Michael Jans: Lucas Jans, thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you for inviting me to meet with you in the team here in Vietnam.
Lucas Jans: Yes, thanks for coming all the way out here and visit us, I’m glad you made the trip.
Michael: I am too. I want to put this conversation in context I know agents might be thinking or asking why is Michael interviewing, in this case, not an agent, not a carrier representative, not technically generally in your position an insurance marker, so to speak, but a software engineer. I do want to put this a little bit in perspective. About two weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas at the Insured Tech Connect Conference, and there were about 6,000 people there, and to put that into context, I think it’s third or fourth, maybe fifth-year max.
If we look at my 25-year history in the industry, go back 25 years, and if you wanted to see a couple of thousand people at a conference, you’d go to the big guy conference or the PIA national conference, and as I recall, they phased out and they maybe 10 years later, they just weren’t holding them anymore. I think they were having a hard time attracting the crowds that they used to, and then after that, if you wanted to see 2,000 or 3,000 people, you would go to a conference being sponsored by one of the major technology vendors like Vertafor or Plight.
Last year was at applied conference in there was, I recall, about 3,500 people there. Again, that was in Las Vegas. What struck me is interesting was that like one week later, there was another conference and there was the Insured Tech Conference and there were last year I think there were about 4,500 or 5,000 people, and at that point, it struck me as kind of a poignant statement about the direction of the industry.
We’ve gone from a place where the largest conventions in conferences, at least in the on the agency side, were sponsored and organized by the agents associations, and then you could see that the largest ones were really sponsored– they were very, very business driven and sponsored by technology firms, and now, well, clearly it’s not just an agent’s conference, it’s an industry conference, it’s the largest conference I’m aware of, 6,000 people.
I want to talk about the impact that technology is having on the agent of today, but there’s another issue that I think is the one you pick your brain on, and that is that if we look at, let’s say just your career, or we look at how software gets created, first, and if we go back far enough, there was no Agency Revolution, there was no Fuse, and then there is one out of nothing comes something really fairly substantial that has a transformative effect on a lot of agencies.
One of the issues that I’ve dealt with as an advisor or consultant to retail insurance agents, et cetera, for years, is that they’re very, very good at maintaining stability and delivering status quo year after year after year. That level of total transformation is something we don’t see very often. Yet in the software world, you don’t survive unless you’ve got the capacity to transform yourself over and over again. To some extent, we’re seeing a little bit of a crashing together of a very stable industry, and a very, very fast moving industry, technology.
I’m trying to overcome a problem that I have in dealing with individual clients. What are the methodologies that they can use that allow them to get stuff done fast, which is what software companies are good at. I’ll leave it at that? That’s my context for this, at least the first part of this conversation. What is it about software companies? That’s a very general question. Then I’ll get into the details. What is it about software companies that allow them to create so much change so quickly?
Lucas: It’s a good question. If you step back, you have to look at software companies themselves and what they’re trying to do. Usually, a software company is trying to change the way people do things in a certain space. The cost of engineering can be quite expensive. You have some of the brightest minds working on building a software. If you spend, this is the way it used to be done, if you spend a couple of years planning, producing a project, you’ll roll it out and release it and then the market might not like it. You realized, “Wow, we just wasted all that money and all that effort doing the wrong thing.” Because of that cost and expense, there’s been a lot of practice and process changes in the way software is developed. Some of these changes are very useful in all sorts of businesses, and you’ve seen other businesses apply these practices in their own systems so they can develop and get results more quickly and get the right results more quickly.
Michael: The methodologies have developed around these concept with its own language and so on and so forth.
Lucas: Right. All to lower the cost of innovation. To lower the cost of producing something that changes the world or changes the way businesses can practice. It no longer requires a series, a round of financing from a big named VC to take a bold bet in a three year software project to see if something works out. It can be kids in a garage or kids in their homes all around the world connected through technology, organizing and working together. Usually, these startups and remote work is a very common way startups begin nowadays.
Michael: By the way, I do want to circle back to remote, but continue with speed.
