Know how to use your resources. People and money are your most valuable resources; if you don’t plan to have enough money to keep the right people on, the company falls apart. If you don’t have the right people on a project in order to make money, you’re at a fault there as well. Finding that balance and being prepared is key.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessi Park.
Jessi Park is the founder of Inspired Insurance Solutions. Prior to starting her company, she was a top sales agent at Healthcare Solutions Team. She lives with her two children in Central Florida.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I like to say that I got pushed into the insurance industry against my will. And it’s funny because that really is the truth. I had just gotten laid off and I basically only started doing this out of desperation until I could find another “real job”. I was vehemently against anything that was commission-only. I thought that since I had a college degree, I was worth at least a base salary. I didn’t understand that commission-only, at the right place, can offer an uncapped earning potential based on performance. But my mind just wasn’t open to it yet.
So when it became literally my only option left, I was determined to try to make some commissions to survive until I got another job. I took all of the skills that I’d learned throughout my career and life, and applied them to selling insurance. And I ended up breaking records — I did a million dollars in sales in eight months. It was the company’s fastest to million record, everyone else took over a year and a half.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My “Aha Moment” came after breaking that sales record. The great thing about this industry is that just about anybody can do it. All you need is a high school diploma, a clean background, and a license. A license is relatively inexpensive and easy to get, so there really aren’t any barriers to getting into this industry that you see in a lot of other ones. This industry offers anybody the ability to come in and determine what they’ll make based on how hard they are willing to work, and that is really amazing.
The insurance and finance services industries make the most millionaires in the world. I realized that selling insurance gave the opportunity for those looking to uplift themselves from their current socioeconomic status to succeed based only on their willingness to put the work in. This is the opportunity that I wish I had known about sooner and that I want to inspire other people like me to take. I wanted to be that person that can find and train those that want to work and want to find financial freedom. That’s what Inspired Insurance Solutions is all about.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
When I first started my business? No. I was all alone and very scared — but I met a lot of great mentors along the way that helped shape the development of my business, like Joe Eichman. Without his guidance and the structure that he built for my company’s parent FMO, this wouldn’t be possible. At all. He made it so people like me had the opportunity to keep moving up.
Another person is Joe Krivelow. He helped me figure out how to stand out — he was a sounding board for me when the people around me weren’t making things easy. He helped me forge my path and how to be in this business since it can be so cruel at times.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Like any industry that offers high reward for high performance, exploitation is pretty much the norm in most agencies. I’ve both experienced and heard horror stories of agencies pushing deceptive sales tactics, charging their agents various fees, even forcing their agents to hand over their phones so that they could get their personal contacts. I was lucky to have found one of the few good ones, Healthcare Solutions Team, which doesn’t do any of that. That’s why I partnered with HST to create my company. Ultimately, we share the same win-win vision that most agencies just don’t seem to care about. My agents are non-captive, which means that they don’t have to sell just one insurance product. This way, they can help a client get the absolute best insurance for them and make money at the same time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really enjoy being able to mentor new agents and help people uplift themselves from their current situation. A lot of my recruits are single parents like myself, and it’s been such a blessing to be in a position where I can help them find financial freedom and create a better life for themselves and their children. Getting to take people under my wing and be the person that I wish that I had is how I’d say that I’ve been bringing goodness to the world.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think it really came down to persistence, being able to see the long-term over the short-term, and having mental flexibility.
Persistence is about staying hungry enough to want to continue to do better and not to rest on your laurels. Especially in this industry, it can be very dangerous to get complacent with your current success. A client that you have today may have to cancel their policy tomorrow. If you’re not actively working to get new clients and build your book of business, then you will slowly but surely see your paychecks go from what you had thought was “good money” to basically nothing. I’ve seen a lot of people lose their drive to continue building up their sales pipeline, and then eventually see that pipeline run completely dry.
If you have to build your book of business yourself, the daily grind of dialing leads and constantly getting rejected can be very taxing. A lot of people quit early on because they get so discouraged from hearing “no” each and every day. They think that because they aren’t making any closes and they’re not getting paid yet, then they’re just wasting their time. But, that’s not the case. They may be seemingly getting rejected, but they’re really building up their sales pipeline. Eventually, that seal is going to burst, and they’ll suddenly be closing left and right. Keeping the long-term goals in sight can help push through this initial period.
