Brian Thornton from ProWriters
Chris Carr: Hello and welcome to Thought Leader Magazine. My name is Chris Carr. I’m the president of Farotech. We’re a digital marketing agency located just outside the city of Philadelphia. We are excited today on Thought Leader Magazine we have Brian Thornton. Brian is the CEO of ProWriters, and when you start to think about the who’s who of cyber, Brian’s name is absolutely on the top of the list. So, we’re extremely excited to have him. So welcome to the show, Brian.
Brian Thornton: Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Chris Carr: Awesome. Awesome. So just to start off, I’m going to kind of go through some of the specs that we went through before. So, you graduated from Gettysburg in 1999.
Brian Thornton: Yup.
Chris Carr: You started ProWriters in 2013.
Brian Thornton: Yup.
Chris Carr: There you got a large strategic investment in 2018, and you’re currently licensed in all 50 States.
Brian Thornton: Yup.
What are your hobbies or what do you do outside of work?
Chris Carr: You grew up in New York and you currently live in Chester County and you are married with four kids. So, we were talking before about, every time I talk to an entrepreneur, I say, what are your hobbies or what do you do outside of work? And they kind of laugh, like, are you allowed to do anything outside of work? But you were saying that you golf and that you do a half marathon every year for St Jude’s. How did you get into that?
Brian Thornton: Yeah, so my wife and I started a foundation called the Love, Vaughn Foundation after our oldest son passed away and so the basis of the foundation was to help kids that have childhood diseases and developmental delays as well as their families and we do it in different ways. We’ve donated a music cart to CHOP to help music therapists come around and play music for the kids. We’ve donated a lot of toys. We’ve donated kits for the parents that are staying for long periods of time and sometimes can’t leave their kids and it’s just got toiletries and things like that, that sometimes they’re not prepared for. And so, as part of that, my wife and I started going to Nashville to run the half marathon, which is part of the Rock and Roll marathon. All the proceeds go to the St. Jude hospital. So, that made sense to us and we did it for us. It was more something not to drive funds, but just more something we wanted to do and so now we’ve gone every single year since and we get a whole crew of different people to come with us every year. And so, we have a lot of fun. The half marathon, I’m not much of a runner, but I do it. I do it. I need to train as I get older, a little bit more each year. But we have had anywhere from 10 to 25 people come with us and they’ve all done varying different degrees of either the half marathon, the 5k, a fun run. And then we’re in Nashville and we get to have some fun afterwards and, you know, go see some loud music and have some fun. This past year was the NFL draft at the same weekend. So that was even more interesting to see. Completely packed but they handled it really well, so it was a lot of fun.
Chris Carr: That’s great. That’s great. And how long, how many years you’ve been doing that?
Brian Thornton: So, this was our fifth year, just doing it this past spring. So, it’s every spring. So, it’s kind of right after the winter and it starts to lighten up. It’s time to start exercising and getting outside. So, it’s a good motivator.
Chris Carr: Yeah. So, 13 miles right out of the gate, right out of wintertime.
Brian Thornton: That can be tough. It can be tough.
Chris Carr: Yeah. Yeah. I played soccer in high school and dabbled with it in college and thought the running would translate from playing soccer to, you know, to everything else and it just absolutely did not and, it was, it was funny because I went to this running store in Doylestown and I totally thought because the guy was a specialist that shoes were my issue and he’s like, shoes are not your issue.
Brian Thornton: The shoes aren’t going to matter.
Chris Carr: He was recommending swimming.
Brian Thornton: Yeah, I am not much of a runner, but we get through it because we know on the backend we’re going to have some fun. So, it’s always a good time.
Cyber insurance seems like a small world for such a large subject. How does that work?
Chris Carr: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So just as a background, Brian’s been a client of ours at Farotech for over a year now, about a year and a half. You were referred to me by your brother-in-law who’s also a client, but I always felt like since, you know, in our relationship, you’ve kind of been the guy who’s been a connector and I see the events that you attend and stuff like that. It seems like a small world, even though it’s a very large subject. How does that work?
Brian Thornton: Yeah. So cyber insurance is a small niche within the overall insurance landscape. I’ve been working in that for almost 20 years now and so the group that I started with were some of the first people running the first policies and really looking at this on a large scale for large businesses. A lot of the people that I’ve worked with at that time are now all key people throughout the industry. And so, some of it was just being in the right place at the right time. That’s been my focus since. So, I’ve stayed working in technology, you know, in cyber insurance, and so after this amount of time, the industry has grown tremendously, but the key people are all the people that started and have continued in it. So, I’ve been lucky to know a lot of those people. And it’s great cause we get to spend a lot of time sharing thoughts and connecting. And so, you know, when we go to one of these cyber conferences, it’s pretty hard to get much accomplished. While you’re connecting with everybody that you know and you want to talk to all of them and hear what’s going on at their companies and what they’re seeing and talk about what you’re seeing and so it becomes extremely busy for a couple of days, but always a lot of fun.
