I am beyond excited to announce Denise Lauer as Informed’s Chief Marketing Officer and the third member of our team. Denise is an incredibly accomplished marketing executive.
She was most recently CMO at Morton Salt where she revitalized an iconic brand by expanding its reach to new consumers and through new channels to drive share growth.
I will tell you more about her below but I don’t want to bury the lede too far. With the addition of Denise to Jim, I daresay Informed has the strongest team that’s ever been assembled for a pre-revenue insuretech. I am happy to be the weak link of the trio.
So let me tell you a little more about why I have the confidence to make that statement. I have seen an awful lot of management teams over the years. I would suggest one of my greatest strengths as an analyst was assessing the quality of management. I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
What Makes Great Teams
The most successful teams I have seen have a few things in common. First, there is a common shared vision. Second, there is an intrinsic trust of each other and lack of ego about who gets credit. Third, everyone gets to play to their strengths.
Thus, as CEO, my job is to set the vision and strategy and then hire executives who are better than me at implementing it and get out of their way. I am proud to say I have successfully now done the latter.
In Jim, I have a brilliant operator with vast experience in personal lines. You don’t see someone of his caliber at an early stage startup. I humbly submit you don’t see someone of his caliber at the startups well ahead of us in their journey.
In Denise, I have a solution to one of the most common questions we get asked. How are you going to find customers? Isn’t it too hard to go direct in such a crowded space?
Yes, it is hard. That’s why I got Denise. Other startups didn’t have someone like her. We do. She’s our (now not so) secret weapon.
For those of you asking, don’t you need a tech person? Yes, we do. I haven’t forgotten about that. Keep reading. But if you’re worried that we won’t be able to get a good enough CTO, I’d say look at the team I’ve put together so far. I think I should get the benefit of the doubt to assume I can do it again.
So let me tell you a little more about why I’m so excited about Denise. As mentioned, customer acquisition is perhaps our biggest challenge. We are targeting a different type of customer than the rest of the market. They are, admittedly, harder to reach. Yet, if you can win them over, they are immensely more valuable.
A big part of the plan to appeal to them is through building a brand around our content proposition. Namely, that we will make them better informed and thus help them make better decisions than other insurers. We need to build trust with consumers, which isn’t always easy as a new company. Thus, it is paramount we get the messaging right.
We need a CMO with the experience, insight, and passion for the mission to help us connect with the customer. As I said, that’s why we got Denise.
She intrinsically understands our target customer because she, in fact, is one. She sees the value in a better solution and can credibly communicate it to other like minded individuals.
As noted, Denise identified the need to reinvigorate the Morton brand by targeting younger consumers and increasing focus on digital and social media channels. She effectively repositioned the brand, all while building a team from the ground up, which makes her well suited to transition to a startup.
She has vast experience in digital marketing (including an award winning viral video with its own Wikipedia entry), creative, and brand development including the aforementioned reimagining of the Morton Salt girl. Importantly, this led to tangible results that improved growth and market share.
She is the ideal partner to lead the effort to create the Informed brand and differentiate us in the market.
For those who haven’t met Jim and need a reminder of his background, Jim has been with me for a year now and has become my trusted partner. We share a passion for helping customers get better outcomes from their insurance company.
In addition to being a successful operator, Jim has some key experience that is directly relevant to Informed’s model.
At Farmers, he was part of the initiative to reposition the brand to focus more on coverage. Specifically, he launched new products that allowed for more choice which runs counter to much of the market where policy choices are now often restricted. We have plans in the future to extend this philosophy even deeper as we seek to match consumer’s needs with more flexible product.
Additionally, Jim led the homeowners business at USAA. USAA isn’t just a top 5 carrier. It is also the largest direct homeowners carrier and is well known for its exceptional customer service. We certainly plan to leverage his experience there to create our own best in class, direct experience.
Proving Product Market Fit
I talked earlier about the importance of a shared vision. As I mentioned, both Jim and Denise share my passion for delivering better outcomes for homeowners.
Another common question we get at times is “how do you know people will care?” or “is there a big enough market for this?”. My response to that is twofold.
First, Jim knows this market as well as anyone. As I said, he designed product for similar customers at Farmers and, at that time, validated that these customers exist and are interested in a better option. I was able to convince him that our model will find a receptive market.
Second, I convinced Denise. She may be new to insurance, but she instantly saw the value in what we are trying to do and believed in it enough to make a big career change.
Thus, I suggest if I could convince an authority in the market, as well as a newcomer to insurance, that there is a need for this solution, then we will be able to convince others. They are my first proof of product-market-fit.
Said another way, I convinced them to make a career bet on this concept. We are only asking others to buy a policy.
Next Up: Our CTO
So for those wondering, how can we be an Insuretech without a CTO? First, remember, we’re an InsureTeach.
Second, to the question from the above section, we get asked more about whether we can successfully market than do we have the right tech solution. Thus, our first goal is to demonstrate customer interest. While there are tech solutions that can help with that, they are not absolutely necessary for this first step.
We also have found operational solutions (e.g. outsourcing) that allow us to roll out our first version of the agency without in-house IT. Therefore, we think it will be beneficial for us to wait until we have demonstrated initial traction to recruit actively for our IT platform.
This will allow us to attract a better candidate as the usual early questions from IT candidates are “do you have funding” and “do you have revenue”. Given the ultimate importance of the tech solution, it is imperative we get the right person so I’d rather recruit from a stronger position later.
I prefer not to reveal too many specifics about what we will be building, but I can give a general description in case someone who fits the following happens to read this.
The role will require a mix of developing a best in class user experience combining a premium shopping experience with a unique content library, a strong data science team to support the personalization we want to offer customers, and the front and back end skills to build a custom agency infrastructure that is more robust than a traditional AMS solution.
As I said earlier, when the time is right, I will put all my efforts into adding the next star to the team and am confident we’ll get a similar result.
Up To The Challenge
You may still say, it’s great that you have this strong team, but the task is too hard. It’s too big a mountain to climb.
Perhaps, but one thing I can tell you about the three of us is we have a long history of being doubted, being overlooked, being told it’s too hard.
We are three different personalities, but we have one common trait: we all thrive on being told we can’t do something.
I won’t go full Jason Kelce underdog speech here about how nobody believes in us, because we haven’t earned that right yet (and I don’t think anyone wants to see me in a Mummer’s suit), but I can say we love the doubt and we love the challenge. It’s great motivation to work harder.