In the big scheme of things, commercial insurance is one of the tasks that companies recognize as necessary, but getting it is often a slow and painful process. And as a business owner, that can be frustrating, as it seems a quite straightforward process. I was recently introduced to Ilya Bodner, Co-Founder of Bold Penguin, located in Columbus, Ohio. Bold Penguin was started in 2016 and provides an example of industry disruption from within, similar to some of the legal startups profiled here.
Mary Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Ilya Bodner: On average, it takes 20 weeks to generate a commercial insurance quote. Bold Penguin cuts this time down to days, even hours! At Bold Penguin, we’ve developed a technology that streamlines the quote to bind process in commercial insurance. We’ve built a highly efficient commercial insurance exchange that connects businesses, agents, and carriers to match the right quote in record time.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Bodner: We have two sets of customers: Large brokerages/insurance agencies and insurance companies, often referred to as carriers in the industry.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Bodner: I was an insurance agent when I started out and was able to learn about insurance from the ground up. I was also fortunate enough to be a part of a number of startups that focused on different technical aspects of insurance, and through those initiatives, it became apparent to me that commercial insurance is an area where someone with my skillset could have the most impact.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Bodner: I am joined by Ben Clarke, Co-Founder and CTO, a genetics major by background and one of the best technologists I’ve ever met; Seth Metcalf, CFO/General Counsel, previously the Deputy State Treasurer for Ohio; Mark Hara, COO, previously at Nationwide Insurance as SVP, and Frank Lamantia, SVP of Engineering, previously CTO of a highly funded healthcare startup.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Bodner: In the startup world, experiences are heightened on all points of the spectrum. The lows are low, and the highs are high, and often times you experience the spectrum on less of a line and more of a wheel, with the highest of highs and lowest of lows hitting you all at once. You may hear that you lost a big bid right as you hear that a current client gave a glowing review, or that during your lunch break a superstar employee joined minutes apart from something going wrong with your recent production deployment.
I suppose my favorite story is the story of startups as a whole – knowing that you are on this roller coaster ride that energizes you and drains you all at once, but knowing that you’re building something bigger than you that solves a real-world problem. As corny as that may sound, each day has so many moments that it’s hard to choose the best one.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Bodner: I once heard an old African proverb that has stuck with me. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Success is the ability for a team to be able to execute together and the way we measure success is our ability to ship a product out, launch a partnership, bring a program to life, and so on. The ability to constantly improve the speed of output together as a team.
My favorite success story about Bold Penguin was one night, before a conference, where we had a major product release announcement happening. The team gathered around in a hotel room (with the rest of the team dialed in via phone back at HQ), and together we performed a series of tests to launch a new product. It was that night that I realized this is what success is because we experience the thrills of solving problems together.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Bodner: Being a startup founder is not for the faint of heart. One must endure a lot and keep his or her composure. There are many books, videos, courses, and publications on being a successful founder and leader. One of my favorite tips for other early-stage founders is to be mission-focused or mission-driven. It is too easy to get lost in the work, and by having a north star, one can always look up and remember what you’re doing all of this for.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for Bold Penguin?
Bodner: We are on a mission to cut the friction out of commercial insurance. Today the process can take weeks, and as a result, many parties (on both sides, the brokers and the carriers) have a tough time writing small commercial profitably. Bold Penguin is reducing the time it takes to go from quote to bind. And each and every day, the time duration improves. One day, Bold Penguin will become synonymous with commercial insurance.
Thank you, Ilya. This story is also a reminder to everyone that runs a business to make sure that you have a proper corporate entity formed, either LLC or corporation, and to purchase the appropriate commercial insurance. Otherwise, you are risking your business and personal assets. #onwards