[00:00] MICHAEL ALBERT: Perfectionists, I don't know if that's necessarily the right word, but everything has got to work because everything depends on everything else. So if you keep it small, if you keep it high quality, the sky's the limit, man, because you start to plug this stuff together. Think about it like Lego blocks.
[00:17] SPEAKER 1: This is the Insurance Technology Podcast, where we bring interesting people from across the insurance ecosystem to discuss and debate technologies' 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.
[00:37] REID HOLZWORTH: Welcome to the Insurance Technology Podcast. I'm your host, Reid Holzworth. We're going to be interviewing Mike Albert and Allan Egbert, the founders of Ask Kodiak that was recently acquired by IVANS at the time of this recording. Now, Mike and Allan, although they founded Ask Kodiak, have been in the industry for quite some time; really smart dudes; really innovative minds. What I'll call even perfectionists, although they don't want to admit it. But in this episode, we're going to hear how they came into this world between carriers and agents, kind of in the middle, similar to where IVANS sits. Then we're going to take a ride in their time machine as they talk about things like HotJobs, suits, and the infamous AL3. And listen up for Allan's podcast gold. There's some good stuff in here. Stay tuned.
[01:32] REID HOLZWORTH: Mike, Allan, welcome.
[01:34] MICHAEL ALBERT: What's up?
[01:35] ALLAN EGBERT: What's up, Reid? Do we have entrance music too, by the way? If you do, we do?
[01:40] REID HOLZWORTH: I don't know if we do, actually. I don't ever listen to these on tape. But yes, for you 100%.
[01:48] SPEAKER 1: Cool.
[01:48] REID HOLZWORTH: We will put some in. So welcome, guys.
[01:51] MICHAEL ALBERT: Thanks for having us.
[01:53] REID HOLZWORTH: So we're going to get into it today. I think the audience is really going to want to know your story, talking about how you guys got into the industry, what makes you tick. Talk about Ask Kodiak, what it's like under the new umbrella, if you will. So let's get after it. So we'll start with you, Allan. How did you get into insurance technology? What brought you to this wonderful world?
[02:24] ALLAN EGBERT: For me, it was sort of accidental. I was thinking about this, this morning. I was working a consulting gig and was about to go on, seriously, take a vacation. And somebody called me and said, "Hey, we're doing this POC for," I won't mention the carrier's name. "We're doing this POC for this carrier on the West Coast. Can you help out?" And it was supposed to be a two-week gig that ultimately led to a series of steps that has me here today talking with you guys. And it was agent portal, rating, submission, underwriting rules. It's like 16, 17 years ago, I think is the exact number. And I was thinking this morning, it's like, wow, it's some of the same stuff where people are still wrestling with today. And then, that was for Agencyport. I mean, that's how I wound up at Agencyport.
[03:29] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, no kidding? So that was
[03:32] ALLAN EGBERT: It was for them. It was for them. Probably because Mike Albert knew better than to get involved with that POC, so they went outside to get contractors to deal with.
[03:40] MICHAEL ALBERT: No doubt. That was for suckers.
[03:41] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah,
[crosstalk 00:03:41] it.
[03:42] REID HOLZWORTH: Well, for context for the listeners, Agencyport the brand isn't really there anymore. Right? Hasn't been there for quite a while. We all know it, but for the audience, who was Agencyport? What happened to Agencyport?
[03:55] MICHAEL ALBERT: Great company. Original InsurTech, as it were. Founded by three guys: Steve Hauck, Eric Harnden, and this other guy, Adam Black. Awesome dudes. Adam had an insurance agency and knew about the problems in the space, and the three of them went after it and did some really cool stuff. I think for both Allan and I, we learned a ton as part of that journey, about business, about insurance, about technology, about this whole thing. And honestly, it was like the school of hard knocks for us: tough projects, lots of projects, lots of depth in connecting carriers and agents. Agencyport was a company like IVANS, really focused on this world in between carriers and agents. So it's like an incredibly nichey space, but man, we've been in it for a long time now.
[04:45] MICHAEL ALBERT: So anyway, great company, very much a startup feel for us early. And we both worked there for a very long time until it got bought and sold a couple times, and decided we wanted to go out and start anew. They're part of Duck Creek right now, still a good company. The products are still ticking. A lot of our friends are still there. Others have gone on, started other businesses. It's like, you always hear about the PayPal mafia in the technology world. Elon and these other guys have gone places and started other businesses. I mean, there's a few companies and Agencyport is one, where folks that have been involved who have scattered and started really meaningful businesses in the insurance space.
[05:22] REID HOLZWORTH: I feel like that's so true across all businesses, not just in our industry. We see it a lot in our industry because it's a big industry, but it's small, the people involved. And you do see it a lot. A lot of the people that we've interviewed in this podcast, you see they've been doing this for so long, they were involved in things that were successful, and they continue just to go into these other orgs and create things and do things for the industry, and are still very, very successful. It's interesting. So how about you, Mike? How did you get into the Agencyport world? How did that work out?
[06:01] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah, I've been doing-
[06:02] ALLAN EGBERT: Can I answer this really quick before he tells his story?
[06:04] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah.
[06:04] ALLAN EGBERT: I think it started with a search for AL3 on HotJobs.
