The very first episode of b atomic airwaves. Seth Zaremba, CEO of b atomic, and Sydney Roe, CMO of b atomic, discuss why they made the decision to start b atomic.
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Syd Roe 0:04
How does it feel being on the very first b atomic podcast?
Seth Zaremba 0:08
You know, it’s something I dreamed of as a child growing up in Hinckley, Ohio. The idea of being on a podcast was something even before podcasts exist. I always knew I was destined for so this feels like fulfillment, I guess is the best way to describe it.
Syd Roe 0:24
I love it. I have been on many podcasts, but this one feels very special. So I’m really excited to kick it off with you. On Episode One of B atomic airwaves which by the way, can we just call it the atomic airwaves?
Seth Zaremba 0:40
It’s done. I have actually started carving a stone with that in it. So it’s there.
Syd Roe 0:45
Syd Roe 0:48
chiseling back there. Yeah.
Syd Roe 0:51
Cool. Well, I know there’s a lot of different people who are tuning into this conversation and everybody’s at a different stage. stage in their journey here. Some people know nothing about neon, some people know a bit and some people know quite a lot. So we want to make sure we give everybody their fair share of this conversation and really beginning with those who have no clue why in the world, I decided to become the CMO of this startup. So Seth, could you give me and these awesome dudes listening in a bit of a foundation as to how neon started who you are, what this thing is at a 30,000-foot level?
Seth Zaremba 1:41
Yeah, I’m an agent, which I don’t think we have enough agents that are actually making change. And so I run an agency I started as a shoe agency from scratch and I was so frustrated with my inability to, to grow the agency to connect technology and to be relevant And the naysayers just continue to proliferate around the idea that agents aren’t capable or agents can’t do this. And when I started looking at it, and I started talking to my peers across the country, I’m like, wait a minute, we can do this, we want to do this, the system is broken. And rather than continue to point fingers for the rest of my career, it became clear that if I wanted zinc, which is my insurance agency that I started to succeed, I needed to change the way we were doing business. And so I looked at all the core stuff that was running my agency. It’s right about the time I met a cat named Jeff Roy. And I started looking really objectively and what I was doing, and then I saw what he was doing, I was like, This is madness. I’m like, Jeff Roy is a mad scientist of technology. And he is on the limit, trying to keep it all together and I’m trying to get where he’s at. This is not scalable. It doesn’t make any sense. The systems don’t talk or people are being asked to adopt stuff. We’re being insure tech to death. And that’s not a knock against insure tech, but it just there’s no strategy behind it, and it just became this house of cards. And in the end, it became clear to me that it was the disadvantage of us as independent agents to be stacking this stuff up without any plan. And it’s really, it was the disadvantage of the independent agent channel that really capable people that can do the right thing, have systems that are just broke, not talking to each other. Everything exists in a silo that nobody else has access to. And it’s just as the world doesn’t work that way anymore. And so I started looking at other industries really closely. And, and it’s very clear that the customer has an opinion now, and an ability to do something about it with cell phones, where we can’t live in that world anymore. And so I started talking to associations and carriers, and I’m like, who’s doing something? I mean, who’s really going to fix this? And the answer became clear that all fingers were pointed at each other. And I just got sick of it not forget the channel. I just couldn’t imagine growing my agency and being successful with what I was given and so I sat down with all the agency management system carriers and technology vendors. And I said this is madness. Why can’t we do things that the customer expects, like they aren’t other industries, with food with retail, with manufacturing? Why are we so disparate? And the answer always came back the same. Well, just the way it is an insurance, and I just decided, it was kind of like a Shawshank Redemption moment. I’m like, you know, I get busy living or get busy dying. And nobody’s gonna listen to a word you say unless you do it yourself. And so I unplugged in 2015, I started unplugging every part of my agency and building it on a platform that allowed me to connect every effort and energy in our agency on one platform, move it to whoever needed to see it in the moment. Whether it was a customer, whether it was a carrier, whether it was us, and we could own it, and use it and begin to at least control the ecosystem of our agency and what we began to see as marketing went first and then sales, and then ultimately customer experience or customer service. Have we bolted on all that together, it actually worked like, we should have line of sight on every aspect of the customer, whether they’re in the marketing stage, the sales stage, or the customer experience stage. And if we do that, oh my goodness, what a valuable tool for the people who work in our agency and for the carriers who are depending on us to sell and service in coordination with them. And so that became project neon it the effort and the energy to be able to end an agency on one technology, the agent can own it, they can use it, and they can leverage it to be world-class for a customer experience. And that’s really been our goal is to make an operating system for an agency that allows them to appear world-class to their customer, and be a huge asset and tool for the carriers that they represent
