How did you come to start an insurtech company?
I have one of those very cliché stories. I’m a serial entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was 12 years old. When I was going to college for business and finance, I started a business that became very successful, and I quit school. Years later, friends of mine purchased a small insurance agency—they’re a top-100 agency now—and they convinced me to come on board and run an agency for them. This was the first real job that I had.
A couple years later, I started my own agency, and I looked at the agency management systems that were available. What I wanted didn’t exist, and based on my prior experience of struggling with the systems, I decided to build one for my company. We built the first agency management system on top of [customer relationship management platform] Salesforce. At the time, people looked at Salesforce as just a CRM, and nobody really understood that it’s truly a platform that can be molded into anything.
Our agency was very successful. We turned it into a franchise company and opened up multiple locations. Because we were a franchise, we built the company to be a business in a box, and the technology had to be very scalable and intuitive. A few years later, Salesforce approached me about partnering with them and bringing that agency management system to market. That was about 2012. I had to rebuild the solution to more of a vanilla one that would work for all agency types, not just mine. I released the product in the third quarter of 2013 live on the Salesforce app exchange. At that point, I walked away from the agency business. I said to my partner, “You keep the agency. I’m keeping the technology.” I’ve been focused on that ever since.
What was that business you started at 12 years old?
I sold pet supplies to all my friends. I got a wholesaler license and the whole nine yards. I didn’t make a ton of money, but it was an official, real business. My dad’s a serial entrepreneur as well, and that’s where a lot of that comes from.
What lessons did you learn from running your own agency?
One of the biggest ones that people are still struggling with today is that revenue from commissions is slimming. They’re getting smaller for a number of reasons. Because of that, it’s so important to streamline what we do and to make our people more efficient—less time doing redundant tasks to focus on things that drive additional revenue to the company. So many agencies are so focused on doing just the day-to-day redundant tasks because they’ve done it that way over the last 30 years.
Another one from owning my own shop, and prior to that managing one, is that everybody sells very differently. Just because they sell something doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it. Being able to analyze data on sales and how these people are doing, you can fine-tune the sales process to help them sell better. In my industry now, technology sales, it’s very driven by data—who’s doing what, what are they doing, what are they saying, what is their conversion ratio and what is the retention, the attrition? In insurance, overall, people aren’t really doing that.
Was it daunting to enter the agency management arena?
It’s been very challenging as a newcomer in this world because of all the barriers to entry. But you know—just pure tenacity—we have overcome. Now it’s a really great place to be. Since I’ve owned this company, we’ve seen four other companies try to build an agency management system in Salesforce and fail. It’s not easy. There are so many things when you talk about getting traction with the carriers, getting certified for download and things like that. I joke sometimes and say, “Looking back, it would have been easier to build some small little app than try to take on this monster.” Here we are now, and I feel that we have definitely overcome that, which is awesome.
Why is operating within Salesforce important?
It depends on the agency and the needs of the customer. For some people, we’ve told them just because it’s a new, shiny toy doesn’t mean you should buy it. Some shouldn’t because they’re fine doing what they’re doing now, but for the ones that really want to transform their organization utilizing technology, there is no better platform. It’s not because we’re part of it; it’s because of their whole partner ecosystem and all of the other apps that connect to it. The world is on Salesforce. Ninety percent of the insurance industry is on Salesforce already in some way or another. It doesn’t mean that they’re using it end to end. All of the big brokers, all of the carriers, they already have Salesforce in some way or another. There’s a reason for that.
What is your target market, and how is that changing?
It’s changed tremendously. In the beginning, I bootstrapped this company. Our customer was anybody that would buy. As time has gone on, we’ve really found that our customer is probably less about size and more about priorities. It’s somebody who is struggling in certain areas of the organization and they need help streamlining and making it better. They have true management that’s going to make sure the organization adopts this solution. They are shops that can really utilize technology to make them more efficient or drive additional bottom line through sales. That’s our customer. It’s all shapes and sizes. Primarily, we’re agencies and brokers, independents. We’re also in Canada. MGAs, MGUs and carriers use our system. Carriers typically use us for their internal agency or distribution management.
What are the challenges that independent agencies face that technology can address?
Single view of a customer is overall challenging. I’m talking about all of the other systems that they have to use today to do business with a customer. Recently, we worked with one of our customers that had 37 core systems to do business. We consolidated that down to four, saving them millions of dollars a year in tech costs but bringing in millions of dollars in new business because they were able to focus elsewhere instead of all this constant swivel-chairing. Most large agencies are in that same boat. It’s not only the carriers; it’s all the systems. It’s the personal lines rating, the CRM, the lead management system, the marketing automation system, the agency management system—all of this stuff is detached, or if it is connected, it’s connected with duct tape and twine.
How is technology going to change the way agents and brokers work?
In my opinion, regardless of whether we solve this or someone else does, everybody is going to look to a single platform, and they’ll want to build on top of it utilizing the tools that are on that platform. They need the stand-alone technology, but they are going to want to build their own secret sauce on top of it. That’s what our customers do today. By giving people these tools, you’re enabling innovation internally.
Does technology replace or augment relationships?
I’ve heard all sides of this. I’ve heard people say relationships are dead. That’s not true. Relationships are very, very real, but technology can help better the relationship with your customer. Think of a simple example: a customer can call me today and my phone will bring up through my CRM who that customer is and what’s going on. As soon as that phone rings, I’m on their account looking at what their favorite things are and what they like to do, but what’s really important is what’s going on—do we have some case outstanding, did someone not answer an email—and I’m already in front of it. Things like that strengthen the relationship.
For the people that don’t want that relationship and don’t care, you need to offer them the technology to communicate the way they want to communicate. Without those tools, you’ve lost them. With technology for the modern age, people aren’t going to wait around for three days to get a quote. They want to call up, and they want it now, and it needs to be served up very quickly, efficiently and professionally. Technology really helps to give you that edge.