8/12/2021

Small Business Spotlight

Making Insurance Accessible: Emmett Iris & Virtual Insurance Brokers

Small business owner Emmett Iris shares how they built their company, Virtual Insurance Brokers, as a fresh grad and their advice for getting started with low credit.

Tim Wu
Tim Wu

Head of Growth

Table of Contents

On Nov 18th, 2021, Hatch will rename to Nearside! Our mission remains: to provide access to transparent and fair financial products. Our new name reflects our commitment to always be on your side. Learn more.

Hatch:

Hello and welcome to Hatch Small Business Spotlights, where small business owners share stories about getting started, lessons learned, and victories they've won along the way to building their businesses. Today we're joined by Emmett Iris, the founder of Virtual Insurance Brokers, a company that offers several types of insurance in an accessible way, and is currently expanding into other business services. Can you tell me what led you to decide to become a small business owner and make this jump to create your own company?

Emmett:

I was working in the financial industry and I could get insurance licensed, or I could get security licensed, and I did some more research on what the pay looks like. I knew I would be able to help and I found that the interest of a lot of the financial companies did not align with my personal interests. And then I was also responsible for my own license and paying for it. And then I was like, "well, why would I spend all this money and still be an employee, and still not have benefits, when I could just work for myself and not have those things, or eventually make enough to give myself those things."

Hatch:

That makes a lot of sense and so talk me through these early days of launching your company. What were the difficulties you faced? Were there any things that were easier than you expected? What were those early days like?

Emmett:

The early days I would say were the most difficult because I was a 21 year old that was practically fresh out of college and I had extremely terrible credit due to financial hardships that had happened prior. So of course, nobody is going to lend to me and startup funding, even trying to open a business, making out is very difficult. I actually couldn't even open another personal checking account for myself at the time and Azlo was the only company that would let me open an account and I was so worried about that. And it's something that still kind of affects me today a little bit, but that was definitely the hardest part. So, my business, there's been no loans, assistance, startup funding. I am all cash.

Hatch:

Wow, that's incredible. And so, at what point did you feel secure in what you were doing? I'm sure that's such a scary feeling to take the leap and start your own company, it's uncertain. At what point did you have enough momentum to feel like you were really onto something?

Emmett:

I don't think I ever gained momentum. I tend to go into things head first. I'm very all or nothing. If I lose interest in a job or really anything, I just simply don't give it any more effort. That's it. So, I think when I got that feeling, like financial insurance isn't what I want to do, it was a week and then I put in my two weeks notice. And I was like, "I'm just going to figure it out with money." I had nothing lined up. I'd done freelancing, like Uber on and off, all through college because I struggled trying to find a job. So I was like, "I'll just wing it and see what happens and figure it out." And you know, just through the blessings of the universe and the grace, I ended up making about three times as much as doing Uber and Amazon and all these apps, as I was making at my regular job.

And that's how I ended up keeping my business afloat and I still try to do that with freelancing from time to time because right now, everything is at an all time low with pricing, which affects my pay and my commission, but I don't charge a broker's fee because I don't believe in that. So I guess the takeaway is, I really have to be a hustler in order to make things run and that's the thing about owning a small business. There's no guarantee that you're going to be successful, you're going to build that momentum to "replace your income" so to speak, but are you willing to work harder to make it work out?

Hatch:

Obviously this year's been so difficult in so many ways but can you tell me about how 2020 was uniquely difficult for your company and the services that you offer?

Emmett:

I opened my business formally in August of 2019, been licensed since 2018. So I'm literally just starting out. I don't even have a good quarter into business operations as normal and then COVID hit. So my way of prospecting was, I would walk into local businesses. I was really familiar with most of them because they ordered packages or needed rides and I would offer my business card. We would talk about pretty much anything insurance. We would talk about the world, the hot weather in Phoenix because for nine months of the year it is hot. And that was how I did prospecting and for me that was a huge step as an introvert. And I kind of liked it and now that it's not safe to do that, it's been puzzling how to approach it because, I could run Facebook ads right? And those aren't too expensive to run, but I feel through all the media that we consume already, I don't really want to do anything I'm supposed to do.

Hatch:

Of course, I totally feel that. And so 2020 is also the year you started working with Hatch. What led you to start working with them and how did they help elevate what you were doing?

Emmett:

I saw a Facebook ad for Hatch. Actually I had to sign up and be on their wait list, that's how early I saw their ad. And I was so excited because I was like, "oh my gosh, this is a cool concept." They were like, "we do a soft credit check, but no hard pull, we give everybody a chance." And I was like, "oh my gosh, this will finally be a chance for me to have a business line of credit." And now due to my credit being really bad, I did get a really, really low amount of only $200. But I literally cried when I got that approval to my email, and seeing the paper, and getting their card because I never thought that was going to happen, and they also make payments really flexible and easy. I definitely would say they don't gouge on interest rates.

One thing I can say about my Hatch card, they only had the credit card at the time, but I knew exactly how much the interest rate was and I could not say that about credit card experiences that I had in the past. And with Hatch there has never been confusion about things with the interest rate, how it's calculated, when it's calculated. They make that super clear and I love the user interface, how easy it was to just go in and pay, and everything was just so simple.

If I've ever needed anybody within Hatch, I get responses in literally hours. I've never had the experience of calling them on the phone because I usually don't do that, I've never needed to, but that also speaks volumes. And because they're a much smaller company, it's so cool to me, I can say "okay I know their Director of Marketing, I know their Chief of Talent," all those little things that matter so much. And even the people that are on their marketing team and also having them on a LinkedIn network, getting to see their growth, so that true human connection that is so invaluable and can't be replaced.