Syd Roe 5:45
We were talking before about how the video that I put out a couple days ago had gotten a lot of reception and you know, as much as I would like love to take credit for that that video was not that great. I was sitting on a bench talking to the camera, you know, no music, no special effects, no nothing. But here’s why it got so much reception. It was Yeah, it wasn’t me had nothing to do with me you have had You just said you started this. You started unplugging in 2015, which means you started having conversations about this before 2015. So this has been something that’s almost 10 years in the making. Now add up hundreds of conversations, probably thousands over that time period. That’s why that video got so much reception. And I want people to understand that because I this is the time when we have to be brave and come forward and have the courage to stand up and say, Hey, things need to change. They need to be different. This is why and this is how and this platform Are you know what, we’re not just the product, but what we’re creating through these conversations that can be your outlet. Right for that, so I really want people to know that going forward. So. So, Seth, thank you for addressing the people who may not have known a lot about neon. And may hopefully you guys that gives you a sense of what we’re building here. And as we move forward, you’re going to get an even better picture. It’s not going to happen in 45 minutes on a podcast. But speaking to the next group of people here, the people who know you, they know me, they know a little bit about what we’re creating. I want to speak to them because I think we’ve gotten some questions from them over the last couple of days. And one of them is why are you guys so focused on data? You call yourselves a data technology company? What is data like why do we care? How would you answer those people?
Seth Zaremba 7:55
It is the gold underneath your backyard that you never knew about. And so if you look at it, agents, agents are farming an acre of land and they’ve been content over the last hundred years to work the same 12 inches of dirt. And yeah, we’re throwing fertilizer in it, we’re watering. We’re irrigating it, we’re doing all this to work that 12 acres, that 12 inches of soil and that acre, and some people are doing it better than others. But in the end, none of us are looking deeper, because 1500 feet underneath that 12 inches is an oil reserve of data and it has tremendous value maybe five years, 10 years ago, it didn’t, or maybe I didn’t even understand it then. But all the interactions that we have with our customers that only agents can have with their customers because of our relationship because of our community nature. All of those interactions are building a data set a second life. I think you and I were talking this weekend, a second life, about our customers and the interaction we have with them, is beginning to create a digital Second Life and our ability to understand and use that information collectively now is like never before. And maybe it took technology to catch up with it, maybe, it was us never really knowing what we had. But now, we see it. And we see companies I shot you in hope this weekend on lemonade. You see companies who are claiming that you know what, because they have all these other interactive pieces and the stuff that regular insurance companies have, they now can start to understand, predict and generate results that other carriers can’t Can they do it long term? I have no idea. But the point is that the information that is driving some of the huge competitors in the space, including potentially, people like Amazon is really based on the principle that we know more about the customer, and anybody can put capital up. If we know more about the customer, we can distribute that capital in a better way a better experience. And we can do the same. Now it takes coordination right because we have to be as united as someone like an Amazon or we have to be as clean and easy to use as someone like lemonade but we have the customer They have preferences. And if we can start to catalog those preferences and use them to kind of predict what’s going to happen next, we can make the service that independent agents provide as intuitive as a natural and as easy as ensure attacks are big capital firms that want to get into the insurance game, because and then we have the thing that nobody really else has is in this relationship. And so, if you look at data, we’re not talking about social security or dates of birth and stuff like that. The Boogey Man I call it because everyone says, Oh, you know what happens if that stuff gets out, don’t want it don’t care, we really want to know is what a customer is going to do next, and how we can help. And all of that is becoming data points that if we can connect together, we can now watch that digital Second Life of the customer that we have the relationship with, and steward it through. It’s next need. Its Next one is next expectation. And in doing so, make independent agents and the carriers they represent As good as or I would argue better than everyone in the marketplace, its behaviors in the aggregate, use to predict and understand about the customer. That’s really what everyone’s touting. They have. Well, we’ve had it all along. We just didn’t do anything about it.
