Ty Harris and Matt Wielbut came together around a shared problem to launch their own insurtech startup that has already raised $200M.
On the Dealmakers Show, Harris and Wielbut shared their insights on the insurance industry, selling your company, fundraising, the importance of clearly defining your roles as cofounders, and why you shouldn’t keep your business idea a secret.
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Ty Harris – Learning, Curiosity & Computer Programming
Ty Harris was born in Atlanta, GA. His father was an airforce pilot. Though he says that both of his parents really prioritized education, made sacrifices so that he could get a good one, and encouraged him to be curious and question everything.
He says that has stuck with him and has given him that ongoing first principles thinking. That and his focus on math and economics in school also led him to mix the two together on the debate team in school.
His studies took him through to MIT. Where they didn’t have a great basketball team but did have some of the best ballroom dancing in the country. Which led him to meet his wife. Then, ultimately, Matt who was his wife’s friend.
Ty says that his wife comes from a family of actuaries. Which inspired him to start taking exams, and took him into the world of insurance.
He found the work and environment at Liberty Mutual so engaging that he ended up staying there for 13 years. He kept on growing with them. Eventually, going from an analyst to chief product and underwriting officer.
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Matt Weilbut – Programming & Engineering
Matt Wielbut was born in Poland. When he was just five years old, his family fled as political refugees. Spending two years in Germany, before gaining asylum in the US.
Matt credits a lot of his career to his father. He invested most of their life savings in an early Mac and brought it home for him to figure out. Together they bonded over learning to code together. From then until now, he says that he has been obsessed with programming and engineering.
That saw Matt heading into the investment banking world with Goldman Sachs. Always having a penchant for pushing himself to his limits, it wasn’t long before he threw himself into entrepreneurship. He says that he believes you should push yourself until you are a little uncomfortable and at least fail a little.
Selling Your Company
Wielbut’s first two startup attempts didn’t pan out as he had hoped. Though he says that it is okay to fail. If you continue, it will eventually work out. It did. His third venture, Elements Insurance, went all the way through being acquired.
They didn’t raise any money on the journey, providing a good outcome. Though Matt warns that selling your company isn’t as easy and simple as it is made out to be in the headlines of Techcrunch.
There can be a lot of years of hard work building the business in the meantime. Including enrolling hires in the vision and hoping the dream plays out.
Then when it comes to being acquired, there are often lengthy negotiations. During due diligence, your buyer will pick your business apart. Digging into every detail.
It was after this exit that Matt and Ty came together around the problems they saw in the insurance space.
Matt saw the issues from a consumer perspective and wished insurance brokers would make it easier. Ty had been experiencing problems from the perspective of an insurance agency and having to deal with insurance companies.
Together Matt and Ty launched Openly. What they describe as a next-generation insurance provider. One which is heavily tech-enabled, and specializes in homeowners insurance.
They are changing the insurance space in two ways. One is using technology and automation to make insurance more affordable. They say that traditionally 40% of the money homeowners pay for insurance coverage doesn’t go to cover claims, but just for administrative expenses.
Together with their algorithms for underwriting, they’ve been creating a lower-cost insurance option. One that they hope will help save homeowners $100B a year.
The other outcome of their technology is greatly simplifying and speeding up the process of getting insurance. Including cutting the time to get an insurance quote down from days or weeks to just eight seconds.
Although it took them two years to build their technology stack from the ground up, their offering quickly went viral once insurance agents began using it to serve their customers.
To date, Openly has raised close to $200M in capital. They’ve also built a team of almost 300, with 55 engineers.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Ty Harris and Matt Weilbut were able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
For those considering launching their own business, Ty warns not to get too caught up in the hype. Don’t allow yourself to be intimated. Especially when meeting with VCs. At the same time, he says to be wary of easy money being thrown at you and luring you into thinking you don’t have to build a great company. Stay grounded, work on building a great company, and be confident when you get in front of investors.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Why not to keep your startup idea a secret
- Going through startup accelerator programs
- The importance of defining your cofounder roles early
- Celebrating all of your successes