Luis Pino of Agentero: “Entrepreneurship or the startup life is not a straight line to success”

Entrepreneurship or the startup life is not a straight line to success. This career path is hard. There are plenty of ups and downs. The important thing is to remain calm. Take your successes in stride and learn from the downturns. Look at the goals you’ve set and stay motivated through these cycles. As a part […]

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Entrepreneurship or the startup life is not a straight line to success. This career path is hard. There are plenty of ups and downs. The important thing is to remain calm. Take your successes in stride and learn from the downturns. Look at the goals you’ve set and stay motivated through these cycles.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luis Pino.

Luis is the founder and CEO of Agentero, a tech-enabled insurance aggregator. He has a proven track record for creating solutions that improve the insurance buying experience. Before starting Agentero, Luis was a member of the founding team for CoverWallet, the small business platform that was acquired by Aon.

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?

Before founding Agentero, I was the first employee of CoverWallet, the small business insurance platform that was eventually acquired by Aon. During this time, I saw that agent operations were stuck in the past. When developing the solution, we would go into agencies to observe workflows — and though we were doing this around 2015 — it still looked like these agencies operated in the 90s. They were scanning PDFs, manually filling out paper forms, and conducting all business, even routine tasks like proof of insurance, over the phone.

It was also during my time at CoverWallet that I discovered that for the most part Silicon Valley didn’t think that it was worth the effort to build smart, intuitive software for insurance agents that could make their day-to-day workflows a lot more efficient.

It was after seeing all of this I realized that I could have an impact and change the way an industry operated. That is why I decided to start Agentero — to bring digital innovations to independent agents and their customers.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

When direct-to-consumer digital insurance companies — or insurtechs — started to enter the market five years ago many thought insurance agents would be headed for extinction. It turns out they were wrong. Consumers definitely want the on-demand, digital experiences insurtechs can offer but they also want the personal service and guidance that agents deliver.

That’s where Agentero comes in. We’re disrupting the insurance market by bringing together two seemingly adversarial segments — the insurtechs that sought to displace the agents and the agents themselves. Agentero is creating a new category in the insurance segment — we’re a tech-enabled aggregator that combines digital-first carriers with independent agent guidance. We are turning disruption on its head by not displacing agents but empowering them by giving them the digital, on-demand, and data forward processes that enable them to compete for modern insurance customers.

Many of our digital carrier partners started with direct-to-consumer strategies. We are demonstrating that working with and enhancing the intermediaries’ services can actually lead to more profits and growth. The opportunity lies in helping agents analyze data to discover untapped market opportunities and connect them with digital carriers that are accustomed to serving the on-demand generation, creating a seamless insurance experience where policies can be bought with a few simple clicks.

Within this new insurance category, Agentero is giving consumers the ability to have the best of both worlds — personalized and helpful agent customer service with a digital-first purchasing experience.

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?

When I took my first step into starting my own business, this new title, entrepreneur, didn’t catch on with me right away, and almost ended me up in a little bit of trouble. Right before starting Agentero, I decided to make the leap from student to entrepreneur and dropped out of my MBA program at Berkeley Haas. My wife and I then decided to take a trip to Peru. While abroad, I realized that I had forgotten to change visas. I am a native of Spain and was in the US on a student visa. But since dropping out, I now needed a visa for entrepreneurship. It made the end of the trip a little more stressful than I would have liked, but I was able to get my new visa approved while on the way to the airport to return to the United States.

This was at the very beginning of starting my career as an entrepreneur and I learned that I had the right mentality for this business. I’m hooked on living my life on the edge of discomfort, at a place where I am relentlessly challenged, but not completely overwhelmed. To be an entrepreneur is a crazy life, with many peaks and valleys. And I knew then that I would be able to weather them all because I wouldn’t get too caught up in the highs or devastated by the lows.

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?

I believe that a mentor/mentee relationship is something that naturally occurs. You don’t straight out ask someone to be your mentor. Your relationship with a person just evolves. And I am very fortunate that evolution happened to my relationship with Inaki Berenguer.

