How can a platform modernize an industry like insurance?

My guest, Jennifer Fitzgerald, saw how ancient the insurance space was and knew it didn’t have to be this way.

She had a background in insurance and felt she could modernize this enormous industry.

Well, she’s done it. I want to find out how.

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the co-Founder of Policygenius, a consumer marketplace for insurance.

 
Jennifer Fitzgerald

Jennifer Fitzgerald

Policygenius

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the co-Founder of Policygenius, a consumer marketplace for insurance.

roll-angle

Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. My audience is real entrepreneurs who are often building their businesses as they’re listening to these interviews. And frankly, for us, hearing stories of entrepreneurship it’s what we do recreationally, so I wouldn’t doubt it if someone’s listening to this as they’re running or working out because this is the type of thing that fires us up.

All right. I’m also very digital person. I remember when we had our child, I had a nanny come in full-time, spend time at the house and she was amazed by how much comes into my life digitally. Like I don’t do grocery shopping. Somebody from some app will come and deliver my groceries. If I need something done around the house, I’ll find another app and somebody will come in and do it for me.

And then one day, I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about it in these interviews, but I woke up in the middle of the night and I said, “Oh, my God. I have kids. If I die on this trip, what happens to my kids financially? Are they taken care of?” And I did what I always do. I went to my phone, I started looking online, and I didn’t understand jack. I then went to my good friends who are in the finance industry, I asked them, they gave me some advice, and I didn’t really like talking to the agents that they introduced me to. And frankly, the agent, my good friend, Mike Wade, I still feel guilty about it, introduced me to an agent. The agent sent me this beautiful paperwork with a lot of sticky notes on it and I never returned it and I felt incredibly guilty because I’m not a paper person. I just can’t . . . If it was on my phone, I could do it whenever I feel like it, but because it was paper, I had to do it at the office. And I felt really guilty towards Mike Wade and also towards the agents who did all that work.

And I finally had some dude come into my house and sell me insurance. And I liked the dude, but I don’t like that process. But that’s the way it was. And then into the space, walks a woman named Jennifer Fitzgerald who says, “You know what? This is actually not the way things have to go.” And she had a background in the insurance space and she said, “I think I could create something better,” and she has. It is growing really fast, and I think part of it, Jennifer, correct me if I’m wrong, is adding to your anxiety and stress that you have to keep this . . . You’ve got huge growth, but to keep it up now is going to be tougher and tougher.

And Jennifer is running a company that some of you may be familiar with. It’s called Policygenius. It is a consumer marketplace for insurance. So yes, it would have helped me with my life insurance, but also car insurance and all the others.

We’re going to find out how she built this up so fast in a staid environment. Insurance people are not known for being pioneers in technology. And we’re going to do it all thanks to two great sponsors. The first is hosting one of my websites, it’s called HostGator. And the second is hosting me. I’m coming right at you from the Regus office in San Francisco. Regus is a company that’s sponsoring and I’ll tell you why I’m renting for them and why you should too. Jennifer, good to talk to you.

Jennifer: Great to talk to you, Andrew.

Andrew: Revenue-wise, where are you guys? How much?

Jennifer: So we are upwards of $20 million.

Andrew: Upward of how much?

Jennifer: Twenty million in revenues.

Andrew: I see you changed it even from what you told me in private, but I promised you before we start that I would not reveal anything that you told me before we started, but you guys are doing really, really well, better than you’re even letting on here, which is why the smile is on your face there. And you’re how old of a company?

Jennifer: We have been in market for four years. I’ve been building the company for five years.

Andrew: All right. You and I talked about how before you did this you were working for McKinsey with the insurance industry and you were in a conversation with someone over there talking to them about the riders that they wanted to attach. Tell me about that conversation and help me understand what a rider is.

Jennifer: Right. A rider is an add-on to a contract, right? So you’ve got your standard contract which is what insurance is, and then the riders are special add-ons to it, right? So, for life insurance, for example, you can add a critical illness rider that will pay out if you get a critical illness, you can add a rider that insures your children. So these are product add-ons, right? And when I was working in the insurance industry, the organizing factor for most insurance companies is around the agent or the broker, right? So, in fact, a lot of companies say our customer is the agent. They don’t say our customer is the end consumer, right? So they will design products based on agent feedback or broker feedback. And a lot of times, it’s just overly complicated because it’ll help the agents add value, it will help the agents earn a living because the more features you add to the product, the higher the sales price.

Andrew: You stood up at that meeting and you said, “Hey, wait a minute. We don’t even know if the people who are buying these policies even want these riders. And regardless, it’s adding complexity.” And they actually said to you, “True on both counts, but we’re including it because of . . . ”

Jennifer: One, our competitors are, so we have to keep up with the competitors. And two, because our agents in the field said that this would be helpful and they wanted these product features. It’ll help them sell the product.

Andrew: So they’re going to make it more complicated for consumers like me because it makes me want to have some dude come into my house and sell me insurance because I can’t understand it on my own.

Jennifer: Correct. Much like how the legal industry works and the tax accounting industry works. Yep.

Andrew: And you weren’t just a dabbler in this space, you were at McKinsey from 2008 to 2013.

Jennifer: Right.

Andrew: Really deep in the heart of it.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Okay. This is some of the frustration that led you to start Policygenius. Tell me something that you learned that you thought was smart that you’re embedding in your new business.

Jennifer: I think one was a focus on the end customer and really solving the pain points that they have. I think a lot of . . . If I pivot for a second to startups, a lot of startups are solutions in search of a problem. We have been, since day one, focused on what the actual customer problems are, which is, I don’t understand insurance, I don’t want to talk to insurance agents. This is an intimidating subject area for me and it’s really unpleasant. I know I need it but I’m going to keep putting it off, right? So, again, we . . .

Andrew: How did you know that was true? I’ve got to be honest, I think I’m a little bit of an outlier. I don’t want to do anything. I’ve said in the past, Regus will hand-write my letters to people because I don’t even want to address them. I don’t think that I’m indicative of the way the rest of the world works. How did you know that other people would want to buy insurance online versus have some of them come in their house and really walk them through it, and even if they don’t add any more knowledge, just reassure me, “I’m not going to die tomorrow. This has been done by other people. Hug me for a second and let me sign it”? How did you know other people didn’t feel . . . You’re smiling as I said it. What market research did you do?

Jennifer: We did a ton of market research. So my co-founder and I, he was also at McKinsey, we took a six-month leave of absence. Once we really got excited about the idea but wanted to test it out and do some consumer research before we handed in our resignation notices. So the first few months were really talking to consumers, right? So, “Talk to me about your last insurance experience. What got you into the market? What was that trigger? What did you do? Where was the first source of information that you turn to? What happened after that?” So we really mapped that customer decision journey probably with about 50 to 60 people to start just to get a good sense of what the pain points were, where people were going to first.