[06:09] MICHAEL ALBERT: I was going to say, I've been dreaming of-
[06:14] ALLAN EGBERT: I'm not kidding. I'm not kidding.
[06:15] MICHAEL ALBERT: ... being a part of insurance technology ever since I was a small child. No, dude, this is one of those industries where it's like, at least in my journey thus far, there's a handful of people that have been... insurance has always been the future. A lot of times family business, they've known they're going to step up. And then there's people like me, who it's like, I ended up here, like Al ended up here. And then, here we are.
[06:42] MICHAEL ALBERT: I went to work at a school at a consulting company. And on assignment day, you'd flip a coin: one destination, if the quarter flips heads, I'm going and I'm working at a credit card company on credit decisioning; and if it flips tails, I'm putting on a suit and going to an insurance company and working on an uploaded project. So tails it was, and here we are.
[07:06] REID HOLZWORTH: Where's the suit? How come you're not wearing a suit today, fool?
[07:10] MICHAEL ALBERT: Dude, it was crazy. This was 2001. The consulting company was in Richmond, this insurance company was in Pennsylvania. I'd drive five hours in a car, in a suit. Dude, in a suit.
[07:20] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, man.
[07:21] MICHAEL ALBERT: And sit in a cubicle in an insurance company cube farm, they're pumping muzak onto the cube floor. So to this day, anytime I hear Incubus play, I have to shut the radio off, because it was one of their muzak tracks. Work and run agency management system integration, this custom management system that one of their key brokers used, and mapping it to their policy admin system for rates, and upload and all that fun stuff.
[07:50] REID HOLZWORTH: Can you say what the management system was at the time?
[07:53] MICHAEL ALBERT: It wasn't something you'd know, honestly. It was a professional services built, what the heck was the thing
you even called? It might have even been called AMS, but not AMS that became
[inaudible 00:08:02], not the real-
[08:03] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. Was it like Todd Z, saying in Terrace?
[08:04] MICHAEL ALBERT: No, no, no, no, no. It was kind of a, we'll just call it rando AMS for two or three brokers in mid-Pennsylvania, but they mattered.
[08:13] REID HOLZWORTH: Hey, man.
[08:14] ALLAN EGBERT: Mike was saving his mappings to a cassette tape, plugged into a Texas Instruments.
[08:20] REID HOLZWORTH: Shut up.
[08:23] ALLAN EGBERT: A TI-3600.
[08:26] MICHAEL ALBERT: TI-81, playing Snake.
[08:27] ALLAN EGBERT: TI-81. Commoner 64. But didn't Agencyport though find you because Eric did a search on-
[08:33] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. No, your HotJobs story is true, because then I had AL3 in upload on my résumé. And I think it was Eric, who I mentioned, Eric Harnden, who found me on HotJobs.
[08:40] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. One hit showed up on HotJobs with AL3: Michael Albert.
[08:48] REID HOLZWORTH: That's hilarious. That is so funny. I could totally see that.
[08:50] MICHAEL ALBERT: Five DPIs. Oh, my favorite. Still my favorite AL3 element. Yeah, skills.
[08:56] ALLAN EGBERT: AL3.
[08:56] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. So everybody that's listening out there that's looking for a career, just put AL3 on your résumé somewhere. Somebody will find you. They're after you.
[09:04] MICHAEL ALBERT: Totally. Totally. Dude, the future is yours.
[09:06] ALLAN EGBERT: Make it a keyword. Make it a keyword on your team.
[09:10] MICHAEL ALBERT: AL3 on your résumé, just watch the doors open.
[09:12] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, totally.
[09:13] ALLAN EGBERT: On Indeed, it's a yes-no field. It's built in there. AL3 checkbox: Yes? No?
[09:22] MICHAEL ALBERT: Let's move on.
[09:22] REID HOLZWORTH: All right, so you guys got together. Agencyport, that's where you guys met. Tell us about that. When was it love at first sight going on?
[09:35] ALLAN EGBERT: Am I wrong? We didn't exactly hit it off initially, did we? We were-
[09:40] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. I don't like people, so that's an issue.
[09:42] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. Neither of us are really people persons. I don't think we were going to lunch, initially. I think initially, I was probably working more on the services stuff and then maybe the sales stuff, and you were more product- focused. But I think we started working together a lot on ultimately, the sales stuff. And I don't know, for me, I remember, I think we were in Florida at FCCI. And I just remember it was like, we were there with Eric and Steve. It was you and I, with Eric and maybe just Steve. And then, Steve got up at 10:30 and said he had to catch a flight and just walked out the door, and you and I finished the meeting for the next hour or so. Mike, do you remember that?
[10:30] MICHAEL ALBERT: I do, yeah. No, I do.
[10:32] ALLAN EGBERT: I mean, I remember he's like, "Hey, Al, I got to go. I got a flight to catch." And I looked at him like, "Wait, aren't we all leaving together?" And you and I stayed there to finish the meeting.
[10:43] MICHAEL ALBERT: I'm looking forward to seeing if this is a part of Reid's management style as well, which is to say, setting up meetings, introducing everyone, and then leaving.
[10:52] REID HOLZWORTH: Well, 100%.
[10:55] ALLAN EGBERT: Get a coffee, get a snack, and then leave on high note.