Hatch:

Yeah, I'm sure and it seems to be in sync with your strategy as well, of going into places and talking to people face to face, and what a great way to build connections. And so, can you talk a little bit about how there are maybe other programs that have emerged, but you need really good credit to access those and how that's been frustrating and how it's been helpful to be able to use Hatch and get that credit that you needed?

Emmett:

Absolutely. So programs that require good credit and say that they "help people" they're everywhere. I mean, from NerdWallet [Mandera 00:08:19], Lendio, those are probably going to be your top three that come up. Obviously if you do have bad credit or you're a really young person, ageism completely exists in the lending process. And I know that there are people who won't want to believe that, but trust me, when you're a young person, it absolutely does because they think you're not as serious.

If you're walking with less than a 720 or something, you can pretty much scratch off every conventional banking, and most people will say, well, why don't you check out the credit unions? The credit unions are even more strict when it comes to lending, very picky. You can follow the conventional rules about, have you been a member with them and all that stuff. I've used credit unions for my checking accounts and yeah, no. On the lending side it was always, "well, you don't have enough equity. You don't have enough real estate," or they're like "what's the last seven years of your history." And it's like, seven years? If I'm 21 now, seven years, that only makes me what, a 14 year old?

Hatch:

Absolutely, wow. Can you just talk a little bit more about how during this past year you've started offering more services outside of insurance. You talked about that a little bit at the start, but can you get into more detail there of what other services you've been able to offer? And what's gone into making that actually happen.

Emmett:

So I recently partnered with another company called The Dosta, and that's marketing services like SEO websites. But I've currently been collaborating with them to offer a more affordable solution to small business owners who need all of these services, but just don't have crazy budgets.

And that's another thing, when you start doing a website and everything else, I'm currently in the process of redoing mine, and trying to do the SEO, your graphics, just the whole thing. Not only is it time consuming but it can get really expensive and as a small business owner, you can't really outsource everything. But a lot of people don't realize when they start a business, how expensive it is to outsource. I always tell people that unless you've got a crazy investor backing you, or you've got tens of thousands of dollars, marketing is very expensive. Graphic design is very expensive. For really good graphic design, for the pretty stuff that you see, the major corporations you like, you will probably spend $10,000 to $15,000 on it. And if you want a marketing company, you're probably going to spend at least $10,000 to $12,000 on a six-month contract. It's not cheap.

Hatch:

Yeah, I can see how all of that could really add up, especially over time. And so, now looking ahead for you, what are you excited about for your company in the next few years? How do you plan to grow and... take your company to that next level?

Emmett:

I think it's really going to be about me providing value to the communities I serve. I am currently licensed in Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Florida. I am expanding mostly through the southern states because that's also where I've lived my whole life. And I think with these communities, there's got to be a bigger selling point than 'I can offer you the lowest prices' or a personal connection because now that everything's on social media and zoom, there's an abundance of that personal connection but also, who can really offer the most.

And I think my specialty is making really complicated matters simple and being able to bring on marketing and even just other service partners to consolidate and alleviate that, would be a tremendous help. Being in the component space, I can also kind of manage some of those communications too. Cause I know some people get really overwhelmed with the back and forth emails of trying to incorporate a new service and it may seem like unpaid labor at first, but those have been some of my strongest referrals from doing those things for people. And referrals, I would say that's the most powerful form of marketing because those can stick. And I fortunately do have a retention rate of over 95%. I've only ever lost one customer and that was largely due to price. So I think I'm doing pretty good.

Hatch:

And so, now looking broadly at this journey you've had in taking the leap, launching your own company, what about this whole process, if anything, has surprised you, either at the start or more recently, anything at all?

Emmett:

I would say the most shocking part is, there are services that say they cater to small businesses and, similar to getting lending and banking, that hassle, the same is true for services. And one thing I've always been puzzled about is how can these businesses say they support small businesses when they are charging insane amounts, or they have pretty high revenue requirements before they'll work with you. Whatever you're doing, some of them, require a minimum revenue of 5,000 or 10,000 loans. And I'm like, that makes no sense. They really need to classify what kinds of small business owner are they talking about? Because there's so many of us.

There are some people who walk into this that have their 401k, W2 job, and "played everything by the book." There's some people who end up becoming small business owners out of necessity because regular employment is not available to them. And then there are some people who, they're still working their job, but the job is not really paying enough for them to save, and they're like me and just going out on a whim. All three of those types of people have very, very different needs.

Hatch:

That's a really good point and it sounds like companies like yours and Hatch really identify the people who need the help and can use that personal touch to really help their clients get to where they need to, which is really nice to hear. So final question, based on your experience and launching the company like you've done, what advice would you give to other small business owners who are looking to follow a similar path that you did?

Emmett:

I would say that cash is king and keep that in mind with everything. You spend cash and you will never have to pay it back. You won't be panicking about paying back a loan. If we have another COVID, or 2008, or 1929, you will not be losing sleep at night because you can't pay bills if you're paying cash. And my other piece of advice would be to try to pay for as much things on an annual basis in your first year as possible, so you don't have the monthly liability and the stress of that.

The most difficult part, and this kind of has a personal touch to it too, is that I also live with chronic conditions and I have to be gentle with myself, and remember that I'm only one person and I'm only human, and then I'm going to get tired. I do a lot, but with that being said, I have to be more intentional with where I put my energy.

So, I know that for me, even though the website's not up, I tried to rush myself through that. And I was like why am I focusing on this when with the majority of my clients are not the type of people who are going to click on a website. It sounded silly and it seems like there are benefits to a website don't get me wrong, but that doesn't make sense for me to focus on that. Like the Facebook and the social media pages would be more where it's at for me with that direct engagement.


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