2019 marks a new chapter in my career path as a startup entrepreneur, intrapreneur, and dreamer. Those in my personal and business network are well aware I made some pretty bold moves throughout my career, especially in the last year.
I have always had the hunger to be part of a mission bigger than myself that would create impactful changes. Combining experience in technology, venture capital, insurance, and cannabis, I have been able to create my own unique path which has led me to Embroker. Embroker is an insurance and technology platform ascending at rapid speeds to redefine the way businesses purchase insurance.
The Insurance business is notorious as one of the oldest industries in the world evident through the universal belief that it is antiquated, painful, and lacks value. For me it was also the first business that I learned, watching my father build a construction & real estate-focused practice from “2 guys and a picnic table” through an exit to a top 5 global firm. I also gained a tremendous amount of respect for the client relationships fostered and the people working tirelessly to provide solutions during a business’s worst hours.
Although insurance was on my radar, the technology industry was finally booming, showing resolve after the dust settled from the dot-com era. Working my way through what I like to call my “MBA years” learning in the field, I was an early employee at new businesses in Adtech, mobile apps, and eventually SaaS. One of the best learning experiences came via an IBM acquisition as I was a small but integral part of a 14 person team. Being acquired by IBM taught me quickly how to button up on all aspects of sales and more importantly, the customer service demanded by Fortune 500 companies globally.
During my IBM years I began attending more local (NYC) events and spent hours studying new business models emerging from sectors like agriculture, transportation, healthcare, and technology. I had the unique opportunity to participate in a new style of angel investing through SoundBoard Angel Fund (SBAF). Based on my background, I became a logical fit to help SBAF with diligence and deal sourcing. Being part of the funding process was another tremendous learning experience as I had direct insight into the grueling path business owners take to get capital from investors. The more SBAF became professionalized so did our risk management policies and the insurance requirements that came with it.
Understanding the growing pains business owners had to go through to obtain business insurance became a clear problem that I felt I was uniquely equipped to solve. While ramping up my work with SBAF, my network in the startup sector continued to grow, as did the need for an insurance solution for early stage companies. Soon after I became the first producer for a new insurance brokerage focused on that pain point.
With my continued work at SBAF, I began to see more and more investment dollars pour into the cannabis space. Interestingly enough, insurtech began to heat up at the same time. I was fortunate to call some of the world’s most innovative cannabis companies clients from seed to sale. My relationship with clients went from transactional to friends and the networking events in NYC went from 50 to 500. I knew there was something more here.
As my knowledge and passion for this unique mix of cannabis and insurance grew, New Jersey’s newly-elected governor, Phil Murphy, ramped up talks to expand the state’s medical program and eventually adult-use. To summarize what was a year-long build-up, it was time to move on from the insurance business I helped create and take a once-in-a-lifetime risk to become a founding member of a cannabis company.
From July through the top of 2019, I put my insurance hat aside and worked with business partners to create Hillview, a vertically integrated cannabis applicant from Lincoln Park, NJ with deep roots in the agriculture business going back more than 60 years. The time was spent fundraising, brand building, creating partnerships, and now what is known as the most competitive application process in the US (possibly globally). On the day of submission and based on the 146 applicants with only 6 being awarded, we had a 4% chance of winning. I can write an entire book on the roller-coaster that was the application process. Although a valiant effort, Hillview did not win the first round of licensing which was awarded in December. The business is alive and well and will continue to push forward in the cannabis and hemp space.
2018 for me was all about the journey.
Embroker was a business I admired from afar mostly via CBinsights; often pondering what it was about the business that made them successful. While I found myself in a humbling position to work with some of the most exciting businesses in insurtech, Embroker’s mission elaborated to me by CEO Matt Miller and COO Julie Zimmer was clear. They attacked key areas of the insurance business thoughtfully via:
- External technology to simplify the purchasing process for businesses.
- Internal efficiencies to EMPOWER its seasoned insurance people (many with 15+ years of experience).
- Never-before-seen insurance products custom tailored to eight underwriting questions (and competitive pricing).
- A mission to bring the necessary change to the insurance business to match the innovation in industries we support.
Both Matt and Julie’s backgrounds speak volumes about who this team is and the caliber of people who work at Embroker.
I am fortunate to have had many unique career-building experiences thus far, friends and family who support me when I chase my dreams, and a business like Embroker that has warmly welcomed me onto the rocketship to build out the New York practice.
I believe in the Embroker mission whole-heartedly and am excited to continue my journey to building industry-changing businesses with an exceptional team behind me.
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