[11:01] REID HOLZWORTH: I mean, maybe.
[11:02] MICHAEL ALBERT: You guys are in good hands today. Got to go.
[11:04] REID HOLZWORTH: See you. So that's pretty awesome then. Okay. So then, you guys were there, you guys met, you guys got to know each other, obviously pretty well. You live in the same place, right?
[11:16] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah.
[11:16] REID HOLZWORTH: And so, tell us, going from that. Doing that, you were there for a long time, had a pretty steady J-O-B. Went through a few acquisitions at Agencyport, until the final where it rests today, because you guys left when it was finally acquired from Duck. Correct? Right?
[11:38] ALLAN EGBERT: We actually left.
[11:38] MICHAEL ALBERT: No, were gone before that. We were gone before that.
[11:40] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, before the Duck acquisition? Okay. I didn't realize that.
[11:42] MICHAEL ALBERT: Pretty early.
[11:43] ALLAN EGBERT: Maybe about a year, even. 9 to 12 months before, I think it was a while.
[11:46] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, wow.
[11:47] MICHAEL ALBERT: We left in beginning of 2015.
[11:52] REID HOLZWORTH: Okay. And why? What? What happened there?
[11:58] MICHAEL ALBERT: So yeah, like I said, I mean, I started at Agencyport as employee, I think number seven; small company. Allan came in, not that far behind. And what was really energizing about those early cycles of the business was getting to do a lot of different things, watching it grow. It's fun. It's fun to build stuff. And once a business hits a certain point of maturity, you're a little bit less in build mode and you're more in maintain, optimize. You're in spreadsheet mode for your financial partners, which is cool, which is cool. Learned a lot doing that. Did that for a number of years, and it was just time to build something again. And the best way for us to do that was to set out on our own, which is precisely what we did.
[12:40] ALLAN EGBERT: I remember Mike saying, he said something along the lines of, "I want to see what I could do from scratch." I think that's what he was saying. He said, "I want to see what I could do." And I interpreted that as from the ground zero. And I was definitely just itching to see if I could still be a software engineer.
[13:01] ALLAN EGBERT: Still be a software engineer in a meaningful way with what was available. Any engineer, Pat will say this too, the tools in 2015 were so much better than the last business you started. You could really optimize the heck out of things that would've taken you months to years, and it's probably even more so now. That was what was on my mind. Man, we can get all these economies of scale with services that are available from Google, Amazon, Digital Ocean across the board, and then really just focus on the business problems of the product and not be fighting the table stake stuff you got to do to launch a software company.
[13:56] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. A lot of people don't know this, you guys really built that company. Wrenched on it. Built it from the ground up, not just building the company and the organization and the structure, but actually built the product with your two hands on a keyboard.
[14:21] ALLAN EGBERT: We did. We had different challenges, but one of our challenges was not, "All right. We got to go find developers. Do we off-shore? Do we on-shore? What are the economics around that?" It was a bit of a mantra, but we viewed the product to be... At least when it was the two of us alone, that was our greatest single asset. We wanted to own that, in terms of knowing what it could do, quality. That was one area where us, a two person shop, had real advantages to launch a software company. Areas where we probably were at a disadvantage. We never raised money. Not to take the podcast in the direction of investors and institutional money,
but that wasn't our
[15:17] REID HOLZWORTH: Let's pause on that one.
[15:21] ALLAN EGBERT: I'm winding up. I'm winding up.
[15:24] MICHAEL ALBERT: It's the third rail of a Reid podcast.
[15:30] ALLAN EGBERT: That's the one thing we knew we could make an impact and really maximize an area where we were going to have an advantage, and launch something quickly.
[15:43] REID HOLZWORTH: It's actually very impressive what you guys have built. For the listeners, IVANS recently acquired Ask Kodiak. Okay. We did a lot of due diligence and part of that is doing all the code scans, making sure everything's good, how does the tech look? I've said this, people don't believe it, but the company that did the code scans, this is all they do. They literally said it was the best they've ever seen. Ever. Do you guys consider yourselves perfectionists? I mean, because that is...
[16:22] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, totally.
[16:22] REID HOLZWORTH: Pretty perfect. In all seriousness, do you actually consider yourselves perfectionists?
[16:25] MICHAEL ALBERT: No. Dude, you got to sweat the details, especially when it comes to software and especially when it comes to a platform. Think about it like building blocks. I would like to think done a nice job at keeping things nicely componentized, trying to keep stuff small, and just making sure that every ... Perfectionist, I don't know if that's necessarily the right word. But everything's got to work because everything depends on everything else. If you can keep it small, you can keep it high quality, the sky's the limit, man, because you start to plug the stuff together.
[16:56] MICHAEL ALBERT: Think about it like Lego blocks. You start to stack the things together in different ways and different configurations, so much becomes possible. But that only happens if the pieces are solid, and the pieces are standard, and the pieces can fit together. It's really just a matter of having those good habits and those best practices and just doing it right. If you do something right, the sky's the limit.