Inaki was the CEO and founder of CoverWallet, and one of the most important people in my career because he hired me to be CoverWallet’s first employee. We both are McKinsey alumni and met through the McKinsey network. Inaki is a very smart and talented entrepreneur and he asked me to join him on one of his ventures — which ended up being CoverWallet. Not only did he show me how to start a business from scratch and scale the company, but he also showed me how a start-up idea could be born. When he hired me, he had just sold another startup and wanted to start something new in six months — but he didn’t know what it was going to be. So I got to see how he analyzed market appetite, saw what sectors might be ripe for disruption and then came up with an idea that could have an impact on an industry.

Inaki guided me for the year I was at CoverWallet, and then it was time for me to fly solo, and start my own adventure. He is an investor and is super helpful, it certainly feels like walking on the shoulders of giants.

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?

Disrupting an industry is positive. You are bringing in new ideas that will hopefully improve processes and make things more efficient. Where I think there is trouble with disruption, or why it can sometimes be seen as not so positive, is because it is difficult at times to get people to understand exactly what you are doing.

Most disruptive ideas are out-of-the-box thinking. By the very definition, they are going against the status quo. So disruptors need to change the way people think and get them to accept a different approach.

We have found this out first hand in building Agentero. We are a company merging two different business models — technology solutions and market access for insurance agencies. We have found it challenging at times getting people to understand everything that we do — because they want to revert back to one of the business models they are familiar with. They either want to think about us as a solution that provides digital tools for agencies, or a startup that gives agencies market access. We have to work hard to show people that we are both.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I have received a lot of great advice throughout my career, but these three things really have stood out:

Entrepreneurship or the startup life is not a straight line to success. This career path is hard. There are plenty of ups and downs. The important thing is to remain calm. Take your successes in stride and learn from the downturns. Look at the goals you’ve set and stay motivated through these cycles.

Get close to your clients. Your clients hold the key to your company’s success. You can have a great idea for a company, but unless it is solving an actual pain for your clients, it won’t go too far. Entrepreneurs need to really understand the problems clients have and build solutions that fit their needs. When we started Agentero, it was originally just a mobile app for agents. But after talking to many of them, it became clear that they needed help managing their data better, so we built a solution that could analyze data and provide actionable insights. Next, they told us they wanted a better way to act upon those insights, so we started connecting them with digital insurance carriers. We will continue to keep talking to our clients and adding more value to our platform.

Build a culture that employees can thrive in. If you have a great idea for a business but can’t get good people to help you execute it, it will be difficult to succeed. Entrepreneurs need to make sure the people they hire enjoy their time, feel comfortable in the workplace, are constantly challenged and have opportunities to grow. This can only happen by having a strong company culture. One of Agentero’s core values is “Be one team.” We operate and succeed together. We support each other and help each other improve. We are open, humble, and transparent. Acting upon and maintaining this core value is very important to us — even one of our recruiting requirements is how well the candidates can embrace this value.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

There is still a lot that needs to happen to get the insurance industry on a technological par with other sectors. But ultimately we want to create a box set of tools that will turn an independent agency into a digital insurance agency. That has been Agentero’s evolution from the very beginning. We first started focusing on policy servicing by creating a mobile app. We then added a data analysis tool that mined the agent’s book of business for renewals, cross-sell, and up-sell opportunities. Next, we added market access.

So now we are continuing to look at agents’ needs, prioritizing the ones that would give agents the most value, and then creating digital solutions to enhance them. This will continue to be our focus as we move towards IPO.

Post IPO, if we are fortunate and very successful, then I would like to go down the philanthropy road.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I really enjoy reading First Round Review, a publication that humbly describes itself as not another venture capital blog, but an outlet that hopes to be the Harvard Business Review for startups. And I think it is doing a good job of achieving that goal.

They have some phenomenal advice on recruiting — which I have even used at Agentero. For example, they had articles talking about the technique, “Hire for passion.” That has been a constant for us while hiring our employees and as a result we have been able to put together a stellar team that goes the extra mile to help us succeed.

First Round Review just published what I think is their best piece of the year — a compilation of the top 30 pieces of advice from the last year — such a great crash course in startup management.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“This is Plan B.” I think I’m always on Plan B. Because what is Plan B? It is an improvement on Plan A. It’s a perpetual question to find something better. If you’re always on Plan B, then you are relentlessly searching for Plan A, which means you are in a mindset of always improving.

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 your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in education as the solution to some of the world’s greatest problems and I believe in technology as a key enabler for this change. As a technology entrepreneur, I dream of solving some of the systemic issues of today’s educational systems. A better education is the foundation for a better future.

How can our readers follow you online?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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