.
5. Inclusive culture
- Create an environment for an inclusive culture with zero tolerance towards racism.
- Not started: We need to update various policies and processes to ensure we have an inclusive company and culture. Becoming a B Corp will also improve our efforts here.
6. Continually evaluate the companies you're working with
- Actively work with companies that support diversity, inclusion and the Black community and avoid companies that have a poor record around race, gender and ethnicity.
- Not started: We will be looking at the companies we work with to see what actions their taking in this space. And on an on-going basis, actively seek out and prioritise working with companies that support diversity, inclusion and the Black community.
7. Training and education
- Provide your employees with time and money to learn about racism, privilege, antiracism, diversity and inclusion.
- Complete: We have created a set of antiracist and BLM resources for our team. We have committed to training and budget being available for antiracist and D&I related training. And, we are working with Hustle Crew and YSYS on an on-going basis to access training and additional resources.
- Donate to an organisation(s) that are fighting racism and supporting diversity and inclusion.
- Complete: We donated as a company to BLM UK and Color in Tech. We will donate annually to Color in Tech and also continue to support Hustle Crew and YSYS through memberships on an on-going basis as well.
9. Communicate your pledge and report on your progress
- Share the actions you're taking and your progress to the public, your customers, investors and employees.
- On-going: This quarterly update will act as our reporting mechanism. It will also be published on our blog as well.
10. Get 2 new companies to commit to and sign this 'Pledge for Antiracism, Diversity & Inclusion'
- Spread the word and encourage other companies you have relationships with to take action as well.
- On-going: We have reached out to over 10 startups to sign the Pledge. We will update our Pledge page with the startups that sign up.
Product: Quality, challenges, roadmap etc.
Our product focus for the past 3 months has been the design and development of Pluto Pinboard. Early on, we spent a lot of time talking to people within our target audience to ensure the product we're building will deliver value to them. Since then, we've been working through the cycle of design and development as we work towards launch. Although we had initially planned to release Pinboard a little sooner, with the current travel environment, we didn't feel the need to rush the product out prematurely. Instead, we want to ensure the first release of Pinboard is able to deliver differentiated value to our target audience.
We have also taken the opportunity to ensure the first release of Pinboard is relevant to the current travel environment, particularly with the greater demand for domestic travel. We've collaborated with our community to curate a series of travel guides for UK destinations to provide inspiration, whilst the product itself is suited to planning trips for various types of destinations, be it within the UK or beyond.
With insurance sales stagnant for most of the past few months, we made the decision to pause all non-essential product development work for our Cover product. Seeing as we spent 18 months up to this point continually improving Cover, we were fortunate that we could do this. Over the past few weeks, we've started picking up some work to ensure the Cover proposition and product is relevant in light of coronavirus.
Customer satisfaction, complaints and regulatory considerations
Despite the challenging environment that coronavirus has presented us, we're delighted that we've been able to keep the vast majority of our customers highly satisfied. As ever, our Trustpilot page is the best place to see this, and here are a few recent highlights:
We've also had no new complaints to date. And we're continuing to meet all our compliance requirements with the FCA, so nothing new to report here.
Sales pipeline: traction, growth, marketing and partnerships
It's been a very quiet few months since coronavirus started and the FCO advised against all travel. As you can see from the last quarter's sales data, it's been a very challenging period. Things are just starting to pick back up now, but it's too early to tell when they will return to normal.
Last 3 months (April - June)
All major metrics are down 98% as travel completely stalled due to coronavirus.
- Total gross written premium: £997 - 98% decrease from the previous period (£65,430)
- Policies sold: 25 - 98% decrease from the previous period (1,583)
- New customers: 19 - 98% decrease from the previous period (1,321)
That said, we have started to see some positive growth over the last few weeks. With an increase in conversion rates for users getting a quote or purchasing. And, also transaction volumes are increasing week on week. All these sales are organic and not driven by any direct or paid marketing.
Cumulative sales to end of June 2020
- 2,478 customers
- £112,000 GWP
- 2,892 policies
Direct to consumer marketing updates
When the travel restrictions were implemented, we paused all performance marketing spend, therefore this has been a quiet space over the past few months. We're in the process of kicking off a test campaign to identify whether it makes sense to begin paying to promote our Cover product again. We'll compare the results of the campaign to pre-coronavirus benchmark to help us assess the strength of the environment.
We have been spending time working on high quality content to help people continue dreaming about travel, whilst also educating them on the state of the travel industry. You can read more about this in the brand section below.