Chris Carr: So, you started ProWriters in 2013. When we started working together, I thought it’d be a good idea to put on alerts of anybody or any companies they got hit with cyber and in like 10 days, I pretty much turned it off.
Brian Thornton: Exactly.
What is ProWriters and how did the business start?
Chris Carr: I mean, it is, it’s one of those things that everybody could get hit. So yeah. Tell me about what ProWriters is and why did you start it?
Brian Thornton: So, ProWriters is a wholesale broker as well as an MGA and the differentiator is an MGA has the authority to quote, bond and issue on behalf of a carrier, whereas a broker goes to a carrier and gets the carrier to provide the quotes. We do this for professional liability lines, so E&O D&O, and cyber insurance and then there’s sub-products of all of those, whether you’re legal malpractice or accountancy and then for D&O, it’s prime coverage, it’s employment practices.
My niche was always within the cyber and technology space and so we saw an opportunity, and a growing market, with cyber insurance to say, okay, where do we see issues? And so, some of the issues were on the efficiency side and some of those things I grappled with on the carrier side of making the underwriting more efficient and making this more affordable and getting the coverage to be broader. On an MGA level we saw the same issue, as far as brokers and the process that they had to obtain a cyber quote.
In the beginning even for a small business, you would hand a client an eight to 10 page application with 150 questions and there’s no way a small business could spend the time to fill that out to get a product that they didn’t understand, where they didn’t understand their exposures. That’s evolved tremendously now that you know, in 60 seconds we can now offer multiple quotes from multiple carriers to an agent. So, they can enter some basic info and we can say here’s what all the top carriers are offering as far as limit, deductible price, and then we can automate a comparison. And so that’s kind of where we’ve come and there’s a lot that’s happened in between, but we started the company really to focus on expertise within those products and offering that to retail brokers where they’re focusing on all products and they’ve got to deal with many carriers across all those products. So, we give them expertise on the product but then we also focus heavily on the service side to really be as efficient as humanly possible for them.
Chris Carr: That sounds like a massive undertaking. Now, you are in this alone, right? You don’t have the business partner, is that correct?
Brian Thornton: So, we started the company ourselves. My wife and I decided that this was a good idea. So, we moved to Philly where we had family and we started the company. We’ve brought in a bunch of additional employees; we’ve been growing, and we brought in capital partners in the beginning of 2018 to help us invest in operations to bring in different systems. So, there’s a lot of developmental work. There’s a lot of spend and effort on that front to really streamline this. So, it looks extremely simple on the front end, and that’s kind of where all the complexities behind the scenes and that takes a lot of programming, time and effort and then we’re still constantly tweaking that every day.
We brought in a CFO and COO to help lead that. So, it’s not just me trying to do some of these things. So, we brought in capital partners for that and a lot of them are also key people that have a lot of connections within the industry that we’re the right people to help us with the vision that we had for developing this out. So, we also put aside funds because we were small and we were growing and we were focusing a lot on small and midsize business, to potentially acquire other businesses. So, if we saw other niche MGAs or brokers that kind of fit either the products or the scope of what we were trying to do, look to acquire those to build scale.
What are your key responsibilities as ProWriters President?
Chris Carr: Okay. Yeah. That’s great. So, what are your key responsibilities?
Brian Thornton: A little bit of everything. Certainly, when we started working with you guys at Farotech, it was a focus heavily on marketing. So, building the brand, kind of rebranding from a website perspective, focusing a little bit more on digital marketing as far as whether that’s, you know, after redoing the site, a lot of it was thought leadership pieces. So, writing blogs regularly, writing white papers, working with somebody that can help us actually do that effectively as opposed to me trying to do that. We really needed a team to help us do that and that was where we found the synergies of what you were doing and what we needed help with. I had a lot of good ideas, but I couldn’t get them from A to Z. It was more I can build the idea and help, but I needed help, you know, executing on that. So marketing is a key thing that I focus on because a lot of what we do is educational.
We’re spending a lot of time doing webinars and one on one screen shares with brokers, either walking them through our platform then that leads to the entire office coming in and sitting in on educational sessions where we do one on ones with an office or offices of an agent where we talk to them about cyber exposures and really get into granular detail about the exposures different clients face and then how they can educate their clients.
And then we talk about all the coverages that are available. So, we’re spending a lot of time marketing and so that’s key to everything that we’re doing. So, the blog, white papers and doing a lot of digital marketing. So that’s one of my big responsibilities. Certainly, within that I’ve got oversight of our COO who’s running all of our systems. So, our underwriting portal, our underwriting systems, all the different APIs and things that we’re linking to carrier systems. So, it feels a lot more like a tech company than an insurance company.