Syd Roe 11:16
Yeah, I would recommend anybody listening to this podcast who still seems it’s data that the idea of data and what it’s going to be still seems kind of confusing. Go heck out the TV series black mirror on Netflix. It is probably the scariest
Syd Roe 11:36
and most realistic TV show
Syd Roe 11:40
that exists on any streaming service today. it will scare you but it’s it is. It’s just it’ll open up your mind to the possibilities as well. And I love the term Second Life data because to me, the way that It kind of seems like sometimes with these with ideas and with, you know, trying to figure out where the world is going, sometimes understanding comes before being able to communicate understanding. And so I’ve always had this sort of, you know, and listening to podcasts and following people who are talking about big data and kind of how it’s trickling down into smaller businesses kind of had this understanding of where it’s going but haven’t been able to clearly communicate it. But recently, I’ve really put my brain on that, and to me, data is a living record or a living record of human life. Like that’s really what it is. It’s, you know, every single day, we wake up in the morning, and we wake up online, right? We wake up in real life from our bed and we get on Facebook, we wake up digitally, every morning we make coffee, and we pour it into our cup and then we take a picture of it we have coffee online, it’s it is Literally like you live in two places at once, it’s kind of mind-blowing. And so being able to see that as a business, right and understand who your customers are, and use it for good, is incredible. So here’s my
Seth Zaremba 13:21
tie into that. It absolutely is so real said and it is so real that it actually casts a shadow in the sun. And so what we began to see as we started to document the behaviors of our clients, is it was so real that when the sun beat down on it, it can cast a clear shadow and the shadow was longer than the physical client, meaning it was so far out in front predictively of what the actual client was to us in the relationship that we could begin to anticipate what was coming next. And that is absolutely where technology firms or huge capital guys that want to get in this game are is they understand all of those behaviors and they can fluidly market two and service in a way that just feels like they were waiting on them. And as we began to look at it, even in a very simple kind of demo phase that we were building over zinc, it became clear that the behaviors of the client were absolutely real. And we needed to start treating them real and staffing for him and talking to them. Because it was a clear indicator of what was about to happen with the client and agents have that relationship, they can absolutely make sure that that data is there and that they can use it to be relevant going forward, for sure. Well,
Syd Roe 14:35
I mean, the crazy thing is that if you look at the insurance industry agents are the ones who are closest to the customer. So they’re the ones who I mean they’re creating that data every single day. Right? So it’s, it’s theirs for the taking, and they just need the knowledge and the tool set to be able to leverage it.
Seth Zaremba 14:58
And that is not easy, because If you think about what it takes to do that with the existing technology out there, it’s all owned by other people you see it license that you do. It’s just, it just does it. It was never designed for that. And that’s not a criticism. People ask me to criticize, like existing technology and insurance industry, I’m not going to do it because you know what? It’s served its purpose. But it has gone too long. And it is time for what’s next, something that realizes that the second life of a client, that data set has value and that could drive the channel forward in the future. That’s massive. And that’s, that’s really what Neon is, is the ability to set forward to set sail with that and really make that real for agents and make sure it’s done right this time by agents for agents, not to agents, as it has been done before.
