Tag Archives: benekiva

Innovation at the Point of the Customer

What is transformation? Industry leaders and consultants throw out many, many ideas about how to integrate technology into business processes, make it seamless for the customer, etc. The best definition I’ve come across is from a philosopher, Sadhguru, who wrote:

“When we say ‘transformation,’ it means that nothing of the old has remained. Something totally new has flowered within you. Now you look at a rose plant that is full of thorns. Springtime came, and rose flowers burst out — it is a transformation. The thorns are still there — there are more thorns than flowers — but we do not call it a thorn plant. We call it a rose plant because of that single rose. Everyone’s attention goes more toward that single rose than a hundred thorns that are on the plant, isn’t it? So all the thorns in you, maybe you cannot remove them right now, but if one rose flower blossoms, everyone is willing to overlook those things.”

Sadhguru was talking about transforming oneself, but doesn’t this same philosophy hold true when we look at enterprise-level transformations? Amid thorns – a.k.a legacy systems – what could be the rose? Some would say, “It is modernizing the core.” Others may say, “It’s leveraging an AI engine” to solve x, y, or z. I will argue that the rose is the customer. Who are we really doing transformation for?  

What does innovation at the point of the customer mean? It means the customer is the focus of how we approach solving problems. For example, at Benekiva, an SaaS platform for life, annuity and health, our claims and servicing modules offer carriers a 100% digital process – end to end. Our focus is the beneficiaries. Why? They are the ones having to deal with all the various requirements while possibly going through the worst time of their lives.  

As you innovate at the point of the customer, other “customers” appear, such as your claims associates. As you peel the onion, you find out the claim lands in an associate’s hands. What is their experience? Where does the beautiful, digital-first experience go? How many systems are they touching to process a claim? What happens if I need additional information from the beneficiary? 

Innovation at the point of customer doesn’t stop at the end-user – that is just the starting point. As you start working backward, you keep innovating and evolving. You don’t stop because “this is just back-office.” You push the pedal to accelerate. Why? Because your customers don’t just expect an Amazon-like experience – they demand it! Any piece that causes friction gets noticed and hurts the experience, which ultimately hurts the brand.

See also: Different Flavors of Transformation

How does one go about innovating at the point of the customer? There are three areas to consider:

  • Your team: When I look at hiring people in my product development team, I have come up with a triple-threat model. I look for solutions-focused individuals who love solving problems and are curious by nature. I look for technologists – individuals who have worked in technology and have a deep understanding of various integrations and the architecture landscape. Finally, I look for project management — individuals who have led enterprise-wide initiatives and can help organizations with change management.    
  • Your approach to innovation: We follow a fail-fast and learn-fast model, which allows us to look at how and what we innovate in an MVP (minimum viable product) mindset. We don’t allow perfectionism to get in the way of innovation. The faster we deliver, the quicker we get feedback that allows us to keep iterating or throw a feature out, as it won’t fit. The voice of the customer keeps us grounded to ensure we focus on the near-term needs. For the long term, looking at a customer as a whole and at the macro trends that may shape the customer allows us to keep an eye out for the future.    
  • Your partner network: Whether you are a Tier 1 carrier or an up-and-coming insurtech, we all have constraints. Have you ever seen a home builder lay the foundation on their own, build their own cabinets and do all the electrical and plumbing work? Homebuilders are masters at having a partner network – they have an electrical guy/gal, windows person, etc. To innovate with the customer in mind, you must be surrounded by partners that elevate the pieces of the customer journey. At Benekiva, our gateway architecture allows our partner network to integrate admin systems, document management solutions and external data sources to provide a seamless process for the claimant and the associates.  

As Sadhguru shares: “Everyone’s attention goes more toward that single rose than a hundred thorns that are on the plant, isn’t it?” When you place your innovation focus on the customer, “thorns” still exist but aren’t the focus.

To Build, or Not to Build…?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep….” ~Hamlet

I’m not going to paste the entire Hamlet speech here, but you can see that he was going through a very tough decision-making process about a form of death he wanted to pursue.

Technology decisions being made in organizations should also be deemed as do-or-die if you want to continue to exist. I know: very drastic. But let’s face it, competition is fierce, startups are popping up ready to grab your market share and the organizations that survive look at expenditures from a strategic viewpoint.