Mental flexibility means a few things — staying sharp, being able to think on your feet, and absorbing new information relatively quickly. The most important thing here is to be mentally flexible enough to completely change how you operate as soon as the moment calls for it. Insurance products and policies change based on our country’s current politics. Whenever a law or regulation changes, we have to be able to learn it and adapt our way of selling. There are a lot of people who cannot do this, and they end up quitting entirely. That’s exactly why the key to continuous success in my industry is mental flexibility.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I’m very fortunate to have always been able to recognize bad advice, so I’ve never necessarily regretted any advice that I’ve ever followed. I will say that I’ve received a lot of bad advice, though. The worst was probably a very “successful” agent who openly admitted to deceiving his clients by mispositioning products in order to close sales. It’s really common for people to use misleading tactics to sell products or to recruit agents, and I personally think it’s a horrible way to do business. Sooner or later, it will all come back around.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I first started, I was on my last month of unemployment and only came to this out of desperation. You don’t make money right when you start, and it was incredibly stressful to work so hard without anything coming in. I also first worked at a really toxic and shady agency, and that only added to the challenge. I felt like I was going up a mountain without even so much as a pair of shoes.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
My drive to continue came mostly from my children. As a single parent, you have all the motivation in the world to succeed and give your kids a better life because there is nobody else that will do it. Knowing that fact is all that I ever need to keep going no matter how hard things get.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?
Keep a level head and know that there will be highs and there will be lows. So when there’s highs, don’t go out and spend your money on things that you don’t need to be ready for the lows, and when there’s lows, know that you got there in the first place. You’ll get back to where you were before, you just have to keep going.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
It depends on what the business is. Some businesses require upfront capital, whereas others can run on a founder’s own time and effort. If someone had a really great idea to make something but didn’t have the money for production, then I’d think that they should go for fundraising. If all it takes is work to get a business off of the ground, then I’d say that bootstrapping would be the way to go.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1.) Mental Fortitude. Times are ultimately going to get tough, there’s no doubt about it. You have to have the ability to withstand hardships and persevere through whatever is thrown your way.
2.) Getting the right people — knowing who’s on your team. This doesn’t mean making sure your workers are competent, it has to do with the partnerships you create, whether business partners or with actual companies.
3.) Know how to use your resources. People and money are your most valuable resources; if you don’t plan to have enough money to keep the right people on, the company falls apart. If you don’t have the right people on a project in order to make money, you’re at a fault there as well. Finding that balance and being prepared is key.
4.) Don’t settle for stagnation. You have to always keep pursuing greatness; achieving success doesn’t mean you can hang up your coat because what brought you success now isn’t going to last forever unless you put in the work to keep it going.
5.) See the long term and big picture. This is something that ties into being able to pivot — if you are stuck in the short term and don’t set up to anticipate changes in the market, growth is going to be impossible.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Of course it’s important to fully understand what you’re doing, but I see a lot of people waste a lot of time by overthinking. In my industry, I’ll see new agents spend too much time training. They get to the point where they know the ins and outs of every single product, but still somehow need to know more before they can actually start. I call it “paralysis by analysis”. It’s procrastination. If you know what you have to do, do it.
The other major thing that I’ve seen is people getting too comfortable once they hit any sort of success. They buy into this status thing of “Well, I’ve made it and now it’s time to play golf.” Nobody can become stagnant in anything that they do. Getting to one level of achievement doesn’t mean that the work is over. If you want to maintain what you have, then you always have to work for more.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Physical wellness for me is really sticking to some sort of fitness regime. Even if it’s just walking in the evenings like three times a week. Stress eats at you in so many ways; it’s the silent killer because not everything is always visible, so both physical and mental wellbeing are affected. I would also recommend self-care days. Sundays are my self-care days, I basically give myself a full spa treatment — it’s important to take those days for yourself, even if it’s just a few hours, to feel good about yourself.
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. 🙂
I think the best thing for most people to hear right now is that the college dream we were all sold is a lie. Unless you’re going to be a lawyer or doctor, something specific like that, no one cares that you have a degree for the most part. I want to encourage everyone to go out and seek trades instead of college.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Is Elon Musk too corny? I feel like he’d be so interesting. But really, I would love to connect with other female entrepreneurs. Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway is someone who comes to mind, she has that attitude where you can have an idea and just run with it until you make it happen. She really made it happen reaching unicorn level and if that’s not something to talk about, I don’t know what is!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me either on Instagram (@jessicristinaah) or on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessilynpark/). You should also be on the lookout for my book, Soul Beneficiary, which will be published this summer.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!