Lucas: Usually, these startups adopt the agile methodologies. Scrum being kind of the most prominent one. There’s also Kanban is another methodology that’s being adopted. The real purpose is instead of spending three years to get to build something, get the market and see if it works, you can do it in a short amount of time, get feedback, go back and improve and change. These feedback cycles which, there’s a great book called the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It’ll talk more about all of these quick iterations to improving your products or projects quickly. That quick feedback cycle allows you to know, are you steering the wheel to navigate the ship to move in the right direction or the wrong direction so that you can make the changes as a leader in your organization to drive that effort, to get results more quickly, to deliver what the customers want in that marketplace.
Michael: All right. I’m going to walk through this for the sake of our audience. Also, for my sake as an advisor-consultant. I’ll tell a very brief story, and this goes back probably 20 years ago. Back in those days, we were holding marketing boot camps. It was about every six months in the early days. I recall having a conversation at the end of one of our two or three day boot camps with an agent, and he had like 11 pages. He came up to see me at the end of the conference and he said, “Mike, I got 11 pages of stuff and I’m so excited.” He was just bursting with energy and couldn’t wait to get back to the office.
I saw him six months later at the next boot camp and I said, “Hey man, tell me about some of the stuff you’ve got done.” He said, “Man, I’ve been so busy. I haven’t gotten anything done.” I said, “Literally, nothing on your 11 pages of notes?” He said, “Literally nothing.” At which point, I realized I had a different problem as a consultant to the industry at a different problem. That it is not enough to simply teach or give marketing strategies, but we also had to clear away this problem of agents thinking that they were too busy, they didn’t have control over their time. Frankly, to some extent, a lot of agencies year after year after year, they could be the same 20 years later. An agency that had a certain, O style personality size marketplace in the mid 1980’s may have had this same look, the same field, the same in 2005. Now, here we are and approaching 2020. My projection is that’s going to kill a lot of agents. In my state of the industry report, I identified four major forces and one of them is just the sheer speed of change. Getting down to the fundamentals here, let’s say, we’ve got an agency, it’s doing well but like a lot of agencies who approach us or approach me or approach Agency Revolution, they know that they need to make a change, but they don’t have a history of it. They don’t have a culture of it and they don’t have strategies to make it happen. Hence, they turned to you.
Lucas: There are a few principles that we used at our agile process that help us stay focused so that we can produce and produce on time, which is really hard to do itself.
Michael: As I recall, I paid for some of those test schedule over budget projects.
Lucas: We’ve gotten better and better over time, as well. The first principle of our agile process is to timebox everything. We work in two week sprints. Now, you can say, “Okay, so you’re going to do two weeks of stuff at a time.” What does that mean? What are you actually going to get done? You know how it goes when you set out. Maybe you do a weekly plan and you say, “All right, this is my to do list for this week. My team and I needed to accomplish these tasks.” Then other stuff comes in and interrupts you. Then at the end of the week, you’ll look at your list and you’re like, “Well, I got half of that done, but then I got a bunch of other stuff done.” What happens at the end of the day is you’re not going to deliver in your key initiatives on time. You have to both timebox and you have to be very selective about what you allow to interrupt and take over your commitments at the beginning of a sprint. This is just something that you have to build as a leader in your culture as an organization. You have to lead by example and you also have to help everybody standby that principle or you’ll just get eaten up. It won’t work. Time boxing is number one.
Michael: Define that timeboxing. It’s a term most people probably aren’t familiar with.
Lucas: Agile sprints are typically done in one or four week sprints and I can get into the details later about why somebody wouldn’t do a one week sprint or a four week sprint. We choose two weeks. It works well for us. Agile, the great thing about it is you can experiment and try different things and learn from it and change to do what works for yourself. You have to measure everything or you won’t have any objective data to make objective decisions with later. We do measure everything. We take on a two week sprint, we look at our backlog of things that we like to either improve the product bugs that we like to fix, features that we like to build. As a product manager, I work with the customer experience team, the sales team and other customers. I get feedback to groom my backlog and build up a set of priorities and criteria so that we pick off the most important things.