[17:20] ALLAN EGBERT: Look, you said it earlier, we learned so much in that first business. We went through a few acquisition events, and you know how you get... If you ever wind up in that situation again, you don't want to be running around plugging holes or trying to check the boxes to get through a code scan or a technology review. From day one, we were writing tests, we were putting things in place. Without a doubt, it was the most disciplined project endeavor I've ever been involved in. Everything is so automated because we had to scale ourselves and that meant anything we could automate, from testing to proactively monitoring. Is stuff up? Is stuff down? Is the memory getting too big on the box because something's happening? Everything was very proactive. That's how we scaled ourselves, with that automation. Which again, a lot of these services weren't available maybe 10 years ago. But man, if you know where to look, there's some really good stuff out there to scale around you when you keep these things going.
[18:42] REID HOLZWORTH: What's your...
[18:44] ALLAN EGBERT: Mike is a perfectionist though, too. It forces me to... One thing working with him is I have to raise my game to keep up. That was one other outcome of this. Sorry. I interrupted you before maybe a commercial read.
[19:04] REID HOLZWORTH: No, it's...
[19:05] MICHAEL ALBERT: Podcast sponsored by HotJobs. HotJobs, off the internet since 2004.
[19:13] REID HOLZWORTH: It's very rare to hear that. Reading a lot of books about technology companies and whatnot, historically they advise against that. They say that running and owning a software company, you shouldn't be developing and doing that, but it definitely worked out in your favor. That's for sure.
[19:41] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. There's probably about 20 things in that book you read that we did that you shouldn't do. I also view ourselves as... You got to be lucky. You got to work hard, you got to have a good idea, you got to have revenue, you got to have customers. You have to be lucky. Any founder, when they stop realizing that and they start believing it's all them, I could think of a number of times where things had to break our way and they did. There a couple of times where you're at a fork in a road where something has to happen and it's like, "All right, do you make a decision based on fear? Or do you..." And then all of a sudden it's like five things fall into place that you didn't see coming. There is certainly a luck aspect to this. We certainly had our fair share of luck, I don't dispute that at all.
[20:44] REID HOLZWORTH: Is it luck or is it network and optimism that things are going to work out? You hear a lot of people that are just so down on everything. Is it going to work? It's not going to happen. And it doesn't. I don't know. Just thought of that.
[21:03] MICHAEL ALBERT: You got to believe, but you also got to be skeptical because if you're skeptical, you're thinking about the things that might impede your progress. Then you set you set your target at those and you go. Yeah, no. You can't. You can't drink your own Kool-Aid, but you also can't get too down. You got to a nice moderate position in the middle. Just stick to the plan, keep marching, keep working. You'll be fine.
[21:32] ALLAN EGBERT: Reid, think about early days, TechCanary, or any other business you have. For me, you start going on these emotional highs and lows because it's like, "All right, you're about to get a customer." And you're bouncing off the walls, and then it falls through, and then you crash. Then at some point you have to just stay in the middle because it's just too emotionally exhausting to ride the rollercoaster. I think, for me, the first six months, I was like...
[22:04] MICHAEL ALBERT: First six months? Dude, for me, it was the first three years. You feel everything so acutely when it's your own business, not just building the technology, but you're having these conversations. Things are going, things are going poorly. It's like you're up, you're down. And then it's lunchtime and then you do it again. It's a lot, emotionally.
[22:24] REID HOLZWORTH: I think a lot of people really struggle with that. Especially coming out of the corporate environment where it's very stable, secure, predictable. I guess is the best way to put it. I think it's really hard to transition into that rollercoaster, not knowing, even if you have money in the bank. It's a really good point. I like how you put it, Allan. Just staying in the center of it all because it's just chaos and it is. It's funny, I met this guy not too long ago. First time CEO, buddy of mine went to go work for his company as a CTO. Really good friend of mine. He's like, "Hey, can you go talk to this dude? Let's go have beers" Whatever. The guy was just on the struggle bus with all the emotions and everything.
[23:13] REID HOLZWORTH: Then his wife came out to dinner with us, and his wife was just emotionally distraught on his frame of mind. I looked at her straight in her eyes and I said, "Listen, I want to be very honest with you. He's going to do this thing for the next couple of years. You have a lot on the line and this is a real company that's going to seriously scale, and it is awesome business. Just do your thing to support. It's all you can do right now because it's going to be a ride." It's funny because I've experienced this. Everybody's experienced this. It's not just you that's dealing with it, it's all your friends and family around you too that's dealing with all the chaos that you're dealing with as you're riding that rollercoaster. It's gnarly, man. It really is.
[24:03] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. That's true.
[24:05] REID HOLZWORTH: You need a good support system. You really do.
[24:09] MICHAEL ALBERT: Lucky to have that. That's absolutely correct.
[24:12] ALLAN EGBERT: I still have an email from my mother. No joke. This is dated March 12th, 2017. The subject is...
[24:24] MICHAEL ALBERT: This is two years in.
[24:26] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. Cyber security is a big business. It was with a link to some sort of security event, bright security training thing, in Boston. And I'm like, "What? Come on, get on board." I brought that up to her recently and she's like, "Oh. I don't remember sending that." I'm looking at the email, this is for you. You can't reckon that out. You sent the email. She's like, "I didn't mean it the way you thought of that."
