Solving a Meaningful Problem: An Oral History of How We Launched Mobile Home Insurance in a Week
In an industry largely untouched by tech, launching a new insurance product in a week (on a new carrier, no less) never happens. Until it did.
As an insurtech, Kin is used to moving fast. After launching in 2016, we had already evolved from being a broker to building our own home insurance company — in under a year — to better serve homeowners in catastrophe-prone regions.
In October 2019, conditions are right to put a new product in motion for our newly established insurance carrier. We were already getting calls about mobile home insurance without lifting a finger. Our team has expertise in creating a competitive mobile home product. There are only a handful of competitors in the market. Then a major opportunity struck.
This is the story of how we developed and launched our mobile home product in a week. In case you’re not an insurance nerd (we forgive you), that’s kind of unheard of. But not at Kin, where our exceptional team can tackle the seemingly impossible and make it look easy.
This is how we made it happen.
So What Are We Going to Do with All These Leads?
Sean Harper (Co-Founder & CEO): We’d been looking at doing mobile home for a while because it’s an attractive market, something Dan [Kin’s chief actuary] knows a lot about. It’s also a simpler product than homeowners insurance.
Dan Ajun (Chief Actuary): It’s something I worked on previously as a product manager. So I already knew all of the intricacies of the mobile home product. The sales team was already getting requests for mobile home coverage — they just kept getting them.
Lucas Ward (Co-Founder & CTO): We were trying to figure out what to do with all of our customer requests for mobile and manufactured home coverage by getting appointments with other carriers, but there’s just not a lot of capacity. So we knew there was a need.
Jamie Ahern (Chief Operating Officer): I think mobile homes specifically, or manufactured homes, have an unfair brand association. They’re not like the trailers you hitch up behind the car. They’re actually substantial homes with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. They’re very nice homes. But I think there’s still this unfair branding with it, and it’s chased a lot of insurance companies away from offering coverage.
Dan: I filed the product, and people didn’t have at the time a full appreciation of what it could turn into. It’s something I just kinda worked on by myself to see where the idea would go. It took about three months of building the rates and forms. It wasn’t until about two months ago that it was put into the DOI (Department of Insurance) website. It takes a lot of work just planning how you’re going to do all that and put the product specifications together.
Sometimes Opportunity Kicks Down the Whole Door
With a major change in the Florida mobile home market, we had to move fast and hope regulators would do the same.
Jamie: There are about five major players in the mobile home insurance space in Florida. One of those [Florida Specialty] had declared bankruptcy on Thursday, October 3.
Dan: Whenever a carrier goes insolvent [in Florida], it results in a lot of policies being transferred to the Citizens Property Insurance Company. Citizens is a state-run insurance carrier, and a lot of people would prefer not to be in the state-run insurance carrier.
Angel Conlin (Chief Legal Officer): Citizens is Florida’s carrier of last resort. It’s the government-run entity, so if there’s a catastrophe, then every citizen in Florida can get taxed for whatever it takes to pay those claims. So it’s in the state’s best interest to have fewer policyholders fall to Citizens, and they only fall to Citizens if there’s not a market available for them.
We heard about the Florida Specialty insolvency. We were at a board dinner as it started coming across our cell phones. Dan and Anthony [director of insurance product management] weren’t at that dinner, so they were pinging me and Sean and some others saying, “Hey, this could be an opportunity for us.” So right there at the board dinner, we’re all talking about it and thinking, “Yeah, that could be a really cool project for us to jump on and show how we can win on speed to market here.”
Jamie: We knew around 30,000 mobile home customers we were going to lose coverage because of the bankruptcy. We also knew mobile home is an underserved market. So we knew we wanted to go after it.
“They don’t expedite filings for no reason.”
Angel: We reached out to the regulator to ask the status of our pending rate filing and whether it could be completed soon so that we could provide another option for these customers and to try to save more business from ending up in Citizens. The regulator was supportive because the office was interested in giving customers another option and minimizing the impact on Citizens.
Dan: They don’t expedite filings for no reason. That’s not what they do. So the fact that the OIR adapted to the circumstances is a very good sign that the regulator is on top of things. They could see what’s coming, and they’re willing to work with the industry in order to help out the customer. Within two days, we had stamped pages, approved rates, and approved forms, so we were ready to essentially start selling this product.
Jamie: And then it came down to the tech side of things. We asked, “What will it actually take to get up and running?”
