Tell us about yourself?
I’m a serial entrepreneur with an appreciation for life. What this means is that while I’m working, I’m all-in, all the time. This also means that I make a real effort to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
Most entrepreneurs cannot “turn it off”, and I’m guilty of that as well, but I’ll be the first one to try to spend a little time enjoying the fruits of the labor invested.
From off-roading to rafting to hiking some of the crazy trails this world has to offer, being able to enjoy the world is the reward for the efforts.
That said, the entire time I’m enjoying any of those activities, I see opportunity. It’s hard to separate.
For example, just yesterday I was hiking a lengthy trail in Colorado. The first few miles was nice, as it was more or less downhill.
Coming back, however, was a bit of a slog. I watched hundreds of bicyclists heading both ways as well. By the time I’d reached the top, I’d developed a business plan for bottom-of-the-hill pickups and top-of-the-hill drop offs for tourists and their bikes.
The transactional value probably wouldn’t be interesting enough for me, but it’s how my brain works, and can’t look at something without looking for opportunity. I wouldn’t turn it off if I could.
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
“If you build it, they will come”. That mantra is pure fertilizer, and by that I mean it’s horseshit. You have to bring the mountain to the customer; they’re not going to seek it out.
Many startups become so enamored with their own product and their vision that they forget (presuming they ever learned) that they’re not the consumers of the product.
It’s easy to box yourself in to your ideas, especially if you’ve built an echo chamber of folks that agree with you. Founders have to get out there and find out what the customers actually desire and cater to it.
If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?
Fail hard and fail often. By that I don’t mean you’ve got to be a failure, but I do mean that if you’re not out there failing at stuff, you’re not trying.
A few times over the course of my journey, I’ve hesitated for fear of failure and it was the wrong decision. Robert Browning wrote a poem 130 years ago that sums it up nicely: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?
I’d have to say my drive and my ability to see opportunity in anything. Many entrepreneurs are highly focused on a single business or discipline.
While I can fit that mold (I’ve had far more failures than successes), I still do not hesitate to throw a new iron in the fire if it looks sexy enough.
What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?
Taking time to enjoy the world around me is by far the best habit I’ve developed in the last couple of years. It revitalizes and refreshes me and brings back focus on the important things. The next most important habit I’ve developed is delegation.
I used to micro-manage my teams, putting my fingerprints on our products every time they went out the door. After a while, I figured out that by hiring the best people, paying them a premium and then getting the hell out of their way is highly beneficial.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
I kind of fell into the adjusting profession. I had a friend that was a catastrophe adjuster that had just returned from a deployment handling hail claims. I got attracted to the catastrophe checks he showed me and jumped in like a drowning man grabbing for a rope.
I soon discovered that catastrophe work is feast or famine (you can make great money when deployed, but if you get a drought of catastrophes that cause property damage, you can get pretty hungry).
Within a year, I founded the company with a focus on daily insurance claims, but with a catastrophe team at the ready.
Fast forward a few years and we’re growing rapidly, acting as a core claims adjusting vendor for some pretty large insurance carriers with a couple of million policyholders and a couple of trillion dollars in property exposures.
We’re also in the public entity space, acting as a Third Party Administrator for cities and municipalities.
Where do you see your business in five years?
Much deeper into the property and public entity sectors, via both sales and acquisition. The industry is rife with consolidation efforts, and while we’ve had a few folks express interest in acquiring us, I’m a lot more interested in acquiring them.
It may not be as meteoric as some of the companies you see out there (that’s the drawback of self funding), but it will be debt free and stronger (the benefit of self funding).
What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?
As our competitors consolidate and purchase market share, they do have a bigger logistical club to wield and quantity does have a quality of it’s own.
Being a small company trying to market at the same level as VC backed conglomerates is a real challenge and we’ve got to be extra creative to keep up.
Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?
The team that we’ve put together is easily the biggest success story. We’ve given our team the opportunity to move into roles that they knew little about (and let’s be real; every new role is an unknown for everyone, from the founders to the people thrown into them) and they’ve risen to the challenges with admirable grace.
They all have a sense of cohesion and a sense of mission. Putting together a team that you can rely on to get things done, and one that you have to reign in rather than kick in the rear to get going is remarkable, and just about the only part of the company that I can take a lot of credit for (and even then, I had help).
How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?
I slap most of the backs and kiss most of the babies myself. We’ve got a reasonable presence on LinkedIn and we attend a number of industry related trade shows throughout the year. The balance of our business is generally from word of mouth.
What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?
Don’t be greedy. Vest your people. A vested interest in the success of the company is invaluable when it comes to retention, morale and loyalty. Don’t expect your team to be as dedicated as you if they’re not vested.
Nobody but you is going to be excited about those 20 hour days and off-hours calls and opportunities. Even if you vest them, that engagement is going to be limited, but you’ll have more than you did.
Personally, I tie bonuses to revenues or general productivity and that seems to do the trick. If your team knows that if they bust their asses for you, you’ll share in the rewards with them, they’re a lot more likely to answer that call or email on a Saturday (don’t abuse that, or take it for granted or you’ll lose it).
And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?
Continued growth and opportunity, for both. There’s something about growing a company from infancy that’s exhilarating.
I also hope to help the folks that make the company possible to achieve their own personal goals, whether that be to buy a home and settle down or to travel to exotic places or whatever the driving force happens to be behind each personality.