There’s a thing in this kind of space called Insurtech, which is a lot of real tech enabled insurance businesses but they are more technology companies and often don’t have a lot of insurance people and so that’s where we kind of view ourselves as a bit of a hybrid that we look at it and think, okay, we’re an insurance company that’s just tech enabled. So, heavy on the tech side, we’ve brought in a CFO and an underwriter. So, we oversee compliance, licensing, anything, you name it. It’s kind of all within my remit.
What is the user experience for a new broker using your Cyber IQ platform?
Chris Carr: Wow. And then so you know, you built this platform, you’re constantly enhancing the platform. What is the user experience like for, you know, you get a brand new client and they log in there. One of the things that you said was, the simplicity of it and Steve Jobs is kind of famous for saying “simple as hard”, you know what I mean?
I think one of the things that we’ve done as a company is working with you guys just to really narrow down your messaging. But if I’m a new client, what is the user experience like when I log onto your platform?
Brian Thornton: So, for a retail broker that logs into our system, it’s funny when we do a demo, it’s usually extremely quick and then we stop and we say, “and that’s it”. Yeah. So, it’s, it’s shorter than people would expect and potentially the processes that have been dealing with in the past. But if our broker were to log in and say, okay, I’ve got a client and that we want to offer them cyber or they’re asking for this and we need to give them something. They can log in and within 60 seconds they can enter some basic data of their client and we’re able to run this through underwriting our underwriting platform that houses data on PAF of all these carriers. So, their rates, their forms, their rules.
In some cases, we’re using APIs on the backend to ping their systems for certain things, whether that’s clearance or otherwise. But on their side, all they see is I’ve entered some basic data and when I say, you know, let me see what the rates are. Boom, they’ve got the limit deductible and price from the carriers. There’s then a level of customization they can do. They can click on and kind of change either deductible option or they can answer some questions differently to get different coverages that are a la carte, or they can change a supplement that they might want a little bit more coverage for certain coverages. But from there, if they’re happy with what they’ve got, they can press a button, say, okay, send me these quotes, what they get from us and we have all this automated on our side. They get a cover letter for each carrier, that detailed any surplus information, which is just state specific taxes, details then there’s a quote letter from the carrier that details all the different coverages and supplements and then it’s the policy form, the endorsements, the application that’s prefilled with all the data they’ve already entered in the portal. So, it’s taken away some kind of duplicate entry. We do that on behalf of all those carriers and then we give them a comparison and that’s really where it saves brokers a lot of time.
So, they get all these quotes in their inbox and then they get a comparison that’s two pages of line by line. Here’s how they stack up, all the different coverages, exclusions, et cetera. So, it’s a simple way for them to look at it and say, okay, now we kind of can see what these look like and how they compare. We can then talk about which one’s really the best fit for this client and so it narrows that down and kind of takes away a lot of the data entry, a lot of the review and can narrow it down to a quick conversation and so it’s pretty simple and streamlined for them. They can have a quote with us within minutes that can bind it as needed, but often it just takes away a lot of the data entry on both sides and then it just becomes a conversation. A lot of times we’re on the phone with them answering the client’s questions directly because they get uncomfortable with cyber because it gets highly technical. So, for them it’s a pretty simple view of what they see.
How do you scale your business?
Chris Carr: Got you. Yeah. I mean I’ve witnessed the platform obviously and I think, I think it’s an amazing system. So, my, my question for you is sort of how do you scale that business? You’ve developed your messaging; you’ve got your core customer clientele and stuff like that. When you think about it, 2013, when you’re working 24 hours it doesn’t feel like you started, you know, five years ago. It feels like you started 20 years ago. But how do you scale? What are some of the strategies that you use? What’s the science behind growing this business?
Brian Thornton: Yeah. So, it’s interesting. I mean it’s kind of like the dog that caught the car. What do you do now? And so, we’ve had a challenge there from a standpoint of foreseeing what the growth is going to look, look We initially signed up a lot of independent brokers that have pockets of business that they would send us, so it wasn’t massive growth, but it was acquiring a lot of new relationships.
What we’ve seen more recently is acquiring relationships with much, much larger retail brokers within that kind of top 50 size brokers. They have many offices and many employees and so the challenge there is working with them to say, okay, how many accounts do you have? What do you think the flow is going to look like? So, on the back end we can make sure we’re staffed, and we’ve got either a dedicated underwriter for that individual broker or multiple underwriters for that broker. Or we could have one that’s a shared resource depending on what the flow looks like. So, we try to analyze the flow. The positive thing for us is we’ve automated the underwriting process on small business so much that we can really scale pretty quickly as far as the amount of submissions that an underwriter can review and process and service. So, we’re good on the front end, but certainly on the backend there’s a lot more servicing over time, whether that’s when the account comes up for renewal, whether it has a breach and so we’re constantly looking at the flow and trying to forecast what it’s going to look like to make sure that we’re staffed appropriately. But that’s really the focus again, is acquiring all these new brokers and then working with them on the educational front. But then it becomes a little bit like drinking from a fire hose. It’s just we’ve got to be prepared.