Then, I work with my engineering team to estimate, “Okay, we’ve got a feature that we want to build. We want to let our customers change the colors of all their themes and their email so they can have a more brand connected communication, for example. I’ll dive into the technical details about how we do that as an engineering team, and will point it using what we call story points. We’ll take a story-
Michael: Okay, story points.
Lucas: Yes. This is a way to estimate how big are those things. Now, some people keep it simple. I’ve got a small, large, extra-large, like t-shirt sizes.
Michael: Right? Okay.
Lucas: You can get more detail. We have one pointer, two pointers, three-pointers, five pointers, and typically we don’t do any work for more than three points. Occasionally, we do a five-pointer work.
Lucas: Like the entire Sprint or one person’s function with-
Lucas: All of the above. Measurement is another key part of this process. You have to measure everything. We first estimate and story points, that give us our size. Then we measure-
Michael: Okay. Points on story point, for a second, as it can baffle people. Typically, if you get a team together, somebody might be thinking, we divvy up tasks. Somebody might be thinking that’ll probably take me four hours or eight hours. Okay, to find a story point in Y, and explain why that’s a useful concept.
Lucas: Well, it’s tempting it is to say this will take X hours or Y hours, what happens is inevitably we’re really bad at estimating how long things take in hours, so we don’t-
Michael: Right. That’s it. It’s not just me. [laughs]
Lucas: What we work with is we grab a story Point Baseline. This kind of becomes the engineering team’s culture. One pointer is a feature that we all worked on before we can remember, and we can remember how that felt. We can go back and actually look at how much time we spent on that P feature. Instead of talking about this abstraction of ours, because engineers get lost in time very quickly, we talk about it in the abstraction of story points so that we’re focused on thinking about other things that were a similar size.
Michael: Fair enough. All right.
Lucas: You can do the same thing if you’re using Sprints for your marketing team, or if your operations team, you could do the same thing there too. You talk about different initiatives and the size of those initiatives. Story points, the word comes from a user story. This is an engineering word, so if we have an initiative, it would be a user story.
Michael: What would be a user story?
Lucas: A user story might be like a feature comes in for a customer and they want to be able to embed a video in an email, so you’re right about like as a user, I want to be able to add video to my email so that when my customers open the email, they can quickly play the video, so it’s just got a methodology for-
Michael: The features described from the end of the story of the user. Okay.
Lucas: That’s where that comes from. The measuring everything is important. We timebox our Sprint. We know the velocity points per person per sprint. We know the velocity of every team member. We know the velocity of the team as a whole. To begin the Sprint, we’ll make considerations for holidays or time off, and then we say, okay, this is what we’re capable of this sprint. We’re able to do 25 points for this team.
All right, I’ve got three Engineers on it. I can now divvy up the features among these team here to get everything done in time, and it gives us a way to chat the course and progress throughout those two weeks to make sure that we finish that on time and have a clean break at the end of the Sprint. Everything had started, our goal is to get all that done. If we finish some things early, some team members we can let them pull in additional work, and what that means for them is they’re going to have to work harder next time because either they didn’t estimate the work correctly or they’re better, and their definition of a velocity is intense.
Michael: Their High Velocity. Okay, so, okay. All right, so I’m going to break this into some smaller chunks here. Before the Sprint starts, I can identify two big chunks of things that happen. One is, let’s say you’re going to start your sprint on a Monday. I don’t know when you do, but let’s say you’re going to start on Monday. Well, my guess is the week before or the month before. You, because of your position, you’re gathering insights and concepts and ideas. You’re talking to the sales team. You’re talking to the customer experience team, et cetera. You’re getting a vision.
Then Monday rolls around, my guess also is you probably don’t just bring the team together and say here’s what you’re doing, but there has to be a little bit of a collaborative process. Okay. We have those two chunks. One is how you prepare the concept for the Sprint, and then two, how you engage the team before the starting gun starts, right?
