Pursue something you’re truly passionate about — When you care deeply about something, you’ll naturally learn to persevere through obstacles that stand in your way. For example, public speaking used to cause me stress and anxiety but my drive to build Insurmi pushed me to overcome my fear. I actively sought out opportunities to practice and improve, and now I feel as at ease pitching to three people as I do speaking to a room of 300.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonny Patel, the founder and CEO of Insurmi, an AI-based engagement platform for insurance carriers. Sonny started the company just three years ago at the age of 21 while working as a sales director and financial advisor at a top life insurance company. He realized the process of buying and selling insurance was unnecessarily cumbersome and outdated, and went to work to develop a solution that would simplify and take the guesswork out of the insurance buying process. That solution that would eventually become Insurmi. Today, Insurmi is being used by a number of top-tier global insurance carriers to easily generate new business online, streamline customer claims, and deliver excellent customer service through conversational AI.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During my freshman year in college, I started a job at a life insurance agency where I worked in growth sales, marketing and operations. It didn’t take long to realize the way the industry was selling life insurance was complex, outdated and not consumer friendly. On top of that, it was primarily done all offline, which to me signaled a huge opportunity. At that point I started thinking about the role digital could play in selling life insurance. Soon after, my idea evolved into a business which eventually evolved into a white label solution. Today, Insurmi works with insurance carriers from all around the world, not just for insurance sales, but also claims and customer service.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I was 21 and still in college when I started Insurmi, so I didn’t have a lot of money. I had to utilize my credit cards, open up new credit cards, and take out loans to get the company off the ground and build out our MVP. There were a lot of times where I would invest money into the company and didn’t see the immediate ROI, but I held true to my vision and where I was trying to go with the company. It didn’t matter that I was having to balance classes and graduation while trying to launch a full blown insurance tech company. I started with an end goal in mind and made it my mission to work toward that. Now people ask me how it feels that it’s all become real, but for me, it was 100% real since Day 1. I just had the perseverance to see it through.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There are good days and bad days but one thing that has always remained true is I believe in the product and what good insurance does in the world. In a lot of ways, it keeps the world moving around even though most people won’t even think about it until they need it. Reimagining the way we do things as an industry and figuring out a way to get our product to market in new and exciting ways drives me forward every day.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
We have Fortune 500 companies now using our solution, the Insurmi team is growing and we’re working with customers from around the world. It’s been exciting to see the scope of opportunity turn global. At the same time, we’re still learning how to make our product better by diving deeper with our customers on their problem sets.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of speaking on this new direction we’re taking the insurance industry, and it’s gone from me pitching these ideas to now people seeking me out and listening and being very receptive. Being a young person in this legacy industry makes it impossible not to experience a bit of imposter syndrome from time to time. The key for me has been to persevere and not let anything phase me or get me down.
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?
It’s not so much funny as it was just a dumb mistake! When we were first starting out, we spent a lot of time doing presentations to different customers, showing them our prototypes and what we’d built. We ended up replicating a presentation for one particular meeting, but we forgot to replace the company name. Next thing you know I was in the middle of a presentation and noticed the slides referenced the wrong company. It was very embarrassing, especially considering confidentiality is such a big deal in the insurance space. It was a memorable, although cringeworthy, lesson in not letting the little things slip through the cracks.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One differentiator is that I’m a 24-year-old founder. We’re a Millennial and Gen Z built and run company in a more “grown up” industry. Our generation’s style and tone is much different than the more traditional, formal companies may be used to. Another big differentiator is that we’re changing the way insurance companies are run from a fundamental level. We’re taking the old model that was built 200 years ago and reimagining it by using AI and machine learning. It’s a whole new approach, and so far people have really embraced what we’re bringing to the table.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be cognizant of a work-life balance. A lot of people in the startup world allow their ventures to become their lives — they’ll sacrifice time with their friends and family or with their significant other to put in a couple more hours into their venture. And while it’s really cool to be passionate about your work, it’s equally as sad if you sacrifice everything else in your life for it.
As a startup founder, you can build your own reality. If you want to stay in the fast lane and go a thousand miles an hour, then you’ll do that. But you can also choose to live in the moment and own your time in a healthy way. If you’re conscious of how to both spend and make time for things beyond your venture, you’ll have more stamina in the long run.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of the first people I met in Arizona’s startup ecosystem was Zach Ferres, who is the CEO of Coplex, a startup accelerator that helps industry experts start high-growth tech companies. He believed in me and my idea, and essentially took me under his wing. He became a mentor in the early days and is someone I still rely on for advice, whether it’s personal or professional. I look up to him as a leader, and I know I’ll be able to pay it forward and help someone along just as he’s helped me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to harness my influence as a young entrepreneur to instill inspiration into others in the world. Being a positive leader brings goodness into the world and makes people feel like they can dream and look forward to explore their own. But there’s so much I want to do in a more tangible way as Insurmi continues to grow. Philanthropy and community impact are two areas I intend to spend my time and resources on.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
● Define your end goal early on — When I founded Insurmi, I had a clear vision for the change I wanted to bring to the insurance industry. Keeping this end goal in mind has strengthened my resolve and helped me stay on course through the good days and bad.
● Seek out leadership opportunities — Always offer to take on new responsibilities and put yourself into positions where your decisions will have a meaningful impact on others. It’s a great way to overcome fears, build character and grow as a person and a leader.
● Stay true to your core values — As an entrepreneur, it’s inevitable you’ll be faced with complicated decisions. Identify your core values early and come back to them often. This way, when you’re faced with murky circumstances, you’ll have these principles to guide you through and continuously drive you forward.
● Don’t be afraid to fail — When you fail, it means you’ve taken a risk to grow. Harness the experience as a learning opportunity. Allow it to teach you. This will build your confidence so that in the future, you’ll trust that when you fail again, you’ll have the courage to get up and keep going.
● Pursue something you’re truly passionate about — When you care deeply about something, you’ll naturally learn to persevere through obstacles that stand in your way. For example, public speaking used to cause me stress and anxiety but my drive to build Insurmi pushed me to overcome my fear. I actively sought out opportunities to practice and improve, and now I feel as at ease pitching to three people as I do speaking to a room of 300.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Alleviating severe poverty and evening the playing field is something I’m passionate about. To make a difference, it’s important to get involved in politics and work in or partner with government. There’s so much opportunity to increase the probability of success for all Americans, and rather than waiting until later in life to get involved, I’d like to dive in at a much earlier stage. That could involve building a movement to affect policy and change, either through the private sector or running for public office. However it happens, I know each one of us has the power to make a difference.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!