How are you embracing technology as a moving target?
Chris Carr: Sure. Now. All right, so obviously you talked about, you know, you’re heavy on insurance, but then you’re also heavy on technology and you know, one of the things that I would probably say is that you’ve got a lot of tech here. How are you embracing the technology as far as knowing that it’s a moving target. It’s like as soon as you build something, right, technology is constantly changing and stuff like that. So how do you stay ahead of the curve?
Brian Thornton: Yeah, it’s, it’s a huge challenge. And so, we brought in a COO, Chris Reno from PWC and he had a background at Accenture and Booz Allen and so he was heavy on the consulting side and very much looking at processes, optimizations, streamlining and heavy on the tech side and so he’s been a huge help and looking at some of that. But it’s been a challenge for us because as we look at technology, each carrier that we’re working with on the MGA side operates differently. Some have very little technology and they’re huge and they can’t dedicate the time and effort towards us. So, they hand us their rates and their forms and say, here, you’ve got delegated underwriting authority and we house everything, and we manage everything on their behalf. That becomes very easy because that’s in our system when we can manage it and we can update things and tweak them as they decide.
We have other carriers that want to link everything via APIs, some just for clearance, some for claims information, some want to house the rates, but we house the form. So, there’s a different level of sophistication between each carrier that we’re working with and then a lot of the new carriers that we’re talking to figure out whether within cyber or other products, how do we would work with them. So, we’ve got some that are fully sophisticated, can move very quickly on APS and they’re great.
We’re embracing any level of technology we can to streamline things and make it easy for them and easier for us and make both sides happy. So, APIs are interesting because the sophisticated companies can make a change on their end. And if we’ve done everything right on our side, it requires zero change on our end. So, if they change a carrier that’s linked fully through an API could say for this class of business, we want to change our rate, or we want to add this coverage endorsement specifically for these industries at this size. If they make the change on their side, that would flow through instantly to us so that the next risk that comes through that fits that criteria. If it’s a minute later, it’s going to get that and so that works really well for us and for the carrier.
Others are somewhere in between, and I think carriers are much bigger, so they move much slower. So, they have a tough time because they have hundreds, if not thousands of projects that they’re working on to streamline their own operations as well as how they work with MGAs, where they’re outsourcing some of this and so we see them moving very slow. So, they’re like turning an aircraft carrier. It’s been a year and they said, we’re going to give you a new API so we’re going to more, you know, we’re going to move from what we’ve given you to where we’re going to go and you know, a year and a half later when they said three months, we still don’t have anything.
And another scenario is we’re getting an API and it’s not tested, and we spend a lot of time testing and working out a lot of the details for them because it’s kind of a new venture for them and they’re trying to figure it out as they go. But we embrace it at every level. Any broker that wants to enable technology where we can push data directly into their system to eliminate data entry and if they’ve got that capability, then we’re happy to do it.
What were you looking to achieve when you decided to rebrand?
Chris Carr: Got you. All right. We’re going to transition now to some of the marketing that you’re doing for ProWriters. I think one of the things that we started working with you guys, obviously we’re kind of developing your message, identifying what your vision was, but one of the things that we did was we sort of built your website and some of the cool things that I felt like we were able to do is look at your previous website.
We put on heat mapping technology to figure out what is the usability, what’s going on here, how are people interacting? What was awesome for us is that after we built your platform, we started to use some of the lessons that we learned from your platform with other clients and one of the things that I always kind of harp on is, you know what, like you’ve got about eight seconds to get their attention when they come to your website and so like why do we force them to read so much when usually you can spoon feed them who you are, what you do, and what makes you unique.
So, what I loved about what the final outcome on your website is, is that, you know, obviously you had that critical information down here, but you went right at them with just putting this video that you just can’t miss right there and we’re measuring how many people are watching the video on how many people are converting because they’re watching the video and stuff like that. So, when you’re in the kind of marketing experience, stuff like that, what do you, what are the things that you’re looking to achieve when we build this, this presence in his brand?
Brian Thornton: Yeah. So, when we built this, we were really starting from scratch. We had an extremely basic website that when I started the company, we put together something relatively cheap, just kind of had a little bit of branding and some content and insurance was notorious for being a bit of an information dump. Just here, click here, and we’ll give you information about products and you can download applications and policy forms and that’s kind of what people would come to and still you see large carriers that aren’t much better than that today, which is amazing to me.
