Focused on empowering rather than displacing the agent, as a trusted advisor, Bold Penguin is an insurtech start-up using both its founders’ experiences and the power of technology to create a “turnkey solution” for agents looking to grow their commercial insurance business.
Founded by insurance and tech professionals whose experience ranges from Allstate to Nationwide to Progressive as well as regional carriers and established national insurance agencies, Bold Penguin is an insurtech start-up focused on creating an unparalleled commercial insurance user experience for agents, businesses and carriers alike.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, the company has come to Boston as one of the two “Start-up Stories” being featured at this week’s Insurtech Boston. Bold Penguin will discuss how it is creating a company where “technology meets the human touch in commercial insurance.”
In anticipation of their presentation there, co-founder Ben Clarke was kind enough to speak with Agency Checklists and to give our readers a “preview” of the company before their Thursday presentation.
Thank you for speaking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about Bold Penguin? What is it? Where is it based? What are its goals?
Bold Penguin is a commercial insurtech company dedicated to making the process of finding and writing commercial insurance faster and simpler. We do this by using technology to bring together the three legs of the stool: that is the agents, the insureds, and the carriers.
We give agents confidence in where to bind and dramatically improve their speed-to-quote using Emperor, our carrier recommendation engine. We help insureds find the best agent to work within our marketplace exchange. We give carriers control over choosing the types of risk they want to underwrite and bind. We’re based out of Columbus, Ohio, an insurance hub, and are focused on growing Columbus’ footprint in the insurtech scene.
How did the get the idea for Bold Penguin?
We have always been in insurance on the technology side, and we were starting to look at where we thought the insurance space would go. To my co-founder Ilya Bodner and me, it seemed obvious that commercial and life were going to be the next two focus areas for carriers and agents. We were familiar with the commercial insurance buying process being business owners ourselves, so tackling commercial insurance made sense to us.
We have a fundamental belief in the affirmative role of the agent/broker in the small to mid-market commercial space. So we set out to rationalize a market that to us seemed inefficient and opaque by helping agents, carriers, and insureds at the same time.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start Bold Penguin?
How far back do you want to go? My academic background is in genetics. Specifically I fell in love with informatics which led me to pursue expertise in data science and software development. I loved genetics, but I didn’t like lab work and this focus on data and computing kind of got me out of it. Essentially, I could take advanced stats and do independent study hours on programming and get out of lab requirements.
I graduated from The Ohio State University at the end of 2008. During that time, I started a company in the cloud application development space which we sold in 2010. Then I became a founder at The Shipyard. Our focus was on helping big national companies deliver marketing services in their local markets to their local operators. Insurance was a big vertical due to its distribution through the local agents. We created a large data science and biddable media business that worked with dozens of well-known brands. That was my first exposure to insurance. Utilizing data was so obvious to me that I went on to get my P&C license in all 50 states and started Bold Penguin with my long-time business partner, Ilya Bodner.
In the last five years, I was asked to join the advisory board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. where I focused on IP and data, and its role in the federal government. As part of my involvement, I helped commercialize a technology developed by Ohio State University, which recently raised $10 million, focused on the translation of electronic medical record data for use in clinical research.
How big is Bold Penguin now and where does it currently operate?
We are approaching 60 folks and operate out of our headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Everyone is in one open office, except Lou Geremia, our CRO, who helps us “waddle” to key carrier and broker partners.
You just hired Lou Geremia as your Boston-based CRO and are attending Insurtech Boston, what are your plans concerning Massachusetts (and the East Coast)?
Lou has a great reputation in our industry and we are proud to have him on the team. He is someone who has been a customer, an advisor, and now an executive at Bold Penguin. Lou brings a unique perspective to our day-to- day operations. We aspire to be a national and someday international company. Massachusetts is certainly another major insurance hub, so we feel like we need to be here in a big way.
What would you say is the most important take-away for our readers with regards to Bold Penguin?
We don’t believe insurance is fundamentally broken – and we are not here to radically disrupt it.
We are here to make the process of finding, quoting, and writing commercial insurance faster and simpler. The way it should be in the 21st century. We are betting on technology aiding agents, maybe not the same agent that is prevalent today, but fundamentally we are betting that human beings are going to be at the center of this process for some time to come. We are going to make those human beings ridiculously more productive by geometrically increasing the speed at which they can handle customers and monetize the ones they can’t help. Further, we think that by giving agents these tools, agents can improve the customer experience and make the commercial insurance market better for everyone including themselves, the carriers, and the insureds.
How can interested individuals contact Bold Penguin for more information?
We encourage everyone to sign up for a live webinar we host every Thursday. We found that seeing our product in action is the best way to understand how the commercial insurance process can be simplified while writing more profitable business. Visit boldpenguin.com/demo and register for a time that works best for you.