“Nobody cares about your business as much as you do.” — That’s the truth, people may tell you they do but their actions may sometimes prove different. It is really important to surround yourself with good people, like-minded business people. At times I’ve hung onto some employees for too long, knowing that they didn’t have my best interest at heart, or the company’s. I’ve had to learn how to let go of people who hurt our progress more than help it.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bliss Landon, Insurance Specialist and Founder & CEO of U-PIC and School Device Coverage.
Bliss Landon is a longtime Insurance Specialist and the Founder, President, and CEO of U-PIC Insurance Services, Inc., where she provides leadership and direction to her senior management team, and dictates the overall culture of the organization.
Since 1989, Bliss has been dedicated to providing low cost shipping insurance to individuals and businesses. She understands the need for peace of mind when it comes to shipping valuable items, as well as getting claims processed quickly if any items are damaged. To her, people aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Bliss has more than 30 years of experience leading teams in sales, marketing, and customer support. Her leadership has contributed significantly to the explosive growth of U-PIC in the eCommerce and educational technology sectors. She played a key role in creating partnerships and alliances with organizations like the United States Postal Service, Amazon, DHL eCommerce, and more.
Having provided coverage for over 25 years to individual sellers, small businesses, and to some of the largest most well-known companies in the world, Bliss and U-PIC launched School Device Coverage, which provides school districts’ and families’ at-home devices protection against accidental damage, broken screens, charging failure, electrical failure, loss, theft, vandalism, and more. Bliss knows students study hard and play harder. Considering teens and young people are constantly on the go with their devices, accidents are bound to happen. School Device Coverage offers peace of mind against loss, damage or theft of those devices while they are in possession of students.
Additionally, Bliss is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization, and the Parcel Shipping Organization. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My dad, Marv Landon, was in the logistics business. He implemented 3rd party logistics programs for large volume customers. One example — oil companies. Oil companies ship mass amounts of water and look to third party logistics companies to help them move it from point A to point B. Through that business, he began to get involved in small package deliveries.
At that time, there was only one company that provided third-party shipping insurance to large volume shippers who used FedEx and UPS. My dad was able to obtain an insurance policy from a freight broker he knew, and created a competitive product to introduce to the market, through the new company, U-PIC Insurance Services, Inc. He had everything in place, but nobody to sell it. That’s when he hired me, and tasked me with figuring out how to get this new product off the ground. I spent quite a bit of time researching the product, the market, and everything else in our ecosystem and found an association that produced shipping industry trade shows.
I put together some graphics for an old felt trade show booth my dad’s company had in storage, and started exhibiting at shows all over the country.
I was 22, had just graduated university, and had zero commitments. I hit the road full speed ahead and have never looked back!
When this began there was no doubt that the chips were stacked against me. I was young and fearless, and going up against an old boys club. The competitor we had was made up of very seasoned older men who cornered the small package third-party insurance market for as long as I had been alive at that point. They were not happy about their new competition! Actually, they wouldn’t even get on an elevator with me should we need one at the same time. It was ridiculous, and it was definitely a new experience for me, but I thrived on the competition and worked my ass off!
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Flashback to our start — generally speaking, shippers interested in insuring or protecting their deliveries in transit utilized products offered directly by shipping carriers, but they could sometimes be cost-prohibitive, leaving a lot of companies to roll the dice and hope that nothing is lost or damaged while en route to the customer. The introduction of the U-PIC Shipping Insurance product brought to market a solution that not only increased their levels of coverage and protection, but reduced the time and headaches normally associated with carrier claims processing, and did so at rates between 50% and 90% less than what they were used to spending.
Introducing a product that revolutionized the way shippers looked at protecting their parcels was certainly disruptive, and spawned a mini industry around it. Today we enjoy partnerships with some of the largest shipping carriers and eCommerce platforms in the world…all because we offer a superior product, and the fantastic service needed to back it up. Some of these household names have included our insurance product as a native offering within their platforms, for shippers and sellers to use.
