Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Joseph Sanborn, SVP of Corporate Development and Strategy at EverQuote
I spoke with Joseph Sanborn, SVP of Corporate Development and Strategy at EverQuote, a leading online insurance marketplace, connecting consumers with insurance providers, which is headquartered in Cambridge, MA.
Joseph completed his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown and worked at the White House after graduation. There, he met a Harvard Kennedy School professor, who learned of Joseph’s interests at working at the intersection of business and government, and recommended he apply to Harvard Kennedy School. While completing his master’s program, Joseph took several interdisciplinary classes, which drew students from across Harvard’s graduate schools including public policy, business, law, medicine and arts & sciences. He also served as a research associate for Professor Michael Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, which analyzed how to promote economic development in under-resourced urban communities.
After graduation from HKS, Joseph went into healthcare investment banking at J.P. Morgan, where he worked with a broad range of clients across the health insurance, pharmaceutical and provider landscape,. One of his notable early engagements was in his hometown of Boston, where he was part of the team that worked on the initial formation of Mass General Brigham (formerly known as Partners Healthcare). Over time, he became an expert in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), advising entrepreneurs and boards on key strategic decisions, such as selling their businesses, raising capital and evaluating inorganic opportunities to more rapidly scale their operations. During the dot.com era in the late 1990s, Joseph was drawn into the excitement of the burgeoning Internet world and spent most of his banking career advising technology companies, which were leveraging the Internet, mobile and digital capabilities to transform a wide range of sectors from financial and business services to entertainment and retail.
When Joseph met the EverQuote founders and team a few years ago, he was impressed by their passion and vision for building an industry-defining company, as the $2 trillion insurance industry is shifting online. He also immediately recognized the strong industry tailwind that EverQuote enjoys, as the insurance sector is much earlier in adopting digital channels, relative to companies in broader financial services, media and travel. Joseph joined EverQuote as SVP of Corporate Development and Strategy in September of 2019. In his role, he leads the company’s efforts in evaluating potential acquisitions and interfacing with the Wall Street investor and banking community, as well as working with the company’s leadership and board on strategy.
Joseph shared his advice for developing high-performing teams, achieving professional success and partnerships, and driving creativity.
Be rooted in shared values. EverQuote brings together talented people from technology and insurance worlds. Oftentimes, individuals from these two fields have very different career paths and experiences. To foster greater collaboration with diverse teams, Joseph underscores the importance of grounding an organization in shared values (for example, of being entrepreneurial and data-driven) which help a team work collaborate more effectively and more easily align on achieving a common mission. While talented individuals can help an organization do well over several quarters, top-performing companies recognize that long-term success is all about finding talented employees that embrace the company’s values and invest heavily to regularly reinforce those shared principles.
Do the little things right. When asked about what he has learned from successful acquisitions, Joseph shares the importance of focusing on the details. While the strategy and big vision are what often get executives excited about M&A, the “little things” ultimately make or break the outcome of most acquisitions. Consider the nitty gritty. How will you onboard new team members? How will you ensure the acquisition announcement is accessible by all (especially in a remote Covid world)? Is everyone happy about the outcome? Sometimes, the C Suite may have a different perspective from leaders one level down because they have different incentives. But it is crucial to align these leaders because they will be most integral to ensuring the success of an acquisition. Put in the extra time to iron out all the details, and don’t cut corners (even when you think you might be able to get away with doing so.)
Focus on the people. The greatest assets of most companies, especially asset light technology companies, are people. Spend time thinking about the human capital. Are you creating the best environment for them to succeed? How are you making sure people feel connected, especially in a remote world or after a big change like an acquisition? Are you forcing yourself to make the hard decisions on employees by regularly considering if your team has weak performers that need to be transitioned from the organization?
Success is often defined by the ability to effectively bridge differences. When looking back on his time at Harvard, Joseph was grateful for the interdisciplinary nature of his studies, which resulted in him taking classes and participating in activities across several Harvard graduate schools and consequently meeting people from many different backgrounds. In doing so, Joseph felt that the exposure to a wide range of perspectives was critical to equipping him to better analyze and solve complex issues as well as communicate effectively with a broad range of audiences. Equally as important, he learned to be better able to work with a diverse range of people, find their strengths and bridge the differences that inevitably arise in managing teams with many talented and often strong-willed individuals. Since graduating from Harvard, Joseph has continued to push himself to find the time to be exposed to a diverse range of people and ideas, feeling that it has been critical to his career development and personal growth.
Make time for key check-ins. Big projects, like acquisitions, can feel exciting and consequently have tons of momentum in the beginning. But before you get the momentum train starting, truly consider if you want to start the train in the first place. Even if a process has already been initiated, you can still check in with yourself and your team to make sure the existing path is still the right and best one. Without intentional check-ins, you run the risk of being too swept up in the excitement and potentially end up going in the wrong direction.
Find your passion. Instead of thinking about what your parents or career advisors tell you that you “should” do in your career, take the time to understand what you actually love. If you do what you genuinely love, you will not only be better at your work but also happier. Your passion can be your comparative advantage. Do a year-end “look in the mirror” to force yourself to think about your passion and whether it still aligns with the work you are doing. If not, start planning your next move by talking to your friends and professional network to learn more about what is likely to make you start every day with enthusiasm and a smile.