There’s much to be said about the ways in which our digital existence has fallen short of the ideal promised, but one group for whom online life has been everything they hoped for and more are those who mine data in search of greater efficiency. There exists more information than we could have imagined about our wants, needs and preferences, plus countless businesses looking to use that information in the hopes of selling us something they hope we didn’t know we needed.
To that end, I spoke with Luis Pino, the CEO of Oakland, California platform Agentero, that allows insurance agents to make the most of the data they have to connect with both potential clients and carriers. He brings to the company his own experience with both startups and insurance tech, so he offers a worthwhile perspective on an industry not often at the fore of tech talk.
Mary Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Luis Pino: Insurance is becoming increasingly more digital as customers look to do more online, from searching for coverage to buying policies to filing claims. In fact, more use of technology across the whole of insurance has created more data which can be used to better give consumers what they want and need.
Insurance agents, in particular, have mountains of data in their own systems that can be utilized to better serve their customers, creating a more personalized experience. But many either aren’t using it or only using it at its most basic levels.
We are helping agencies take full advantage of their data to grow. Our solution makes data analysis easy for agents, uncovering opportunities by marrying their own data with relevant third-party resources. After we help agents uncover opportunities, we then match them with digital insurance carriers and products so they can provide a fully digital insurance buying experience for their customers.
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Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Pino: We use several outlets for targeting our customers which are independent insurance agents. We have found great success with digital marketing. In addition to email campaigns, we also advertise on platforms where agents spend their time, such as Facebook.
We also formed partnerships with agency management systems and other large companies in the industry and they promote us to their agent bases.
But the most success we have had with acquiring new customers comes from word-of-mouth from our current customers and we are very proud of that.
Juetten: How did past projects and experience help with this new project?
Pino: Before starting Agentero in 2017, I was part of the founding team of CoverWallet, the small business insurance platform that was eventually acquired by Aon. When we were starting to build this company, we visited many, many insurance agencies and consistently saw agents spending too much time manually filling out forms, submitting quote requests to individual carrier portals, scanning PDF documents and calling carriers and clients to confirm and distribute information. They were doing this for even basic tasks such as producing insurance cards and proof of coverage.
It was clear to me that technology could play a big role in improving how these agencies operate, ultimately creating a better experience for the customer.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Pino: We have a rockstar team, and it is a true insurtech team bringing together people with insurance backgrounds and insurance adjacent backgrounds such as financial services, with people who have deep technology experience from startups and larger technology organizations.
Our CTO, Jose Fermin Alvarez, worked at a company that got acquired by Google. He then spent eight years at Google before joining our team.
Javier Martinez Barriga is our VP of Engineering who served as VP of Engineering at two companies that eventually went on to be acquired. One by Expedia, the other one by Amazon.
Our VP of Product, Craig Priess, is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several startups, such as Guardian Analytics, and successfully exited them.
On the insurance side, Rachael Gonzalez is our Senior Insurance Director. She has experience working at a carrier, an aggregator as well as a top 100 insurance agency.
And Ido Deutsch, our Head of Growth, has experience both in insurance and technology. He is a serial entrepreneur but also worked at a commercial insurance brokerage startup.
To ¨Be One Team¨ is one of our core values, and this means, we operate and succeed together. We support each other, help each other improve and are open, humble, and transparent.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Pino: We raised a $10 million seed round of funding led by Foundation Capital and Union Square Ventures.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Pino: Inaki Berenguer, who was the CEO and founder of CoverWallet, is a serial entrepreneur, extremely successful, and I am very fortunate to call him my mentor. And this is a story I like to share to just show how startup life is a crazy ride. But when you have your pulse on the market and you’re willing to take risks you can find great success.
Inaki is ex-McKinsey and I was ex-McKinsey so we ended up getting connected through the McKinsey network. He eventually offered me a position in 2014 at a startup he had recently created. I was very excited to take it on and make the jump. Soon after I accepted, he told me he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that his offer to me was no longer valid because he had sold that startup. But the good news was that he was planning to start something new in the next six months. Though Inaki didn’t yet know exactly what the new venture was going to be, he wanted me to be a part of it.
Over the next six months, Inaki did an analysis of the US economy and what industries were ripe for disruption. He also pulled from his own personal experience about how cumbersome it was to purchase insurance for the businesses he had been setting up. That is how he decided to set up a digital insurance agency, which eventually became CoverWallet.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Pino: As a CEO of a company, my duty is to ensure the financial stability of the company and return shareholder value. The internal metrics that we closely track such as growth and revenue, build up to this concept of creating shareholder value. To do so, a key component is to be customer obsessed: to understand how customers think, feel and do things; to innovate to solve their problems elegantly; and to “wow” our customers in every interaction.
For example, a company I truly admire and that has created tremendous shareholder value is Twilio. We use their services to help agents connect with their customers, and I’ve also had the chance of meeting Jeff Lawson (Twilio´s CEO) through the Union Square Ventures network. Twilio accelerates digital transformation across the world by being the communications hub for developers, in a very similar way that Stripe is the financial hub. They achieved this by being focused on delivering value to their users: developers.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Pino: The path to success is not a straight line but rather curvy with valleys and peaks. You have to be prepared and can’t get overly confident during the highs and not let yourself get taken down too much by the lows. You have to be agile and ready to work through whatever comes your way.
There also tends to be a bit of survival bias. Entrepreneurship can be a real grind—it’s hard work. Some entrepreneurs only focus on the startups that succeed and think that it is easier to find success than it actually is. They should also look at the startups that failed and see if there are any lessons to be learned or traps they should avoid.
Juetten: And of course, any IP challenges or horror stories to share?
Pino: About two years ago, we basically had to start from scratch and redo how we were thinking about our technology solution. The platform we had initially built worked for the first 50 agents but if we tried to scale it beyond that number it wasn’t going to work.
We realized that the IP we were building that took us off the ground, was not going to be the IP that would allow us to grow and expand our agent customer base.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Pino: Ultimately, we want to be the central hub of a digital insurance ecosystem. We want to connect and improve the experience for all stakeholders –including carriers, agents and their customers.
The entire concept of insurance is very cool. It helps people when they experience hardships and it helps people make their dreams (like buying a house or a new car) reality. But in real life, the process of getting insurance is really kludgy. The policy structure and jargon make it really complex to understand. The process to get insurance has only recently started becoming more digitized. There is still a long way to go to make it as seamless as other activities we are accustomed to doing online such as shopping or banking.
Thanks to Luis for taking some time to answer my questions, and best of luck in the tall task of making insurance cool! If you have a startup or success or failure story to share, reach out on Twitter @maryjuetten. #onwards.