Episode 4: Full Transcript


REID HOLZWORTH: It really goes back to having that single pipe with a standard, modern architecture, the whole nine, that would allow that to really happen in an efficient way and then enabling companies to be able to plug into it, right? And build around that ecosystem.


SPEAKER 1: This is the Insurance Technology Podcast where we bring interesting people from across the insurance ecosystem to discuss and debate technology's impact on the industry. Join us each episode for insights and best practices from industry stewards and tomorrow's innovators. Now, here's your host, Reid Holzworth.

REID HOLZWORTH: All right. We're back with our buddy, Kabir. What an interesting dude. So in this episode, we're going to hear about him leaving Marsh to go and found RiskMatch, which then he sells to Vertafore, and he really gets into a lot of just technology in general and other platforms outside of our industry and how we can learn from them. So we really dive deep into technology and his time, obviously, at Vertafore and RiskMatch. And really, a lot around ecosystems and how we don't really have an ecosystem within our industry. Really cool stuff.

Now let's go back. Let's go back to you, your history because I don't think-- so Marsh, benchmarking, then what?

KABIR SYED: So after benchmarking, I was bored. I actually resigned three times from Marsh. Yeah. I mean, I then--

REID HOLZWORTH: You must have done a good job for them to take you back.


KABIR SYED: I was surprised. Every company has its corporate culture, and I was very quirky. I am very quirky. So it is like, you can't be a rebel in big corporations. But since I had very good mentors and managers, they let me go on with it for a while. So my manager used to always ask me, what do you want to be when you grow up? And my question was, I never want to grow up. I didn't want to grow up.



KABIR SYED: So I decided I'll do-- when I quit, they said, what do you want to do? I said, I like to play with data. I want to create something that counts, so that's why I created MarketConnect, the first exchange kind of a thing. However, what happens is, once you create anything that is software, data related, you come into the software business, whether you like this or not, right? Which means you have to constantly improve it every time, whether it's the feature or functionality, you cannot sit and say, well, I'll give you a roadmap for three years because I've seen that happen too, and clients will say, you know you promised me three years, five years back.

And then the previous management did it and it never happens. So I said, you'll have to do this over and over again, and they were not willing to do that kind of a software data relationship. So I decided I'm going to leave and start a company. Now, no sane person decides to leave a cushy job to start a company, nobody does, right? You do it out of frustration or you do it out of arro-- whatever it is, but it's good. And I always say, when you start a company you have to be naive because if you take the entire risk of it, you will never start a company.

REID HOLZWORTH: Naive or optimistic?


REID HOLZWORTH: Both, really both. Yeah.

KABIR SYED: You have to have both. You have to be completely an optimist when everybody says, no.

REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, a 100%, because everybody is telling you, no.


KABIR SYED: So I left to start a company. I said, I'm going to democratize data for brokers. So the first thing, I went to carriers, and I said is, hey, you've lost control of your distribution, right? Can you all put it together, so that you can get-- and they said, no, we can't do it. That's called collusion. And I'm like, no, you did a company called ISO 25 years back, so the same model. And they said, no. So I went to brokers and said, how would you like to make more commission from a carrier because I can tell you what the differences are? And the first five clients, we just gave it free to say, because you need to bulk up.

Nobody wants to work with a small company in insurance because we are all about managing risk and that's what we are all about. And that grew over a period of time. We wanted to create, so we said, we'll start with data right in the middle and go sideways. What I mean by sideways is, hey, do you want to create a placement system? Do you want to create a CRM? But once you have data, you can connect both pieces of it. We got taken out very quickly. And then that's history after that, what had happened after that. But our whole goal was, can we give what a very large company can do to the mid-market and the smaller brokers?

And you can price it very low and there are different models. You don't have to charge for everything. You can say you own the tech stack and it's free, but we'll take some fees from the carrier or you pay on a SAS fee, and then we'll take nothing from anybody else. So it's like-- because it's not a philanthropy, right? It is a startup, so you've got to make money somewhere, and just like your story, I got rejected by a hundred VCs, 100 VCs. So I have a love-and-hate relationship with venture capital. Because they said, hey, you're not-- when we had 18 people. This is just a quick-- and I'm digressing, but I'll just say the quick story.

