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How one mistake with a pan of water led to $35 million insurance empire

Sam White is the founder of women-focused Stella Insurance. (Image: Supplied).
Sam White is the founder of women-focused Stella Insurance. (Image: Supplied).

Read part two to find out why setting boundaries was such a critical part of Sam's success, and how you can get better at setting boundaries too.

Have you ever gotten into a water fight at 3am in the morning, chased someone into the kitchen with a pan of water, slipped, dislocated your ankle and broken your leg?

Then, have you fallen asleep on the couch with a bag of frozen peas to numb the pain before waking up and realising that you’d really done a number on yourself?

Probably not, but Sam White has.

At 24 years old, insurance leader White’s crazy night caused an injury that meant she was “trapped” on her sister’s couch.

The weeks spent waiting for her leg to heal became a forced meditation on what she enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about her life and her career.

Soon after, her mother died, and the combination of the two events triggered a drastic overhaul.

She broke up with her boyfriend and decided she wanted to be her own boss.

Twenty years later, she’s the head of five successful insurance businesses that employ more than 200 people and has turned over more than £18 million (AU$35 million).

These include UK companies Freedom Services Group, Freedom Brokers, Pukka Insure and Action 365.

Last year, she launched Stella, a new insurance business in Australia that is designed specifically to reward female drivers.

Women are statistically better drivers. Data from Victoria Police shows that male motorists account for 70 per cent of speeding, seatbelt, drink driving and mobile phone offences.

Analysis by Budget Direct also found men are overrepresented in accidents where the road user was in control of the crash.

White thought it simply made sense to offer cheaper insurance to women because of this.

Here’s how she got here today.

‘All I was really worrying about was the next day’

Deciding to launch an insurance business at 24 seems like a remarkable decision, but White says it wasn’t as unusual as it may seem.

“I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t still figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“I don’t think those two things [launching a business and personal exploration] are mutually exclusive. And I think women in particular put themselves under too much pressure to be categoric about this.”

Instead, she said the business launch came simply from knowing what she wanted and what she didn’t.

“What I didn’t want was to work for a company, because I was doing sort of 12-14 hour days, my boss was a bit of an arsehole - I didn’t want to be doing that.”

Setting up the company was ultimately an “organic and gentle” process, in that she started doing work with some companies she was already in touch with. She would bill them for it, and gradually the business would grow.

But at first, she wasn’t looking any further than the next day down the line.

“So, ‘Can I make enough appointments that I can earn enough money that I can pay my bills and have that freedom and that life that I wanted to have?’”

“I didn’t at that stage think I was going to end up with a multi-million pound company and a couple of hundred staff. I just thought, ‘I don’t want to be doing the thing that I was doing before, and I think that this is a viable option.’”

Her advice: Dive right in

Looking back, White is glad she had a fairly relaxed approach to launching her business.

She knows that if she tried to map out every step of its growth, it would have failed.

“This probably flies in the face of a lot of advice that other people give, but I believe it's okay to just work out what the next steps are going to be,” she said.

“It’s like lily pads: once you’ve gotten yourself on one, then you can decide where you’re going to take the next step and the next step and the next step.”

The thing that people launching a business for the first time often fail to factor in is the people they will meet along the way.

Those people will often challenge them to create better products, help them find the way and inspire new ideas.

“For me, the process is iterative and it’s organic. It’s not forced to adhere to a very clearly defined box from the first day.”

It’s not a failure until you stop, but prioritise yourself

Failure isn’t final but rest is essential.

While White’s top piece of advice is simply not to give up, she also believes that it’s incredibly critical to look after yourself.

She takes the time out every day to exercise and to meditate, and blocks out her afternoons to spend time with her two children and partner.

“I schedule time in my diary for the things that are important,” she said.

“If you look at your diary, you’ll be able to tell what’s important to you.”

Early in her career, White would burn the candle at both ends. She’d be out all night and then try to work the next day. But the fact is that when you’re physically or mentally exhausted, you’re no use to anyone, she said.

Instead, entrepreneurs need to keep their eye on the prize but be honest about their vulnerabilities and when they need support both in and out of the office.

“You will have a multitude of failures before you get to success,” she said.

“Every single successful business person that I know can tell a battle story of when they thought they were gonna lose it or when everything went completely wrong - every single one without fail.

“So, when you start a journey and it starts to seem a bit hard, just remember that. Don't give up.”

Read part two to find out why setting boundaries was such a critical part of Sam's success, and how you can get better at setting boundaries too.

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