Sam White is the multi-award-winning founder of Freedom Services, an ever-expanding insurance business including Action 365, Pukka Insure and Freedom Brokers in the UK, and Stella Insurance in Australia. Having started her first company in 1999 aged just 24 in her sister’s conservatory, 20 years later she employs over 160 staff with a turnover of over £14million. Motivated by a desire to change the insurance industry for the better, Sam is a vocal advocate for levelling the playing field for women and championing female leaders within the industry.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
At 24, I rebuffed conformity and set up my first insurance company, acutely aware that it was traditionally considered a male-dominated, almost-sterile industry. Over the next 20 years, I have built a number of successful insurance businesses that now sit under the umbrella of Freedom Services. My mission throughout my entrepreneur journey has always been to build businesses that work for everyone – the people they employ, the communities they operate in and the customers they serve – and I passionately believe we need more women in this environment. Whoever controls the money makes the rules and we need more women in power to change the rules we’ve historically been given – it’s part innovation and part revolution.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The first company in group was a claims management business called Action365 which I started in 1999, just a year after my mother who battled alcohol addiction had passed away from an overdose. To be very honest, this was probably what fuelled my desire to be independent and build something of my own. Also, having worked in the insurance sector since my first job out of university and knowing how challenging it is for women, I wanted to do things differently and carve out a path for myself.
How did you achieve awareness?
I lost my mum, broke my leg and split up with my boyfriend, and the combination gave me a deep-seated awareness that something needed to change for me. At first it was just about getting independence and for me that meant not having to work for someone else.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I didn’t for the first twenty odd years, so in the beginning, the business heavily relied on me to make money to reinvest back in for growth. In fact, my first investment was by the Australian VC who invested in Stella. But I learnt how to leverage mutual benefit from partnerships to be able to move the business forward.
What are the key successes?
For me, every new business launch under the group has been massive achievement. Hitting my first million turnover, and then first million profit were also big moments. However, I think launching Stella Insurance, a female-centric motor insurance business that’s unapologetically for women, in Australia during the global pandemic has been my greatest success to date, one that I hope to replicate here in the UK and beyond.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Two decades ago, I struggled to get the bank to take me seriously and give me a bank loan to start my first business at 24. Two decades on, despite having carved out my own success with running a multimillion insurance business, I am still facing challenges raising funds as a LGBTQ+ woman in a male-dominated industry. We’re still operating in a space, particularly when it comes to age-old financial institutions and venture capitals, where we are dealing with decision makers that are made up of pale, stale males.
What this means though, is that I have learnt to be creative and think bigger whenever I’m raising funds or bringing products to market. Most recently, where UK investors failed to give me funding, I turned to Australia to launch Stella Insurance. I was able to raise 1mil AUD (approx £530k) from Australian investors and negotiated a 15mil AUD (approx £7.9mil) media-for-equity deal for Stella Insurance during the pandemic and I now plan to replicate the model in the UK.
What are your plans now/for the future?
This year, the big priority is my global expansion plan for Stella Insurance starting with the UK, as well as moving into other product lines. Longer term vision for me is to be able to establish myself as an investor and mentor to help other female entrepreneurs launch their business – we need more businesses designed for women, led by women!
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Re-evaluate your attitude to risk. These days, there is no that is secure in the way it used to be, so why not work for yourself? The joy in imagining and then witnesses your vision come to life is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Have a clear understanding of what you want to do and ensure it’s something you love.
- Know your proposition and your numbers, this inspires confidence in investors and customers so you have to know both inside out.
- Swim in your successes and move on quickly from your failures.
- Don’t doubt yourself, if you think you’re thinking big, think bigger!
- Finally, for women to succeed in business, we need to lift each other up and find ways to collaborate on projects together.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- Maya Angelou – her warmth, humour and resilience are awe-inspiring to me.
- Madonna – she has survived decades of sexism, ageism and censorship without ever losing her lioness fight.
- Jennie Guay, my wife – her kindness, selflessness and patience astounds me every day, and I truly believe her work with children around not just accepting diversity but rejoicing in it has the power to change the world.
- Ruth Baden Ginsberg – her quiet resilience grit and sheer intellect probably changed our world for women more than anyone else I can think of.
- Michelle Obama – when they went low, she always went high, politics is an ugly world but she never let it drag her or her family under.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time” – Maya Angelou“I did then what I knew what to do, now I know better I do better” – Maya Angelou “There is no passion in life for settling for a life that’s less than you are capable of living” – Nelson Mandela