And then from there, we started prototyping a few very basic experiences, right? So shopping flows. So land on a page, this is what you see, here’s how the policies are presented to you. Are you compelled to take the next step and apply or buy a policy, right? So we did six months of pretty intensive consumer research and prototyping just to validate what we kind of knew in our gut was the problem with the industry and the customer pain points that were out there.

Andrew: What did they help you see about their pain that you didn’t know?

Jennifer: Yeah. I think one of the early light bulb moments for us in that moment was two things. One is nobody’s ever been told what insurance they don’t need. They’ve always been told what they need. “Oh, you need life insurance, you need health insurance, you need homeowners insurance.” Our early prototype of our product was kind of a simple to-do list based on the information you gave us, and it told you the insurance that you need based on your family financial situation and we also told you insurance that you don’t need or don’t need to worry about, right? And that was a huge trust-building moment and so many of our early test consumers were like, “Oh, my God. Nobody’s ever talked to me about insurance like that. It makes me really trust you.”

Andrew: About insurance that they don’t need.

Jennifer: Exactly.

Andrew: And did you know that that was going to be important to them?

Jennifer: Because we knew that trust was important and just when you listen to the emotional words that people use when they talk about their last insurance experience, it’s stressful, it’s irritation, it’s fear. Like, “I ended up buying it, but I’m not sure it was the right thing and I still have doubts whether my family will be taken care of if the worst thing ever happened.” So it’s a lot of charged language around it, so that led us down the path of, “Okay. How do we build trust? And what are the things to signal trust early on in the process?”

Andrew: And one of them is to say, “You actually don’t need this.”

Jennifer: Yeah. If you are 25 years old and you don’t have any debt, you don’t have any dependence, you don’t need life insurance.

Andrew: You know, one of my researchers . . . I got new researchers now who are helping out. One of them found this thing, I don’t even know where they found it, where you said that in 2013 you left to build rudimentary products based on your thesis. And the word “thesis” came up over and over in this researcher’s work. Actually, based on your hypothesis. I’m wondering, what was the hypothesis? What was it that you finally said, “I think I got it, and based on this, I’ll build the first version and I’ll test my hypothesis and build and build and build based on the feedback.” What was the hypothesis? How would you describe it?

Jennifer: The hypothesis was . . . So the hypothesis was in formulation to a longstanding, say, in the insurance industry. So if you ever spent any time in the insurance industry, you will often hear insurance is sold, it’s not bought, right? Everybody says that. When we started talking to people about our idea, they’re like, “You guys know that insurance is sold, it’s not bought, and you’re . . . ”

Andrew: That means that unless someone says to you, “Andrew, you really need renters insurance,” he’s just going to go about his life. But if you tell me, I need it and explain why and you put the fear into me, then I’ll be open to it. That’s the thought.

Jennifer: Exactly. The thought is people . . .

Andrew: And maybe not fear, but the need for it.

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. And you need somebody in your face selling it to you that people just aren’t waking up and saying, “Oh, I need insurance.” Right? And we thought, “That’s not true.” There’s a reason why millions of people turn to Google every month to look for insurance-related terms. There’s a reason why insurance is one of the most expensive terms on Google to advertise for. People are out there thinking about it and searching for it, but the problem is, it’s a difficult thing to buy, and so they were conflating like, “People aren’t buying it,” with, “No, you’ve just made it difficult to buy, so people get discouraged and end up dropping out of the process.”

Andrew: It’s because it’s difficult that they’re not buying online. It’s not that they’re not buying online because they wouldn’t buy this online.

Jennifer: Correct.

Andrew: If it was simple enough, they would. That was your hypothesis. Conversations with people and showing them what sounds like wireframes.

Jennifer: Yeah, wireframes, PDFs, things that my co-founder and I neither of whom are technical. We’re both ex-consultants and business people. We mock stuff up on PowerPoint. A consultant, your toolkit is Excel and PowerPoint, so we made the initial product prototypes on PowerPoint.

Andrew: Your co-founder’s name is Francoise, is it de Lame?

Jennifer: De Lame.

Andrew: De Lame. So Francoise and you were going out and talking to people. I’m wondering how you found these people to interview and how you knew they were representative of the types of customers you’d go after.

Jennifer: Sure. So, first, we just started with friends and family, right? We had a sense that our target customer would be people in their 30s and 40s. I don’t think insurance is top of mind for most folks in their 20s unless they’re starting their first job and they’re like, “Oh, which health insurance plan should I pick?” So we started with friends and family, got them to refer to us other friends and family, so people who weren’t known to us, right? So that was the initial set of folks that we talked to. Then after that, we created those early, very rudimentary prototypes on PowerPoint and we sourced random people from Craigslist and a few other sources, met them in places like Panera Bread, bought them coffee and said, “Okay. Give us your feedback on this.”

Andrew: Did you feel this was a little bit of a step-down or do you feel awkward about doing this because you’re someone who was working with top executives at big companies and suddenly you’re talking to someone at Panera Bread?

Jennifer: No, it didn’t feel . . . It felt energizing. It felt great. Like, we were actually with customers, it was stuff I’d never done before in terms of just how scrappy it was. It was awesome.

Andrew: You saw in investment banking and commercial banking that this trend was happening and you thought this could happen in insurance. Talk to me about how what you saw there that you thought could be applied here.

Jennifer: Yeah. One of the other verticals that I worked in at McKinsey were wealth management, retail banking. And in both of those sectors, you saw a lot of digital companies start to sprout up, right? So, in banking, you had simple bank, you had big payments companies like PayPal, bunch of lending companies that were digital first. And the wealth management side, you had Betterment, Wealthfront creating the ubiquitous robo-advisor now. So you saw all sorts of innovation, new companies popping up that were digital first across financial services, and insurance was the final frontier that was still very much the brick-mortar, paper way of doing things.

Andrew: Although I’m thinking about Simple. I had the founder on here, Joshua Reich. I think it didn’t get as big as he thought it would be because it was hard competing with the incumbents and he eventually sold to the incumbents. So then, what did you learn from his experience and other’s experiences that kept you . . . actually that led you to do this search engine type approach as opposed to creating your own product?

Jennifer: Yeah. Two things. One is just really understanding, again, the consumer problem and what the consumer decision point is around insurance. So the difference with insurance versus like opening up a bank account or getting a credit card is you are buying into a long-term contract, especially if it’s like life insurance. So you have to trust that the company that you’re buying the insurance contract from is trustworthy, is going to be around in 5, 10, 15 years if that’s when the claim happens, right? People aren’t as familiar with insurance companies as they are with banks or credit cards because it’s just far less frequent a transaction, right?