Lucas: Yes. First time working with the US team members of string, customers, customer experience team, sales team another product people. I’m working with them constantly. Every month, we have a different meeting set up. Yes, we take that come that Vision, that plan for kind of generally where we want to be moving, and we have a weekly meeting that’s not part of the Sprint where we’ll have some new items that maybe been Workshop door discussed that we might want to work on the future, and then I’ll grab in the engineers to help me estimate that work so that when you do work on it, we know how much work it is because that might have some impact on when we work on it. Okay.
When the Sprint begins, we’ve already got work that’s been planned so that we’ve developed user interfaces. We’ve maybe documents of the technical requirements. The engineers have looked at it and they estimated in terms of how big it is, and when Monday starts on a new sprint we might make some minor tweaks, but mostly at that point it’s ready and the team, we kind of go through all the issues as a team and make sure everybody understands their responsibility, gives feedback if there’s any roadblock that they’re worried about or anything that might be a problem to their productivity because the great thing about Sprints is that everybody’s making a personal commitment to get a certain amount of work done in a certain period of time, that personal responsibility does drive performance. Unfortunately for us last week and then some of my guys worked extra.
Michael: Yes, you’re right. [laughs] I gathered that and if you’re 65 hour week’s [laughs] show, okay. All right, so now-
Lucas: Sprint’s launched.
Michael: The Sprint is launched. Here’s my next question, is like, I know that you don’t then just come back two weeks later and say hey, it’s done.
Lucas: Yes, I got two weeks off.
Michael: How do you maintain visibility, communication, and accountability during the Sprint itself?
Lucas: One of the most important things is that time boxing. We made a commitment to get this amount of work done in this period of time. Every morning, we have a stand-up. We like it if the standards just 10 minutes, but it might be 45 minutes. What we do, the purpose that stands up is to review anything that somebody has learned from the day before that can help anybody else out or any Cross communications to keep the project moving forward quickly.
We also look at what we’re going to do today. Is there anything here that you don’t know how to do that you might be Road blocked on that you need to communicate now about so that we can break through that roadblock, so we don’t lose a full day of productivity. We do this every morning same time every day, and it’s important that it’s a ritual because it does serve that purpose and you really can lose a day off for activity and Engineering if somebody gets stuck, doesn’t have the resource and spends a lot of time trying to break through that roadblock on their own. We have a lot of smart people on the team. We want cross communication collaboration to give passes Roadblock.
Michael: In the daily standup, does everybody account like this-
Lucas: Everyone accounts.
Michael: Everybody accounts. If somebody’s running into a problem, they put that on the table looking for solutions from the group.
Lucas: Exactly. By the by the end of the Sprint, in most cases, we’ve completed all the work. There might be a couple of story points that we don’t complete sometimes, and then we do our Sprint retrospective. The retrospective now is looking back at the work that we’ve done and what lessons can we learn so that we can do a better job and perform better in the future. This is super valuable. There’s a couple of things that this does. One, it helps create a culture of accepting mistakes. We want people to be able to make mistakes and fail safely.
We don’t want people to keep our changing to hide mistakes and keep secrets because that’s going to hinder our progress in the future. Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone in the team to learn.
Lucas: We go back and we look for ways that we can improve and get better. In our team, we have a guardrail to help us in that respect. We are also, in addition to estimating the size of work in the beginning, we’re actually measuring the time that we spent on that effort. If there’s a large difference, let’s say I had an issue we said it was three points and we’re expecting three points to be 25 hours of work, for example. Somebody spent 50 hours of work on it, well, let’s figure out what happened, where did we go wrong so that we can improve on this in the future. Did I do a bad job work-shopping that issue? Was I not clear describing the requirements? Did somebody misunderstand something? Did we not properly groom this to find some technical problems? It’s a way for us to put a spot light on areas that we may have not done a perfect job so that we can get better in the future.
Then it’s also a way for us to readjust anything in the process, we’re constantly learning about the process as well. If there’s things about the agile process, the retrospective is a time to step back and say, “Okay, there’s some changes we can make to improve this process and get better as team.”