We really wanted to grab people’s attention and we wanted to get the message across fairly clean. The platform itself, when I’ve talked to people in the business about what we were building and what we were doing, they would kind of nod and totally say they understand and then when I would show them a demo they would say, God, I, you always told me what you were doing, but now I understand what you’re doing. I thought, well, did you not understand the whole time we were talking about this? So, I think the video really speaks so much more to it than we can describe just in words. So, putting that front and center and letting someone look at that and say, oh, this is what their platform looks like, let me click here. The video is a minute. So, if they don’t have the attention span to look at that, they’re probably not going to be a good resource for us. But anyone who looks at that and says, oh, let me watch this, I’m interested. They see it. And they usually then say, okay, contact us. I want to talk to these people, see if I can get access to this.
So, I think the video is proven to be very valuable and also the way that we can then use this to even just email that to people. They’ve been interested, but they want to pass this around to other people in their company before they can sign up. So, we can quickly embed that in an email and say, here, based on our discussion, blah, blah, blah, and here’s this video. It’s one minute long, it’s going to show everyone what we’re talking about and then they can pass it around and we can track it and see, yes, all these people are watching it from this company and invariably that video, I think being able to be passed around helps a lot. But I think a lot of it was the messaging.
I mean we really started from scratch and redoing some of the branding. The site is completely different and totally different from functionality, but much more modern and usable and we’re constantly making updates to it. But a lot of it was also pushing the thought leadership and getting that out there and then building that from a search perspective, which you could talk a lot more intelligently about it then I could certainly.
Chris Carr: Yeah. I think one of the things that we were trying to do from a search perspective is to not only identify, you know, I could try and get you on the first page of Google for 100 words that might bring you a variety of different people to your website. But I think one of the things that we tried to focus on is identifying who your ideal buyer persona was and then using those opportunities to identify keywords to get you to the right people.
Brian Thornton: Yeah, and that’s a huge challenge for us because our buyer is narrow as far as insurance agents are really our client and how do you put between all the search and content you can put out there to bring that narrow of a target in is certainly challenging.
Chris Carr: Yeah, and so one of the other things that was a really great is that we have one of our best project managers that are working on your account and what she does and one of her gifts is that she was able to kind of be nimble with the approach to try to figure out, you know what, we’re going to, we’re going to put this information up there and we’re going to A/B tested and we’re going to figure these things out and we’re going to constantly turn the dials to make sure. We don’t want to assume we got the right clientele because we just don’t know until you send it off. But if you measure and you adjust…
Brian Thornton: You’ve got to be able to measure and track. Yes. So, there’s been a lot of measuring and adjusting, but certainly that was critical. I think working with the right person on that was super helpful. Lindsey was great as far as managing the project, being patient because we’re both a bit of a perfectionist. So, there was constant tweaking to very things that don’t seem meaningful to potentially other people but to me were hypercritical and I could focus on it until we were happy. I could never move past that one thing and so there’s definitely a lot of that A bit OCD I guess on my part.
But I’m happy with the output and certainly happy with what’s coming in now and I think one of the things that I’ve noticed just more recently is we’re seeing a lot of people find us just through natural search. So, when we ask people, when they contact us and we reach out and say, where did you find us? Because sometimes it’s not always clear and a lot of them are just saying, well, you know, I was on Google. Somebody called yesterday and said “I was frustrated with the broker I was working with and I needed help and I needed something that was going to be more digital and work with the way I want to work” and so not the kind of traditional insurance process. So, we were like, great, you know, the blog and the white papers and all that content that’s out there is working because people are able to find us fairly easily based on the content that we’ve put out and the topics we talk about and that they are searchable and findable. But it’s certainly something that’s growing, and we can build on year over year as opposed to then starting over every year. So, that’s been nice to see the kind of fruits of that. That’s not something you can do overnight.
Chris Carr: Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the things that when we work with clients, a lot of clients come in and say, I just need leads. I just need leads and one of the things that we’re trying to tell our clients all the time is, you know what? You need a system to generate leads, nurture leads into clients, and then convert those clients into brand ambassadors for the individuals that eventually become your salespeople. That does not happen overnight, but I think what I’ve seen from your account and what I’ve seen, with your approach, it’s like we’re, we’re in a really good spot.
Brian Thornton: Yeah. That process, I don’t think people realize as much and so we’ve certainly focused on that and we’ve certainly been the beneficiary of it where brokers have started to use our platform and said, this is great. I’m going to tell other people in our other offices, which, for bigger brokers, that’s hugely helpful for us to have someone internally running around saying, we should be using this. This is more efficient. This is a better process. This is a better system than what we’re doing now, and we’ve certainly seen testimonials for brokers that say, I was doing this a different way, and this is so much better, and here’s why.