So, on top of that, creating your own insurance product, that’s a lot of work. You need a ton of data, you need to know how to price this stuff, you need to have a lot of data on the risk and how to underwrite that profitably. So even if you figured that out, then you still have a customer acquisition problem, right? How are you going to get it out there? So, our thinking was, and still is, solve the distribution and customer acquisition problem first. And customers aren’t looking for new insurance companies. They’re looking for an easy way to do it, right? And that’s what we wanted to solve. And we were very focused on “Let’s make this easy. Let’s already work with the products that are out in the market,” which are good products, but buying them and comparing them and shopping for them is what’s painful.

Andrew: How did you know they’d be willing to work with you instead of feeling threatened by you?

Jennifer: The insurance companies?

Andrew: Yeah.

Jennifer: We didn’t. So we had a lot of contacts coming into this, but it’s different saying, “Hey, we’re your McKinsey team,” versus, “Hey, we are this new two-person company that has this idea about changing how you’re going to engage with consumers.” So we didn’t. And early on some companies didn’t work with us. So to create this marketplace we had to first line up the insurance companies we were working with and would be on the platform, and then we had to go out and figure out, “Okay. How do we get customers?” And getting the insurance companies on the platform was easier for a certain vertical. So, life insurance, disability insurance. We had a much easier time of it. Auto insurance, nobody wants to talk to us. Unless you have a track record of selling auto insurance, good luck. Or other types of insurance, right? So, if you . . .

Andrew: Why? They don’t just want customers coming in?

Jennifer: No.

Andrew: Why do you think?

Jennifer: Well, because they are very risk-sensitive, so they need to understand that the customer that you’re going to bring them is a good risk for them to underwrite. The margins in auto insurance are so thin that if you bring them a lot of bad driving risk, it’s going to hurt their profitability, right? So they want people with track records, whereas on the life facts and health side, it’s less sensitive to that because these are long-term contracts. If you take a medical exam to prove you’re insurable, so the risk profile is different.

Andrew: Okay. All right. You then after six months you said, “We’ve got it. We’re on.” What made you say “We’re on. Let’s do it”?

Jennifer: It’s part gut because you can always rationalize your way back to your corporate job and still say, “No, we don’t have enough data points. We don’t have enough data points.” It was part gut excitement about it, and it was part, we had enough really great feedback from our round of prototype and MVP testing that we said, “We got to give this a go.”

Andrew: The MVP testing meaning, people were clicking over and saying, “Yes, I would complete this and buy it.”

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. I want to talk about my first sponsor, but before I do, there’s something that’s just kind of nagging at me. I don’t want to ask you a revenue again. We totally I understand that you’re not going to give it. I’m curious why in private you gave me a higher number than in public. Like, you’re incredibly successful in an industry that if you asked me, I wouldn’t have thought somebody can do what you did. I’m wondering why you’re understating your success, why you’re intentionally . . . what you’re trying to protect here.

Jennifer: Oh, you asked me about sales beforehand then you asked me about revenues online. So, two different things.

Andrew: Oh, it’s there’s a difference.

Jennifer: Because we get . . . The sales are the premium that we collect, and then we collect the commission rate on that.

Andrew: Oh. So then your commission is high.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Okay. All right. I’ll see. I’m wondering if maybe there was like, I started wondering, are there competitors coming in? Are people starting to see what you’re doing? And they aren’t?

Jennifer: Oh, yeah. There’s tons of competitors.

Andrew: Because of you.

Jennifer: I think we’ve opened the way particularly in life insurance. So five years ago, when we left McKinsey to start this, there weren’t a lot of insurance tech companies out there, not a lot of startups in insurance. Since then it has exploded. It is probably one of the most popular areas of investment for venture capital. There’s InsureTech is now a word. There’s a big InsureTech conference every year now that started three years ago that has, I think, five, 6,000 people that go to it. And I think we were a pioneer in the space.

Andrew: InsureTech Connect. That’s the event?

Jennifer: Yeah, that’s the one.

Andrew: You know what happened as I was researching competitors to you? Auto insurance kept coming up.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: But I would have thought that based on what you’re saying that that wouldn’t have been so popular, but I guess there are enough people buying it that everyone seems to be creating even an affiliate site for it.

Jennifer: Yeah. I think the lore of the auto insurance market is, you have to have it, so there’s a built-in market for it. The reason why we stayed away from it. Well, one, we couldn’t get the carriers early on when it was just the two of us, right? Two, we knew that it was such a crowded vertical and you have direct to consumer brands like Geico and Progressive that bypass the agent and go directly to the consumer and your entire audience knows what their advertising budget is, right? We knew that with a very thinly funded startup we would die on the hill if we tried to tackle customer acquisition and auto insurance . . .

Andrew: All right.

Jennifer: . . . to start.

Andrew: Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor and then I want to come back. And I think I understand then why you went after the first insurance group that you did, but we’ll come back in a moment and answer that. But first, I want to tell everyone about the place where I’m renting office from. It’s Regus. I love renting from Regus. In fact, I rented from them in Argentina when I needed an office space, then Washington, D.C., now here in San Francisco. And here’s the beautiful thing about them. Jennifer, do you have a receptionist these days? Do you have like an assistant who . . . You do.

Jennifer: Correct.

Andrew: I’m like . . . I was a one-man operation when I started with Regus when I started Mixergy. When I sign up with Regus, suddenly I had a receptionist. How great is that? Not that anyone picks up the phone and call me. In fact, I had them take the phone out of here. But here’s what people do. Sometimes they surprised me and come in here. Sometimes there’s like a lawyer. The other thing I did after I had kids was I signed a will. So a lawyer comes in here to . . . And they sit him down and get him a cup of coffee, they help him out for 5, 10 minutes until I finish with my phone call and I show up. They give us a conference room here.

So I talked about Regus guys, if you’re listening to me, as the place to get real office space, but along with it you get so many other things. A receptionist who’s there for you, conference rooms that you can use, space for having your lunch, a kitchen for storing your lunch, coffee so you don’t have to keep buying coffee at the coffee shops. And they take care of everything. If I just . . . You know what? Here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to toss this napkin on the floor right here like an animal. I’m not even going to pick it up, like that. And I know tomorrow when I come into the office it’s going to be picked up and clean so that I could stay focused and be here ready to work.

If you’re out there and you want office space, go check out Regus. And in fact, here’s what I recommend you to do. Just tell them to give you a walkthrough of their space. If you don’t like the first place, make them show you a second or third place and give them feedback. I’ve noticed that some places feel a little more cool in downtown. Others are a little bit more stuffy, and I like the stuffy, and more professional, but they have a lot of different space. All you have to do is go to regus.com/mixergy or email me and my team contact@mixergy.com and we’ll introduce you to our person at Regus. I’ve been renting from them for the better part of a decade. I think you should too. Small company, big company, one-man operation, one-woman shop, you got it.