Michael: Okay. All right, I want to just throw a few words at you for quick definitions, just define these words.
Lucas: There’s a lot of jargon in there.
Michael: I know. [laughs] All right, agile, what does that mean in the context of software and business?
Lucas: Agile is project management methodologies to be able to react and deliver quickly.
Michael: Okay. It sounds like sprints are a subset of agile methodologies.
Lucas: Yes, they could be used in a lot of different agile methodologies.
Michael: Okay, and-
Lucas: Sprintex is a period of time that you’re accomplishing a defined set of objectives.
Michael: Yes, you sprint throughout the year.
Lucas: We do.
Michael: In theory, you’re going to have 26 sprints.
Lucas: Yes, we’re going to have some time off.
Michael: Well, there’s Tet in Vietnam, so there’s the-
Lucas: There’s a whole sprint there.
Michael: All right, that’s new years, for those of you who are not as familiar with the culture. All right, lean, define lean.
Lucas: Lean is an agile methodology developed, as far as I recall, by Eric Ries, and a lot of the same properties and principles they’re kind of universal lean. It’s a great place to start if you’re building a new product and you want to apply this methodology, even outside of software, it’s a great place to help the whole business iterate. Lean is also about testing and measuring with the users. Everything I’ve talked about so far is about the development process, but lean extends even further to the user interaction, that thing that you’ve built, is the user using that correctly, or did you waste all that really fast sprint time on something that nobody ever cares about. That’s where lean comes in.
Michael: Okay, no fat, lean, no fat.
Lucas: Lean is, yes, no fat.
Michael: In processing, in the processes ideally-
Lucas: How do you know if that feature you built is being used? Okay, insurance is expensive, you don’t want to waste your time.
Michael: All right, I’m going to just ask you to spitball with me here for a moment on this. These are concepts that are embedded within the software industry. You’re not going to work for a legitimate software company without these as part of the culture, right?
Lucas: Pretty much.
Lucas: These days, yeah. To some extent.
Michael: An agent listening to this might think that, well, of course software companies are always developing something new, but in fact, you also have to maintain. I’m trying to kill the objection. This is only for software companies, this is for survival.
Lucas: This is for getting stuff done.
Michael: This is for getting stuff done, and my premise, folks, is that we’re leaving at a world right now where insurance agents need to get stuff done, and they need to get stuff done 10x faster.
Lucas: In our company, we have 253 employees now. All the product teams use Sprint.
Michael: Some kind of a sprint.
Lucas: Our marketing team uses sprints as well, our content team uses sprints. Every company, every part of the company uses sprints.
Michael: Got it.
Lucas: Even outside software.
Michael: I think I’m I right in saying that ultimately what drives the success of the sprints is the clarity of a compelling vision, and the teams align around that vision. We have to know where we’re going, to some extent.
Michael: At least we make really, really good sense out of the next two weeks.
Lucas: Yes, you need a product leader to be able to do sprints.
Michael: All right.
Lucas: For an agent, certainly they’re not just selling stuff, but agents they also have to work on projects to help them grow their agency-
Michael: Yes. Right.
Lucas: Work on the business and not just in it.
Michael: Work on the business not just in it, we’ve been talking about that one for a long time, and I think first of all, it can just no longer be acceptable to say that, “We’re going to be the same two weeks from now as we are now.” Most agencies, for many years, they could say that they were the same but they’re like 20 years later, but we’re really getting to the point where the speed of change and the competitive emerging channels and competitors within our own channel, those who are moving faster really are knocking things around, so agents need to move fast. To the agency principal who’s listening to this and saying, “I’m excited about this but I know that my team’s never going to accept [unintelligible 00:36:43], we’ve always done things a certain way.” What piece of advice would you give to non-software people who want to make dramatic change?
Lucas: Organize a team in your company, and well of course, you as a leader need to develop your backlog of your important initiatives that need to get done. Organize a team that’ll help you work on these initiatives and start practicing sprints, allocate some velocity, get some commitment from your team members about how much time they can commit with you, and try time-boxing, try doing the sprint, and just try to accomplish some of the goals that you set out to do instead of having that checklist get overwhelmed with the viewers.
