Founder Q&A: Launching and Learning with Christoffer Prompovitch
Christoffer Prompovitch, CEO & founder of ClaimFound, opens up about the successes and challenges of his company’s 18-month launching journey. After leaving a full time job in D.C. in 2016 to be a full-time entrepreneur, Chris is offering up insights on the value of calculated risk taking, finding the need in a market, tending to details, and the unexpected benefits of launching a company in Gainesville, FL.
1. Describe your startup in 3 sentences or less.
ClaimFound is a web application that helps people find, retrieve, and monitor unclaimed property (lost money) sitting with government agencies across the country. There is approximately $60 billion in lost money belonging to more than 100 million Americans, but no central platform to easily find and return these assets. Our mission is to improve financial welfare of Americans by connecting them with their lost money and other opportunities that puts money in their pockets.
2. Tell us about the initial company idea and how it was hatched.
My co-founder and I met nearly a decade ago during our undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Over the years, we have worked on many different consulting projects and even some early-stage business ideas, but nothing significant ever materialized. Eventually, he decided to get his Ph.D from University of Florida and I opted to get some work experience.
In late summer 2015, I was at my co-founder’s house when his father walked by and exclaimed “I finally got our money back”. He continued by telling us a story about how there was an unclaimed life insurance policy for my co-founders grandmother in Florida, worth around $10,000, but it had taken him more than a year to get it back and required an attorney.
My co-founder and I started doing some research on unclaimed property and discovered there are billions of dollars being held by government agencies across the country and no central or modern solution to help people find and process this money. We were amazed that no one else had solved this problem yet and thought our background and skill sets made us perfect for the job. I saved up some cash and quit my job in Washington D.C. and then moved down to Gainesville Florida in the summer of 2016 to start working on the idea full time.
3. How large is your company and how long did it take to build your current team?
Currently, ClaimFound is a team of seven full time employees and two interns. The company was started after we raised some initial capital from friends and family in early 2017 and we’ve built out the team methodically since then, focusing on both technical ability and personality fit to make sure we bring on the right people.
4. How is your team transitioning from ideation phase to validating product market fit?
ClaimFound went live in Florida in early February and we’re now beginning the process of formally validating our product-market-fit.
During the ideation phase, before we ever took on any investment, we spent a considerable amount of time researching the user experience surrounding the existing process to recover your unclaimed property and talking extensively with several treasurers and unclaimed property heads across the country. By the time we had finished our research, it was clear there was already significant demand for the product we wanted to build.
For example, we learned that in 2017 approximately $7 billion in new unclaimed property was turned over to treasurers across the country, but only $3 Billion paid out to the rightful owners in that year, which represented nearly 15 million claims. This statistic was quite interesting because it suggested that in 2017 at least 15 million people were already using an unclaimed property product/service and the remaining unclaimed property ($4 billion or 20 million people) wasn’t able to be returned to rightful owners.
Both the conversations we had with treasurers and the insight we drew from the unclaimed property statistic dramatically impacted the decisions we made for our initial product development. We realized that we weren’t building something that never existed, and therefore its initial viability or adoption didn’t need to be validated. We were building a product that was to significantly improve upon the existing solutions in the marketplace. This meant that rather than building out a bare-bones MVP, we needed a more complete, feature-rich improvement to show its true value. As a result, we spent the last 18 months focusing on user experience and functionality at the most critical points in the claims process with heavy emphasis on real-world beta tests, and set up a formal working relationship with the Florida Unclaimed Property Division so we could be in a position to successfully scale from an operational perspective once we went live to the public.
Over the next few months we’ll be focusing on two metrics to prove initial product-market-fit: 1) Total processed unclaimed property and 2) Our viral coefficient. Being able to successfully scale our user base will allow us to achieve our next set of milestones.
5. What are the top priorities for ClaimFound currently and why?
Currently, ClaimFound is focusing on jumpstarting user growth in Florida, bringing our first two monetization strategies online to generate meaningful revenue, and landing two to three additional state partnerships. Achieving these goals will get us closer to operational break-even and allow us to raise a much larger investment round so that we can continue expanding nationally.
6. What has been an unexpected challenge ClaimFound has experienced?
There have been many of challenges along the way, but the one I significantly underestimated was building the actual product. Our original mental conception of what we needed to build seemed so straight forward that we thought we could code it without much difficulty. In reality and especially since this is the first web application my co-founder and I have built, there were many more nuances and details that needed to be addressed to have a stable, well-functioning, and scalable web application. The devil is in the details and even building conceptually straightforward products takes considerable effort and focus.
“When we started, our original assumption was that we’d have to move to the Bay Area or NYC to really start building out the company. We completely debunked this idea and have found that there is top tier development talent coming out of University of Florida and in the surrounding Gainesville area.”
7. What has been an unexpected success ClaimFound has experienced?
We have had great success in getting to the point we are today, but i’ve been most surprised by our ability to connect with the right advisors and industry mentors and our ability to recruit talented developers from Gainesville.
From the start, before I even left my full-time job in Washington D.C., we had a very easy time finding and connecting with the right people across the country that could help advise the company and make introductions to state treasurers. Currently, ClaimFound’s advisory board has a collective experience of more than 50 years in the unclaimed property industry and knows every treasurer and unclaimed property head in the country on a personal basis.
Our second success has come from the talent we’ve found in Gainesville. When we started, our original assumption was that we’d have to move to the Bay Area or NYC to really start building out the company. We completely debunked this idea and have found that there is top tier development talent coming out of University of Florida and in the surrounding Gainesville area. Furthermore, our investors love that we’re located in Florida because of lower corporate tax rates and our investment dollars going 3 – 4 times further being located in Gainesville.
8. How has launching a company changed your lifestyle?
I certainly work a lot more than I did at my last job, but I’ve never been happier in my entire life. I have complete control over my schedule, which provides me the flexibility to maintain important personal relationships and exercise, while still being able to get my work done each and every day. However, I do have to stay very organized and scheduled, otherwise I can get pretty stressed out.
“…even if your idea doesn’t work out in the long-run, the experience you’ll have gained made your life far richer than if you stayed in a 9-5 (or your personal equivalent) where you weren’t growing.”
9. What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs thinking about taking the leap to start their own company?
If you truly and genuinely believe in your idea then just go for it. The fear of failure and everything else preventing you from following your passion exists in your head and is the worst prior to making the leap. You’ll realize very quickly once you do that the world doesn’t end and that even if your idea doesn’t work out in the long-run, the experience you’ll have gained made your life far richer than if you stayed in a 9-5 (or your personal equivalent) where you weren’t growing.
Starting ClaimFound was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. My personal, emotional, and professional growth has increased by an order of magnitude. I’ve found something that i’m truly passionate about and motivates me to get out of the bed each morning and do my best work. I sincerely hope everyone can find their same passion and focus for life and if the mental fear of making the leap to start your own company is all that’s holding you back, what are you waiting for?