All right. What’s the first industry or what’s the first insurance that you went after?

Jennifer: Life insurance.

Andrew: What? I thought it was disability.

Jennifer: Disability on the prototype side. And then we built disability life pet insurance and that’s what we launched with.

Andrew: All at once. Okay.

Jennifer: And that’s what we launched with.

Andrew: Why disability when you prototype and then why those three afterwards?

Jennifer: Because disability is quite possibly the most complicated and hardest insurance product to understand.

Andrew: What makes it complicated?

Jennifer: Well, one, nobody knows what it is, right? People think, “Oh, I need that when I get disabled.” Right? What it actually is, is income protection. So, if you were too sick or too injured to work, disability insurance replaces your paycheck, right? It’s probably the number one product most working Americans should have and don’t. And so . . .

Andrew: Can I pay it for myself? Like, if I lose my voice and I can’t do this or if I . . .

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: I could.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: You know what? I don’t think I’m going to lose my voice. I think I might get the blues or something, like, a mental issue. They’ll insure me against that?

Jennifer: Yeah. As long as you don’t have any pre-existing conditions.

Andrew: I don’t. I’m like a happy-go-lucky person. I don’t expect that, but at some point, you feel like you might just burn out. I see. Okay. So you said, “This is such a complicated thing. Even Andrew here who has researched me does not fully understand it. If people can understand it in our demos, then we can get them . . . ”

Jennifer: They’ll understand everything, right? If we can get people to understand, raise their hand and buy disability insurance, then you can believe we can do it for life insurance, for auto insurance, for homeowners’ insurance, whatever insurance, because that is literally the hardest product to get with the lowest level of awareness.

Andrew: You know what I saw with life insurance when I had the dude come to my house? I did what I do here with you. I asked him lots of personal questions and he was a little taken aback at first. But I said things like, “What’s your commission on this?” And it was pretty substantial. What’s the commission on the life insurance plan that an agent sells?

Jennifer: It depends on the agent and the product, but minimum it’s usually 70% or 80% of the first year.

Andrew: Of [inaudible 00:24:02]

Jennifer: Yeah, of the first year.

Andrew: Of the first year. But then don’t they get anything on going after that?

Jennifer: It’s small. It’s small.

Andrew: Okay. All right. So that’s pretty substantial. Is that part of the reason why you decided to pick life insurance?

Jennifer: Yeah. The unit economics are good. So, if you could actually figure out how to get customers in the door, the unit economics are pretty good.

Andrew: Got it. And then why pet insurance?

Jennifer: We thought that was going to be easier to sell, right? You can actually use cute pictures of puppies and cats. I was an early adopter of pet insurance. It’s a great product and we thought, “Oh, that one will be the . . . Life and disability are hard, pet is going to be the easy one to sell.” Right? And we can show at least like user growth numbers based on a very simple pet insurance products.

Andrew: What did you find about it when you started with pet insurance?

Jennifer: We found that people didn’t get it and there is a lot of negative commentary in the press around pet insurance. And it did not take off. We thought pet insurance would take off. We were wrong. Life insurance took off after we launched.

Andrew: Why do you think life insurance?

Jennifer: Because people need it and they’re looking for it and we met a need in the market, which was, we made it easy to research to shop, to compare and to buy it.

Andrew: How hard and how long did it take you to get the insurance companies on board for a situation where you’re basically making them interchangeable?

Jennifer: So we weren’t the first model to do this. There are a couple companies who’ve been around a lot longer that have a similar model. So they’re independent brokers, they work with a bunch of different life insurance companies. Select Quote is probably the oldest. They are basically the innovators in direct to consumer sales of life insurance. They’re more of a phone-based call center model, but they’re the guys that broke open the space for life insurance, right? So, the life insurance companies were used to this model from that perspective, so that made it much more straightforward conversation. Now, there are some life insurance companies that say, “Nope, we don’t want to participate,” or, “No, we only sell through our own captive agents.” And that’s fine.

Andrew: And so was it an easy sell when you walked into the insurance companies? Was it just, “Hey, you guys have a model? Can you fit us into your model?”

Jennifer: Relatively so because that model existed, you know, they just looked at us as another broker, which is fine. Like, if that’s the model that we fit into, that’s fine. In life insurance, there’s also a way to work with a bigger agency that has those contracts, so you’re not actually directly contracting with the insurance companies until you’re big enough to do so. So now, we are direct with all of our life insurance companies before we had to work underneath a bigger agency.

Andrew: All right. So then I think . . . You know what? I think . . . Do you guys call up after somebody signs up?

Jennifer: After you apply online? Yep.

Andrew: Yeah. So, as we were . . . I did it a few minutes before we started, and I said, “Who’s leaving me voicemail?” And it’s Jenna, I think from . . . I think it’s from your office or from the insurance company that I fill that form for. And I felt comfortable putting in . . . That’s another thing. I felt comfortable putting my name into your site where I didn’t on other people’s sites even though I was curious to compare, I think, because of your backing. Who invested in your business?

Jennifer: So we’ve got several big venture funds. So Norwest Venture Partners which is based on San Francisco. Revolution Venture is based in DC. So Steve Case from AOL, that’s his fund. And then we have the venture funds of some of the insurance company. So Mass Mutual, AXA, their venture funds also invested.

Andrew: What was it like raising money?

Jennifer: Oh, it’s terrible.

Andrew: Was it?

Jennifer: It’s really hard.

Andrew: Well, if it’s terrible for you . . .

Jennifer: It should be. It should be. Yeah.

Andrew: Wow.

Jennifer: It should be hard, right?

Andrew: What made it hard?

Jennifer: Well, one, when you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s hard. So when we first started, we had no idea what we were doing. And to be honest, we probably should have done a lot more prep work on the fundraising side because we went in and we went in with the wrong types of decks, so our decks were like too McKinsey, they didn’t . . . They weren’t pitch decks, right? They were like, “Let me tell you all about the insurance industry and why this is a big opportunity. And I have 30 pages of appendices and tons of numbers.” And they’re like, “We don’t care about that. We just want a story and the vision and then we’ll get into the numbers.” So when you don’t know what you’re doing at first, it’s really hard. But even when you know what you’re doing, it’s still hard, right?

Back in 2013, when we first started trying to raise a seed round of capital, again, nobody knew insurance, nobody was talking about insurance. There weren’t other big insurance tech companies that we could point to and say, “Look, this is a real thing.” So it was just an uphill battle. You also had two ex-consultants, they asked us, “What do you guys know how to do besides like PowerPoint and Excel?” which is a fair question. And neither of us were technical, but we were proposing to build a tech company. So every strike you could think of was [inaudible 00:29:07].