We had 18 people who were worth over $300 million in the same room, and I was pitching to raise money, and we had one of my clients there from Acrisure who was the chief operating officer. And these 18 people said, I think you're crazy. We want that guy as the CEO. My client is sitting in the same room, and I said, well, this is not going to work, and they all walked out and I was like, well, the next day I had a meeting with AIG. So I'm like, I've got to be an optimist, got to go, forget what happened yesterday. Just got to go in. So it is a great learning experience. If you are focused on the user and you deliver, it works out.

REID HOLZWORTH: So what was-- so for the audience, what was the name of that company?

KABIR SYED: The name of that company was RiskMatch.

REID HOLZWORTH: So I've heard that name before, is it still around?

KABIR SYED: I hope not.


It is around, and it's owned by Vertafore at this point, but I don't know at what level it is because I left-- it's almost three years back now. I had left three years back. So my whole point of-- it takes a while to sell it, not while. It takes a lot of mental thought to sell a company. So I sat on the LOI for about two and half months, and the LOI was going to expire 11:59 PM on 2016, December 31st. I signed it 11:59 PM.


KABIR SYED: Because of everything back and forth. You're going back and forth. It's your company. Will they do it the right way? But the reason to become part of Vertafore at that point was, hopefully, you have 25,000 brokers. They have all the data. We can take the data, put a little button on, and then show it. Obviously, you all have seen it. It's happened. Well, no, it didn't happen, but it didn't happen like we thought about it, but it is life. But I think that started the InsurTech, data is important. You need to be part of a process. You need to access lots of things.

But I'm very, very thankful for the experience of both, building and selling a company just like you had.

REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, it's a crazy ride, man, as you know. I mean, going through all of that and hardest decision I ever made in my life was selling my company. Obviously, selling it, but even the first one because it happened twice. A lot of people don't know this, but I had an offer very early on. I mean, I was like two dudes and a MacBook Pro kind of stage, right? And I had somebody come in that offered a pretty big check, and it was real. It was very, very real, and a great cushy job with great security for my family and everybody.

And as you're-- when you're in pure startup mode and just hustling and you're working over 100 hours a week, dark to dark every single day, just grinding, and there's no money in the bank, and somebody lays a check in front of you. It was-- that was the first hard decision I've ever made in my life. Second was when I actually sold the business because I actually declined it. And what's funny about that story is the reason why I didn't do it, it made all the sense in the world. It really did. The reason why I didn't do it was because the person at the PE firm that gave me the check, he's tried to hard sell me too much.

And he said, listen. He's like, you'll never be able to do this again. And for that-- and it's funny, like-- it was just-- I was like, you know what? No. I'm going to do it. And it was a really crazy move, to your point like earlier. We do these psychotic things like that, but then ultimately, like you, we had a very successful exit, and it was way more than what that original check was. Because we were at a different level. We are different scale, the whole nine, but it was tough. But to go through all of that is just the education in it and just the whole process is amazing. And so you sold the business to Vertafore, right?


REID HOLZWORTH: Exited out. Did your thing at Vertafore for a little while.

KABIR SYED: I like to build things. I wanted to go and meet guys. I want to see how happy they are and what they want to do about it. I don't want to be saying, well, we have a roadmap, and we'll talk to you in three years. I don't want to do that. That's not me. That's not me.

REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. And it's big, big. It's big. Big corporation, like you said early on, different kind of culture than what you're used to. You know the thing, too-- I'd love to get your opinion on this. My story is similar to yours. I sold my business to Applied, obviously. Just being under the covers and now in my position at IVANS really-- our customers are all of the management systems out there. And so Vertafore is obviously a customer, great customer. So I see a lot of it. And I think that the industry overall feels like the management systems, and I'm just being real here.

This is a place to be real about stuff, but the management systems have really held back the industry in some ways, and they're closing it down and like the big bad wolf kind of thing. I actually disagree with that. I think that a lot of it is, they just-- it's older technology, man. Like I was-- Dan Chookaszian the founder of AMS, right? Like David Rowe, like all these guys, and everything that came out of that, but it's just, they're just older technologies and they are large companies. They can't make the changes and be as nimble as us young startups, if you will. And so it's just different, but it's not like-- it's just my opinion. I'd love to get your-- I want to get your opinion on this.

