Katherine (Kat) Ternes spent more than two years with insurtech start-up AgencyZoom, a sales, marketing and service automation solution for Insurance Agencies that want modern, easy-to-use software to help streamline their employees' days and provide a consistent customer experience. AgencyZoom was acquired by Vertafore in 2021 and Kat is Director, Sales at Vertafore. Kat was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and COO at LISA Insurtech.
AgencyZoom is hyper-focused on agents, so let’s kick it off by tapping into your expertise. What trends are you seeing in the agency tech space?
“I'm seeing more and more agencies focused on service, and that's really interesting. Before COVID, we'd been in the sales space, focusing on making a sales process consistent from one customer to the next. We're seeing now people are doubling down on maintaining a great relationship with the customer and going above and beyond. People are being more protective; they're building up bigger, stronger walls and having greater consistency within those walls. That's interesting to see, while still providing accessibility to customers. I think because people had a different perception on what working hours are both for the end insured and an agency, how we conduct business changed.
If I suddenly wanted to do something at six o'clock that might be okay; my agent might be available. They may have started later today because they're working from home or things of that nature. We saw having an ability to access your local agency and a way to interact with someone local was important. People wanted somebody who was going through what their community was going through, and they wanted them at all hours of the day. Agencies learned quickly how to provide and protect that.”
Partnerships can make or break a startup. What makes a good partner? What value is there in partnerships?
“Finding a good partner early is a little weird, but in a positive way. You could have partners show up that feel like they're going to put a lot of effort in, but if they put a lot of effort into the wrong direction, that's certainly not going to help you. If somebody's running the wrong way as a little startup, some huge company running the wrong way can be very exhausting for you to keep up with in the wrong way.
Before we had experience in finding partners, we were fortunate to stumble across Vertafore. Vertafore was committed to the independent space, and we decided to focus on our independent agency solutions and how we support them.
Vertafore’s already there. They have three market-friendly and accessible agency management systems. They have phenomenal accounting and process management as well as data intelligence tools. In assessing a partner there, it felt like we could partner on one product in their portfolio. Even if we had made a little bit of a mistake there, we still had a really good company that had other portions of their portfolio that we also would aspire to partner with. When I think of a good partner, it's taking a calculated risk because if you're going to show up, put forth that effort and manage that partnership in a deliberate way, it takes a lot of time. For us, that calculated risk was keeping a wider net with a big company, like Vertafore, but being certain that that net covered a vast amount of users and potential clients for us.
When we first started the conversation with Vertafore around acquisition, we were just finishing one of our early integrations with the Vertafore product QQCatalyst, so we had just grown so much overnight and were becoming more and more aware that we needed to grow to the next level. At that point, we had thousands of agencies across the country, all of our founders were full-time, and we grew into a crazy amount of business units and departments in less than two years.”
You've been involved in a number of startups in Columbus and outside. What's the experience like, and what are you experiencing with Vertafore in the Denver startup ecosystem?
“All of the startups I’ve been with have been acquired, but this is the first one where I've stayed on. We got excited about Denver because we believed it was going to be so much like Columbus. Now that we're a couple months into this process, we're starting to see that there are similarities, but there's learning for each company. Vertafore is learning more and more about the insurtech ecosystem that is uniquely Columbus.
In Columbus, we have insurtechs that are actual carriers themselves, a wholesale MGA environment and consumer-focused products. Vertafore’s seeing Columbus’ full channel experience, while we're seeing a lot more around culture and talent, not just being a resume. Vertafore does a really great job, and I think because of Denver being a bigger startup city, even they do a really good job looking thoroughly at a candidate's history, helping them explore what Vertafore means and be extremely present in their community. AgencyZoom granted much of it because we grew during COVID, but we weren't super present in the insurtech space. We were a quiet player that didn't have any funding, so we weren't on the map the same way.
Vertafore is so active in the Denver tech space, the startup space and their communities. Seeing that come around as a type of culture and as a model to attract talent. Vertafore is teaching us what it's like in Denver to have a brand, have a culture that's public, but also bring in a wide variety of expertise in talent.”
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