From an application development lens, questions include: Should we build, whether in-house or outsource, or should we buy and integrate?

See also: How Insurtech Helps Build Trust  

The ugly truth: Developers LOVE to build. The maker inside of us wants to create. Integration projects aren’t deemed as fun. I worked with an organization where the IT department predominantly built software solutions. Need a scheduling tool? “I can build this.” Need a workflow solution? “I got this.” Developers would make any excuse known to mankind to devalue other products in the marketplace.

Another ugly truth. Build projects are EXPENSIVE and take forever even if you outsource them. Why would you build a scheduling tool? There are thousands of such tools. The same is true with workflow.

You may be thinking: Such problems could never happen! Why would someone sign off on the project if such problems were ahead?

If you don’t have the right leadership — your technology reports to a non-technologist or you don’t have the right project oversight — your organization might very well make this kind of mistake.

Technology dollars are precious, so why spend your time, resources and capital on projects that don’t propel your organization forward. Why spend the money building a scheduling tool or workflow solution? Why not take the opportunity to integrate with someone who has already built the solution?

Here is the challenge I would offer you if you sit in project prioritization or new initiatives sessions, regardless of your department and role: Has due diligence occurred to look at software solutions that may solve the need?

If the answer is no, figure out a way to start the process, or you will be in the do-or-die situation.

If the answer is yes, vet various solutions. This can’t be left to IT only. The vetting must be done by a mixture of IT and the business, with equal decision-making power. Vet the various solution providers and find out how you can integrate while building the other pieces.

Ask yourself: As an organization, what is your mission? Are you in the business of developing software or using software to serve the mission? Why would a life insurance company want to develop its own workflow tool, its own policy admin systems or its own claims systems? There are vendors whose sole purpose is to make your organization run better.

See also: When It’s Better to Build In-House  

Use your brightest IT talent in innovation, not in building solutions that exist in the marketplace. Figure out how to transform your organization using best-in-class technology. Integrate with solution providers and startups. Build what others cannot do, and innovate on solutions to beat the competition.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question….”

Managing Remote Employees With Trust

How do you manage employees when they are all remote?

I agree with an inspirational business leader, Marcus Lemonis. There are three things that make your company successful. They are:

  1. People
  2. Product
  3. Processes

Let’s talk about people. I believe the most important of the three is people. Good people can fix processes. Good people can enhance products. Good people are what truly make your business successful.

  • How many times have you worked at your home, a coffee shop or a co-working space and thought, “Wow, I got a ton of work done today”?
  • How many times have you worked in your office and at the end of the day thought to yourself, “I didn’t get ANY work done”?

Let’s face it, if you are one of those organizations that feel that the employees (people) need to work in the office building from 8am until 5pm, you are going to have a very hard time finding true talent! Today’s employees can be highly productive anywhere. Sure, there might be a need to connect at the mothership once in a while for face-to-face meetings, client meetings, etc. But to think, “if they are not here, they are not working,” is absurd. Please refer back to the previous questions and think about it…

See also: Engaging Employees: Key to Success  

The organizations that believe that all people have to be in the office 100% of the time have a glaring issue that they need to address. The issue is TRUST. My thought is, if you don’t trust your people enough to give them the opportunity to test the remote model, then…

1. Why did you hire them in the first place?
2. Why would they want to perform above average for you or your company?

Are there some individuals who need to be in the office? Sure. And I would argue that, if they are good people, they will be honest with themselves/your organization and tell you that! One person I spoke with said, “I think I need the structure of coming into the office at a certain time and leaving at a certain time.” GREAT! That is a person who is being honest with you and himself or herself. That is a good person! He/she is more than welcome to come in to the office at 8am and go home at the end of day. However, to have a policy or a culture that says all employees need to be in the office at all times is a disservice to the employee and the organization.

At Benekiva, our entire executive team is remote. Sure, we have an office that we go to for certain functions. However, if you find good people who believe in the vision, mission and passion of the company and the problems you are solving, they are never “off work.” The issue you will have with these people is to make sure they manage the work/life balance. That’s for another discussion. Burnt-out employees are not a sustainable recipe for business success.