Andrew: And also the marketing. Your angle was, “We could sell it online.” And I’m looking at your past, I don’t see that you guys have a lot of experience selling online. So let’s come into each one of those. Once you decided that you were going to build the first version, you hired someone to build it. How did you find the person who was going to build it? Was it a person or an agency? I forgot.

Jennifer: One person.

Andrew: How did you find him?

Jennifer: It’s a funny story. So, when we . . . My co-founder and I, we left and we said, “Well, we’re going to need a product designer to help us prototype and design this thing. And I said, “Well, I know one guy who is a designer.” I knew literally one guy and he’s still with us five years later. He’s our head of design.

Andrew: Okay. It was that person for the design work.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: And then what about the development?

Jennifer: The development, we search . . . So, for our first head of engineering, that was three or four months of us just meeting everybody that we could, advertising where we could. It’s a stereotype, especially in New York City. Business founders looking for CTO, but you can’t throw a rock without seeing business founders looking for a CTO. So it was just months and months of meeting people and pitching engineers on, “Hey, this is our thing and we want you to join us.”

Andrew: And this was still self-funded at that time, Jennifer?

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. It was still self-funded.

Andrew: And so you’re pitching them on something that doesn’t have much backing and two founders who don’t have experience in this maybe in the startup space.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: And then, did you know what you were looking for? Did you know the kind of technology you want to work on?

Jennifer: No.

Andrew: No. You wanted them. Someone . . . So what were you looking for then, considering how little you knew? How would you know that you found the right person?

Jennifer: Yeah. It’s a great question. We didn’t. So we talked to friends who were in the space, right? So we knew . . . We had several other entrepreneurs that we knew, friends who were in the VC venture capital space and said, “Hey, talk to us about what we should be looking for. What’s the type of profile you need when you are four people in a two-person office?” And so we had a decent sense of who we were looking for based on those conversations. And so much of it particularly when you’re small, it’s just about chemistry, right? Can you be in the same tiny room with this person for 12, 16 hours a day? So that was a big piece of it too.

Andrew: I’m looking on the team page on your site. I don’t see a CTO. I see a lot . . . Oh, Chief Design Officer. Maybe I just didn’t find them.

Jennifer: We have a VP of Engineering.

Andrew: Is it the same person?

Jennifer: No. Our first head of engineering was with us for almost four years. And then we have a VP of Engineering who recently just joined us who’s . . .

Andrew: Yeah. The titles are software engineer, president of engine . . . VP . . . Oh, there it is. Dave Kaplan, Vice President of Engineering. But engineering is the title for your developers.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: All right. Then the first customer, you told our producer, came from Google ads. That’s a whole another monster to figure out on your own and you’re not going after amateur space, right?

Jennifer: No.

Andrew: The insurance space is full of smart people, hiring the best agencies, throwing a lot of money at each click. How did you figure out how to make that work at first?

Jennifer: Well, we didn’t. That was just dumb luck. And I think that very, very first customer, I looked at my co-founder who had a little bit of marketing experience and we’re like, “Okay. I guess you’re the head of marketing. So let’s try some Google ads to see if we can get some people that way.” I think we spent . . . Our initial budget was like $300 which won’t buy you much when you’re in the insurance game on Google.

Andrew: That’s two clicks.

Jennifer: Yep, about two clicks. But one of those clicks converted to somebody who was interested in buying disability insurance. She was a nurse. Nurses are one of the target consumers for disability insurance. And I remember somebody clicked on it because we had on one of our laptops, the site metrics up and so we were watching her page by page go through it and we were like, “Ooh, somebody is actually going through it.” And the very first person converted to a customer.

Andrew: You mean, the very first person who went through and filled out one of those questionnaire things?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: Wow. You know what? I thought that the flow of the form that I filled out was really well done.

Jennifer: Thank you.

Andrew: So it wasn’t like this big, long, overwhelming thing. It was a step at a time. When I typed in . . . Again, because I knew that it was you I could trust you with my personal information. I typed in the beginning of my home address, it auto-populated it, so the form kept getting simpler and simpler than it seemed. Where did you guys learn that user experience was really honed in?

Jennifer: So our first employee, our Chief Design Officer, he obviously drove a lot of the UX decisions, and my co-founder just has incredible instincts around user experience, how to remove friction, what’s good friction. So, because our value prop was making this easy, you have to focus on the user experience, right? And so we’ve been talking hyper-focused on that funnel. What are the questions where people pause? What are the questions where people bounce? We do weekly user calls to walk people through the flow, give us the reactions to how questions are asked. Where are they getting hung up? What’s their feeling when they go through these things? So we’ve always been a design-led and data-driven company from the very beginning, because you have to be. Every click and user is so expensive that if you don’t optimize that conversion, you’re just lighting money on fire.

Andrew: By the way, I said honed in last interview that I did or a couple of interviews ago, I said home in. I’ve learned since the last one what the difference is. Home in is to zero in on a target, right? Hone in is to keep sharpening and make something better and better. So you guys have honed in on the process. What do you use to watch what people are using and to figure out where you need to smooth it out? What software do you use?

Jennifer: Yeah. We use a lot of different softwares. We use Mouseflow to kind of watch people, like, you get heat maps, you can actually see recorded user sessions as they go through it. Mixpanel for funnel analytics. And we built a lot of our own analytics in-house. So we have the ability to just pull data from our database and then kind of deep dive into any particular area that we want to focus on.

Andrew: And you’re looking at it both in the aggregate and person by person, what are they doing, and . . .

Jennifer: Not every person now because we’re at a scale work.

Andrew: Right. But you will sit down and look at it individually.

Jennifer: Yeah. Particularly if there is a hypothesis around, “Hey, this particular page in the funnel is causing a lot of drop off. All right, let’s dig in and figure out what’s going on.” That’s when you look at the individual user sessions to see if, like, people are rage-clicking on a specific button as they get to a question and they’re kind of mousing over it, rereading it, rereading it and then bounce. Like, you’re able to zero in on the problem that way.

Andrew: All right. I’ll talk about my second sponsor and then we’ll understand what you did to grow your sales from there. And eventually, I want to get to the point of, when you’re big, it’s hard to . . . You guys have what? Been growing like 100% each year or something, is that right?

Jennifer: Yeah, probably more than that. We typically do about 3X growth every year.

Andrew: 3X growth each year, right?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: So, when you’re starting out, that’s fairly . . . Well, it’s still not easy, but it’s easier than once you get big.

Jennifer: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: Warren Buffett is having a harder time 10X thing or he won’t 10X as much as like a smaller startup could.

Jennifer: Right.

