This is our 25th episode, and we’re also celebrating one whole year since we brought Brella to market. So we thought it’s only fitting to chat with some of the brains behind this operation as we reflect on all that we’ve learned in the past year and look forward to what’s ahead. Mike and I had the pleasure of speaking with Brella Founder & CEO Veer Gidwaney, Chief Insurance Officer Amanda Turcotte, and Director of Product Strategy Abigail Albright.
To catch the full episode, listen below—
A year ago we had just announced $7M in seed funding from some fantastic investors who are still here supporting us, and we had just heard that we were officially licensed in the state of Texas. We launched our end-to-end platform that handles everything from quote to claim, and we got our first quote shortly after that.
As exciting as that was, we’ve come a long way since then, so we wanted to let our team update our listeners on what’s going on now, what we’ve learned, and where we’re headed next. We’ll also share some lessons and inspiration that we hope will equip and encourage you no matter what kind of professional challenges you’re facing as a benefit advisor or administrator.
Laura: First question, when you look back over the past year, what are you most proud of?
Veer: “For me it comes down to the team we’ve put together here at Brella. It’s a deep honor to work with folks I really respect and love... It’s so important to find people who are both mission aligned and values aligned...We’ve been able to find lots of folks who are excited to solve this problem, but on top of that, making sure we’re all values aligned is really important. Our team is hardworking, helpful, and humble. We have high standards and it shows. We also have a really terrific group of advisors and a great board, all of whom also share our passion and our purpose. To me, bringing that group together is what I’m most proud about.”
Abigail: “This is a tough one...I would have to say I’m most proud of our initial launch and just overall speed to market in Texas. Looking back to a year ago it was definitely a little stressful. You always want to launch faster than you can… But when you look back, we went into 2020 with a whiteboard drawing of what a customer journey could look like. It was so much technology to deliver, and I’m really proud of how quickly we did it.”
Mike: “I have the luxury of telling the Brella story and I’m really proud of the team who has enabled us to go to market and tell this great story. Once we’re in marketing, I’m really just so excited about the relationships we are building with brokers and other distribution partners. Being able to connect the dots to what we thought we were building to how partners are actually using this product to solve some tough challenges with their employer clients is incredibly satisfying and rewarding.”
Amanda “We’re also seeing that kind of enthusiasm and energy and enthusiasm from other members of the insurance community, insurance carriers as well as from state insurance departments. We are inventors here at Brella, but the ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’, and as we bring more partners and states online, the enthusiasm we get across the spectrum has been really delightful to watch.”
Laura: What is something that has surprised you?
Veer: “From the beginning we intended for Brella to operate as a remote team to address the wide range of factors that go into employees' decisions about where and how they work. Now because of the pandemic, all organizations have been forced into that model. The timing of it has meant that the vast majority of us have never met each other in person. So in addition to building an insurance company from the ground up, building relationships and partnerships in the field, all of that has happened without this team getting together in person at all really. That goes back to having a shared purpose and a shared set of values, because if you don’t have that it’s not possible to accomplish what we’ve done.
The other surprise was interest from investors earlier than we expected to raise a Series A. But it was absolutely the right thing to do at that time because it’s going to accelerate our progress. We’re going to be able to bring this product to folks across the country sooner than we ever thought possible.”
Mike: “We knew coming out of the gate that we had built something radically different when it comes to supplemental health insurance. Brokers have really appreciated the simplicity of our product...especially when it comes to funding, which I spoke a bit about in a previous episode. So it’s been a little surprising to see just how much employer support we are garnering. Brella truly is a health plan solution. That endorsement from Brokers and Employers has been incredibly positive.”
Laura: What was the most important personal or team practice that you think enabled us to get here?
Abigail: “Showing appreciation and really fostering a “we’re all in it together” type of environment. It creates a positive chain reaction that you get to see ripple throughout the rest of the company. When you have smart, hard working people, they could work anywhere. They choose to join us on this journey and we try not to take that for granted.”