See also: 4 Good Ways to Welcome Employees  

Bottom line: Find and hire good people. Test and measure innovative methods. You might be amazed at how much work gets done even though the people are not at “work.”

7 Lessons in Entrepreneurship

Nepal is famous for the Himalayas, Momos (Nepalese spiced dumplings), temples (did you know that Buddha was born in Nepal?) and dangerous roads. I recently was sitting in the front seat on travels from Kathmandu (the capital) to Hetuada (an industrial town). The distance is approximately 87 kilometers, or roughly 55 miles, and it was a five-hour journey due to many factors that I’ll discuss shortly. The drive made me think about the similarities to entrepreneurship and lessons from my three-year journey.

The first start of the journey was smooth; the roads were wide and then, very quickly, the roads started getting narrow and curvier. Lesson #1: The initial glory days of starting a company can soon surprise you with curveballs. There are so many firsts during startup years, such as first hires, first social media campaign, first time giving a 60-second commercial. Keep your eye on the goal, and don’t let the narrow roads or curves take you off-guard.

80% of the journey from Kathmandu to Hetuada were on unpaved roads. Imagine driving on gravel roads for more than three hours. Lesson #2: There will be bumps on the road. Don’t complain. Prepare and plan for the journey. Get the right tools for the job (vehicle). Know that bumps will occur and will disappear with time (and experience).

There were several places during our journey where roads were congested. Competition is fierce, and, even if you are first to market, you are at best six months before other startups start offering similar value propositions. Lesson #3: Having a strong sense of direction, strength and perseverance will allow you to navigate the congestion. Have the right people in place to handle difficult tasks (driver in our case). It may at times seem near impossible to get out of the congestion, but, with the right maneuvers, you can come out triumphant.

There are no road systems, or like a DOT (Department of Transportation) in Nepal. and cars, motorbikes, buses, horse carts and other vehicles with wheels will sneak in and pass you. There are times where our car did the same, depending on the opportunity. At times, it may seem others are getting ahead and are succeeding. Lesson #4: Don’t get discouraged – if you are solving the right pain points, have a strong team and present a solution, when the right opportunity arises you will succeed and make a pass. When I started my entrepreneurship journey, my co-founder and I built a product that was a “vitamin,” not a pain-killer. It was when we met an individual in 2016 who shared with us the pain points within the life/annuity industry that he experienced while selling and servicing products in the life insurance sector. Both of us fell in love with the pain points and joined forces through a company called Benekiva. We found the right pain point, a strong team and our solution, which incorporates portion of our initial solution.

See also: The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager

The drivers in Nepal are completely bold. One wrong turn, and you may not exist. Lesson #5: Be fearless. A startup is not like a trip in the Himalayas. Fail and fail fast. A failed startup does not kill you, it makes your stronger. Also, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. If you want a stable and normal life with steady work hours and pay, then it may not be a right fit. If you are a creator and have a fear of mediocrity, then you are in the right club. I recently read a fantastic blog – Fearing Mediocrity from Ryan Hanley, which summarizes my thoughts on being fearless.

There was a place during our journey where we stopped to take a stretch and tea break. Lesson #6: Make sure you recharge. Lori Greiner, from Shark Tank, has a famous quote, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” The statement is so true, and as entrepreneurs you don’t want to experience burnout. My break is this! I’m visiting my family and friends for three weeks, and my responsibilities for Benekiva are handled. I’ve delegated to my co-founder or my staff. I just have to be willing to check in. I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work even though some of my meetings are at 2:00 am or 3:00 am; it doesn’t bother me.

See also: AI Still Needs Business Expertise  

Though the travel is treacherous, and a short distance takes hours, the ride is gorgeous. Tall, beautiful mountains, breathtaking views and an amazing landscape. Lesson #7: Enjoy the journey. You will encounter amazing people, mentors, other like-minded individuals and people who make you think, “Where have you been all my life?” You will get to participate with leaders of industry, attend amazing conferences where knowledge is abundant and work with others to create ideas.

Enjoy the journey, my friends. As Dr. Seuss says in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”:

“You’re off to Great Places!

“Today is your day!

“Your mountain is waiting,

“So… get on your way!”

Thank you for reading this article!

