A follow-up to our 2016 Profile with the Co-Founders of One of the first Insurtechs focused on helping independent agents
With the sixth installment of Insurtech Boston happening tonight, almost three years after the first event, Agency Checklists thought the time was right to revisit the original start-up behind Insurtech Boston, Ask Kodiak. Founded in late 2015 by Allan Egbert Jr. and Michael Albert, Ask Kodiak was one of the first Insurtech start-ups that we profiled. Now almost three years since our initial profile, we thought it might be of interest to revisit Ask Kodiak and see how they are faring.
For those interested in reading our original profile, please refer to our January 2017 interview, “An InsurTech Start-Up For Agents And Carriers? Meet AskKodiak?”
Could you give our readers a quick refresher about what is Ask Kodiak and what problem it is trying to solve for the insurance industry?
Ask Kodiak is a commercial insurance appetite and eligibility engine. Our mission is to provide the market a single source of truth for carrier appetite and eligibility – managed by the insurers themselves – that can be used across channels.
Think of Ask Kodiak as a platform for optimizing insurance product selection through world-class tech. With AK, carriers get looks at every opportunity they might be interested in writing, while agents and brokers save enormous amounts of time and energy in their efforts to find the ‘right’ product across their panel of carriers for a customer.
Would you mind re-introducing our readers to the Ask Kodiak team?
Sure, but let’s do it in person. Come say hello! Join us for Insurtech Boston, October 29th at 6:30pm! #shamelessplug
Excellent idea – but we’ve added your picture here anyways just to help out a bit and for those who might not be able to make it.
How is Ask Kodiak doing? Agency Checklists was interested to share with our readers how the company has evolved over the past few years.
We started the business in the spring of 2015 and are still focused today around the core of where we began. We’ve found a tremendous number of places where the technology we began to develop early on can be applied.
From white-labeled carrier-specific search sites, to book-roll and consolidation efforts, to digital voice assistants, we’ve helped lots of carriers get away from “target class” spreadsheets and pdfs and step into the light of the modern world. We ship features monthly, so the platform is evolving constantly… but the mission to optimize product selection remains the same as it has been since day one.
Can you share what your overall growth has been since you launched in 2015? How many users, both carriers and agents, does Ask Kodiak have now, for example?
Imagine the Ask Kodiak appetite and eligibility platform as a hub and our website where agents can search as one of the spokes. While we’ve had (and continue to have) good growth in the Ask Kodiak ‘spoke’ where agents come to search directly, our strategy as a business is to help our carrier customers in any channel where they’re fielding opportunity. Directly logging into the Ask Kodiak ‘spoke’ we have a couple thousand agencies. Other spokes include our agency management system partners, folks like trustedchoice.com, and the agent portals, and internal systems of carriers themselves. One big difference between our business and a traditional insurance tech vendor is that we compete on merit, not lock in. We even welcome our competitors to use our API. Anything that’s good for our customer is good for us in the long run.
The platform continues to grow every day with new signups and new partners. We have about 40 Insurance carriers participating in some form on the platform and about 70 MGAs/wholesalers/tpas/and program writers with storefronts that can share with retail agents and brokers.
Ask Kodiak also has seen a lot of growth through partnerships and integrations. How does that work?
The key to our growth is through the Ask Kodiak API. We aren’t in the marketplace business or trying to make the case you have to come play exclusively on our web platform. We love sign-ups, but the API allows the agent or the carrier to include Ask Kodiak features wherever they need those features to be.
Maybe that’s in an agency management system. Perhaps you have built yourself a Salesforce app. Or you want to do something in your agency slack channel. The Ask Kodiak API puts Ask Kodiak features where you like to work.
Our partnership program is pretty simple. If you want to try our API, email us and we will turn it on for you.
Since the official launch of Ask Kodiak, in your opinion what would you saw has been the biggest challenge in attracting users to its platform?
At the beginning, it was a chicken and egg problem. You need carriers for agents to be interested and vice-versa. Trying to build a community from nothing was challenging for sure.
What has been the biggest barrier for potential insurance clients in adopting the Ask Kodiak technology?
Insurance carriers still struggle with adopting technology, especially in solution categories which are unfamiliar to them (which incidentally is what the Insurtech wave is giving rise to). Past experiences with technology providers – usually negative, and usually related to the core systems (policy, claims, billing, etc) at the insurer – have shaped the decision making and procurement processes across the enterprise. Consequently, whether you sell something for $20 or $20,000,000, ‘vendors’ often find themselves trapped in the same procurement process.
We’ve built something that an insurer can purchase and take advantage of day one without professional services, on premises install, or any of the traditional hassle and risk that comes with new carrier tech. All this is to say in some sense we’re waiting for the industry to figure out that things don’t need to be as hard as they’re sometimes made out to be.
Ask Kodiak has made mention of the fact that many insurance carriers not using NAIC codes. Has this lack of uniformity in the insurance industry been a major issue for Ask Kodiak?
Carrier class codes are an absolute mess. Some are still using SIC codes (which many people don’t even realize reached end-of-life in 1997!) and there are even a few carriers who are out there making up their own class codes. Talk about gluttons for punishment. We see that as an opportunity. Lack of uniformity is always a great place to solve efficiency problems.
What do you both consider as Ask Kodiak’s greatest success thus far?
The first thing that comes to mind is that Ask Kodiak is still here. The odds of startup survival are never terribly high and the insurance industry can be a very slow, risk-averse environment making the challenge especially daunting. We take an enormous amount of pride in the fact that we’ve been able to persevere, and grow into a revenue positive business with a happy customer base, a growing team, all while having fun doing it.
In addition to building your company, you also run Insurtech Boston in your spare time. Why? Tell us whey you continue to host these events and why you think insurance professionals should attend?
We run Insurtech Boston to give startups a leg up. They’re not ‘the entertainment’. It’s not a pitch contest. We’re simply trying to give them a chance to tell their story, in their own words, to our extended network and hope they make the most of the opportunity and root for them to steal the lunch of some of these industry giants.
If you are curious about new insurtech entrants and like to network, Insurtech Boston will be up your alley.
What your take on the current status of the insurtech movement or insurance innovation overall?What are some of your predictions about what will be happening over the coming year?
Getting a little fatigued on the idea that a funding event is somehow a victory. There’s lots of money flying around the space and it’s sort of burying the lead – there’s some very cool transformative stuff going on in the front and back office, much of it incremental. We tend to track people who do interesting work and have customer success and there’s lots of inspiring stuff going on.
Innovation and disruption are great tag-lines for marketing copy. Don’t underestimate the power of simply doing for your customers what you say you are going to do. Nail that and you will be ahead of most of your peers.
What are Ask Kodiak’s goals in the coming year? Any future plans you can share with our readers?
More features will be coming to Kodiak; as companions to appetite and eligibility, as well as some features that will branch out a bit. We like to ship features, then announce, which is sort of the opposite order of traditional insurance tech. Our technology is about 10 miles ahead of our sales and marketing at the moment, hoping to get some cycles in the next few months to bring our website/collateral/etc up to speed and more people in on the ‘secret’ that is the current AK. We’re really jamming on a ton.
How can interested individuals get in touch with Ask Kodiak or schedule a demo?
We encourage everyone to check out https://askkodiak.com. If you’re an agent or a carrier, create a Kodiak account and start searching and/or sharing. Everyone knows how to use a search bar and agents don’t pay to use Ask Kodiak. And carriers can try it for free too.