Syd Roe 15:42
Yeah, I want to talk really quick about the sticky side of data I was listening to. She’s a big data analyst. She actually used to work for Nokia. Everybody remembers Nokia came in and said look, the data is showcasing That we need to actually move in this direction. And the leadership decided that they didn’t want to actually go that direction, because statistically, you know, there wasn’t enough weight with the data to actually move in that direction. And part of it was probably emotional as well, it was financially a little bit harder for the company to move in that direction. And, you know, obviously, the culture would have to change, it was it would have been a big move. And because they decided not to, there’s actually if you look at their revenue stream over during that period, they actually went off a cliff like three years later. But the reason that I say that is because I think that the sticky side of data is if you don’t create it intentionally if you don’t pay attention to it, and if you don’t leverage it, it’s worthless. So you can have it but if you’re not using it What’s the point? I that and that’s the hard part because that’s work. That’s not it’s not a silver bullet, it’s not here, we’re going to give you this thing. And, you know, we’re going to solve all your problems. It’s we’re giving you a screwdriver instead of a hammer, you still have to, you know, you still have to work you still have to build the furniture, but it’s going to hold better, it’s going to be more efficient. It’s going to you can build a better piece of furniture right there if that analogy is quite accurate, but
Seth Zaremba 17:32
it is but like who’s best served to build it? Like, you know, go back and let me take all of the all three listeners which would probably be my mom and my brothers. Go back to when agents said you know what, let’s let other people build it. Well, now we wake up 40 years later and we have nothing but complaints. I mean, you probably saw it in your past life is just like complain, complain, complain, but why? Because we didn’t want to do that work right? carriers did the same thing like Well, then, you know what, maybe we should do it and agents fought them. And so agents carrier said, Now let someone else build it. And so they did. And now what do you hear from carriers behind behinds Right? And so it is absolutely work to do it. Right. Who better to do it than those who are dependent and going to use it? And that’s what I would say Neon is not, you know, it is a community of agents and carriers that are fed up with the instabilities and inadequacies of the technology we use that just decide to do it better. And it does take work. There’s nothing magic about that. You have to do it. And I’m sacrificing. I’m risking everything I have. I mean, zinc. It’s the only truthfully said it’s the only house that I have. I built this agency and it took everything I have to do it and I’m prepared and I have and maybe this is why people are starting to listen to me I have leveraged everything. Zinc has been leveraged to the hilt to do this. And that’s what it’s going to take a hit handful of agents and carriers who just see the future differently and go make it. And to those people, I mean, all the credit will go, if it works, but it cannot this time it cannot be made for us. We cannot subcontract our success to other people. It must be done by us. And it’s going to be heavy and hard. But we should be up for that fight. I know I am.
Syd Roe 19:23
Yeah, absolutely. So I want to talk quickly to the third bucket of people here, those who are ready to go they see it, they get it. They love neon. And the question I’ve gotten from them, and I got this question 10 to 12 times over the last couple days here. So I know if I got it that often that there’s another 50 or 60 people who have not asked me but are probably thinking it’s from speaking to you guys. You know, you’ve just announced that you’re the CMO. This has become very real Why? Aren’t you selling anything yet? Where is the product? And I want to quickly answer these guys and talk to what we are going to be working on over the next 10 to 12 months with neon.