Amanda: “No big project gets done without great project management. Personally I bullet journal every day—as a busy mom of seven and working at an insurance startup there are a lot of things to get done. I try to prioritize what needs to be done next and that helps me focus on what I’m going to get done in a given day versus the longer list of items that can be addressed later. Our insurance partners also have fantastic project management skills and that does not go unnoticed.”
Veer: “We have so many people that have helped us get where we are today. One thing that we have taken a lot of effort to do is to make everyone who is part of this feel appreciated and understand the important role they have played. We also try to celebrate the little wins along the way. Obviously one year is a huge milestone, but there are so many other little milestones along the way. A culture that celebrates those victories is important to us.”
Mike: “It takes a lot of grit and focus to accomplish what we’ve done in the last year, but one of the things I think we’ve done well is to encourage people to be comfortable asking for help.”
Laura: “Celebrating wins trains you to be generous with your gratitude. When everybody is doing it you can get into the habit and more easily express gratitude to those who help you. Our leaders model that “attitude of gratitude” for the whole team.
We also have a strong culture of cultivating relationships with advisors and asking for advice. We are so lucky to have these relationships we can rely on, and it’s so pleasantly surprising how willing people are to offer advice from their own experiences.”
Laura: Since it’s our 25th episode, what’s your favorite Better Benefits episode? What did you learn?
Amanda: “As an actuary, I’m keenly attuned to follow quantitative analysis and learn from numbers. My favorite Better Benefits Episode was with Carolyn McMahon, who is an expert in qualitative research. One thing I learned from her and others who practice human centered design, is the importance of looking not just at the “what” but the “why”. Listening to people in a qualitative way can be very productive and provide unique insights. That is something that really sets Brella apart in the way that we drive solutions.
Veer: “One of my favorite episodes was with Alex Frommeyer of Beam Dental. It’s great to see how they are aligning healthy behavior with proper incentives. Rewarding healthy behaviors can help lower risk and result in better pricing for members. It’s a great example of how technology and an insurance product can work together to produce not only a good business but also healthier outcomes.”
Abigail: “One of the episodes that has really stayed with me is the Maven Clinic episode with Sonia Millson. There is so much to be said for the problems they are trying to solve around women’s health and the journey to parenthood. The trust factor that she talks about is so so important. It resonated with me personally and professionally.”
Laura: The episode that I still talk about all the time is the one we did with Salary Finance. Fair lending combined with financial education and paying off those loans to improve their credit score— this is how they are really helping people recover financially and build financial muscle for their life. Anita Ward is so inspiring, as she set out in life without much financial education, and now she is in a place where she is leading an organization like this.
Mike: “I love them all! Kudos to everyone who makes Better Benefits possible.”
Laura: What are you most excited about in the year ahead?
Amanda: “I think we are off to a fantastic start. In my role, I often think about planning for what is down the road. Brella is not just a distribution company, not just a third party administrator, not just an insurance company taking on risk, but we are the whole end-to-end lifecycle of the product. Watching us bring value to all parts of the insurance life cycle is very exciting.”
Veer: “Our mission is to make sure that when you have health distress it doesn’t result in financial distress. Excited might be the wrong way to describe it but I know I’ll feel inspired and gratified when we look back another year from now at the number of people we’ve been able to help. I’m also looking forward to expanding nationally, which means we can help people wherever they are.”
Abigail: “I’m excited to build on top of what we have already built. It’s just the beginning in many ways, and there is a lot more to do. We’re excited to continue to enhance the experience for users across all parts of their journey with Brella. I think we’re gonna do some pretty cool things this year.”
Mike: “I’m excited to build the sales organization that enables us to do all the things we want to do in the market. Also, beginning to see some of our strategic distribution partnerships unfold is something I”m looking forward to. Our product can be deployed in so many different ways and the willingness of our partners to get really strategic has been awesome.”
If you want to get in touch with the team or learn more about Brella, visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.