Getting the go-ahead from regulators to sell a type of policy is one hurdle. Now we had to figure out how to make it available to customers quickly. And then there was that two-week deadline and wedding to contend with…
Blake Konrardy (VP of Product): I was looped in, talking with some senior leaders in the company, and they said, “A really awesome opportunity came up. The only problem is that we don’t have a mobile home product currently.” So basically the next step was on the tech side — how do we build this, and how fast can we do it? I came in at the intersection of the business/insurance side and the technology side: what can we do for a true MVP (minimal viable product) to get out the door as fast as possible?
Lucas: The big thing was we knew when customers would be notified, which was October 14. That was an interesting deadline because we knew when customers would be calling in. I set a goal a long time ago: I wanted the system to be able to add a new product in two weeks. So a lot of tech decisions have been made with that goal in mind.
Blake: This was a really good use case for the new structure we’d just created. It’s a cross-functional team that’s able to make decisions and move really fast. You have insurance expertise, you have operations, you have engineering, you have product, finance — everything you need. So it was really: here’s the team; let’s give them everything they need to work on this thing. That team basically didn’t work on anything else for the next week and cranked it out.
It was really important to start working with engineering early on. Caroline [software engineer] was a key player and helped determine what we could and couldn’t build in that short timeframe.
Caroline Joseph (Software Engineer): I got a message from Blake when I was gone for a friend’s wedding. He said, “Would you like to be the lead engineer on launching the mobile home product? We want to launch it by…” I think he said October 23 originally.
I was like, okay, that’s really soon and three days before my wedding. Then I got in on Monday, and he was like, “Well, how about instead of October 23, we do October 16 or something?” I looked up at the clock and was like, that’s literally like a week from today. That’s insane.
That Monday we met as a team, and we talked about the minimal viable product we needed to get out.
Holly Heitman (Program Manager, Insurance): Behind the scenes before mobile home even started, we were doing prep work for our next product. We’re trying to get better at the language barriers between the different teams — we have different words for the same things. So I was helping with implementing those product deliverables, taking all of the filings and the pending rate filing and making those documents. Basically I was asked to do project management for the mobile home launch.
Dan: We typically have a process where you design this spec and you hand it off and get it reviewed — all these things have to be specced out. It’s reviewed and we have a discussion about how it’s going to be programmed. For this process, I built a spec as quickly as possible, and dev immediately started working on it.
Holly: It was really fast, working with Dan, trying to figure out what we actually need to launch the product. What is non-negotiable from an insurance-perspective? What does dev actually need to program; what does dev care about? Because they don’t always care about the same things that insurance cares about.
Kevin Greene (Director of Engineering): Something to note on Kin — there are a lot of groups of people who have been told no by insurers or have been charged high prices or higher than they should. That’s actually a thing that Dan Ajun is passionate about.
Dan: There were some minor changes that I made to our forms that benefit the customer. In the state of Florida, mobile home insurers charge the same rate to everyone in a county. And the thing is, given the hurricane risk, coastal areas are significantly more risky than inland areas. So the fact that they were charging the same rate whether you’re half a mile from the coast or 30 miles away from the coast was a meaningful problem.
So I was able to develop a rating algorithm for the product that hasn’t been developed before. I wanted to build something a little more sophisticated that would work longer term.
Build It, Fix It, and Ship It
Let’s start with the rater and go from there. Cool? Cool.
Kevin: The rater is basically how we quickly build out the system that — given all of the property inputs, all of the inputs about a person, all of the inputs about the coverage they want — gives us a price. It’s how we built out our policy administration system (PAS). So we spent a while making sure that the fields we have in our PAS are relatively flexible, which means that every time we add a new filing, there is a little bit of work to do, but overall it’s easy to add what we need.
Holly: Rates were the main focus at first because we don’t want to give customers the wrong rates. While we knew we’d either reduce a rate that was too high or honor a rate that was too low for the first year (because that’s what we would have done for the better customer experience), we wanted to get it right the first time. Regardless, if we mess up, the customer always comes first, which is always cool because not every company is like that.
Caroline: From an engineering perspective, we were like, all we need to do to really sell the product is to get the rater done. Because otherwise someone would have to do that manually, which would not be fun.
Kevin has the most context with the rater, so I sat with him for most of Monday. He and I knocked out the rater in literally two days.
Tommy checked the rating by going through every possible scenario for mobile homes and pinging me and Kevin when something was slightly off. He would ping us; Kevin or I would get it done.