Seth Zaremba 20:18
Yeah, I get that question too. Hey, where’s the thing? You know, don’t confuse me and said and the pilot group of agents and carriers is anything other than hard work and people that have agencies and are tied to the success of this what we’re doing is not creating the next thing we’re not, we’re not bolting something on we’re trying to re engineer the way agents operate their agencies as a result, what comes from it from a customer experience standpoint and a data standpoint, and then leverage that in the AI channel so that everyone could win. That is the equivalent of like, the highway commission, right? So we have to completely look at every aspect of The insurance channel and how to better optimize it, then figure out the technology, then make it work in an agency and then bring it to you. So if you want that, it’s a lot, we have to bust a lot of concrete up and lay a lot of new roads and make that happen. We’ve got a plan, and it’s been tested. And now it’s time to set about and do it. So we know what we’re doing. This isn’t just like, aimless wandering in the woods said, Would you come with us now it’s like, Hey, we see a path is we know what it needs to be done at this time. If it’s done by agents and carriers, we have a better chance of winning. And so all of that to say, it is going to take us some time to do this. And I wouldn’t unleash this on a fellow agent if it weren’t ready for it. So I have to eat in rooms full of agents. These are my brothers and sisters. And if I screw this up, if we screw this up, said You and I are never getting a meatloaf dinner at an event again. And certainly, nobody’s sitting on our table. So this has to be done thoughtfully and it has to be done respectfully. And what agency needs to know is it needs to be done in a way where they actually are advantage and can win and they own their data. If data is the future value going forward, it has to be done in a way where they own it, and they can use it. And so all of that architecture, all of that engineering, all of that construction work takes a little bit of time, and I’m not gonna apologize for that, because
Seth Zaremba 22:19
it’s worth it. It’s worth Yeah,
Syd Roe 22:21
I want to tell the people to who are listening that when I signed up for this, this mission, this gig, I knew that it was going to be the next 10 to 15 years of my life. So this was not a Oh, hey, this is a cool thing to do. For the next year or two let’s try it out and experiment a little bit. I actually just took a video of me signing the you know, my neon contract or be as you’d say, Be atomic contract. And it’s so funny because I re-watched it the day that I published that video and it’s I just took this huge sigh like right before I signed my name because I just I think in the Back in my head, I subconsciously was like, yeah, this is going to be, this is going to be a big chunk of my life. So I guess I say that because I think that I’m, Believe me, I want to make this thing work as quickly as possible. It’s exciting. It’s, it’s, it’s fresh, but it’s also it’s big. And I want to make sure we do it. Right. And so I want to take the time to do that. And I’m glad that you
Seth Zaremba 23:29
it’s never going to be done. Yeah. I mean, there’s no final This is going to be we, this will take decades for us to do but it’s got to start somewhere. And when you came over it, aside from just working with one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, it really confirmed to me that like okay, you know, one person is crazy to people we you know, people two people might say You and I are nuts. But as it builds and as we grow, I’m hopefully it becomes a movement. And that’s really what I’m, I’m, I’m I want to light a fire Under every agent who cares. And if you don’t care, then I really don’t want to know you not because you’re not awesome. But because I haven’t we have no time to waste over the next 10 years of trying to re engineer things and making the channel better on people who just want to settle for average or want the status quo. They have their marketplace Good luck. It’s like having shares how it’s like having a timeshare on a cliff, right? It’s eventually falling in. It’s for the people who really want to set about changing this and optimizing the channel so that we can be as good as we know we are. That’s gonna take time. I’m glad that you came with me because it’s hard to in this stuff alone. And, and I have talked to hundreds of agents. I’ve done neon demos for hundreds of agents across the country before we ever did any of this. So I know that there are agents out there who care. I know there’s agents out there who will support us and I know there’s carriers who want it too. And they’ve been waiting for a group of agents to come and make this stuff reality. And as we’ve met with carriers, and we’ve done demo with carriers, they know it’s real too and so This is not just us talking said this is, um, we’ve been working, we’ve been working hard the fingers to the bone going broke trying to make it there. And we know that there’s carriers that want to support this, we know that agents are coming in. And yeah, it’s gonna be work, it’s gonna take time, but it is going to be the rest of our careers and it’ll be in good hands with you because you’ll be around longer than me.
Syd Roe 25:24
Well, I want to I also wanted to tell those guys to you know, there’s, if you’re interested in what’s going on with neon, you don’t have to buy something. We are going to be sharing our journey documenting our journey on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and I think in US sharing that journey. And you know, if there’s one thing that you know, you’ll get from Sid and Seth, it’s the real story.
Syd Roe 25:58
All the good and The not so good.