Andrew: All right. The second sponsor is a company called HostGator. I like that one of the first things you guys did was start creating content. I think a lot of companies do. And I recently saw David Heinemeier Hansson just did this tweet storm where he said, “All right. I think we’re going to consider moving away from Medium.” Medium being the place where you could post. He famously took the Basecamp blog and moved it to Medium and said, “You know what? Blogging always involves all these extra things and why should we even do it? We’ll focus on our business. Let Medium handle it.”

And a bunch of people at the time said, “WordPress can do it for you. You got a community of people who are all improving the software. You guys don’t have to code it up yourselves and improve it and you definitely don’t have to move to Medium or someone else or a third-party. Just put it on your own site.” And they nevertheless went with Medium, and Medium said, “We’re not going to allow people to have their own domains. And if people did buy their own domains, maybe we’re going to change it.”

That’s one of the frustrations of building your business on somebody else’s platform that they could just wake up one morning, change their minds about something, and boom, your whole business and your whole way of interacting with your customers’ changes. And so you could see him in these tweets, he goes, “I think we’re going to move away. Here’s why I think we might move away.” And then, “Dammit, we’re finally getting away. We’re going to go away from Medium and go to our own site.”

So the reason I say that to you is, hey, guys, if you’re out there and you’ve got some content on Facebook or you got content on Medium, you got content on Instagram and YouTube, God bless you, put it everywhere. But you should have one place to feel safe, one place that you don’t have to constantly jigger, you don’t have to constantly redo, and you don’t have to code up from scratch, but that works. And so that’s why I like using WordPress because it’s easy to set up. You’ve got a community of people keep improving it.

WordPress today is not what it was 3 years ago, not what it was 6 years ago or 10 years ago. God knows it moved beyond blogging platform to an everything platform. One out of the three sites are built on WordPress. And so if you’re going to go with WordPress, pick a hosting company that will do it right. And I like HostGator. HostGator has been around for years, they do it well, and it just works.

So here’s the deal. If you want to get started with HostGator, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When you go there, thank you, thank you, thank you. You’ll be giving me credit and frankly, they’re going to want to buy more ads from me which is great way to support Mixergy but also you’re going to get up to 62% off their already low prices. As far as I know, that’s the lowest price that they’re offering anyone. So good for you, great for me, or great for you, good for me. It’s good for all of us. Here it is up to $2 and 64 cents a month. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. HostGator.com/mixergy.

You know what, Jennifer? I actually bought like an alligator hat from Amazon and I wore it in the ad and I thought, “Great, they’re going to love it.” They said, “That’s not even an alligator, Andrew.” I forget what animal it was. I shouldn’t be picking out and I should just focus on the content, on the substance of the interviews. You guys got your first advert . . . You got your first users from Google ads. Were you able to continue it to bring someone on and do that? No. Wow.

Jennifer: No. That was just an initial experiment. So our seed capital round was pretty small, especially for a tech company insurance. We raised about $735,000. So when you’re paying development salaries and office space, that doesn’t last very far.

Andrew: Is this from First Growth Venture Network?

Jennifer: No. They’re just like an incubator, so they don’t actually fund. We just participated in their incubator program for New York City startups.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: Our seed round was friends, family, angel investors.

Andrew: Oh, okay. You just went back to people who you work with.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: Family.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And then you were starting to say how that connected to your marketing.

Jennifer: So we had no advertising budget particularly for Google search. We could have burned through that in one month’s time. So what we focused on were channels where you didn’t have to put a lot of upfront spend in, and so we focused on three areas, one was press and earned media, because that you just have to pitch, pitch, pitch, pitch, and hopefully, something lands. Two, was content. Now, content is a long game. You don’t publish content and, boom, you’re dominating the ranks of SEO, but we had a strong belief that this was an area where we should invest early and ultimately we would be a source, a real competitive advantage for us, and that’s borne out in a big way.

And the third area that we focused on was bloggers. There’s a really active and robust personal finance blogging community. And so we . . . And they typically will have affiliate relationships with businesses and companies, right? Nobody really approached them about insurance. So we were the first to go to the personal finance blogging community that, “Hey, we’ve got this new product. We think it’s going to be great for your audience. It solves an important need and it makes it easier for people to do this.” And it really resonated. So that was how we got our initial traction was focusing on those three things.

Andrew: Yeah. The personal bloggers, they tend to write about things that will bring them a commission like credit cards that offer great miles but also an affiliate commission. You’re going to them and you’re creating an affiliate program just for them. And that’s not an easy thing to do because you want to make sure the quality of customers they send to you are strong, that they’re not just stuffing the ballot box. I’m wondering who did that. Who was it? Who was in charge?

Jennifer: My co-founder. So he set up all those initial one, he set up the tracking and then we were able to see the quality of traffic that we were getting. We could cut off . . . We could cut off affiliates that [inaudible 00:42:02].

Andrew: That’s a lot of engineering work. The affiliate traffic measurement internally takes work for you then to give them the stats that they need in real time. That takes more coding work, etc. Right? The rest of it is pretty challenging. And then it’s time to negotiate with someone to talk them up, and these guys like negotiating a lot.

Jennifer: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: Yeah.

Jennifer: Got to make them feel special . . .

Andrew: Wow. But explains what? At that point when you were starting out, the founder has to get involved with it.

Jennifer: Oh, yeah. So we were the first call center agents and we were the folks on the phone getting your policies bound. We were the first marketers. The only job we haven’t done at this company is software development because neither of us are technical, but every other job we’ve done at this company basically.

Andrew: And calling into . . . And so when you were getting all that earned media, I wouldn’t have thought that an insurance company could get attention. I just interviewed the woman who founded Babiator Glasses, glasses for children. I get it. It’s kind of a cute thing. You can make excuses in media outlet to show babies wearing glasses which everyone love. I get it why she would get attention. I’m wondering what was your hook. How did you get people to write about you?

Jennifer: Our hook. So we focused on media that liked one of two areas. One, was personal finance, and two, was around consumer advocacy because we were bringing something that was better for consumers, and so reporters or journalists who had a strong bent toward consumer advocacy we thought would be a good win for us. And the third was the kind of whole startup female founder angle, right? Especially when you’re small and scrappy, whatever angle works, and, quite frankly, there aren’t a ton of female founders and female CEOs running around FinTech. So that was an angle that we pitched very much in the early days too.

Andrew: I have to tell you, as a content creator, I so appreciate that you are doing this instead of Francoise. There have been many companies founded by a woman and a man. We asked for the founder, we asked for the female founder, and it’s the guy who ends up coming on. And I know my audience is asking for more female entrepreneurs. It’s a challenge for us. So, yeah, I’m with you on that. I wouldn’t have thought, but now that I’m in this space, I get it.