[25:05] ALLAN EGBERT: People, your family worries. I don't recall... For me, it was easier than Mike because I don't have a family to support. He's got... You still have school vacation, you still have things you... You can't put life on hold to do these things. Either of you guys, with families, I don't rate my struggles up there with up there with yours. My complaints are, "I can't get out to wine country for two weeks because we've got too much to do."
[25:47] MICHAEL ALBERT: How the other half live?
[25:48] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, right?
[25:51] ALLAN EGBERT: I can't get down. I can't get down to Newport this weekend, we got stuff to do.
[25:58] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, okay. As you're grinding away, writing code in the bellows of Massachusetts.
[26:02] REID HOLZWORTH: ... In the bellows of Massachusetts.
[26:04] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, man, I can't go surfing. You know?
[26:10] REID HOLZWORTH: So changing topics, Insurtech Boston. So is it fair to say you guys own that? You guys started that, that's
your gig, it's Insurtech, right?
[26:22] MICHAEL ALBERT: We don't own it any more, I think you bought it, dude.
[26:24] ALLAN EGBERT: ... the guy that owns it now.
[26:26] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, really?
[26:28] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, you do, IVANS owns it.
[26:29] REID HOLZWORTH: All right. No, 100%.
[26:31] MICHAEL ALBERT: We should do something with that.
[26:34] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, probably.
[26:36] ALLAN EGBERT: So I don't know where you were going with that, but yeah, it's a platform to be used for sure.
[26:39] MICHAEL ALBERT: For us the deal early on was, we're bootstrapping the biz, we're heads down writing code, don't have a ton of cash. Started looking at some of the conferences. Frankly, there wasn't much of an Insurtech scene when we started in 2015. There just wasn't.
[26:55] ALLAN EGBERT: That's true, yeah.
[26:56] MICHAEL ALBERT: And there wasn't much of anything. And so we started talking to around town here especially, folks in our network, folks that we knew, and just found all these people that were just doing cool shit, good people to talk to. Here's another just a quick aside. When you're early in a biz, you surround yourself with people, these aren't friends and family but a professional network that motivates you. That makes a huge difference. We'd go to meetings with certain people and you'd walk out of them and you're like, "Holy cow, I can conquer the world. That person got me so f-in' fired up. I'm just ready to get to work." You've got to have those people in your network. We were lucky to have that. And we thought to ourselves, we just want to bring everybody together because a lot of these people don't know each other. And that was really the impetus for setting up the event. So I think it was in May of 2016, is that right, Alan? I think it was ... No, I'm sorry, yeah, it was May. It was Cinco de Mayo. It was Cinco de Mayo.
[27:54] ALLAN EGBERT: It was.
[27:55] MICHAEL ALBERT: So we drove-
[27:56] ALLAN EGBERT: I think it was, it was literally, it was Cinco de Mayo specifically.
[27:58] MICHAEL ALBERT: We drove up to Anna's Taqueria, which is a good burrito spot in Boston. We bought a shit ton of burritos. We went to BJ's and bought Corona beer and Laura made some amazing Mexican desserts. And we worked with a guy, Jay Farber, a buddy of ours, he was at F Prime Capital, which is a VC firm gave us some space in Cambridge. And so the three of us, Alan, Jay, and I, put this event on and just brought a bunch of people in. And I think we had some folks there from the old biz, from Cover Wallets. Lou Jeremiah was there representing Internet Insurance Group at the time. He subsequently joined Ask Kodiak.
[28:39] ALLAN EGBERT: Right?
[28:40] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. Well, it post GoGy, pre whatever he did after that. Anyway, we had a big crew of people that came out, and we just started doing it every six months and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and it just became a thing, which was cool.
[28:54] ALLAN EGBERT: We bought way too much Corona. That's one thing I remember, we were expecting a much larger crowd than we got for the first one. But we did.
[29:03] MICHAEL ALBERT: It was fun.
[29:04] ALLAN EGBERT: It was fun.
[29:05] MICHAEL ALBERT: Talk about a startup hack. We went from staring, if we want to go to a conference, I don't even know what the go-to conference was at the time, let's say it was IASA. I don't think Accord was still going strong. Whatever.
[29:16] REID HOLZWORTH: It might have been, were they the same conference at that time? Didn't they combine? I can't even remember.
[29:19] MICHAEL ALBERT: Wow, yeah. There's a whole topic of insurance conferences we could do on a podcast. Anyway ...
[29:25] REID HOLZWORTH: Is this the innovation contest segment? We all get to tell our war stories there? Never mind.
[29:30] ALLAN EGBERT: We can get into that.
[29:30] REID HOLZWORTH: Let's get into that.
[29:34] MICHAEL ALBERT: Here's all I was going to say. We went from, "Hey, pay these thousands of dollars to come participate," to setting up an event and having people come to us and monetizing it.
[29:43] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, drinking beers and, and eating burritos and
[crosstalk 00:29:45] is ...
[29:45] MICHAEL ALBERT: On our own terms.
[29:47] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah.
[29:48] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. And eventually we started, people wanted in, we got sponsors, we were selling tickets and making money on this thing that was ultimately promoting us and our business.
[29:58] ALLAN EGBERT: Reid will like this. We had, the same professional demographic would always try to get into these events without buying tickets, or claim to have bought a ticket. And that was the investor class, without a doubt. It would be venture capital guys.
[30:16] REID HOLZWORTH: Really?