Michael: Yes, the checklist that the agency principal has, and I’ve seen this a lot, and I’m sympathetic to it but not much anymore. The agency principals bearing a load of things they want to get done with the impression or maybe the culture that’s lasting from the old days where the team members are all in charge of maintenance, and the agency principals are the ones who are supposed to make the change, and I think what we’re seeing is that this doesn’t work, the change and the commitment to change needs to run really, really deeply.
Here’s another area, you had mentioned the concept of remote. One of the things I observed at the Insurtech Conference is that, since I had an opportunity to see a lot of fellow Insurtech executives, you might ask, “Where are you?” And maybe they would say whatever, Cleveland or Boston or wherever, you would click quickly or I would quickly discover that they also had workers here there and everywhere.
Lucas: Pretty much.
Michael: Which is very common in software, but also I’m seeing this arise constantly with clients I’ve worked with individually, that they’re grabbing on to the idea of remote, and they’re getting more and more demand from it, from people that work for them, and not necessarily just the millennials. Somebody might move and maybe they were a 10 year employee and the agency doesn’t want to lose them and they’re trying to figure out how to make it work. Boom. Put this in the context for most listeners know that I, Michael, sold my interest in agency revolution about a year and a half ago. When I did that, we were already a remote company. We wouldn’t have survived if we weren’t. When I left, we had people at Maine, from Maine to Vietnam.
Lucas: Right, that’s the world.
Michael: And spread out in between. Now you’re in Vietnam, the company’s technically it’s headquartered in San Diego, but I can’t even count the number of states where people are employed full time working on this team.
Lucas: The whole reason we went to Vietnam when I came back here to build the team, is to solve the problem of, “I can’t find the people I need in the city my business was started in.” If you’re limiting yourself to the local market, you are quite limited in terms of what resource you have.
Michael: We weren’t going to build the technology in Bend Oregon.
Lucas: At the time?
Michael: We couldn’t have found enough engineers there. All right.
Lucas: By being remote, we can unlock a much larger talent pool of people in the world. There’s methodologies like Agile, and there’s technology and systems that make it quite easy, but to be honest, it’s not for everybody. You’ve got to be comfortable. Let’s be honest, you’ve got to be comfortable with the technologies and tools to make it work. You can learn it though. A lot of it can be learned.
Michael: Let’s talk about what it takes to be a successful remote company, and then I want to tie it into the agents’ everyday life. We started when I was still functioning as the CEO of Agency Revolution. I had invested a year in training a marketing co-coordinator who worked under me, and then he approached me, he said, “Gosh, I’m really sorry to say this, Michael, but my wife is pregnant and wants to move back to be with her family.” [laughs] In fact, I just went crazy. Could be because I had invested a year in training somebody in my skill set, and I really felt like he was getting it, and then, boom, gone.
I went in and spoke with at that point our COO and she said, “Well, why don’t we just keep him? Let him be remote.” Of course, the initial first reaction was, “Gosh, how do I know he’s going to really get the job done? At least now when I come to the office, I’ll see him in his cubicle head down.” That’s [laughs] a miserable way of managing somebody. First of all, what she didn’t point out to me was that back in those days, I was remote probably 60%, 70% of the time anyway, but I trusted myself.
Lucas: Very, you can’t measure people by those things.
Michael: By head down in the cubicle, no, that’s not all right.
Lucas: You can measure by results.
Michael: Yes, you have world-class experience in being remote, and managing remote, and coordinating, collaborating, communicating remote. What do you think agents need to be aware of? What tools, or concepts, principles, can we give them that can give them the that can give them the confidence.
Lucas: The number one most important have it for making remote work, in my opinion, is having a rhythm. The Sprints that we do work really well, but I also have rhythms with the key people I need to work with. I have either a bi-weekly, or monthly, or weekly meeting with important people, even if it means I wake up at 4:30, four o’clock every day, if that’s what it takes.