They're not trying to be mean or do bad things. They want to have the best products out there. They do, 100%. And now I mean, with modern technology and all of that, everybody's going through all of these. They're re-platforming. Everybody is. All the majors. They're modernizing their entire stacks and whatnot. So you're going to see that nimbleness come back based on that new architecture, but we went through a period of time where cloud isn't a thing. Like people are literally-- I was talking on something the other day, and they're like, tell us what you think about cloud? I'm like, are we seriously-- are you seriously asking me this right now?

And I'm like, I'll tell you what I think, why are we even talking about this? This kind of thing. But that's-- it's funny because not even five years ago-- I mean, I'll go back 10 years ago, whatever. That wasn't a thing. And so if you think about that, the technology just wasn't advanced enough for these large companies to be nimble enough to make changes and to really do the things they want to do to be the best at what they do. But to be fair, they are the best at what they do. And I think-- I don't know. I think it's changing. So what are your thoughts there?

KABIR SYED: So there are two parts to it, right? One is the-- if you think about it, the insurance industry is pretty much-- has only two-- it's a duopoly. It's Vertafore and Applied. That is it. And they are older systems, but part of the thing is we have a culture problem, a behavioral problem, and an ease of access problem. And what I mean by that is the system can be old. They are asking for the older way of doing business, which are like, I need you to type in everything. So that's one part, which just can be rectified, yeah? And then can be [INAUDIBLE] that's-- I mean think of Salesforce, right? I tell you, Salesforce for my point was fantastic 20 years back.

But now, if you look at all the other platforms that are CRMs, they're much better. However, what Salesforce has done is they've become [INAUDIBLE]

REID HOLZWORTH: I would not agree with that one, by the way, just saying. But I drink the Kool-Aid. I 100% drink the Kool-Aid, and-- but go ahead. Go ahead.

KABIR SYED: As a platform, when I say platform is, they've allowed other people to plug-in and do things. However, they have not allowed people to say, it's a seamless experience. Now, very different, right? You can-- and this is where I was getting. The philosophy should be embedded in the product the way it is to be used, not just said. And it's very difficult to do that because it's like whatever philosophy you have as a company, as a group of people, should be translated. If you say it has to be ease of use, whatever it is, or we care about growth, then put money into growth to say here's why we'll help you grow, not just by saying, well, you still have to go and do the work. Oh my god, I didn't get it.

So part of it is-- it's three parts, right? One is, is there a front end that can make it easier? Is there a front end that you can buy? Because all of our clients are going to, oh, I will go and buy data from LinkedIn. I will go and buy from ZoomInfo. I'll go and buy from this. So I'm like, why can't the system have-- maybe you can't change the old interface, but can you put a new interface in front of it? So that's what I was trying to say. Ease of use is one. Most of their systems have what it takes to do very well, but they are embedded so deep into things that you can't get to it. So that's one.

Second part of it the problem with it I have seen is, people just want to do their work. It's like saying, hey, I have a really nice bottle of wine. They're like, well, you first-- but if you eat your-- it's like having kids, right? Hey, I have this really good piece of cake, but you eat your food first and your veggies, and then you'll get the cake. They're like, I don't have time for that. I just want to do my work and get on with it. Because I don't have time, I have to do all of these things. So you see, the roster of manual things that they have to do is egregious. They don't even have time to go and explore or do the other things.

So my point is, somebody has to take away those parts for the other parts to work or make it automated for the other parts to work. Like placement, right? Why do they have to send-- this was a great example. One of my things when RiskMatch was purchased by Vertafore was, hey, you have 1,000 carriers who use your system and 500 MGAs and wholesalers, you know they're sending it to them because they type it into the system, why can't you just send it from the back and then populate that thing? Very simple question, right? No, no, no. Completely separate part.

Now, there's a technical debt over there and technical problem, but somebody should be asking if they are systems that are connected, can you not just pass through your own system? It's like saying, well, I have a house, and there's a room there, but to go to the room I have to go outside and come from the outside in to the second room. I'm like, why not? There's a door right over here. Can you connect the-- open the door and go in? I know it's not as simplistic, but somebody has to think that way to say, can we do it or start that way?

