Adam Kiefer of Talage
An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Adam Kiefer, the co-founder and CEO of Talage, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Talage – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Talage, like a lot of other tech startups, was born of a simple enough idea: there has to be a better way. For us, we saw that there had to be a better way to sell small commercial insurance. Personally, I had worked for insurance agencies of different sizes throughout my career and had seen how difficult it was to sell and service small accounts. Insurance agents were faced with an issue where, in a lot of scenarios, they could not afford to handle small businesses, which make up a huge part of the communities where they operate. Insurance companies were putting resources into their technology enhancements, but the agents just couldn’t match that investment to properly take advantage of the innovative work being done. Talage set out to level the playing field, and with partnerships with national insurance companies, we brought scalable technology to the independent insurance agency channel that didn’t require huge upfront investments of time and money.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
There are a lot of hurdles when you build a business from scratch. A lot of things we went through are pretty standard to startups in general. Things like raising money, setting up proper corporate structures, and hiring great people are not unique struggles, but we did have to navigate through the insurance industry. Insurance as an industry is hundreds of years old and there are some very old, very big incumbent players in the space. It’s also surprisingly fragmented due to the unique regulatory environment. By and large, insurance is controlled at the state level, so operating in the United States requires that you navigate 51+ jurisdictions (DC and the US territories are all separate). Convincing publicly traded, 100-year-old companies that we can shift their business model and their approach took some convincing, as you can imagine. But it’s a unique time in insurance, and as they say, timing is everything. Talage could not have existed 10 years ago and I don’t think this opportunity will be here 10 years from now, so we’re focused on making the right impact at the right time.
What does the future hold for Talage?
More growth! Talage is deepening our relationships across the industry with expansion on both sides of our model – we have more insurance companies than we can handle looking to participate in our platform and use it to grow their distribution into the future. We are also getting huge demand from agents of all sizes and types that want access to the network that we’ve created. It’s a fun time as a company because while we’re always learning, we’re close to getting the recipe right, so to speak, and now it’s time to let it run. We’re growing the team and expanding product features all the time. The future is bright, but we are laser-focused on executing today for the opportunities at hand.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Reno?
Reno has definitely come a long way, but there is more work to be done. We started the company in Reno and were excited to do so, but we quickly found that Reno was lacking some critical components to truly be an entrepreneurial hub. As a result, we spent a lot of time early on making the Interstate 80 drive down to San Francisco and the Bay Area. There are absolutely advantages from a tax and lifestyle vantage point to living and building the company in Reno, but in terms of start-up infrastructure, the best thing about Reno is probably that it’s close to the Bay Area. We tried for a while to raise capital in Nevada, but we were not able to accomplish that, and with 2 exceptions (including Battle Born Venture, the state’s venture capital program), all of our funding has come from California. So while I believe Reno has its heart in the right place, if it truly wants to be a player as a startup community, it needs to get its checkbooks in the right place as well.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Perseverance. It’s as simple as that. Starting out, you will hit roadblock after roadblock, and you will see very quickly why not everyone starts a company like this. Before we closed our first round of funding, we talked to 70 different investment firms. Hearing “no” or worse “maybe” takes a toll. You’ve got to have the ability to brush it off again and again. You’ll learn that you’ll hear “no” even if people like what you are doing. They may be a wrong fit in terms of size of the investment, it may be outside the thesis for a particular fund, or they may be in the middle of raising money themselves.
There are a thousand reasons why people will say no, but you’ve got to have the mindset that it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to be a struggle at times. Make sure your personal life is prepared for that as well. Your family, spouse, partner, or whatever you’ve got need to understand that this journey is going to be a drain, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Taking all that into account, for all the negatives, and all the trials and tribulations, the journey is more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever done professionally. Taking something from an idea in a notebook, or on a napkin, and watching people buy-in, seeing customers understand the value that you bring to their business, and hiring employees who take your vision and apply their own spin that takes it even further is amazing. It’s a crazy ride filled with ups and downs and twists and turns, but for me personally, I’m better for having taken it, no matter where it stops.