So, to have brokers saying that to other brokers is what really makes it much easier to then find other people that are going to be interested in working with you without all the hurdles of trying to convince them.
Chris Carr: Yeah. Yeah. I think one thing that you had in your favor, and it just depends on where companies are in their process is that the way you communicate, the way you come across, how many public speaking opportunities you have, the panels that you’re on and stuff like that.
Thought leadership was going to be a critical factor in this and the fact that you’ve got competition, they might not line up exactly with what you do, but you can get lumped together.
Brian Thornton: Absolutely.
How do you find that digital marketing works with thought leadership?
Chris Carr: And so, you know, one of the things that was our goal is to when we work with you is to make sure that your voice is very clear, but that we push, you, your name, your face and your message out to these communities and stuff like that. It’s been awesome. We went to the Cyber Risk Conference with you and, and we were seeing some of the other players, but you were on a number of different panels and things like that. How do you find that digital marketing helps with thought leadership?
Brian Thornton: It certainly helps on the search end, the more content you can put out there that’s relevant, people will find you that way. I think for us, it forces us to focus on some of the issues that are out there and the issues that we’re facing every day and put together something thoughtful about it that we think is going to be useful. Some of it’s just answering broker questions that we get every day.
But thought leadership has been critical to what we do and what we want to do. It is a crowded space. There’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of brokers and carriers and there’s also competition and then they’re much bigger than us, certainly. But there’s a lot of people in insurance that have access to products, that we might have access to, but they don’t necessarily have that expertise. So, they can get you a quote from that carrier, but are they going to be able to answer any of your questions? Are they going to be able to answer any of your client questions? We spent a lot of time basically doing that on the phone one-on-one with brokers where we’re on the phone with their clients and that’s where I think they start to see the value.
But a lot of this is a long road to get to that point where then they see that value. So, a lot of that is public and I think a lot of it helps with brand and brand awareness which was something critical for us to build and there’s a key goal for us and we do that. I’ve had people specifically come up to us at some of these conferences and say, we see you everywhere and for a small company that’s powerful for us, that our brand is out there, that they see us not only at a conference or occasional call or meeting, but they see our things on LinkedIn or other social media platforms that they want to follow us on.
So, they’re constantly seeing things from us that are interesting or useful. And so that’s interesting. So, it’s also interesting with all the tracking that we can see competitors on our site or competitors downloading things. So, I take that as a compliment at this point.
Chris Carr: Yeah. I think one of the comments that we get that in some ways is a compliment. In some ways it’s just as a human being, it’s very true. It’s just from the amount of information that we capture from an analytic standpoint and how we track people and stuff like that. It’s almost scary in the fact that we almost know too much.
Brian Thornton: Yeah, it definitely is, and it started to build. But I think I could frighten people with what we know about their behavior on our website and we can see exactly where they are and when they are and so we take all that with a grain of salt because on the back end we’re humans and we’re doing the same thing.
The same things being done to us when we go home and we’re on a website or we’re looking for something. But also, having been in the cyber and privacy space for a long time, we’ve been hyper aware to what the rules are and what the regulations are and what is ethically okay or not okay. Being upfront and clear in this is what we’re going to do and we’re trying to do this to continue. By downloading this, you’re going to be enrolled into our marketing program. You can easily opt out. Those are fair ways to do it, but we want to be as crystal clear, up front as possible and certainly not be deceitful and that’s what we see in the market in the news, right? You’re seeing a lot of the big companies kind of called on the carpet, whether that’s in front of Congress or otherwise, getting huge fines for misusing data and misappropriating things. So, it’s a constant thing that we’re always looking at and always kind of following what’s going on.
Chris Carr: Yeah. I mean, one of the things as a company we’re trying to do is proactively do things that are GDPR compliant, even if they have no clients outside the United States. I feel like that wave is coming to us and what I don’t want to do is build some infrastructure and then the rules get so tight and then they’re like, well, what do we do now? It’s like, let’s just focus on getting, you know, the right to privacy. You know, the right approach to privacy to your potential clients now so that later on it doesn’t feel like, whoa, whoa, whoa. What have you been doing this whole time?
Brian Thornton: Yeah, exactly. It’s tough because when you talk about GDPR, you get a lot of people that say, well, I don’t work in Europe and we don’t have this exposure, but easily, generally you could.
But also, you’ve got this issue of regulators here look at that and say, okay, we’re going to take that as kind of a framework for what we want to do in a state over here and we’re going to mimic some of those things. So, putting the infrastructure now as a lot of these States in the U S are potential federal regulation at some point, which you know, you’ll never know what’s going to happen there.
But, as States started adopting these laws, it’s going to have a similar effect. It looks like they’re going to start modeling things that way. You’ve certainly seen proposals or thoughts out there that look like, hey, we’re going to follow something similar. So, putting that infrastructure in that will be helpful as States come up with these rules that are going to be similar. You’ve already got the procedures in place to kind of deal with that appropriately. So, yeah, it’s challenging.