Michael: [laughs] That is one of the incontingency of being a-
Lucas: I’m used to that. I like getting up in the morning. You got to have that rhythm, I’m not saying you be up at 4:30, but you got to have the rhythm and stick with it so that people don’t feel like they’re missing out that opportunity to move a project forward or discuss something. If you have nothing to talk about, it can be a quick call and finish it. Rhythm is really important.
Of course, you need the right communication tools. We use Slack for group chat. Slack is our private work chat-space, so, we can talk about specific projects and specific channels, or specific teams and channels, or we can direct message with individuals in this system as well. We use a whole lot less email since we’ve adopted Slack. There is more of the place that we go for [laughs] the longer form communication when we need to push together on a bigger project.
Michael: Slack, and then do you also use a Convanas or some kind of a collateral?
Lucas: For the software, we use Jira for our project management, but Felo was a great project management software that’s free. It’s good place to organize things. A lot of remote teams work with Trello.
Michael: I use ZenKit, folks, both for my own work and when I work in collaboration with individual clients. It’s a way for me to guide clients to their marketing map. It does the same thing. It’s a convon.
Lucas: Flex supports video calls, where we find Google’s video calls to be a bit more reliable, so we tend to use that for group meetings. It’s nice to see people face to face.
Michael: Video really matters, I think it really helps remote.
Lucas: Yes, it’s really key. Even though I’ve met most of these people a few times, some of them many, but [laughs] in the video, I feel like I know them. It’s nice to see them.
Michael: Anything else with remote?
Lucas: I’ll be open to trying different tools and technologies. A lot of the remote work tools out there, they offer free trials. They’re just completely free, so, see what works for you. Give it a try.
Michael: Right, and Slack has a free version, I think.
Lucas: There is a free version for Slack. Absolutely.
Michael: ZenKit has a free version, Trello has a free version.
Lucas: I’ve never even heard of ZenKit. You say it’s good.
Michael: I’m happy with [cross talk].
Lucas: What does it do.
Michael: It’s like Trello, but it also does allow me to reconfigure some other things. I can mine-map, I can brainstorm, convert it to a Trello, I can convert it to a list, I can convert it to a marketing calendar, which I’ve done with clients. It has flexibility. I’m not here advocating one tool over another. I’ve found the paid version to have some features that I like. All right, it’s all good. Anyway, [laughs] I’ve one other thing that I want to ask you about.
By the way, I probably should also say congratulations to you, Luke, when I was at the InsurTech conference with 6,000 other people, I realized that there were a lot of startups, a lot of companies maybe been around for a few years, there were a lot of people looking for money, and there were a lot of venture capitalists and private equity firms and investment bankers, they were trying to find a good place to put money. Also realized that, Luke, you did build one of the early InsurTech technologies an agent friendly InsurTech technology, and probably one of the very, very few people who built one or managed team that built one that actually took off in the marketplace, scaled, and successfully sold to a private equity firm. Congratulations to you on that. It’s a rare skill set and experience in the insurance industry to a large extent.
Lucas: Thank you. I love doing products.
Michael: You lead the way. That being said, this is actually what made me want to talk to you about Sprint, is that, again, since I’ve been not involved in day to day operations at Agency Revolution for a year and a half, I had the opportunity to sit down on a meeting, I don’t remember which one it was, but you were remote and I was remote in Cave Creek Arizona. You talked about your upcoming Sprint, and you also talked about the accomplishments of some recent Sprints and some of the features which you’ve added, and frankly, I went, “Wow” [laughs]. That was around a year and a half ago when I was still selling. If you would, for the audience, share a little bit about what you’re doing for some of the enhancements that you’re delivering to insurance agents right now.
Lucas: Cool. Most of 2018, we’ve been focusing on helping agents build richer communications, and making it easier for them to communicate to the different slices and segments of their book of business. We make it really easy, we bring in all the data from the agency management system they can really easy to filter that data down so they can run a custom campaign to cross-sales, depending on the different niches or people customized based on the size and amount of business they have with them, all the basic segmentation. We also expose all that rich data. Lately, we’ve been focusing on improving the brand presence that our customers have with their communication. We have six themes available now, all of them can be personalized.