Jennifer: Yeah, there’s not a lot.

Andrew: You know the weird thing that I noticed with Policygenius is that you get a lot of press. But boy, your name is spelled 500 different ways, like the capitalization of genius is an issue and whether it’s one word or two words. I see a Forbes article here where they did it both ways.

Jennifer: I know.

Andrew: Do you what talking about?

Jennifer: Yeah. It’s the bane of our media person. One word, lowercase G.

Andrew: Yeah. And frankly, even in my notes I noticed that my producer, one of them, put it as two words. I go, “No.” Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like if I Google-search you or go to your website, it’s not going to come up, but I know as someone who has friends who are entrepreneurs, getting the name right of their company is significant. They’ll even excuse you not getting their kids name right because they don’t expect you to know their kid, but if you’re talking on work, they expect you to know the company name and they’re hurt if you don’t. All right. Affiliate part was starting to work out for you guys. Blogging was working for you guys, you were starting to build up. Tell me about this New York Times feature article and why that was a milestone for you.

Jennifer: That was a huge one kind of a make or break moment for the company. So, my co-founder, Francois, again, it’s part of his pitching and trying to get media attention on what we were doing, connected with Ron Lieber who’s the “Your Money” columnist at “The New York Times.” And Ron Lieber, he writes about money issues. He’s got a very strong consumer advocacy bent as well if you read a lot of his content. So, Francois, I think had tweeted at Ron Lieber in response to some recent article he did and he said, “Hey, related to what you just wrote about, we’re actually tackling disability insurance. Policygenius would love to talk to you about it.” And he responded and we were like, “Ooh.” And that eventually led to a meeting and a demo with Ron at the New York Times office.

So he went through the product, he was looking at it through a magnifying glass, he was asking us questions about it, we were fingers-crossed that it wouldn’t break or crash while he was going through it, and he really liked it. And he’s a big proponent of disability insurance, he’s written about it several times before, he knows it’s one of the big reasons why when people get sick or injured, they’ll go bankrupt, and it’s not because they didn’t have health insurance, is because they didn’t have disability insurance. So he’s a big fan of the product and he was like, “I find it very weird that two entrepreneurs are tackling this weird arcane product, but I’m all for it.”

And so after that interview and demo in his office, a few days later, we were in our office and we noticed that the site traffic was going bonkers, right? I mean, normally, we had like, 10 people on the site, and then all of a sudden we had 400, then 500, then I think, 1,000 concurrent people. We were like, “What is going on?” And we looked at the source traffic and it said New York Times. And so we pulled up and Ron Lieber just published his long feature article. It was around protecting yourself with disability insurance and we played a big part in the story. And that . . . I mean, three . . . When was that? Five years ago, we still get traffic from that article. So that’s . . .

Andrew: Yeah, I see it.

Jennifer: Yeah. That puts . . .

Andrew: It’s September 12th, 2014.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: This time Policygenius is spelled one word with a capital G.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm. We changed the capitalization since that, but yeah.

Andrew: Oh, okay. Because I thought “The New York Times” would get it right.

Jennifer: No, that was . . .

Andrew: Why did you change the capitalization?

Jennifer: Because we rebranded and . . . I don’t know. There were some artsy things around the G being not capitalized.

Andrew: So I didn’t see that article before this conversation, but I did see another one that was interesting to me. It was “Life Insurance Buyer’s Guide: What Type, How Much and Who Will Benefit?” And there you guys weren’t featured as much, but they used you as research. And I feel like that is a strong indicator.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: Right?

Jennifer: Yeah. So we did a lot of research.

Andrew: So how did you get to that to the point where they say, “All right, we need to get a little bit of data here about what a 45-year-old woman might pay for life insurance. We’re going to use Policygenius as the site for our research.” How’d you get to that?

Jennifer: I think we had established the credibility by that point. The initial connection with Ron Lieber certainly helped. And then, the big thing about making connections with journalists or reporters is, these guys have a ton of work, they’re always on deadline. If you can make their jobs easier, that’ll get you in the door. Right? So we offered up. When we heard that she was writing this life insurance buyer’s guide, we offered up, “Hey, what sort of research do you need? What sort of facts do you need for the article? Happy to run them happy to tell you what we use to do that.” And that’s how we got into that particular article.

Andrew: All right. How about this, Jennifer? Speaking of your design, people in New York City subway would have seen . . . Oh, look at this. The article that I’m getting these screenshots from is from Bloomberg, “Startups Colonized New York Subway.” Here is what I see in New York subway system. “A matchmaking service for people who want to meet life insurance; Policygenius.” That’s an ad. Another one, “Poetry is hard.” And then there’s a little poem here. “Policygenius.” This is your ads “Birth”. And I think it’s a poem. Here, let me read this one, “Birth. What does it mean to catch a butterfly to hold beauty in your hands, a caterpillar is reborn? This subway poem is going off topic. To be honest, this isn’t our forte. However, we are very good at comparing life insurance online, Policygenius.” How did you know . . . First of all, you bought these ads? How did you know that they’re paying off? You don’t have infinite cash? How do you know it’s worth it?

Jennifer: So one was talking to a lot of other companies who had done it, right? So how much did you pay? What sort of lift did you see when you did subway advertising? So that was the first piece of research. And two, was we just had a strong belief after doing that research that getting the brand out there and doing something splashy that would rise above the noise. We can’t do big, you know, primetime TV commercial campaigns like Geico or Progressive. But we have a really good creative team and we thought we could do something really interesting in the subway. And that subway poetry that you just read, so for your New York City listeners, you know, the subways have had this long-running campaign called Poetry in Motion where they have poems on the subway, right?

Andrew: For over a decade.

Jennifer: Yeah. So you’ve got ads, and then occasionally, you’ll see, like, a poem which is nice. And so interestingly, nobody had ever riffed on the poems in terms of an ad. So we thought to do it and it went crazy. Now, we pissed off the poets of New York. A handful of them tweeted, like, “Oh, the last public art form defaced by commercialism.” Fine. But everybody else really loved them and we got a lot of attention from that. And to track the effectiveness of like, out of home, outdoor advertising, subway advertising, a lot of companies can do like the discount codes, so like, go to .com and join . . .

Andrew: Which would ruin this look of that ad.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: And a lot of ad . . .

Jennifer: And we also can’t do it. Yeah.

Andrew: Uh-huh?