What are you doing to keep the culture at ProWriters as you grow?
Chris Carr: Yeah. Yeah. Now, you started your company in 2013 every time I talked to you I’m meeting a new employee. What are you doing from a culture standpoint? You guys are rapidly growing. You guys are a disruptor in your industry, at least from my opinion. But there’s one thing that’s the grind and then there’s the other thing that just kind of keeps a healthy, vibrant company going. What are you doing to keep culture here?
Brian Thornton: Yeah, it’s a very good point and it’s extremely important to us. The thing I kind of sat down with one of the guys on our board and one of our investors. We sat down one day when we decided we wanted to partner together and we wrote down side-by-side, separately our goals personally, professionally, inside the office, outside of the office and we had a lot of the same things, which ultimately worked out that we got to work together. But we had similar things that family was highly important.
Work is not everything as much as we could talk about it all day and we live and breathe it and we’re highly focused on it and motivated to talk about it. That was important. So, we had a lot of the same priorities and we’ve tried to instill that in the people that we’re bringing in, that they’ve got similar priorities and some of the things we’ve said from the very beginning is we want to not only work with the people that we like working with, that we want to work with.
We’re not a huge company where you’re just a gigantic bureaucracy and you have to work with certain people, whether that’s clients or internally we can hire the people that we want to work with that we think are bright. We don’t always have a set a role where we say, this is exactly what you’re going to do. We bring people in and that’s the role, but “Hey, you’re really good at this and start doing more”. You’re going to get more involved in marketing now, you’re going to get more involved in these things. You have this natural skill set and that’s a way for you to grow and us to do it and you’re going to be happier and we’re going to be happier with the results.
So, certainly finding people that we want to work with, whether that’s clients, whether that’s brokers, carriers that have similar kind of views on life inside and outside of the office. So, it’s hard to kind of unveil kind of the interview process but you try to focus on that and get the right culture so that people kind of share similar beliefs and are going to be highly motivated as well. So, we try to, we’re fairly relaxed, but we want to make sure that we’ve got people that are also highly motivated at the same time. So, it is a challenge, but it’s something that we’re constantly focused on. People that we bring in and have to be the right fit.
Cyber insurance is an industry where many people don’t see the value until they’ve been hit.
Chris Carr: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think what’s, what’s hard about insurance or from an outsider looking in is there’s two sides of the coin. So, I don’t feel that people take cyber insurance until they’ve been hit. So, you’re hearing stories like they took everything but the lights and then on the other hand, if you’re doing your job right, you don’t hear anything and when you don’t hear anything, it’s like one of those things where it’s just like quiet is the new peace.
Brian Thornton: Yeah, it is. I mean, cyber is extremely interesting from that standpoint. There’s so much going on. There’s so much education of brokers and clients. People really do learn. Even people that were convinced, hey, we need to buy this policy. We know we have this exposure. They have it in place. They have robust procedures. They turn around and when they actually do experience an incident, whether that’s a breach or ransomware or whatever the case may be, they come back afterwards, a month or two later and they say, that was so much worse than we ever expected even though we had everything in place and what was really worse is the amount of time and effort it took away from everyone from doing their day to day jobs to focus on what was at hand.
So, the operations team can’t work on anything productive. It’s all reactive and fixing and getting back up and running, and then making sure everything’s in place and working with the lawyers in the forensics company and the PR company and so that takes away from your day job, even if it’s something that’s not necessarily a notifiable big public event. There’s going to be something very small, but it takes a lot of time and effort away and so that’s where people realize the value of what they purchased after the fact, even though they were already convinced, I need this policy. This is covers the exposures I know I have. The cost is reasonable. This will give me some peace of mind. Even afterwards, even if they’ve done dry runs. They always come back and say it was a lot more disruptive than I thought it was going to be.
What’s next for ProWriters?
Chris Carr: Sure. Sure. Well. we’re going to be wrapping up. I’ve got two more questions for you. What’s next?
Brian Thornton: So, for us at ProWriters, it’s constant looking at growth and acquiring new brokers and educating them. So, it’s a lot more of the same from that standpoint but then we’re also looking at additional products. We do focus on other products outside of cyber, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. We do a lot of professional liability, E&O, D&O and all those sub-products within products.
So, we’re certainly looking at our platform now that we’ve built it out within cyber and working with carriers to do the same for other products and we’re getting that feedback from new brokers that have come in and started using this and saying, this is great. Can I also buy D&O and EPL this way? And we’ve said, yes, we’re working on it. As that goes live, you’ll have access to that as well. So, same thing within other similar products.