Tommy Mogavero (Actuarial Analyst): When they built it out, I just checked to see what was rating correctly and what wasn’t and if other variables needed to be added to the system or not. From a compliance standpoint, we had to file the rates and we have to follow those rating rules, otherwise we’re out of compliance. Making sure everything is rating correctly is important.
Kevin: Working with Tommy was pretty fantastic. Caroline and I probably got six or seven messages that were, “In this specific case, you’re calculating this wrong, and it should be this.” And that becomes a five-minute fix for us, as opposed to, “These 20 scenarios are wrong,” and then we have to dig in and figure out why. Tommy built out this huge Excel sheet of scenarios and was super instrumental in figuring out situations where we were rating wrong. Because he found all of them and communicated them back effectively, we were able to knock all of them out in a single day.
Caroline: So at that point, I’m like, okay, now we can get some other people working on it. So we pulled some devs from the Florida team, like Beth and Jillian, and had them working on the signing flow or the underwriting rules.
Jillian Somera (Software Engineer): At the start of the week, our workload was conveniently lighter than usual, so by the time Beth and I were asked to jump on the project, I’d say mid-week, we’d pretty much finished a lot of the work we had for that particular sprint on our normal team.
Beth Cruz (Software Engineer): I remember Caroline came over, and she’s like, “Hey, can you do this underwriting stuff?” I think I was only a couple weeks in [to my job at Kin]. I immediately started working on underwriting rules, so at least when she came over to ask, I knew what she was talking about. I’m always down to learn something new.
Jillian: I was working on setting the values for the coverage we were offering for animal liability because those are different from our offerings for HO3 (single-family home policies). Because the values were different, I had to reflect that. It’s a project that seems small but from a business standpoint is important. We always need to make sure those numbers are accurate.
“Any time you start a project, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Caroline: Documents were the big other thing. Nick worked a lot on that.
Nick Eich (Software Engineer): Some of the work we did, like the documents, I had also done for Florida HO3. So I knew what we had to do. Then toward the end, I was helping get our RCE (replacement cost estimator) cost calculated. It’s similar to what we do for single-family homes, but mobile home required some tweaks.
Caroline: What takes a lot of time is looking at documents and being like, is that how we want them? And since we had such a short turnaround, Dan and I sat together on that Friday night, until 6 pm, fixing everything, one by one.
Dan: We just sat next to each other and as things came up, she turned to me and asked, “Is this what you intended? Is this how you want it to work?” And there was immediate feedback. Specs got launched and immediately worked on. There was a lot of communication between me and the developers — constant — making sure we got this programming correct.
Caroline: And by the end of that week, we had everything done that we needed to get done. The rating was done. All the document stuff was done. What the application looked like, what the declaration page looked like, what the policy packet looked like was done.
Blake: Any time you start a project, you don’t know what you don’t know. As you start working on the things you think are required, you might say, “Oh, this substantially changes how we do underwriting or claims,” or, “This thing in the rater requires technology that we haven’t implemented yet.” So there always has to be buffer built in, and we didn’t really have any buffer. I think what really helped us was the order of attack: we started with the building blocks from the rater. There were some things there that we needed to build out that we weren’t aware of at the start, but when those things came up, we had the flexible team size to really help us out.
Lucas: After the launch of [the Kin carrier] in July, we were wondering how quickly we can actually put volume on this. That’s where we really need QA to make sure we don’t have issues.
Holly: It felt like we were testing during the process. Ivanna [implementation manager] would send me tickets to approve just to make sure dev understands what is needed.
Ivanna Martinez (Implementation Manager): Blake wrote the majority of the stories — the time it takes and the accuracy it takes to do that in a short period of time is very impressive. For the stories I wrote, we wanted to have a record of the work that’s been done. Product always tries our best to give well thought-out stories with a testing scenario, with an acceptance criteria. So on the dev side, when they build their work, it is easy to validate, and we know when it begins and when it ends. It also helps the product team to mark this ticket as done, ship the work, and then focus on the next step.
7 Business Days Later…
Chalk it up to the advantages of being nimble and having an incredibly driven team, but we got our first mobile home bind in seven days.
Jamie: Again, to put a timeframe on this, Florida Specialty announces their bankruptcy on Thursday. We decided on Monday that we want to move forward with a mobile home product. By Thursday, Caroline had everything effectively ready for QA, ready for final reviews, and then by Monday, we were quoting live customers on the phone. And our first sale came in on a Tuesday. So you’re really talking about seven days that it took us to actually go from inception of an idea, speccing it all out from a product perspective, building it, and getting a sale. It’s certainly nothing like I’ve been a part of before.