[30:17] ALLAN EGBERT: Oh yeah, no, it was ...
[30:18] MICHAEL ALBERT: We would actually, so Alan took personal satisfaction in kicking these guys out of District Hall in Boston. So we would position him strategically.
[30:26] ALLAN EGBERT: So good, so good.
[30:27] MICHAEL ALBERT: So we'd get a couple of volunteers. Usually again, my wife Laura would be up there helping. MC, she helped us a number of times. Marie Christine Risere, did I say her last name right? If she's out there listening, what's up, MC, thanks for your help early. She was working the table. I think Marcia helped worked the table.
[30:43] ALLAN EGBERT: She did.
[30:43] MICHAEL ALBERT: We'd have people checking the QR codes, and inevitably there'd be some VC that just rolls in. Yeah, I've got a ticket. Okay.
[30:52] ALLAN EGBERT: Let me see your phone. And then we'd make them go stand off to the side and buy a ticket. Every single time. That was our ... It was just our love-hate relationship with these guys.
[31:08] MICHAEL ALBERT: Alan would be the muscle up front bouncing them.
[31:09] ALLAN EGBERT: With the investor class. It started it was like a $25 ticket, and then it was, I don't think we ever went more than $50, but it was really just a cover cost because it was open bar.
[31:18] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah, exactly.
[31:20] ALLAN EGBERT: And we would get 400 to 500 people. You were there for, I think, maybe the last one, Reid, before.
[31:26] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, it wasn't the last, that was a while ago.
[31:30] ALLAN EGBERT: It was a while ago.
[31:31] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah, but COVID set in and we haven't done it in the last year.
[31:33] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, that was a great event. It was good. Yeah, we had a lot of fun. It was a good time, man. I love Boston too, Boston's such a great town.
[31:40] MICHAEL ALBERT: Boston's a cool town. Great.
[31:41] REID HOLZWORTH: It is, it is. Yeah. So let's do this. Why bootstrap?
[31:51] MICHAEL ALBERT: Control.
[31:52] REID HOLZWORTH: So some of the listeners that that have listened to these podcasts, they've probably cut some of this out, but I really push bootstrapping organizations as much as you possibly can in the early days. I don't think it makes sense long-term, I think, but in the early days I really believe in bootstrapping for a lot of reasons that I'm not going to go off on a tangent on. But what are your guys' thoughts? You guys bootstrapped all the way through, a little friends and family here and there, type stuff, same thing with me. So what are your thoughts there?
[32:28] ALLAN EGBERT: Again, Mike may answer this differently and it'll probably be more interesting than what I'm about to say. But for me it was, the Agency Port blueprint was initially bootstrap, friends and family. So that's what we knew. And the second thing we knew is you've got to get customers. And you could figure out if you've got something to yield customers really quick. And that's where our laser focus was on. I do think, this is the last thing I'll say and see what Mike says, I do think initially early on there is too much of an emphasis on taking a victory lap with that funding, because that's when stuff gets real. So you could either take money from customers and figure it out or take money from an investment fund and figure it out. And I'll tell you, for my druthers I'd much rather make my customers happy than try to figure out how to pay back a multiple with a group that doesn't really understand the ins and outs of insurance and what the economics are.
[33:41] ALLAN EGBERT: Because there's some irrationality, I think even to this day, in terms of what you're going to get back out of an insurance investment.
[33:50] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah, that's fair. That's fair. Part of the impetus for us was wanting to build the business that we wanted to work for. And that's a heck of a lot easier if you're making the calls. You can make the calls if you don't have somebody sitting at the table going, "Wait a minute, blockchain's the thing now, you guys have got to do a blockchain play." We could jam on what we thought was important and we could decide what was important based on what our customers were telling us.
[34:15] MICHAEL ALBERT: And that ties into my second point, and this is more of a retrospective point than an intentional initial thing. You've got to be really almost desperately hungry to be good at this, especially really to get the business off the ground. You've got to be in that, "Oh dude, what are we going to do? How are we going to make this work?" mode, the fight or flight kind of thing. You've got to be ready to fight. And not having a cushion of capital in the bank really forces that issue. It's like, "We've got to do this, man. I literally need to pay my mortgage, so we've got to get this deal done."
[34:50] ALLAN EGBERT: It's a strong motivator.
[34:51] REID HOLZWORTH: Strong motivator for sure.
[34:53] MICHAEL ALBERT: It gets it done. That wasn't clear to me going in, but certainly in retrospect that was a really important part of us accomplishing what we did.
[35:04] REID HOLZWORTH: It's scary as all hell to do that, you know? And it is tough. Here's the other side to it too. Here's another positive there. When you have an exit or you go to raise capital, you as an owner have way more equity than going through the alphabet. I know many people that have been acquired after their D round and they're in the single digits of old ownership.
[35:35] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah.
[35:36] REID HOLZWORTH: And you look at these huge numbers and these huge valuations and you look at, "Oh wow, they own, literally the CEO and the founder has 5% ownership." At the end of the day it's a good exit, don't get me wrong, but it's not as good as you think. So watch the alphabet game, watch the whole game they play, and that's where it ends up. And if you can hold off on that, it's way better for you and your family. And then your friends and family is going to be investing early on. Because you go venture VC, all that, man, you're getting your incubator.