REID HOLZWORTH: But I will say, though that a lot of that problem is because of the core systems on the carrier side. They are so unique as well. All the-- and that goes back to the standard and whatnot and everybody-- their own little special child like you said earlier. You said it in a much better way than I just did. But they're unique, and they look at themselves as very special in these ways, and therefore, the data doesn't really just flow. It doesn't connect. That said. And it's because of all those custom one-off integrations and different types of data models and all of it, although they may be using the same core systems overall, the vast majority of them, they're all very different.

And then the management systems do the same thing. They have their own formats and things like that and whatnot. So it really goes back to having that single pipe with a standard, modern architecture, the whole nine, that would allow that to really happen in an efficient way, and then enabling companies to be able to plug into it, right? And build around that ecosystem. I think it's really the only way and it's-- and I think people have tried that with these exchanges and whatnot, but maybe the use case was different, right? As opposed to just straight up connectivity.

So obviously, I'm hellbent on that for-- based on what we do, but I think I really believe that is the way to solve that.

KABIR SYED: Completely agree. So as Apple has done it. So Apple is not going to be good at everything. They're like, I can't create X number of games. I can't. I can only create so many media content, but I have a platform that other people put onto it, and I'll take a little slice of it. So my point was, why didn't these two companies think of it to say, I am already connecting, and let me just say, hey, you guys can come in and say to the carriers, so that's one part. The second part is, well, since you can't change technology on the carrier side-- remember, I said, sequence it and make the time to respond seem shorter, which means it gets earlier to the carrier, so that you get a response faster.

So it might seem instantaneous, but it's not. They've taken 30 days to actually do all the due diligence come back with you. So it's almost like faking speed, but you just started early to go there, that's all. So part of it is the sequencing because you can't change everything, and you can't do everything as any company can't do it, right? So part of the thing is like, hey, let other people play on it.


KABIR SYED: Because they're only going to ...

REID HOLZWORTH: But then they have to have the open mind though. What we we were talking about earlier. This is part of the problem, right?

KABIR SYED: Correct, absolutely.

REID HOLZWORTH: And it's the data, it's getting up out of my chair like, wait, what? And it's this whole thing.

KABIR SYED: It is and you know what brokers complain about now is look, I spent so much money on technology. I'm marginally better, but I'm not going to, with the amount of money I'm spending, all I have now is my data is with Salesforce or with the CRM. No, not the Salesforce. They're not-- It's not like that. But my data is with the CRM, my data is with AMS, it's with RiskMatch. It's with 18 other companies, but when I want it back, I don't have it. So the point is, why can't the data be for the person who's generating it?

So they are now saying, I need to look at something that is easy because if I have what happens with all of this--

REID HOLZWORTH: But hold on, hold on. Wouldn't that though be technically the insured in that case?

KABIR SYED: So you would think yes, however the insured for the insured that's an afterthought. Insurance is not something that you look at your credit card. So you see, part of it is cultural, and if you look at all the jobs in the US which are rated from number 1 to number 50, let's say, you are number 48. So I'm like, well, nobody's going to say, well, I'm going to keep my insurance data. So very simple. So we are saying, OK, so if we have to do that, then we have to say, yes, it's a commodity product. Yes, it is something that is necessary. I mean, where else do you find that we have a captive audience? Nowhere else

I may not go to the doctor every year, but I have to buy insurance every year I'm like, this is the captive-- they have-- you have users and clients who are ready to buy. We just have to make it easy, that's all it is.

REID HOLZWORTH: Well, that was awesome. Kabir. He's such a funny dude. So great job, great career at Marsh. Got bored. Tried to quit three times. Finally ended up quitting, and then started RiskMatch. Well, then he did that, sold it to Vertafore. Didn't like the culture, whatever it was. Decided to quit there too. And word on the street is, he had some golden handcuffs. He had a big earnout there. And he was just like, you know what? Whatever. This is an awesome guy. So in the next episode, we get into a lot around InsurTechs in general and just founding and owning an InsurTech company.

And really we get into a lot more personal stuff with Kabir. What makes him tick? We talk about some of the things he likes to do for fun, like collecting very fast, red cars as we talk about. So some good tidbits in there. And one of the quotes that he says is, rebels, not influencers in the industry, so stay tuned.

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