When I enrolled in an MBA program, I did so with one crystal clear goal in mind. Find an early-stage insurtech startup tackling the challenges of the commercial insurance industry…
Perhaps my sense of humor won’t read as clearly in a blog post. The truth is, I came to the McDonough School of Business to explore. Testing the waters for two years at Georgetown University was the only way I could convince myself I was ready to dive headfirst into a new career. I never imagined I would wind up at Joshu.
My background isn’t exactly straightforward. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016 with degrees in both Finance and Risk Management & Insurance. After that, I worked for three years at ISN, the global leader in contractor verification services. Lost yet? Just wait… my title was Senior Coordinator on the Procurement Review and Verification Services team.
What a mouthful. Today, I just tell people I was a consultant.
And it’s true. ISN is an information technology company that works directly with Fortune 500 clients in high-risk industries to manage their contractors and vendors. It taught me plenty about the pros and cons of corporate life. It’s an important part of my story and one that helps explain why I joined a startup.
First arriving at Georgetown, I took a long look at roles in management consulting, investment banking, and corporate finance. Largely because of their prestigious reputation and their lofty promises of exorbitant salaries. Then I took a step back from it all and looked through a new lens.
What do I value most?
I value a community, a challenge, and a sense of purpose. I found all three at Joshu.
It starts with the Co-Founders, Roy Mill & Shimi Bornstein. If you know anything about startups, you know that their success hinges almost entirely upon the reputation of their founders. Venture Capitalists and other investors point to them as justification for deploying large sums of capital all the time. The idea is there, the product needs work, but the founders are people I can get behind. It’s a common refrain and one that bodes well for Joshu.
Ever since joining, both founders have promoted a culture of hard work coupled with hard laughter. The other members of the team here in the US; Chris, Somer, Ashley, and those in Israel: Ofir, Ori, and Yonatan, all feed off of Roy and Shimi’s energy. Each person brings not only a unique set of skills — the ability to design, code, or sell — but also a wealth of experience in insurance, tech, and life itself.
Personally, that experience helped me navigate the numerous responsibilities assigned to the eighth employee at a startup. My title is Business Development Manager — but what does that truly entail? As you might imagine, the answer has many parts — and the story begins in San Francisco.
We replaced the classic early-stage, garage story with an Airbnb. Living and working together, we developed a full go-to-market strategy complete with the first draft of our sales playbook and a list of qualified leads. We turned to message polish and eventually altered the tagline from “the simple, fast way to sell commercial insurance online” to “build, distribute, and grow your commercial insurance products online”. We tossed around ideas and mapped out what our marketing positioning might look like. Right away, the impact that an early employee has on a startup was abundantly clear.
Over the next nine weeks, we worked in sprints. Each sprint consisted of new outreach methods, marketing materials, discovery calls, and most importantly — demos with prospects. Those demos often led to a second call with more members of the prospect’s organization. Ideally, underwriters, insurance product managers, and IT would all get involved. I was ‘drinking from a fire hose’ and learning day in and day out about the nuances of the commercial insurance industry.
The work was fast-paced and rewarding. I never punched in and punched out after repeating the same mundane daily tasks that often riddle the corporate workday. The forward-thinking culture, the richness of experience, and the hilarity of the Slack channel kept me motivated. Until now, I haven’t had a chance to reflect. With this backstory in hand — I can do so now — and share key lessons from my not-so-average ‘life at a startup’.
Make No Little Plans
As I alluded to, the tagline for Joshu is simple: Build, distribute, and grow your commercial insurance products online.
We want to give insurance product managers the power to create their digital future by reducing the time, cost, and complexity of digital transformation. In this way, those creating insurance programs or products can reach more insureds and adapt to changing market conditions all at once.
Again, a mouthful. And again, not an easy problem to tackle.
At Joshu, we have to build a product that fulfills all these promises. At times it seems impossible — and then I am reminded of one of my father’s favorite architects, Daniel Burnham, who states:
Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.
—Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect (1864–1912)
This mentality lays the foundation for everything else at Joshu. The mountain should look too tall. How will we ever reach the top? We must think big and strive to disrupt a legacy industry that has been set in its ways for centuries.
When we do succeed, we’ll be forever thankful that we made no little plans.
Keep it Lean with an MVP
I usually only find bits and pieces of value in the self-help style business success books. Such books rule the shelves of hopeful entrepreneurs. Titles like Good to Great, Thinking Fast and Slow, and Shoe Dog are riddled with promises of greatness.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Reis, is different. From start to finish, the book outlines a game plan for startups operating in any industry. The core principle focuses on creating a minimum viable product (MVP) to put in front of prospects right away. By doing so, you can better utilize the build-measure-learn feedback loop and continuously iterate your product.
At Joshu, never has a methodology rung more true. In fact, we adopted the lean process with our own spin. Our idea? Motivate and enable a new generation of Lean Insurance Carriers. In constantly learning about market conditions, we are able to allocate valuable resources to the features our clients need most.
Our direct-to-consumer store channel is the perfect example. Without diving too deep into the weeds, I will just highlight that this realization drove Joshu in a new direction — one that produced immediate results. With that experience in hand, I’m always asking for more feedback. If the prospect isn’t qualified, talk to them anyway. Get their feedback on design, usability, flow. Take it back to the team and bring an ever-increasing amount of value to the table through discovery. Build, measure, and learn with an MVP.
Push Onward, Even Without a Map
In a startup, you have to learn one thing before anything else. Get used to failure. Learn to grow from it. Let the silence of a promising prospect, skepticism of an investor, or audacity of an advisor motivate you.
Our little team knows that the Joshu Builder will change the game for insurance carriers, MGAs, MGUs, or anyone else ‘with the pen’ capable of creating insurance products. The challenge comes in convincing a prospect to use something they never knew they needed. Early adopters and those willing to take a chance can open new doors by saving on underwriting costs and enhancing digital distribution.
Others have heard a tech company say they would make their lives easier before. Then they were buried in added costs. Worse even, they were tied to the provider for all future updates and enhancements.
Joshu is different. We put the power in the hands of the insurance product owners. You don’t have to wait in line for IT to make changes. It’s digital distribution at the pace of the market. And it's all yours.
The advantage is tremendous. I know it, Roy knows it, the whole team knows it. But sometimes prospects are okay with the status quo.
When a prospect goes cold, it can feel like progress is always just out of grasp. In times such as this, resilience is key. Self-doubt can creep in at times, but maybe living with that uncertainty and chasing down a client to champion your product is what makes an early-stage startup so exciting. The courage to push onward is paramount. That sentiment is displayed most recently in a letter to all employees celebrating the Hebrew New Year:
Like in a long trek to climb a mountain, it’s good to stop every once in a while, get hydrated, and look back. We spend most of our journey looking ahead at the tall and intimidating mountain we’re going to climb. But that moment of taking a breath and looking back is so satisfying, especially if we covered a good distance.
Whenever you feel scared of this uncertainty and what’s ahead, look at the distance we covered already. If you think the mountain is tall now, then trust me, it looked even taller one year ago.
—Roy Mill, CEO and Co-Founder of Joshu
My time at Joshu has been nothing short of incredible. The product is full of potential, a team packed with mentors, and work ripe with challenges. I never expected to dive into insurtech, absorb lessons from another culture, or work for a startup.
So, take the time to ask yourself what it is you value. Challenge the existing norms and find a home. Because armed with nothing more than big plans, a minimum viable product, and the courage to push onward, Joshu will reach the summit.