Fast forward to 2014, and a new insurance opportunity fell in my lap. Around this time, school districts across the nation began looking at ways of getting tech devices deployed to students to be used for school work and lessons. It’s called 1:1 computing, educational technology, etc. One of my employees and a girlfriend since childhood, was approached at a cocktail party and was asked by the superintendent of a local school district if we provided insurance solutions for those devices since they were in the middle of rolling out a 1:1 program. As most of us with children know, an iPad or a Chromebook in the hands of a K-12 student is likely to sustain some kind of damage. There have been quite a few school districts from coast to coast that have suffered severe financial hits by deploying devices without any form of protection. Even worse, sometimes the parents are held responsible for the replacement cost of a device, and that cost could be several hundred dollars or more.
After considerable planning, we launched School Device Coverage, U-PIC’s educational technology device insurance division. This coverage is a game changer for school districts. Manufacturers all provide at least one year of coverage in a limited warranty…but that usually only covers manufacturer defects. How often does your new device stop working within the first year? Not often, you’re probably safe, and will not have to use the warranty. Now…how often have you dropped your iPhone, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, tablet, etc. Daily? Weekly maybe, if you’re really careful.
Like when we entered the shipping insurance business, the device insurance market was and is to this day still mostly a virgin market. We’re introducing a solution that saves school districts tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year while delivering a full spectrum program that removes the responsibility and heavy lifting from the district. We assessed the market, looked at what school districts were doing, and designed a program that works better and costs less…and makes our customer’s lives easier at the same time, all while saving parents from unexpected penalties if their children damage or lose a device.
In my mind, disruption is about taking something out of the status quo, and making it better and less expensive. When that is achieved, you bring it to market with the wind in your sails. That’s how you shake things up and leave your mark.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ok, this one is a bit embarrassing, hindsight being 20/20. One of the first things I did was put together a newsletter. Whether it was because I didn’t want to spend the money or I thought that I could nail it myself…I hand drew the logo and the artwork for it. I have always been artistic and thought it would look good, and work well.
Really, though, what was I thinking? It’s so embarrassing! The lesson I learned…always project your professionalism! First impressions go a long way. If that means spending a little money, it’s probably money well-spent if it’s going to be client-facing. That sure was a long time ago…
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My father has been my business mentor since day one. Looking back I can remember all of the phone calls home while on the road, selling insurance. Mind you, I was in my early 20’s at the time. He had quite a bit of patience, and was always supportive and encouraged what I was doing. To this day I still lean on him for advice when needed. I know that I can rely on his experience and grit, and he always has a good thought or a way to make a deal happen. He is the definition of all-business, and I’ve picked up a lot of my good work ethic from him.
It’s pedal to the metal, 100% of the time. I wake up every morning and my first thoughts are how we can grow our footprint, expand our product offering, provide even more value for our customers, and increase revenue. It’s a mindset that he instilled in me.
My Godfather, Ed Schrillo, was also a mentor. He taught me to always treat my employees with respect and get to know them. Know about their lives, and their families. If something goes wrong you can get your point across without causing a scene. Respect your employees and they will respect you. We all share the same goal at the end of the day. Create and grow a business that allows us all to live the lives that we want, and to do that, we all need to be on the same team. He had a company with employees who had worked for him for 30 plus years. I’m so happy to say that I have employees who have worked with me for well over a decade, as well. That kind of stability really is a statistical anomaly these days in the private sector.
He also bought me my first suit. He taught me that I had to dress for success!
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think that in a lot of cases, it’s the disruptors who end up standing the test of time. For hundreds of years, if you wanted to get from point A to point B, you needed a comfortable pair of shoes, a horse, or a train. In 1902, there were probably some ranchers in the US working on forecasting their 1903 horse sales and daydreaming about the piles of money they planned to make over the next ten years.
Then in 1903, Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company. Do you think these ranchers saw the writing on the wall? Probably not. They probably expected to be able to sell more and more horses each year as the population grew and the need to travel rapidly over long distances became more pressing. Ford absolutely disrupted that industry.
Fast forward literally 100 years to 2003, and who showed up to disrupt the transportation industry again? Tesla. 17 years later and you’ve got companies like Ford, Chevrolet, etc., playing catch up and trying their hardest to convert some or all of their fleet over to electric power.
