Mallery Grimm is a Product Group Lead at Root Insurance, a car insurance company creating powerful insurance products and technology platforms that rewrite the rules for today’s world, promoting fairness, simplicity, and personalization. Mallery was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Mallery, how important is speed to market as insurers strive to implement fresh ideas that improve the customer experience?
“In my opinion, speed to market is incredibly important. Especially in the last decade, technology and innovation has changed the world around us, and the customer needs are changing way faster than the insurance industry has ever had to adapt before. For the slower insurance companies that fail to adapt and fail to pick up their pace, it means missed opportunities, but probably far more important, for their customers, it creates gaps in coverage that they don't fully understand.
My favorite part about tech startups and innovation culture is the flexibility that we have. We can pivot our product roadmaps to act quickly when new unmet needs surface. Even at a company of Root’s scale, it's not uncommon for us to uncover a need and go through the entire discovery, ideation, design and MVP implementation cycle in three to six months, which is something that I love being a part of. It makes sure that we're always working on the highest priority problems, no matter what they are.”
Has this focus on exploration been a fundamental shift for insurance or is that something the industry has always been trying to do?
“I think it has been a bit of a fundamental shift to focus on discovery and strive for change. By its nature, the traditional insurance industry can be very conservative, really trying to protect their profitability and loss experience. I think what we're seeing in the auto insurance space, people's needs are shifting all the time. People are rideshare drivers, delivery drivers, they can rent their car out for car sharing. The whole gig economy has just changed the game, and if you're going to exclude those people and those coverages, you're alienating a huge part of the population. It's those insurance carriers that have shifted to be more exploratory in the insurtech space and have shifted to be more customer-first focused that are best positioned moving forward.”
As newer insurers take advantage of speed to market and grow, how do they retain a culture and operational workflow centered around this agility?
“You have to build a culture of accountability and ownership from the ground up. In my opinion, it's not just leaders and overall teams that have OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). You have to develop those for an individual product team, and make the product team feel like they own it. They're going to have an impact, and it's something they can be excited about. Personally, as a leader, I actually think it works best when you ask the product managers and the product teams to even develop their own OKRs. We want to push them to be aggressive; they're the subject matter experts. They're the boots on the ground people that know what the problems are and know what it takes to solve them. In my mind, they're the best equipped to tell me and the company, ‘this is what we think we can accomplish in this amount of time.’
It also has to not just be viewed as a product-owned thing. Product managers should be working hand-in-hand with their analytics and engineering partners from start to finish. Product managers by themselves cannot make the company successful. It's critically important that our partners don't feel like they're just taking orders from us, but they’re just as accountable for the objectives and key results at the team level and really understand the why behind what they're doing.”
How do you attempt to measure the value of any one idea versus another in order to determine how the team spends their time planning?
“I think the first step is really understanding what KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are most important to the business right now. We have a six month planning cycle, but different lengths of time work better for different companies. The gist is still the same; you have to take a hard look at all of the KPIs. It's so important for us to be keyed in on the overall company strategy and financial forecast to know, ‘Hey, this is actually where we need to move the needle the most.’ It's important to frequently reevaluate that because business needs change, and the economy changes. We have to be nimble in terms of what KPIs we use to stack and rank our roadmap.
I love an idea that both improves profitability and is going to grow us as a business and meet customer needs. But, the reality of the situation is oftentimes those metrics can work against each other, and we have to be eyes wide open to that and understand which side of the equation is most important to the organization at any given time.”
What kind of pressure does your product team feel to succeed on every idea, and where is there room and understanding around the possibility that your exploration may end in failure?
“I view insurance more as a risk management industry than risk averse. It's like a faucet; there are times when your risk appetite is really loose, and you're accepting new, unknown risks. There are certainly times where you have to kind of tighten up that faucet and make those decisions, but that's a very fluid thing in the insurance industry. You don't know if it's a good or bad risk until you actually open up the floodgates and let those policies come.
I feel like in insurance and any organization, creating a culture where people feel comfortable failing is critical to fast product iteration. It's hands down the best way to learn. If people are afraid to fail, they get stuck in this analysis paralysis land where they're spending an exorbitant amount of time researching an idea and trying to make it perfect. Your product team is much better off and more efficient at the end of the day shipping a minimum viable product they can feel good about. We know that there are enhancements, and we know there are opportunities for improvement. You can prioritize those enhancements and improvements much more effectively if you're actually looking at real world results.
Even if the feedback is negative, you have to be ready for that. To me, that's not a failure, that's a success because, ‘Hey, we put a hypothesis out there. We figured out it didn't work. Hopefully, we learned something, we can go back to the drawing board, fix it and we're wiser than we were yesterday.’ That's the fast-paced, agile product development cycle that I think makes companies like Root and other insurtechs successful by enabling that speed to market.”
From a product perspective, is there anything about managing growth and product roadmaps that is either an ancillary tale or kind of a best practice that you feel really passionate about that you want to close with?
“There are two things that I love about product development. One, you have to be nimble. You have to be open to new ideas. We definitely don't want to get into the place where we close our ears. I think that's where a lot of companies fall short is if they have such rigid planning cycles.
The other thing that is super important is collaboration. Product managers alone are not enough. Everyone should feel like they have a seat at the table, and they have a voice from start to finish. They're just as invested in why we're doing what we do and understanding the value of their work. I think that makes a more engaged employee, when everyone understands the value of what they do and they're bought into the mission.”