5 Tips to Ensure an Insurtech Fails

You are reading the headline correctly. If you follow these tips, your insurtech will either fail or will be heading toward failure.

#5 – Get too much feedback.

I truly believe that feedback is the breakfast of champions, but, if you are focused too much on customer validation and discovery, you will fail, as you haven’t executed. To avoid analysis paralysis, I recommend doing enough exploration to test your use case. If you are getting five people telling you directionally the same information, then you are good, and it is time to act. Go Execute! If you are getting five people who are telling you totally different things, then revisit or take your hypothesis and break it down.

Also, keep a watch on who is your feedback base. Are you talking to decision makers or industry experts? Remember: Insurance is a very old and broad industry, and change is difficult. Ensure your feedback base is made up of industry personnel who face the pain that you are going to solve or have knowledge of it.

As a serial entrepreneur, I meet folks every day who are an expert in everything. Really? Getting false confirmations from someone you won’t be serving or, on the flip side, someone who doesn’t believe you are addressing a real problem can be dangerous for startups. BEWARE. Learn to let the feedback go in one ear and out the other. Here comes the best tip ever: RUN from such advice. (j/k. Be respectful of everyone and develop a filter.)

#4 – Form an imbalanced team.

If you are a technology company with no tech, you have a problem. If you have a product but lack industry expertise in your team, you have a problem. If you are the type who wants to be in every conversation, not only will I say you have a problem, but your team will have problems. The list can go on and on. Having the right team can make or break an insurtech and requires much TRUST.

See also: The Failures and Successes of Insurtech  

As an insurtech, having the idea and perhaps the technology is fantastic. Having a team that can implement the product in a frictionless way is the key to more clients and more money. Don’t take shortcuts for implementation. Hire the right people: project managers (ensure they have startup experience or come from a Lean/Agile background), DevOps, QA, etc. Also, ensure you either have a team member or a mentor who specializes in change management to ensure smooth implementation.

If you aren’t from the industry (like me), get completely immersed and surround yourself with mentors, go to events such as Insurtech FastTrack from Startupbootcamp, Global Insurance Accelerator, Insurtech Week and NAIC events (especially if you are doing work that affects regulators).

#3 – Bootstrap.

Most startups fail because they run out of cash. Developing a product is one piece of the puzzle, but how to market and sell takes capital: $$$s and resources. There is a lot of testing and strategy within marketing and sales to get the leads that may convert to customers — and I haven’t even touched on customer retention or operations.

It is a great time to be a startup in the insurance industry. There are so many companies that have created a VC arm to their company or are partnering with accelerators to boost startup activity. Some don’t even take equity in your company, like Hartland.

But don’t take fundraising lightly. If you want to sustain, you need to start the process of understanding the investment landscape during the idea stage. Even if you have someone who is interested in funding, you are not going to get a check the next day miraculously. Due diligence takes a long time – anywhere from three to nine months, sometimes longer. Also, finding the right lead investor or VC company is critical. Don’t get desperaten and sign with whomever; be strategic, as you are forming a marriage. Find the partner that aligns with your goals and can open doors with future customers and investors.

#2 – Attend a lot of networking events.

For insurtechs, go to the conferences that will get you exposure. We have been very thrilled with NAIC events as we do have a module that needs regulators’ feedback. Also, Insurtech Rising was the very first conference we attended back in May, and we were grateful for the outcomes. We can’t wait to attend InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas in October.

But have you calculated the time you have spent on your business vs. about your business? (Thanks, Action Coach!) Don’t get me wrong, networking is AWESOME, but if it doesn’t help your company, your clients or you on a personal level (thanks, Brent Williams), you are wasting time. Might as well take a nap or, even better, go work out!

See also: Touching Customers in the Insurtech Era  

#1 – Solving all the world’s problems.

If your product serves everyone, then you will most likely fail if you don’t pivot, focus on a segment or market it correctly. Even Facebook started with a focused audience initially before it took over the world. It is incredible to solve problems for various industries, but go deep into one industry first. Having focus and clarity is critical for startups. As an example, Benekiva as a platform solves problems for any organization that maintains beneficiaries. But, rather than being generic and solving everyone’s issues, we decided to focus on the life insurance industry so we can have pinpoint focus and go deep in the organization.