So, technology E&O is a bit of a sister product to cyber because those coverages are somewhat intricately intertwined for a technology company. So, we’re looking at that as another E&O product that we would roll out, that we’d be available at a comparative, but also do it in a streamlined basis for our brokers. So, a little bit of more of the same within cyber, acquiring more brokers and getting education rolling in and doing more of the same and then additional products as well.
Is your career fun for you?
Chris Carr: All right, and then one of the conversations I always have with my wife. My wife tries to size up my business. We’ll be talking and she oversimplifies everything, and I have friends who ask me about my business and we’re friends outside of work. But one of the things that I always gravitate towards is having friendships and communicating with other entrepreneurs because in this line of work, it’s like they see this and they think, oh wow, that must be wonderful. I’m like, you don’t know how lonely, it can feel. You’re running this thing and some days it’s heavy as the crown and then other days it’s just like what a grind, you know what I mean? But we subscribed to this thing. It’s called the great game of business and the first question I always kind of ask entrepreneurs is you only get to live once. Is this fun for you?
Brian Thornton: Yeah, yeah. I mean for us that, for that question, for me it is fun, but the exact same thing. There are difficulties. It is not easy to just start a business from scratch. It’s not easy to build it and invariably, I think you and I have talked about. You often never take the time to look back at any successes you’ve had. You’re constantly looking forward at all the next things you need to do.
So, it’s a never ending cycle, but it’s positive. So, coming out of the carrier side, I found it was big and slow and bureaucratic and I was spending all my times in meetings, which I hate which didn’t feel like anything was productive and it became very political and so you feel totally unproductive whereas starting your own company and building it and growing it, you’re focused on the things that are only going to be productive. So, you’re focused on challenges that are actually interesting and moving everything forward. So, that part’s extremely energizing and interesting and fun and something that we really enjoy.
But yes, it is challenging and it’s not as easy and sometimes people can look at it and go, this looks great. You’ve got a made now and you’re sitting there thinking about the 100 things that you want to continue to move forward on. So, it is challenging but fun but certainly looking back at where we’ve been over the last six or seven years with starting the company, we’re very happy that we did it, inside and outside of the office because also working for yourself gives you a little bit more flexibility in your personal life. To be at my kids’ events and be able to drop them at school or go to their sporting event or whatever the case may be. So, you get a little extra at home as well.
Chris Carr: Yeah. That’s great. Well, thank you so much for coming onto the show. I really enjoyed having you. We are going to end the show today with the marketing minute and if you do want information about ProWriters and or want to speak with Brian Thornton, his website is www.prowritersins.com and again, we want to thank you for being here.
Brian Thornton: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Chris Carr: Hello, I’m Chris Carr with Farotech and this is your marketing minute. One of the biggest challenges we have as an agency is working with companies who have worked with another marketing company in the past and usually what happens is they feel either very jaded or they don’t trust the system. The number one complaint that we hear is that their previous marketing company did not get to know who they are, what they do, their message, their mission, or anything that’s going to be related to the positive growth that they were hoping their company would achieve. So, the one thing that we recommend is that when you pick a marketing agency, make sure that they do a Gap Assessment right in the beginning of the process.
A good Gap Assessment takes anywhere between four to eight weeks and usually what we’re going to be talking about here is they’re going to take significant time to take a deep dive into your company to figure out where the holes are or the gaps in your processes. What are the things that you’re doing to communicate your message, and how does it compare with the statistics of that industry. What is the system that they’re using to generate leads, nurture leads, and convert leads, and how does that tie in with your previous results or your previous approach?
A Gap Assessment is the cornerstone of making your marketing work in the long haul. We’ve worked with clients in the past and they said, you know what, we don’t really want to spend the extra money and time in the beginning to do a Gap Assessment and then a year end of the process, what they do is they find out that, you know what, I really wished that we would have taken the time in the beginning to get this done right. So, I highly recommend that you look into a gap assessment at the start of every campaign.
A good Gap Assessment is also going to look at a variety of different factors such as how does your keywords and your SEO approach rank with your competition. How has your brand impacted your market and what kind of market penetration do you have. How does it compare with your competitors and what is their global reach, their paid reach? How does your messaging differ from theirs?
Finally, if you have a lot of competition that are investing in pay per click advertising or just SEO, it’s really important to understand what your competitors digital approach is so that you can marry the best parts of their approach to yours.
The number one thing that you’re looking for and the Gap Assessment is trying to understand what is a three to five year roadmap and how do you systematically get there year by year, KPI by KPI and goal by goal. At the end of the day, if your marketing company cannot clearly represent and show their ROI, you got to pick somebody else.
So, my message is simple. If you’re working with an existing agency, make sure that a Gap Assessment is part of your process. If you are looking for a new agency, make sure that that agency is going to take the time and energy to understand who you are, what you do, and the message you’re trying to achieve and how does it compare to your goals.