Jennifer: We also can’t do discounts, right? It’s illegal for us to discount the insurance that we sell, so we can’t do discounts like you can a food delivery box or electric toothbrush, right? So you do a couple things. One is we have an exit survey after you buy insurance on our site. Where did you hear about us? Two, we did control and test market. So we looked at, you know, January when we ran the subway ads in New York, we also did outdoor advertising in San Francisco, we looked at what the percentage growth was in those test markets versus our control markets, right? Like, Atlanta and areas where we didn’t do outdoor advertising. So it’s both a blend of art and science and if you get . . . I’m sure you’ve had a ton of marketers on and they’ll talk to you about the perils of attribution and how hard it is to get right, but you can get directionally right on that, and we really liked the results that we saw from that campaign.

Andrew: It paid off.

Jennifer: Yeah. And in fact, we’re going to do it again this winter.

Andrew: Who knew? I feel like Gary Vaynerchuk makes fun of these types of ads all the time, but I’m sure that he’d turn around if you showed him some numbers. And I’m impressed.

Jennifer: Yeah. What’s old is new. If you look at all the ads on New York City subways, it’s all the tech companies.

Andrew: Right. So now that you are this big, what do you do to grow beyond this? What is working for you when you’re at this size?

Jennifer: Yeah. So a couple things. We are in all channels now, right? So, as opposed to back in the day when we can only focus on like bloggers and earned media, we are in every single channel. So from podcast advertising, to radio, to TV, to subways. Organic and content still is a big source of traffic for us. So that in early investment and content has really paid off.

Andrew: Wait. You guys have, according to SimilarWeb, 1.6 million unique people in June through August. That’s huge for an insurance search site.

Jennifer: Yeah. And our content drives a big piece of that. So, for a lot of very expensive search terms like life insurance quotes or life insurance, we’re right there at page one. And . . .

Andrew: Sorry. Just to be clear with the audience, that’s about half a million monthly visits coming into an insurance site. Okay. So you’re saying you’re in all channels, that’s the next thing to do to grow. What else are you doing?

Jennifer: So two other things. One is really figuring out the theme that I’ve set for the executive team this year is around flywheels, right? So your audience might be familiar with the flywheel effect from, I think, “Good to Great.” So, basically, what are the things in your company where it takes a long time to get started, but once it gets going, it goes on its own momentum? And there are a couple classic flywheels, like one is referrals, customer referrals, right? We get about the . . . A significant percentage of our new business is now from customer referrals. We actually don’t incent that. It’s just been people saying, “Hey, I had a great experience,” and telling their friends and family. We need to turn that into a flywheel, so that’s one area where we’re looking at. Two is just more channels, right? So there are new channels popping up every day. Like, there’s influencers on YouTube now, for example, that we’re testing. So, marketing as a startup, when you don’t have huge budgets, it’s really around being first to identify an opportunity and going quickly after it.

Andrew: I’m looking at your traffic from, again, SimilarWeb. One of the big keywords of sending a traffic is something called Acorns, and it’s about an app that you guys are telling people to watch out for.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: You wrote a blog . . . Who’s writing these posts, by the way, or when you started who should . . .

Jennifer: We have an in-house content team.

Andrew: Okay. And when you started, was it you writing it?

Jennifer: I wrote a lot of them, yeah.

Andrew: Okay. And so how does this Acorn app which got $97 million in venture capital by the time you guys wrote about it, how does this fit in with your content strategy?

Jennifer: So we write a lot about personal finance, and so we will talk about not just insurance but we’ll also talk about investing, lending, getting a mortgage, buying a home. So our content strategy is broader than just insurance because people who are thinking about personal finance decisions will also be insurance prospects for us. So that was an ad we wrote, sorry, an article that we wrote early, early on and it just hits and it continues to hit and now I think it ranks very highly for Acorns.

Andrew: You know what else you guys do? You find someone who is known who has a following online and you interview them for your blog and then you end up with these people who are YouTube stars who have followings online who are another reason for an audience to find you. All right. Let me close out with this. I went to your site, and since I have renters insurance, I said, “Let me go and compare their price for renters insurance with mine and experience the site.” I went through and I only saw Stillwater is the result. I put in my real information because I trust you. I’m telling you, I could get renters insurance for as low as $19.83 a month, but it’s only one company that’s offering it to me. Is it because of me? Is it something else? What’s up there?

Jennifer: That is the one product where we don’t have a full carrier comparison marketplace. So that, renters was a test for us to see what that would do in terms of customer acquisition, what the funnel look like, what those customers look like if you were in the market for renters insurance. So that’s a unique experience on the site. Everything else that we’ve got up there is the true, comparison marketplace.

Andrew: You’re just trying to see, does anyone even want to buy renters insurance from us?

Jennifer: Right. Does this make sense? And build a full-blown marketplace which is a big investment.

Andrew: All right. All right. Congratulations on getting this far in such a short amount of time. Do you still have worries at night or do you feel like, “All right, I think I got it”?

Jennifer: All the time.

Andrew: All the time. What’s your worry now?

Jennifer: My worry is not fumbling at the 5-yard line or the 10 . . . We’re probably not at the 5-yard line, we’re probably at 15 or 20-yard line, but you still don’t want to fumble when you’re so close to the end.

Andrew: What could be a fumble right now?

Jennifer: When we’re as big as we are, we have about 140 employees. We’re not the three people in the room that we were back in the early days. It’s about people and execution, right? We’ve done this long enough where we know our strategy works. If there’s one thing I know how to do as an ex-McKinsey person, it’s strategy, but strategy is easy especially if you’ve been trained to do it. Execution is the hard part. And execution is about finding the right people, retaining them, keeping them engaged. It is a competitive marketplace out there for talented people.

Andrew: What do you do to keep them engaged?

Jennifer: One, we’re a mission-driven company, so we keep connecting what we do to our mission and the fact that if we’re successful, we actually help people and we help people protect themselves against worst-case scenarios. Two, we invest a lot in learning and development in our people. In fact, what I’m about to do right now when we sign off is to lead the entire company in problem-solving training. It’s something I do every quarter. I took the first couple weeks of training that you get as a consultant at McKinsey and I consolidate into a four-hour module on problem-solving that I take the whole company through every quarter.

Andrew: Oh, wow. I hope you put that online. I always admired how consulting companies, people like McKinsey are so good at problem-solving that you could just understand a problem in a way that I wouldn’t even begin to realize it. All right. And your do-gooder part, I feel like it’s a lot of credibility from the fact that you were a Peace Corps volunteer, so you’re not saying it because it’s a cool thing to do right now.

Jennifer: I was a total hippie back in my 20s.

Andrew: All right, guys. If you want to go check it out, frankly, punctuate it any way you want to, you’re always going to end up on policygenius.com. And I’m grateful to you, Jennifer, for being here and I’m also thankful to the two sponsors. The first is a company that gives me an office right here. I love it. Regus.com/mixergy. And the second is a company that will host your website and does mine well. It’s called hostgator.com/mixergy. Jennifer and everyone, thank you. Bye, everyone.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.

x