[36:17] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah. Yeah.
[36:19] REID HOLZWORTH: And I'm not saying it's bad. I don't want the listeners to hate on me for this. It's just my opinion. But overall. Now, there's an argument to be made there that with capital you can hit the throttle and you can accelerate on a whole other level. I think you guys are fortunate, similar to me, I was fortunate where we built the product very quickly, we brought it to market very quickly, and we funded our companies by the revenue we were bringing in.
[36:46] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah.
[36:46] REID HOLZWORTH: Early on. And then I really like what you guys said in that you used our customers and our customers gave us all the feedback and helped us mold the company into what it should be, as opposed to our ownership that knows more than we do.
[37:01] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. I agree, Reid. It's just a blueprint. And there's no one right way to do this stuff. And for me it's not a skillset. And it's not something I'm particularly interested in either. Maybe that's just as important in terms of playing the mechanics of raising money and such. I think that first interview you and I did, that just reminded me, that first interview you and I did after we announced the acquisition, we were asked, "Oh, Ask Kodiak, did you have revenue?" And I was incredulous. I'm like, "Yeah." And my response was almost, "What the hell kind of question is that?"
[37:40] MICHAEL ALBERT: You think we've been sitting around not making money for six years?
[37:42] ALLAN EGBERT: Like, what?
[37:44] REID HOLZWORTH: that's a real thing.
[37:45] MICHAEL ALBERT: Yeah, it's a thing.
[37:47] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, and it was like with video, me and the journalist. I guess technically you're a podcast Insurtech journalist now.
[37:55] MICHAEL ALBERT: He's a
[inaudible 00:37:56], yeah.
[37:56] ALLAN EGBERT: With this interview. He's media, he's press.
[37:59] REID HOLZWORTH: I don't know about that.
[37:59] ALLAN EGBERT: He's press.
[38:04] MICHAEL ALBERT: Pulitzer prize winning Reid Holzworth.
[38:06] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah. But I just remember it was just this back, we just looking at each other, and I was looking at him like he six heads and he was looking at me like I had six heads. We were totally not on the page. But that was for us, getting key customers to be invested in your survival because they love your stuff and you're bringing them value. That is, I don't like giving advice to startups because you've got to figure it out on your own and what works for you. But that may be the only thing I'd ever say. It's like, get a customer who is just absolutely invested in your survival because they they're using your stuff and it is meaningful and they love it and you're bringing them value that they just ... The bar in insurance is so low. All you've got to do is deliver what you say you're going to do and you're like an A+ category. You really are.
[38:58] REID HOLZWORTH: That was a nugget right there for the listeners.
[39:01] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah, that's-
[39:04] MICHAEL ALBERT:
[39:04] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah for the listener-
[39:04] ALLAN EGBERT:
[inaudible 00:39:02] to it. That's frigging podcast gold. That was podcast gold. That was 100% gold. Yes.
[39:10] REID HOLZWORTH: All right. So you brought up something earlier about a certain innovation challenge. Tell us about that.
[39:18] SPEAKER 2: Dude, so when we got started, you don't quite know what you should or shouldn't participate in as a business, and you get a lot of InsurTech challenges, contests, competitions, do this, do that, and you're going to be the number one InsurTech in all of U.S. and what are one of the things that came on our radar early on via insurance legend Frank Sentner, was the Acord InsurTech challenge, this is 2015.
[39:45] REID HOLZWORTH: Innovation Challenge.
[39:46] SPEAKER 2: Innovation Challenge, sorry. Innovation was... InsurTech Wasn't a thing. The Innovation Challenge in 2015. So we went and participated in that down in New York. And there were some really good things about it. We met Sheffy from Cover Trader.
[40:00] REID HOLZWORTH: What year was that did you say?
[40:00] SPEAKER 2: 2015.
[40:02] REID HOLZWORTH: 2015.
[40:03] SPEAKER 2: 15, so this is like ancient at this point.
[40:07] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah.
[40:08] SPEAKER 2: But hanging out in kind of their green room with the Panera Bread or whatever, and just shooting the breeze with some of these other folks that now have significant businesses was a really cool legacy of it. But as far as the contest itself went, that maybe wasn't optimal.
[40:24] REID HOLZWORTH: Why?
[40:27] ALLAN EGBERT: Well, I mean, when you're starting a business, you are exceptionally vulnerable to a number of things that could kill the business. There's things you can control and things you can't control. For us it was an odd situation where our judges, one of our judges was our good pal Kurt Stevenson, who we just signed three months earlier. So Kurt was in this position where it's like, do I vote for these guys to advance or do I not? Because he was in an awkward position.
[41:02] ALLAN EGBERT: Another one of the judges was an executive at Ivan's a month before a competing product was acquired. And it was the first time we showed our product and what was going on. And it was just sort of a cautionary tale in terms of are those things needed? Are they relevant? And my reflection on it was that could have been existential to our business and not in a good way walking out of there.
[41:39] ALLAN EGBERT: I would say to startups, it's really do your due diligence on whether or not you want to do one of these things because if you win, what does it mean. If you don't win, like ask Kodiak, where for a number of reasons, we did not get voted to go to the next round for whatever reason, again, because there's questions in terms of judges in the room, what does that mean? I know Reid you've also had an experience with innovation challenges as well.