Fortunately, the last few months has given us the opportunity to think more about the future, and this appears to have been the case for other businesses too. And, the future of travel almost certainly includes much more travel insurance. We're delighted that we've secured a bunch of new partners that we're now working with.
- Jack's Flight Club - find the very best flight deals through their extremely popular newsletter going to over 1m members. We're one of the selected perks for their members.
- Emma - money management app to help you take control by connecting all your accounts in one place, helping you set budgets, manage expenses, etc. We're their chosen travel insurance partner within their finance marketplace.
- Canopy - making it cheaper, faster, and easier to rent a home and build credit by paying rent and taking control of your financial future. We're their chosen travel insurance partner within their finance marketplace.
- Kobu - helping you find stylish, sustainable and off the beaten track properties, to book or buy. We'll be recommended within their sites content, like FAQs and eventually the booking journey as well.
- Nemo Travel - an innovative travel company that combines expert advice and tech to give you the power to design your dream trip. We'll be recommended as part of their booking journey.
Ask: If you know of any suitable UK focused travel or FinTech startups that have a millennial audience and might benefit from providing their customers incredible travel insurance, please let us know.
Finances: Cash flow, burn, investment, etc.
As with the last quarter, in general, Pluto remains in a good financial position. We've reduced our monthly expenses by over 20% compared to March and will continue to push this down further, as some costs take more time to wind down. In addition, we negotiated over £12k of savings from all our various suppliers.
Our current runway is until mid-August 2021, this is on the assumption that we return monthly product and growth/marketing spend to normal in January 2021. We would only return to normal spend if the travel environment was positive and still improving. All in all, this puts Pluto is a positive position to weather the storm.
It's hard to know what the final impact will be on the fundraising environment for travel in 2020. At this point, we will still likely look to raise funds before or in early 2021. Depending on traction and the fundraising climate, we may look to go after VC funding in addition to our existing investors and Crowdfunding. We'll continue to share our thinking in this space, but it's very unlikely we'll be raising in the next 3 months.
Brand - managing and building our profile and reputation
Refreshed brand identity and positioning
In our previous quarterly update, we outlined the actions we were going to be taking to better establish Pluto as a travel brand. One upside to coronavirus has been the time it's given us to implement a lot of these actions.
You'll see our updated brand positioning centred around the idea of "Tools for travel lovers" in addition to a refreshed brand identity that goes back to our bold and colourful roots, in addition to injecting a lot more travel-focused photography throughout our brand touch-points. You'll see these updates across our refreshed website and you can read more about the changes here.
One of the tactics for reaffirming ourselves as a travel brand has been producing high-quality travel content. The past few months has seen us execute on this in various ways, all of which have been received very well.
- We concluded our 'Bring travel home' series, where we produced a series of travel guides that helped people explore a different culture from the comfort of their home.
- 'Travel today and our hopes for the future' summarises the insights we discovered from talking to customers about how coronavirus has impacted their perceptions towards travel, in addition to our hopes for the future of travel.
- We kicked off a campaign around 'Mindful travel' as with the importance of mindfulness to Alex and Harry, in addition to the impact we believe it can have on enhancing travel experiences, this is an area we're excited about exploring in the near future.
- We've been doing our best to translate the advice coming the government and health organisations and turning this into practical tips for our audience - check out our COVID-19 resources here.
Follow us on Instagram!
With Instagram being the most used and influential social platform for our audience, a lot of time has been spent translating this content into engaging material for Instagram. If you aren't already, make sure you're following our Instagram page and get your friends to as well!
"Travel obsessed?" campaign
In May, we were fortunate to be awarded free outdoor advertising space at key sites across London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. With less people out and about, we created a campaign that included a photo competition so we could get people involved, whether they saw the billboards or not.
We re-created a series of recognisable travel destinations using household objects in a way that almost tricks the eye - these were displayed on the billboard sites across the UK - you can see these above.
The photo competition was a great success, with over 50 entries and great exposure for our brand.
We haven't been actively looking for press opportunities, however we have had a few great press mentions over the past few months.
- The upcoming launch of Pluto Pinboard was featured in the Courier Weekly newsletter.
- We were featured in a round-up of startups who are responding to coronavirus in an innovative way.
- Our mobile app was nominated in the Insurance Choice Awards, as the 'Best insurance app' - give us a vote if you haven't already!
Thanks for reading if you got this far. If you ever have any questions, please just let Alex know.