Syd Roe 26:02
And we want to share that with you guys. Because we hope that you learn something from it. You know, and you know, vice versa, too, I think in sharing it and hearing what you guys think as well, our perspective will be broadened. I’ve been trying to dig into, you know, trying to get my mind and head around how powerful data is. And I think in talking about it and hearing how people are using it, what people are thinking about it, we can push that forward together. So it’s really I know, when somebody announces a new company, the first thing is, are what are they selling? And, and that’s certainly important, right? Because we got, we all have to have a living. And I think that finances reflect that, you know, doing good and finding a solution. But more than that, too. I think there’s a conversation that needs to be happening and Spread in order to push products forward and push new ideas to the forefront. So we’re excited to help them move forward and have that conversation with you guys.
Seth Zaremba 27:12
Can I talk about that making a living part of that said since you’ve decided to make a living doing it?
Syd Roe 27:18
Seth Zaremba 27:20
Well, it is and it Israel and what we’re talking about, you know, changing the way agencies run the technology that run runs them. That’s a significant ask. And it does take a lot. We, I, we, me and said have turned down private equity money because the return that they need to make their investment payoff is too short, like most of the private equity firms, we talked to, what 357 years, a liquidity event that’s not enough time. And maybe this is the problem with the channel as we look for we put these unnatural external pressures on core systems and as a result, they become investments and not solutions and so on. We’re funding this through agents own part of be atomic we are funding it hopefully through investment with carriers to so that they own it. And so we were going the hard way on this. We’re taking money, you know, hand over hand with our brothers and sisters to do this. And so it is not. This is not a glamour project. This is not a look at me project. This is like, this is like an ugly road crew happen in a pickup truck saying, you know what, let’s fix things. And whatever we got to do by hook or crook to do it, we’ll do it. But we’re not going to take the faster easy money. Let’s do it with the people have the right mindset, which is build it right. Build it to last and make sure agents and independent carriers win. And that’s really what’s driving us. So what better thing could you tie your career to than that? And what better way could you fund it then with your fellow community members? Hmm.
Syd Roe 28:53
Honestly, I don’t even know how to end this podcast because
Syd Roe 28:55
I just wanted to keep going. I’m like, I’m so excited for where we’re heading. But I think we’ve covered everything that we talked about. Was there anything else that you wanted to mention before we wrap up?
Seth Zaremba 29:08
Yeah, I guess I would just say, cuz I know, we’re going to be talking a lot. I don’t know that. I don’t know that I’m entertaining. I know you are. I don’t, I don’t ever aspire to be that. And I don’t this. This is hard, heavy stuff. And I’ll try to keep it light. And I try to keep it positive because I know that always sells better. But like, I love independent agents and carriers. I was a steel fitter as working on a factory floor in 19 miles from where I’m sitting right now. And if it weren’t for the opportunity to be an insurance agent, I probably would still be there making 15 bucks an hour with broken shoulders and I think what you’re going to hear from us is a sense of debt, like I owe it Sid owes it to this industry to do better. And that’s really what’s driving us. So I mean, there’s so many good podcasts out there to listen to there’s so much interesting stuff. It’s hard to even think about being in that space. This is really weird for me, since asking me to do a lot of stuff that’s weird, but it’s, but hopefully what you’re gonna get a straight up truth. And you’re gonna get the real story and you’ll and you’ll get a chance to watch something happen as opposed to have it happen to you. And if that has value to you then tune in again, if it doesn’t, I get that this is a stiff cup of coffee, I get it. So just know what you’re signing up for, but know that the heart of what we’re doing is for agents by agents.
Syd Roe 30:29
Syd Roe 30:30
I mean, we have one world in one life, so we might as well do something with it.
Seth Zaremba 30:34
Yeah, on tour with you and I want to do it with all the agents I’ve talked to over the last couple years and all the carriers it’s like I just want to do this right this time. So come with us, I guess is the way I would end it. Come with us.