Don’t Get Caught Naked
Transcript: Benji Markoff: Live right? Nam Le: It is live indeed. Benji Markoff: So, should I not curse or? Nam Le: You can curse. Benji Markoff: Okay. Nam Le: This is not PG rated. All right, let's get set up here. All right, welcome back everyone to this week's founder sessions hosted by Nomad Financial. My name is Nam Le, I'm on the strategy team here at Nomad and joining me this evening is Benji Markoff founder and CEO of Founder Shield. So we're running a little late, so we'll just go ahead and jump right into it. Benji, thanks for joining me this evening. Benji Markoff: My pleasure. Nam Le: Yeah, so will you kind of just tell us a little about yourself, you know, your background, and how you got to starting Founder Shield. Benji Markoff: Yeah, kind of take it a little high level. Originally I was working in Accounting. It was not for me. Absolutely hated it, and so I jump ship. Joined a startup, super early stage kind of running BD and Sales over there, and through that process, you know, tier process of working on the tech and building the sales pipeline and kind of learning a bunch of different hats. One of them being buying insurance. Kind of went through the process, the painful process of purchasing commercial insurance for our company, and kind of logged that in my mind, as ... You know, just move forward with the job at hand, and then once that job was winding down started ... You know, I was talking to Mark Davis about, you know, new potential opportunities, new things that we were thinking about, you know, where can we be disruptive in the startup space, and the kind of area that we focused on was insurance, and so the goal and the idea behind Founder Shield was to create a tech enabled insurance brokerage. Focusing specifically on high growth venture back type companies and solving 2 issues. Number 1, creating a seamless and Intuitive process around purchasing and managing insurance, and number 2, help people understand what the fuck they were buying. Nam Le: Right. Benji Markoff: I mean, it was ... It boggled my mind that there was just, you know ... The industry as a whole, relied on misinformation and lack of information in order to put fear in the buyer, and we kind of tried to focus on full education and helping our clients really understand the industry and the different economics associated with insurance and risk mitigation, and that meant like deploying a really content heavy strategy and blog to really focus on that educational piece. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And the end goal is to really create consumers who are not just buying insurance because they're required by a contract, or they're required by their investors to buy it. They're buying insurance because they see it as a value added and a good investment for their business and for the long-term growth of their company. Nam Le: Yeah. Yeah. THat's great. And then so ... Personally for you, I know you work with a lot of startup companies, what is it about that startup and tech community that really tracked you to the space? Benji Markoff: I mean, I think it's just that it's the innovation. I mean, it's really cool to be able to make money off of selling a product to an industry that is constantly evolving changing and innovating. I mean it's truly inspiring. And with the types of companies we work with are companies that are curing diseases that haven't been cured. Are fixing social and economic issues. Companies that are doing stuff in the robotic space, in the drone space, stuff in the medical space. Really companies that are kind of pushing the boundaries of innovation, and what's cool about insurance, is you really get to kind of dive under the hood, and get an incredible understanding and a big picture idea of what these companies are doing and what their goals are, you know, not just for the next year, but for the next 5 to 10 years. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And that's really exciting. Nam Le: Now ... Sorry, let me fix this screen here real quick. So, let's focus on your specialty. Let's turn our attention to insurance. So, I know you kind of touched on it a little bit. The different types of companies, are you guys focused on any specific industry or can you just talk about, you know the type of clients you work with ... Benji Markoff: Yeah, I mean, we're for the most part industry agnostic. We have a lot of kind of expertise in different industries, whether that's robotics, on demand services, market places, crypto, or your standard kind of run of the mill e-commerce business or manufacturing businesses. What we do focus on, and the types of clients that we really focus on servicing are companies that are not stagnant, that have a fear of being stagnant, that are really focused on massive growth in a very short period of time, and part of the reason for that is, as companies scale and grow, we're taling about companies that might be 10 employees and in a year from now might be 100 employees ... Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Their operations are constantly influx interchanging and their risk is constantly evolving, right? And so, we're kind of that focal point, helping them understand how they're risk is going to evolve over time, and helping the insurance industry understand not only where their business is today, but where their business is going to be. One thing that we really, we saw a real problem that we focus on solving early on was that the insurance industry as a whole, I'm talking about like carriers, insurance underwriters, couldn't understand the value of working on insuring these smaller companies, right? And they had a lot of kind of wrong or incorrect assumptions about the industry as a whole, that led the insurance industry to kind of ignoring these types of companies, and creating kind of price points that didn't necessarily mash up with their risk exposure, and so other than kind of focusing on educating from an insuarance standpoint, we spend a lot of time educating the insurance community helping them understand the massive potential of these types of companies, and it's crazy, but even companies like Uber or Facebook had a hard time getting insurance early on. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And I am sure those insurance carriers are you know, kicking themselves 'cause of the massive opportunity that they just gave up on, and the reason was, they were just, they were misinformed about where those companies could go, right? And what that technology meant from a risk mitigation standpoint and from an insurance standpoint, and so, we try and bridge that gap. Nam Le: Now, so, what ... Sounds like ... So educating both sides of it. So what, for founders that are kind of like looking to better understand the insurance space, you know, what type of questions should they be asking themselves when they're thinking about coverage or you know, making sure their needs are met? Benji Markoff: Yeah, you know, you can ... There's a laundry list of questions that you could ask. To keep it super simple, being a founder myself, I asked myself the same questions. The first question you have to ask is, if my business was ripped away from me tomorrow, right? What type of, like net financial loss or impact would that have on me personally and the people working on this project, right? And, if the answer is that it's significant, right? And if you're working on a company and you're putting your blood, sweat, and tears on it, it should be significant. Then that means there's value in that company. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Right? And, when there's value in a company, that means there's an insurable risk, right? And so, that's kind of the starting point to understand like, yeah, I should probably get insurance. You know, it's ... People don't ask this question when they buy a house or buy a car because it's physical, it's right there and you know, if you bought a house, you wouldn't ask, should I buy insurance 'cause you knew that, you know that if some sort of catastrophic event happens, and in this day and age, they're happening more and more frequently, but flood, earthquake, you know, hail, whatever it may be, fire, that could completely kind of destroy my investment, and that house, it's not even a question. It's like, of course I need to get this insurance. And then you start asking yourself, from a business standpoint, what are the types of things that could happen right? So, if I'm collecting data about my customers, right? Nomad Financial is collecting super sensitive data information about their customers from a tax standpoint, from an accounting standpoint, all the different type of CFO work that you guys do. Super sensitive data, and then you ask yourself, well, what if that data got in the wrong hands, right? And if the answer is yeah, that would be bad for our business, then you should explore insurance for those concerns, right? You know, a lot of times a lot of insurance is initially purchased because they're contractual requirements, but if you think like, you know, if you are a B to B company, B to B service company, you're providing a service to another business. What happens if, and especially as you scale and grow, you can't necesarillly control every lever and every individual on your team. What happens if someone on my team makes a false promise to a client, right? Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Or says our product is going to solve x and it doesn't solve x, right? Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: What type of potential financial impact could that have on that client, right? And then you think about kind of the litigious nature of business in general, specifically in the US, and you should ask yourself, like, is there a chance that someone can bring a lawsuit my way, right? Maybe that lawsuit's frivolous, but at the end of the day that doesn't really matter because you have to defend yourself, right? Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And cost to defend is, you know, increasing every year. Legal costs are increasing and so, you know, the question is, do you want to pay that out of pocket, can you pay that out of pocket? Or can you make an investment in an insurance product that's going to protect you against the downside there. Nam Le: Yeah. Now, continuing on that kind of like education piece, I know like you mentioned earlier, a lot of people think that insurance is more of like a contractual, how can you leverage, you know, insurance in maybe strategically, discussing more of the strategic approach here. How do you kind of educate a lot of your clients on that? Benji Markoff: Yeah, so I think we have kind of 2 ways in which we do it really well right now, and we're constantly trying to figure out new ways to do that 'cause I think education is such an important piece. So our content strategy is kind of the one in which we had the most success on so far, and that's really about having a constant stream of new blog posts, guest blog posts, information that we put out online that is really targeted to very specific customers with very specific questions and needs. And only thing that we kind of saw in the space that we, that kind of upset us, was that any information you can find when you're doing research on insurance or insurance products, it's like asking a lawyer a question right? You can't get the actual definitive answer right? Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: You get a roundabout answer that read it, and then you kind of are more confused and so we're try to take the approach of being super direct and very specific and kind of speaking in language that people can understand and digest, and that's been super helpful. The other component is, when our clients ... We have our own internal, or external client portal that our clients go and interact in order to be able to put information out there, you know, so that we can go out and get quotes for them. That whole online portal has kind of educational tool and widgets as well, right? So, you know, you're asked a specific question, you can hover over it and it'll tell you why we're asking that question. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Right? So, you don't just go through the process and you're like, you know, "I spent a half an hour on this, but I don't really know why," and I think when you educate someone beforehand or during that process, they don't come out of it with a negative experience. They come out of it understanding like, "okay, yeah, it might've taken some time, but I get why they've asked those questions, right? And I feel better about the time I'm investing in this because it makes sense." You know, you go to a doctor and the doctor a bunch of medical questions, you're not sitting in there thinking, why am I wasting my time with these questions. Right? It's clear as to why those questions are needed to be asked, and it's the ... We try and take the same type of approach here. Nam Le: So those take aways are pretty key for those clients, which is part of, again, part of the educational piece. So let's circle around and let's talk about you as a founder in the start up community, you know, given that founders kind of like wear a lot of hats, you talked about earlier, you know, that's kind of how you got started into, you know, down this route. You know, how do you manage your time? How do you, you know, really try to maximize your energy and your time with projects and stuff like that during the week? Benji Markoff: Yeah, I mean time management is, I think will always be a struggle for me. It's something I constantly have to work on, but I find that, you know, as our company is continuing to scale and grow and we'll probably double our team size in the next 12 months ... Nam Le: Congratulations, that's exciting. Benji Markoff: Yeah, you know it's exciting and it adds a lot of extra kind of layers to you know, where my time should be spent. It's really ... I really try and focus on really figuring out kind of where I can provide the most value. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And spend my time on that. A lot of it comes down to, you know, putting up a 2x2 and understanding kind of, you know, what my cost of time is, my time value of money associated with specific tasks, and kind of prioritizing things accordingly. But then there are things that it's a little bit harder to put a dollar amount on, but I know and we stress of like, that are like of the highest importance and significance. So things like being involved on a day to day with each individual and helping them, helping each employee wherever they need help right? And that kind of really is part of our culture strategy, and so I find that as CEO, one of my main responsibilities is enhancing the culture of our team. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And so a lot of times it's things like, you know, understand that certain employee is going through some sort of struggle outside of work, right? And kind of being there for that person, help them understand, taking them out to lunch, or you know, just being there for different people. We really try and treat our company like a family. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And that means that, like in a family, everyone's wearing every hat, right? All the time right? Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And so, you know, it's important for me to kind of do that as well, but from a prioritization standpoint, I'm very much into to do lists. So, I have different to do list for different kind of areas or components of my business. There are specific people on our team that report directly to me and then I have like sub lists and sub tasks for each one of them, try and do at least 1 or 2 on the calendar, face to face meetings with each one of these people and kind of go through those checklists and kind of get progress on those to do's during the week, but you know, as your company scales and grows, for me, having checklists and to do lists associated with different people and different kind of areas of our business has been super critical for me. Nam Le: You touched on a little bit in terms of culture, and that's so key obviously for a small business, you know, having some sort of like solid foundation there. Can you give us a quick snapshot of the Founder Shield culture? Benji Markoff: Yeah, I've heard it described in a few different ways. It's ... We're definitely a loud group of people, but I think it all boils down to ... From an outside perspective, we're looked at kind of maybe loud, a little boisterous, but internally, I think what kind of keeps it all together, is love, and what I mean by that, without getting too cheesy, I think that we try and like instill, from a culture standpoint, a group of people who really care for each other. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Both inside of work and outside, in a way I like to think that it is ... You know, people kind of throw around the term, the idea of work/life balance ... Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: ... And at Founder Shield we really try and steer away from that. I think at this day and age there's no such thing as that, and so we really try and focus on instead is having a culture at work that enhances your life and feeding into your life in a way that enhances your work. So we want people to have an incredible time outside of work both with employees without, girlfriends, wives, boyfriends, whoever, but we want that positive energy to be brought back into work. We want people to leave work not feeling, "ah man, thank God it's 5:30, gotta clock out right now." It's more like, you know, they're leaving work and they're feeling energized and they're feeling excited because maybe they learned something they didn't learn that day. Maybe they helped out another employee in a way that they didn't think they could be helpful and/or useful in, and maybe closing a deal they didn't think they could get done, but really creating that ... Utilizing work as a way to enhance your life and kind of give that positive energy to everything else you're doing. Nam Le: That's amazing. That's amazing to hear. So, what keeps you up at night Benji? Benji Markoff: Other than my kid? What keeps me up at night? I think culture specifically. I personally love coming to the office and being part of this team that we've created every single day. I miss it when I'm not here and the biggest fear I have is probably around, you know, when we're 60 people, when we're 100 people or 200 people, I can't know everyone, right? I can't have that, you know ... It's at a certain point, it's not scalable to have that really close relationship and understanding with each individual. And that scares me. You know, we're trying to kind of systematize things so that, that culture can be scalable, and so thinking about that and thinking about, you know, what things do we need to do and change in order to make that happen? Definitely keeps me up. I'm still a sales person through and through, so certain deals keep me up. We have pretty aggressive sales metrics for our team and you know, if someone's not hitting their individual goals, if the team's not hitting their goal, you know, it keeps me up at night to try and figure like what I'm doing wrong or what I should be doing in order to help that person kit their goals. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: You know, I guess I kind of have, for better or worse, personality in which I always try and think or assume that there's something I'm not doing and that's the reason why a specific person is struggling. So I try and take it all on internally first and you know, we have a good, a really strong group of people, board members, and kind of people involved in the business that help me with part of that, but yeah, those are kind of the main things. Nam Le: Yeah. Now, just to kind of wrap it up I guess. So, for founders out there who are like tuning in or following up on this video later, you know ... Benji Markoff: Yes. Nam Le: ... What are the ... Let's say, will you give us a few pieces of advice for them, if they're ... When they're thinking about starting and like running a business, what are the key pieces there for you, that's helped you really along the way, I know there are tons of them ... Benji Markoff: I'm so bad at advice 'cause I find all advice to be like advice can be good, but like, the most advice that people get is like kind of like bullshit. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: You're just like, ah yeah, of course, you gotta like work hard. But ... Nam Le: You can be candid, you can be ... Benji Markoff: Yeah, no, but ... And advice that I give, is not necessarily gonna be the right advice for everyone. I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who are supplements to you, people who kind of fill the gaps and the voids in which you kind of lack certain things or certain qualities or certain skillsets. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: So I guess recognizing what you're good and what you're really shitty at, is really important. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: I mean, I got super, like my first hire, who's now co-founder of the business, Carl, you know, I understood early on, and that was kind of like through a mentor, like what I'm really good at, what I should be focusing my time on and what stuff is a shit show if I'm handling it. Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: And, you know, we hired based off of those things, and that's made my life less stressful and my life easier, and it's helped our company really grow and scale. The other thing is, I think early on, as an entrepreneur or founder, you don't realize kind of the emotional rollercoaster that you're putting yourself through, and there's constant doubt, not necessarily about the business, but maybe about your personal doubt about yourself, can I do this, or am I hiring the right person, and I think, you know, advice there is just let it roll. Like, ride with it, like, enjoy the rollercoaster because every single like entrepreneur experiences it. From the most notable and grace entrepreneurs out there to the ones that have failed 10 times over. They experience the same type of emotional rollercoaster and I think you just have to hug it and embrace it, and know like yeah, like, there's certain days where I'm gonna feel like ... Nam Le: A little nauseous maybe? Benji Markoff: Nauseous or fragile or just like what the fuck did I get myself into? And you know, take a step back and what I like to do is you know, any concerns or stresses that I'm having, try and think about, what were the stresses that I was having 6 months ago, and am I having the same stresses now, and the stresses that I'm having now, I couldn't even imagine I would have those stresses 6 months ago. Like I remember we ... We're working this really big deal, a 7 figure deal, like on of the biggest deals in our company's history and it was going okay, and I was worried about that it might not close, and you know, there were certain things that we didn't know the answers to and you know, I was talking to Carl, and I was like, "you know what's funny is a year ago, I wouldn't even imagine or think that like I could even get stressed about a company this big trying to ... Like thinking about working with us 'cause I didn't think that was a possibility." Nam Le: Yeah. Benji Markoff: Right? So instead of like freaking out about it, I'm like, "oh, we're probably making progress here being as our stresses now are on such a grander and bigger scale than they were a year ago." Nam Le: That's perspective I guess is what ... Benji Markoff: Yeah, I mean look ... Nam Le: Really helps out ... Benji Markoff: ... When people ... Someone goes from a sales role to a, you know, VP sales role, and then they're Chief Revenue Officer, right? I mean, your stresses as a CRO are gonna be so different than your stresses as a sales person, and those stresses might be bigger and have more like financial implications, but you take a step back and be like, "wait a second, 5 years ago, I was worried about closing a deal, now I'm worried about like, hitting 50 million for my company this quarter." Right? I mean it's like, yeah this ... It's still ... It's a stress and it's a big stress, but you kind of say like, "I now gotta own that stress." Nam Le: Yeah. No that's, that's great, I mean that's part ... All part of being, you know, the startup community, like in very high growth kind of environment, so you kind of definitely have to kind of embrace it like you said. Benji Markoff: Yeah. Nam Le: And I think that's about all the time we have so thank you everyone for joining us, again, this is Benji, founder and CEO of Founder Shield, if you guys are looking for insurance, you can go to their website Foundershield.com, pretty straight forward ... Benji Markoff: Simple as that. Nam Le: And so, we'll catch you again next week on Wednesday at 5:30, and if you want to see this video again, we have it on YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn, so we'll see you again next week. Benji Markoff: Thank you.