I think that we all know the upsides and downsides of coal-powered transportation, but I think most of us would look at the advent of automotive travel as a good thing. Another way to connect the world.
Another disruptor, Apple. In 2007, they released the iPhone which, arguably, may be the single most disruptive product in human history. While it has its clear positive values for humanity, tons of them…I think the jury is still out on this one. We’ve sure gotten much closer to one another in a way that is new to humanity. Maybe sometimes we’re a little too close for comfort — — we’ll have to see what the long term effects of being so connected will be to know if it is a positive or as you put it, a not-so-positive.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Nobody cares about your business as much as you do.”
That’s the truth, people may tell you they do but their actions may sometimes prove different. It is really important to surround yourself with good people, like-minded business people. At times I’ve hung onto some employees for too long, knowing that they didn’t have my best interest at heart, or the company’s. I’ve had to learn how to let go of people who hurt our progress more than help it.
“Stick with this insurance thing, I think it will provide a nice life for you.”
My dad told me this when he hired me. He was right. I worked hard, I set goals, I achieved those goals, and I’ve never looked back.
“Take care of good employees with compensation.”
I watch people in other businesses underpay employees, and it’s so counterproductive. I want my employees to feel like they are well compensated for the job they do. I believe in keeping good people long term and as such, I do not have a lot of turnover in my business.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I am going to expand on the programs that we offer to school districts. We’ve identified some needs that are going unfilled in the industry, and we’re going to offer solutions to fill them. As the School Device Coverage program has unfolded and grown exponentially over the past few years, we’ve realized that there is a market for a similar program in other industries outside of K-12. Keep an eye out for Tech Device Coverage, it’s about to make waves.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I have to say it’s better today than it was 31 years ago. I see a lot more women in the shipping industry, at all levels of management. I see very successful sales teams made up of more women. A very large number of our district clients are women in director-level roles in K-12. I believe men in both industries are taking women more seriously now. We’re here and we’re a force to be reckoned with.
To be completely honest, it has not been terrible to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. It’s much easier to get the attention you’re seeking to make a deal as a woman sometimes.
While men may have the upper hand in some scenarios, I know that it’s up to me to keep pushing. It’s a decision that I and every woman must make at some point. And I choose to break down walls and smash through glass ceilings. While society continues to slowly move toward a more equal footing between men and women I can’t rest on my laurels or sit back and say, “If I was a man this would be easier…”. That doesn’t help. Hope is not a course of action. If I want to achieve, I will, regardless of any obstacles in my way.
My hope is that more and more women, every day, realize how powerful and capable we are.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You never know what kind of outcome your idea can trigger. It’s so important to chase those ideas.
I have 3 children. My youngest is almost 18 years old. He tells me about his friends learning to day trade, and play the stock market. Others have started a dog walking company together. My son has dreams of developing his own clothing line.
I would encourage businesses to set up apprenticeships or other types of scenarios that allow high school students to get involved, learn the ins and outs of business, and the responsibilities that come along with it, in exchange for extra credit. There are so many businesses that could benefit from having the young, talented minds in their companies, offering a fresh perspective. They are the next generation of workers and consumers. This would also help to encourage kids to work hard and learn what it takes to have a business, enable kids to have a place to go after school and not get into trouble, and learn important lessons about responsibility and accountability. Maybe the government could provide some kind of tax break for companies who implement such a program to make it easier to invest in these programs. I know companies do it now, but it’s not very widespread, and not a lot of people get to benefit from it.
A real movement to help young minds would be really cool! Let them explore the real world a bit, and get a better understanding of what it looks like before they are sent into it on their own.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you know you can do better, then do better”.
I think this quote is what keeps me going. I always feel like I can do everything I do better. I am constantly learning new things, technology is ever improving and evolving, the days keep rolling on. I am always a student, there’s always room for improvement, therefore I can always do better and I will.
There is no other choice.
How can our readers follow you online?
For more information on Bliss Landon and U-PIC, click here.
Connect with Bliss on LinkedIn by clicking here.
For more information about School Device Coverage, click here.
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