For many business owners, raising a round of funding is something of a rite of passage — a pecuniary notch on their belts that hopefully leads to more growth.
The keyword there is "hopefully," as funding is not a golden ticket to a company's success. Only when it's well-invested does funding help oil a company’s motors. Luckily, the local tech scene has its fair share of veteran companies to look up to in terms of funding done right.
Take Insureon, a Chicago-based tech company that’s automating the small commercial buying experience to save small businesses time and money when it comes to business insurance. In October of 2015, the company closed a $31 million round of funding, one of the larger individual rounds secured by a local company in the 2015 calendar year.
And, according to CEO Ted Devine, they’ve experienced a boon in both business and hiring since then — with more projected growth on the horizon.
A 10 month exercise in growth
Three years ago, Insureon was serving 28,000 small businesses across the country. Today, that number is about 57,000 — a growth of more than 100 percent, helped in part by a 21 percent surge in customers since just December of last year. What’s more, Devine said the company is set to sell $315 million in premiums in 2016, up from $83 million two years ago.
“We believe that we’re hitting the market at the right time,” Devine said. “There is a lot of buzz around ‘insuretech.’”
But that growth isn’t only measured by an increase in clients and revenue. Devine also said the staff has grown more than 10 percent since January alone, with a particular focus on reinforcing its tech team — thanks in large part to the funding.
“The funding has really allowed us to grow our tech staff and grow our product management staff as good as any firm in financial services,” he said.
To be fair, Insureon did lay off about 20 staffers earlier this year — a move the CEO described as difficult but necessary to ensure a sound equilibrium between the company's technologists and, well, everyone else.
Today, the company employs about 250 people, a number Devine predicts will continue to grow, thanks in large part to a strategic focus on tech. And they’re still hiring: Devine said he’s currently on the prowl for front-end technologist, project managers, and data analysts with a history of machine learning to boot.
Keeping small businesses front of mind, center of heart
Despite growing the company into somewhat of a fixture on Chicago’s fintech circuit, Devine said he still identifies most with the small businesses the company serves.
“The whole notion of having the courage to start a small business — having that dream manifest into something that helps pay for your kid’s college, or pay for your daughter's wedding, or fund your retirement, or make a mark on your career — is our passion,” Devine said (pictured left). “Before us, it really was quite difficult for a small business owner to get the insurance protection they need so that, if something bad happens when they’re doing their job..., they can’t basically get sued out of existence. With our technology and with our partnerships with the largest carriers in the United States, we can deliver a certificate of insurance ... in 15 minutes or less. That’s our passion. That’s our mission.”
Such support for small, local businesses has become a salient part of the work Insureon does every day. It’s a mission that can be traced back to Devine’s own past, when he was just a hockey-loving teen who helped his mom run her hockey merchandise store.
“I remember doing receipts with my mom after school and after hockey practice, and then waking up at 6:30 on a Saturday to go open the store,” he said. “It’s what paid for my college. There are millions of small businesses that do that every day, and that’s really cool.”
Today, those histories have rooted themselves into the day-to-day business at the company. A large, industrial fan stands proudly in their main board room to remind the team of the small, air condition-less office across from the Cook County jail where the company was born. And top performing teams are given a Stanley Cup replica trophy as recognition of hard work.
Gestures like those, Devine said, are part of a larger effort to celebrate who they are as a company and where they’ve come from.
“When I got here, we were doing 20 sales a day,” he said. “Today, we’ll do 150 sales, and we’ll talk to a thousand potential clients. For every one of those conversations, I ask if the passion for small businesses is coming through.”
Devine’s soft spot for entrepreneurship also manifests as support for the local business community at large. He said he and his team built the company intentionally in Chicago with no plans to leave.
“We think it’s the best business community in the world,” he said. “Hopefully we’re a small part of a journey that leads to where, in a decade from now, Chicago is said in the same breath as Silicon Valley.”
And as companies like Insureon continue to rack up wins thanks to the funding they secured last fall, it’s a plus for the entire ecosystem — and a step in that very direction.