[42:10] ALLAN EGBERT: At the end of the day, all that matters is you get customers. That's how you win this game. And that's how you survive and that's how you get oxygen. And so, for us, I mean, I would rate that as a top three misfire in terms of a decision mike and I made. I put that at the top of the list.
[42:28] SPEAKER 2: It was in the legacy of it for us to sort of reinforce where we stand with any sort of contests. We've seen this a lot in the last three or four years where you've got people adding basically startup contests. You get these dudes that are planning events, they see Shark Tank on ABC and they think, oh, that's cool. We'll get these guys up here and we'll judge them.
[42:48] SPEAKER 2: The thing that's challenging about that is these are real businesses and the judges a lot of times don't necessarily have the perspective to really understand what's good and what's bad.
[43:01] SPEAKER 2: I guess the way we look at it is we're not the entertainment. We'd rather focus on helping our customers. So we stopped participating in anything like that after that event.
[43:10] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah.
[43:10] REID HOLZWORTH: Sorry, just to make a quick comment. It's funny the way you phrase this, honestly, because you're right. You're the entertainment at this point, but this is your fricking business, and if it's misrepresented in some way or another, it could be really bad for you.
[43:33] REID HOLZWORTH: I entered the same one you guys did, and it didn't turn out that well, but thank God it wasn't bad for us by any means. But I could see how it could be. And you don't think about that going into it. And we're not singling out this particular one, but just in general, you get a really... So sorry I cut you off.
[43:55] ALLAN EGBERT: No, no, no. Not, not at all. I think a theme, all of us as we're talking about when you launch a new business, focus on the things that matter to you and are going to give you oxygen to survive your business. And if you think winning one of those things is going to get you a customer, then go for it. But, I don't think that's where you get your customers in those type of those types of forums. I don't tell people... Maybe I shouldn't say don't do this or don't do that, but this is what happened to us and make your own decisions.
[44:33] REID HOLZWORTH: The other thing you have to be careful of too, is hitching your horse to that. And so that may not be the best for you long term being a part of that brand. And as a bootstrap startup guy, you're looking at free press, this is great. Let me get the eyeballs, right?
[44:55] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah.
[44:55] REID HOLZWORTH: But what's the perception? I hope people don't take this as we're like singling out a certain company that's doing this or whatever, but in general, I think it's good advice. Really look at that. Because we entered a bunch of them early on and I look back at as you brought this up and I'm like, what a waste of fricking time, and if I would have won the... I'm not going to name names or whatever, then I'm tied to them.
[45:26] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah.
[45:26] REID HOLZWORTH: I've done this when big SI's were doing it at the time and stuff like that. And it's like, I'm not going to
name names because whatever. But now I'm tied to them. What does that mean for the other SI's?
[inaudible 00:45:39] does that, what does that mean for the other carriers, the other competitor?
[45:43] SPEAKER 2: Yeah. That's right. You've got to think about it this way. You're lending them your credibility, which maybe is a good thing. But do think about it that way.
[45:51] MICHAEL ALBERT: These are all businesses, they're all making money. Know what the incentives and the motivations are before you go into these things, because six years ago, having asked Kodiak to participate, probably wasn't that big of... We weren't going to give that much of a shine to one of those entities. But as time goes on, it's like you get recruited for whatever conferences, forums, whatever, to help them sell whatever it is they're selling. Nothing wrong with that. I love capitalism. I love revenue, but that's what the incentive structure is. It's not about necessarily you getting that key customer, maybe it's somewhere in the priority list, but it's not at the top of the list in terms of how those things are incented to get people to participate.
[46:43] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, it's very, very well said. So it's a tricky thing and it's tough, especially when you're bootstrapping, because you don't have a lot of cash. And it does open doors in a lot of ways. And like you guys said, you met some really cool people
doing that, that have successful companies today, but they weren't
[inaudible 00:47:06] right?
[47:08] ALLAN EGBERT: I mean, yeah. It's like, look, I always say, when you look at accelerators or contests, get the sponsors to say, what are the success stories come out of there, get them to name them, and what's the list. And then weigh that in terms of value to you.
[47:28] REID HOLZWORTH: Well, that was awesome. Always a lot of fun with these dudes. It was really awesome what they did with InsurTech Boston and InsurTech Boston is going to continue to move on and go strong so, that's super cool. You know it's interesting, I never thought about it until doing this interview about kind of the risk in doing these tech pitches that are out there. I've done them myself and I never really thought about it. You look at as free exposure and it's good and you'll get out there, but it also can be negative on you and your brand, and almost even dictate where your company goes in the future. So just be aware, be careful.
[48:08] REID HOLZWORTH: So join us next time as we talk to Mike and Allen and get their opinions on what the future holds for them, their insights, what InsurTech is doing. Stay tuned, some really good stuff there.
[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: The Insurance Technology Podcast is a production of IVANS. Visit insuretechpod.com to contact us, suggest a topic or guest for an upcoming show, and subscribe to be notified when our latest podcast is available. You can find all our episodes in your favorite podcast app. It's where you can also leave us a rating and a review that helps other people find the show. Thanks for listening.