We tend to think of ideas like innovation and disruption as they relate to the new and exciting thing, and probably less as it might relate to an older, more staid field like insurance. Yet, I have heard from two insurance-related tech companies this year; you can read more about the first here.
It’s hard to argue against the necessity of insurance, or the need to improve both process and results for sellers, agents, and customers alike. I most recently spoke with Mark Tattersall, the Founder & Principal of BackNine Insurance, a company based in Westlake Village CA, seeking to bring life insurance further into the 21st century. Mark relates how his lifetime of experience in the industry shaped the mission of the company, and his experience bringing his sons into the family business.
Mary Juetten: Tell me about your why.
Mark Tattersall: We started BackNine in 2008; by the time I turned fifty, I felt I was on the ‘back nine’ of my career; that I knew everything there was to know about the insurance industry, having worked in the space since my twenties.
But, the one realm that we, as a company, hadn’t yet explored was wholesale life insurance; and the more we learned, the more we came to realize how much untapped potential there was for growth in that sector. So, we pivoted and formed BackNine, and have since developed two proprietary software offerings that have proven to be the digital solution that the industry needs to continue thriving.
As an aside, the name BackNine also pays homage to my affinity for the golf course-– the place I’ve made many a business deal over the years. Forming this company, and bringing in my sons to help us grow (first my eldest, Brett, followed by Reid) was the best business decision I’ve made and has really brought my career full-circle.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Tattersall: When Reid came on board, he (very astutely) pointed out a major market gap in the wholesale life insurance space. As you can imagine, it’s been incredibly antiquated for decades, and people were finally starting to realize that they needed better technology but nothing existed to fill the widening service gap. Both Brett and Reid saw how underserved the market was and set their sights on developing a holistic digital model by which insurance agents could manage and scale their entire sales funnel, 24/7.
Reid first created a CRM called BOSS (Back Office Support System), which has proven to be extremely successful. And now, we use BOSS in tandem with our newest venture, Quote & Apply, wherein property and casualty insurance agents, as well as financial advisors and wealth managers (and anyone selling life insurance, really) can sell policies fast; making what was previously an extremely cumbersome process into a one that’s seamless for both agents and their clients.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Tattersall: We partner with individual life insurance policy sellers and major enterprise clients such as Redtail, a leading CRM in the financial services space, in helping to optimize and scale their sales cycles. We white label our software so they can utilize our e-application and quoting software on their preferred platforms, free of charge.
In terms of how we find our customers, it’s not particularly difficult; people are hungry for a tech-enabled solution in the space. Once Quote & Apply was developed, we began beta testing the platform with agents and wealth managers that were already in our network, which was met with incredible success. We then transitioned into mid-market companies, then to larger-scale enterprise opportunities.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Tattersall: Being in the insurance industry for so long and having worked personally through the original ‘insurance career system,’ I came to realize that life insurance sales haven’t caught up with the times. Consumers want it to be easy to buy life insurance, and for prices to be competitive. My past experience working in the ‘old system’ has helped inform my current understanding of just how crucial it’s been for the sector to be shaken up. In fact, seeing how antiquated the system was, and living it, really necessitated our development Quote & Apply. We saw no other option but to evolve, and to help others do the same.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Tattersall: While I’m the founder, my sons are really the nucleus of this organization. Reid brings the technical expertise around software development, while Brett has really run with the sales component. Apart from the Tattersalls, we’re a company of about 45 people spread across California, Florida, and Colorado. Having team members across different time zones helps us cast an even wider net, which is essential, particularly given the recent shift to a virtual workforce.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Tattersall: We’re currently privately funded, but entertaining the notion of seeking outside investment with the potential for a raise in the near future.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Tattersall: Mark Benioff’s journey in building Salesforce has always served as an incredible inspiration for me. He started Salesforce out of an apartment and iterated his concept into what ultimately sparked a multi-billion dollar industry. His book, Behind the Cloud, is such a lesson in perseverance that I think is a worthwhile read for any founder or entrepreneur.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Tattersall: When you’re talking about sales, people are predominantly focused on the bottom line. But, to me, it really comes back to tapping into an underserved market. I’ve always said that all insurance policy sellers have a fiduciary duty to provide a life insurance policy to their clients, and historically, that has not been easy for them to do. Now, with Quote & Apply, we can bridge this gap and really change the lives of not only those selling life insurance, but the customers they serve.
I love this business because life insurance gets people through the most challenging times of their lives: illness, accidents, loss, and grief. Without it, these life experiences become inherently more painful and stressful than they already are. So, our ability to make an impact in this realm, for those on the business and consumer side, is really how I’d measure our success.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Tattersall: It is imperative to have access to lines of cash flow and credit. Good borrowing power is everything. If you don’t have two or three layers of protection, you’re at risk of going under; and the team you’ve committed to––your employees with kids, or a car payment, or a mortgage––will be out of work. That, and being 100 percent committed to your vision; that’s essential.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Tattersall: Our long-term vision is to become the go-to player in the U.S. for digital life insurance sales technology. The strides we’ve made and interest we’ve received up until this point has been remarkable, and I’m anticipating an acceleration of this growth in 2021 and beyond.
Thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions. Hopefully his answers illustrate the possibility and need for innovation in any and every industry. #onwards.