Vertex US Spotlight: A Q&A with Jason Keck, CEO Broker Buddha

Domenic Perri
Aug 27 · 7 min read

Jason is CEO of Broker Buddha, a Vertex US portfolio company, that helps commercial insurance brokers automate repetitive processes for its clients. We first invested in Broker Buddha in 2019 because we believed that vertical SaaS products that are simple, and easy-to-use, have opportunities to change the massive insurance brokerage industry, one largely untouched by technology.

Read more about Jason’s journey, which takes him from his hometown of New Orleans to the Harvard baseball team, to being founder and CEO of the insurtech platform.

Give us your elevator pitch — what does your company do?

Broker Buddha is a technology platform for independent insurance agencies that simplifies the outdated application and renewal process, creating a customer-friendly online experience that saves time for agencies and their clients.

Our intuitive, high-efficiency workflow means agents can dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on applications and renewals — by as much as 80% — while getting necessary information returned in 3.5 days instead of weeks or months. Hours once spent on monotonous administrative work can now be used to build business and nurture relationships.

What sparked your idea to start the company?

As an engineer at heart, I’ve always loathed the idea of wasted time, and loved the idea of using technology to eliminate monotonous work and build delightful experiences. In 2017, as I was itching for my next professional adventure, I re-connected with Mark Peter Davis, the MD at Interplay, a relatively young New York City Incubator. Mark told me about the success he was having incubating Founder Shield, a digital agency that used technology to accept applications from their clients. When I learned that every other insurance agency still used PDFs, paper and — yup, fax machines — my engineering heart took over. I joined the Incubator as the CEO of Broker Buddha and the rest is history.

If you were to draw a line from your current passion for this field back in time to a specific point in your youth, where would it go? Tell us about that memory.

My passion stems from solving challenges with big outcomes, and as many of you know, the insurance industry impacts millions of people daily. I love the scale and the ability to solve complex problems to help people.

Growing up in a hard-working, middle-class part of New Orleans, I found my passion through my love for sports, and baseball was my game. I played it for most of my childhood and became Captain, the starting catcher and the 3rd hole hitter on my high school team. Since I went to a small school, we were always the underdog so I loved winning games against bigger, better teams. While it’s a mentally and physically challenging game, I worked hard with my team to battle adversity and win.

I also balanced academic challenges with the ones on the baseball field. It led me to get into Harvard and play there. At the time, it was the biggest outcome I could’ve ever imagined and that changed the trajectory of my life.

Seeking intellectual challenges and solving hard problems continues to be what I’m most passionate about, especially when the outcomes can have a big impact. Once I discovered that pursuing my passions could be so significant, I began seeking out big opportunities in every area of my life.

When you were a kid, what did you think you’d grow up to be?

I always thought I’d be an engineer while also dreaming of becoming a CEO one-day.

Where did you start your career? What was your first job in this industry?

During the height of the dot com boom I joined Scient as a developer, right before it went public. I quickly learned that I had the chops and skills to spend more time on culture and people so I spent six months as the Chief Morale Officer where I started a summer internship program, named Summer Legends, to recruit other technical talent from top tier schools.

While I loved my time at Scient, the company went out of business 3 years later.

What unlikely/unexpected person or chance meeting affected your career path?

During my junior year on the college baseball team, we were the best we had been for a long time. I had a standout year, batting over .400 where I earned an invite to the Cape Cod league, a collegiate summer league for potential pro baseball prospects. That summer, I thought I could make it to the big leagues.

As fall rolled around, I participated in on-campus recruiting as many other students do each year and flew to San Francisco to interview at tech companies. I fell in love with the product and people at Scient, but was conflicted because I also wanted to play professional baseball.

The following week, Scient asked me to meet with Balaji Gopinath, an executive who was in town interviewing at MIT. We had a long talk about life that night and I accepted the offer and haven’t looked back since. Because of that conversation, Balaji became a mentor of mine at Scient and has remained a friend ever since. We still talk often and he helps me think through hard problems and big decisions. He helped me then and still helps me now. Thanks Balaji!

When you reflect on your life and work, what are you proud of?

I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful and healthy life so I’m proud of many things. First and foremost, I’m proud of my team at Broker Buddha and the people who have become my friends.

My hard work, integrity and rigor is something I’m very proud of. It’s what drove me to play college baseball where I finished top 25 in the nation each year. I was the guy my coach wanted at the plate when there were runners on base and two outs. The hard work took me well beyond my baseball days where I took chances and moved from places like New Orleans to Massachusetts to San Francisco to London. It also led me to leave a great job at Shazam to start my own company. I’ve failed and have had the courage to pull myself up and do it again.

Lastly, I’m also proud of wearing the creative black tie instead of the traditional black tie at the Mobile World Congress Awards show in 2008. :)

What additional impact does your company have that didn’t make it into your elevator pitch?

Jobs in the insurance industry can be filled with monotonous administrative work that nobody loves doing. Doing data entry and sending nagging reminder emails are just a few things that drive down job satisfaction and drive up employee churn. By eliminating that monotonous work, we have a material positive impact on our user’s emotional well-being and the overall morale and culture of the agencies who use our platform.

What’s one thing that surprised you as you’ve built your business?

I’ve really come to enjoy the insurance industry! Having come from the music and media industry, I did not expect work in insurance to be fun, but wow was I wrong. In the past four years, I’ve met incredibly interesting, entertaining and generally enjoyable people. I am looking forward to more surprises in the future.

What is your desert island book or movie?

Movie — Aliens. I could watch that over and over

Book — The Stormlight Archive (can’t wait till it’s finished!)

You have a whole day at your disposal, but work isn’t allowed. What do you do?

Wakeboard — I suck at it, but damn it’s fun!

If you could solve one issue in the startup world by snapping your fingers, what would it be and why?

If I could snap my fingers, I would help early stage entrepreneurs more quickly (and better!) validate the problems they are trying to solve, and qualify the solution they have in mind. As an engineer, I look for efficiencies and am saddened by the amount of effort that people invest into failed businesses. So many cycles are wasted in early phases, and I wish that time could be better spent.

While I realize that all of these ideas can’t all be successful, it hurts me to see how much blood, sweat, and tears people invest into ideas that don’t make it.

Imagine the impact this could have for innovation as a whole if we could solve this issue in the startup world.

Name and unpack one challenge in working at a startup that no one ever told you about?

Find a problem, build a solution, and sell it to clients. It sounds straightforward, but that also requires understanding cap table math, a challenge I didn’t know until I went through it for the first time. It’s a doozy.

It’s something I learned as I got deeper into the business, where I started raising capital, and learned about different financing instruments and their impacts on a company’s ownership structure and cap table. Thankfully now there are decent tools out that are helpful, but learning the way this works took a lot of mental energy early in my time as a founder.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten that you’d share again?

Do less, not more.

Thank you for sharing your story, Jason!

This was also published on LinkedIn.

Vertex Ventures

Vertex Ventures

Vertex Ventures is a global network of funds, comprised of affiliates in the US, Israel, China, Southeast Asia and India. This is a unique platform our portfolio companies realize by leveraging the combined experience and resources of our global partners.

Domenic Perri

Written by

Partner @ Vertex Ventures | Prior Corp Dev/M&A/BD @ Dropbox, Tesla, Juniper Networks, IBM Security and B2B startups

Vertex Ventures

Vertex Ventures is a global network of funds, comprised of affiliates in the US, Israel, China, Southeast Asia and India. This is a unique platform our portfolio companies realize by leveraging the combined experience and resources of our global partners.