Angel: It’s unheard of for a carrier to stand up an entirely new program in just seven days.
Sean: That’s one of the big benefits we always talk about with our software being so nimble and our direct-to-consumer approach: we can go after these niches fast and hit market opportunities faster than anyone else.
Jamie: I think where most companies go wrong is they want to sit in a conference room and talk about stuff for hours and hours and hours. The fastest way to learn is just sell something and see what happens. Let’s make sure we’re covered on all of our legal bases, but when it comes to “Is this going to be smooth?” Of course not. It’s never smooth. It’s a new product launch.
Lucas: This is probably another big difference between us and other incumbents. Because we have the tech stack and we’re not using a third party, we’ll write some policies and keep getting better and better — and then we slowly ramp up.
Jamie: Keep in mind that we have a real deadline here. The other company’s policyholders were losing coverage on November 1. The story of the first bind is that Tyler — oversees all of sales, customer support, etc. — is going to be the guy who sells our first mobile home policy.
Tyler Warden (Operations Manager): Every time we roll out a new product, I’m usually the one to take it through the early stages, walk through it with customers, relay any feedback I’m getting, while I’m navigating the new products with customers in real time.
Lucas: Tyler has been the person to sell the first policy on every product that Kin’s ever sold.
Tyler: Monday came and I had a huge sense of urgency. So I came in at my normal time and really just dedicated myself, had the headphones on, wasn’t talking to anyone, seeing if we can put something on the board. I was confident in a few. Then 4 o’clock comes around, and I don’t have anything. And 5 o’clock comes around, and I don’t have anything. People are starting to trickle out. And then it was about 7 pm when I had a guy call in. Just totally random.
Jamie: It’s 7:45 pm or so, so he’s close to four hours after he’s already supposed to leave, and it’s me, Tyler and John [Hudson]. John and I are basically hovering over Tyler, and Tyler’s got this guy on the phone, and he’s trying to walk through how to use this signing flow effectively.
Tyler: Thankfully, he wasn’t getting frustrated. He was more apologetic to me, saying, “Oh I’m sorry. I’m not too good with computers.” He was used to going into a brick and mortar agency and talking to someone. He knew the guy for years. For me, it was just overcoming that uncertainty on his part, letting him know who I am and what we do.
Jamie: I called Lucas on his cell phone, and was like, “I know you’re with Dan. Can you look at this thing, like now, because we’ve got this guy on the phone, and he needs coverage starting tomorrow.”
Lucas: We have a reinsurance broker that helped us set up all the reinsurance for our carrier, and they’d set up a closing dinner.
Angel: So we’re all sitting at the dinner table, and Dan’s like, “I didn’t bring my laptop,” and Lucas is like, “I’ve got mine.” So he pulls it out of his backpack, fires it up.
Lucas: I had a tethering hookup from my phone and got the computer up and running. We logged into the policy to verify it.
Angel: Dan sits there, rates it up, and says, “Yep, it’s good to go.”
Jamie: So it’s me, John, and Tyler sitting here at 8:15 at this point with all the lights shut off and we can’t figure out how to turn them back on so we’re sitting in the dark, waiting for Lucas’s call to say we’re good to go. As soon as that goes through, we bound the policy, and I took those guys for a couple drinks. What Tyler and John did was so far above and beyond what was asked of them.
Lucas: I think it was a little wild for the reinsurance broker to see that, especially after we launched it so quickly. They’re used to working with legacy insurance companies.
Sean: It shows the benefit of the platform we’ve built. And this won’t be the last thing. It’s mobile home today. Some market opportunity will present itself next month, and it’ll be something that our legacy competitors can’t go after at the same speed that we can, and it’ll be a competitive advantage for us.
Ivanna: When you work at Kin, everything moves fast. Everyone operates already on an advanced level. Working at Kin gives you that stamina to do things at a more intelligent pace. Being surrounded by people who just work smarter, you tend to adapt it, too. Like if I have good ideas that could help us propel to the next step, then why not, right? Share what you can.
About the Author
Billy Osterman is a senior recruiter for Kin Insurance. He was previously a senior executive search consultant for Lucas Group in their technology practice. He has 10 years of recruiting experience and is a proud graduate of the University of Illinois, where he earned a BA in rhetoric.