Michael: These are themes for email template?
Lucas: These are e-mail themes, yes. They’re responsive themes. Most of our customers open their emails on their mobile phones are going to look great on their mobile phones, but they also look great on desktop e-mail applications as well. E-mail, what we’re finding, is still a very effective medium to be communicating with for insurance brokers and the agency should not forget about it or be neglecting it.
We just recently released a sweet new feature. It can show the list of active policies that an agent currently has, just some policy header information with that customer. If they’re emailing about an account review, you can list the three or four policies that VIP client might have and say hey, was there anything here that you wanted to discuss? Give me a call.
Michael: Boom. I glanced at that one, to me that was a wow-er. How long has that feature been available?
Lucas: Six weeks. [crosstalk]
Interviewer: Are customers engaging with it?
Michael: It’s not just one at a time?
Lucas: They’re immense. Whoever you’re targeting. If you’re targeting every single customer, you can email them in their policy list.
Michael: Every customer is renewing in the next 30 days and whatever?
Lucas: Exactly. We automate that all. Our new personal theme I’m super excited about, it looks really engaging. The numbers so far are very promising. It includes a photo of the, either account rep or producer on that for that customer. A little photo of them and their name at the bottom. It’s going to drive a better engagement, better response for our customers who use that.
We also have a new signature widget that does a similar thing where you can throw in the photo of the producer or the agent and toggle on different fields to build a more personal communication.
Everything we do is also responsive as well. We have a new YouTube embed widget. If you want to put a YouTube video in your email, put a play button overlay on top of that. A lot of our agents use some YouTube content, this is a quick way to embed that in email to drive further engagement as well.
We’ve got new integrations we just recently integrated with NASA’s eclipse product, and we have some more on the horizon.
Michael: Okay, NASA, for those of you not aware of it, is with an agency management system.
Lucas: Not the government Agency. [laughs]
Michael: Okay. Now you’re integrating with AMS360?
Lucas: Yes. AMS360, Cubic Catalyst, Tam and Epic, Hawks Soft, Power Broker in Canada, NASA, Zana Tech, and we’ve got another four on the horizon. I won’t name them because I don’t want to be held responsible.
Michael: [laughs] It’s not in the sprint yet or whatever.
Lucas: Not in the sprint yet. Things still in progress. Perhaps one of the more exciting features that we worked on is called, outbox. A lot of prospects and even customers, they’re afraid of letting the robots automate this communication. We have the communication could be automated detect when you have new customers, last customers. When they’ve got a price increase or when they’ve canceled a policy, and then we send emails automatically when those events happen. Outbox puts a policy on all of that, sits in the outbox where the agent can look at it. They have seven days to review it and cancel that communication, or send it immediately if they like it.
It gives them a chance, that one more chance to look at what the system is doing before it’s done. Coming up in a sprint or two away, I can talk about this. We’re letting the agents edit those messages. If they want to– they see a message to a friend of theirs, they can personalize it further to overcome that challenge that some people have of, I would never talk to my best friend that way, let’s put it that way. We will be giving our agents more control in the future possibly to tag certain clients, like always review in the outbox other ones always send different controls. They have different level of control over what communication system will send automatically.
Our focus in the coming season will be on better content, and make it easier to automatically send that content out. More to come.
Michael: All right, Lucas, so if one of our listeners has a question for you or maybe a suggestion that they want to put into a future sprint, I suspect that calling you at 4:30 in the morning is not best way to do it? [laughs]
Lucas: I’ll be on the phone already.
Michael: How can people, how can our listeners reach out to you and find you?
Lucas: My email is this way, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael: Well, Luke, on behalf of the industry, first of all, thanks for the contributions you’ve made, and on behalf of our listeners, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to spend some time with us today.
Lucas: Great. Thanks for having me. Thanks for coming out here.
Michael: You bet.