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Meet Certua's Co-Founder, John Levin

Jessie Wang

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background, what you do at Certua and outside of Certua.

Hi, I’m John, one of Certua’s Co-Founders. I have been involved with many businesses, with varying degrees of success. Lots have totally failed, most have not achieved the potential we all thought they had, and only a handful have really worked, three of them becoming Unicorns with market capitalisations of over £1 billion.

I enjoy exploring the world and have made numerous motorcycle trips in Africa, Europe, North, Central and South America and helicopter trips to Russia, the Sahara Desert, Europe and Scandinavia.

2. What are your most important insights after 30 years in Fintech?

  • The really hard part is engaging the customer to meaningfully solve their problems based on an understanding of what they need. Instead a typical focus for businesses today is on ever increasing volume, and in many cases this is not a sustainable business model.
  • A huge amount of founders’ time and investors’ money is spent building a version of the same technical and operational infrastructure because businesses believe that it makes them more valuable. Unless you really know and understand every detail, however, this is often more trouble than it’s worth and a distraction from where the thinking should really be targeted: refining the proposition and engaging the market.
  • Strategic partnerships are critical; both because no single value chain actor has all of the answers, and because a narrow focus is essential in order to excel in each area. Partnerships to create a compelling value proposition, and then constant iteration with a collaborative mindset and experiment led approach is a necessity.

3. How do you think the increasing economic uncertainty will affect the market?

Capital is increasingly at a premium. Profitability and sustainability have not been in fashion for some time, but it is more important now than ever to focus on the right things.

Building products that solve end user needs, running an efficient operational and technical infrastructure, and sustaining genuinely long term strategic partnerships will be more important than ever. These are the characteristics of our business by design.

Nothing truly valuable happens overnight, and we have spent years doing the hard yards to understand the necessary details.

4. What excites you most about Certua?

We are changing the market. In terms of the change that we are trying to make and the opportunity that it represents, I think that this business has the potential to be the most valuable thing I have been involved with.

5. What is the most important piece of advice you were given?

My late father was smart, he advised the South African Atomic Energy Board and was the first Professor of Nuclear Medicine in Africa. He repeatedly counselled me not to get bogged down by my inability to deal with a problem due to my lack of knowledge and size of the problem. He used to say “Set a goal of learning or improving something, think hard about how you will go about it and then just go step-by-step. All you want is incremental daily improvement – the rest will look after itself”.

Almost 30 years ago, via a strange set of circumstances, I landed up owning a regulated insurance company in the UK. I knew very little about the insurance industry and even less about the subtleties of operating a business in the UK. Out of necessity, I needed to assemble a team of smart people to achieve “incremental daily improvement” reshaping the operating model and building the technology to power the operating model.

I have been involved with many businesses, with varying degrees of success. For me, by far the most important ingredient in the success stories, is the people. The leader (which is never me), the team and the culture. The right team will do the right things.

Warren Buffett summed it up perfectly when he said “You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. So it's important to associate with people that are better than yourself. The friends you have will form you as you go through life. Make some good friends, keep them for the rest of your life, but have them be people that you admire as well as like.”

6. Please describe Certua in 3 words.

  • Adept
  • Fastidious
  • Enterprising
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