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Our Origin Story - An Interview with Margo Giles

Tell me why you started GoGiles: Okay. How did GoGiles begin? That is a very good question. It was certainly an organic experience. It was born of necessity. We were working in a commercial agency in Florida and we were looking for a better way to improve our technology, to improve production with our staff.

We were looking to scale, and it became very clear that with what was available to us, we were not going to be able to grow as quickly as we needed to. And so I went on the hunt for technology to assist.

There had to be a better way than filling out paper with pens, and faxing things and even snail mail. So we went on the hunt for a tech stack, and it became really clear that there just wasn't anything.

So it launched into years of me researching, and learning, and building sort of our own internal tech stack. And when I say organic, I mean that.

So we started to do well. Our technology was becoming more superior, and we were growing quickly, and our carrier partners started to notice.

And that was the first time, I would say, GoGiles had its, you know, first clients. Where our carriers were like, “Hey what are you guys doing internally to grow so fast?” and, “Can you show us?” and, “Well, can you do that for us?”

And then that spread to other agencies and then insurtechs were like, “Hey, we really like what you’re doing. Can you check our tech and make sure that it's, you know, going to work in this scenario? And in these agency scenarios that we have?” And so it was just born organically.

And we set up, you know, a corporation and started to take it seriously. And I migrated from agency owner and slash CTO to CEO of GoGiles. So that would be, sort of, the progression of how we got here.

Can you tell me about your background in insurance?

Oh, insurance. How I love you and hate you at the same time. Uh, no. I did come from insurance obviously. But I started with very humble means.

So my background was as a secretary, as a lot of women in insurance start out, as secretaries, or administrative assistants as we call them today, you know, doing a lot of the paperwork.

And I think that’s where my passion for, you know, pushing that technology forward came from. From the hours of sitting at a desk and paper pushing. So we started there as a secretary, as a CSR, moved up, and started to work in the commercial side. And then you know, learned a ton about insurance on the commercial side.

I’m sure anybody watching this that is a commercial agent themselves, or have worked in that department, can tell you it's probably one of the most neglected areas of insurance, as far as processes and flows that make any kind of sense.

And so I wanted to sell more. I wanted to sell faster. I wanted to provide certificates of insurance to my contractors within 24 hours. And I didn’t want to have to buy offshore. And I didn’t want to have a staff of 12, you know, to do this paper intake and outake. So that’s kind of where I ended up focusing as I progressed through my career.

So writing insurance for about 10 years, but then always on the side, pushing operations for the agency, in a more technology-forward way, and then eventually tapering off of insurance. But even though I run GoGiles today as CEO, and I am fully embraced in technology, I still will write... [laughs] ...I still write policies from time to time for my old clients and my big clients who I have developed that rapport with.

Part of, I think, what is great about GoGiles is that we’re still in insurance. So just because I did insurance in the past, it’s not like there’s been this long hiatus where, you know, “I used to know how technology worked in insurance” or “I used to know how the struggle for an agent was,” it’s -- I am still struggling. My husband is still the owner of our agency. My mother is a commercial agent in Florida full-time. So I’m still, we’re still -- all of us at GoGiles -- we’re still very connected to insurance. That is my progression from bottom to top.

Why is Salesforce your platform of choice to use and develop on?

So why do we love Salesforce at GoGiles, specifically for insurance? There are a lot of reasons.

But, I think, when it comes to insurance specifically, you know, you’ve got a lot of areas of insurance. Insurance is a very broad term.

You’ve got property and casualty, you’ve got life and health, some of that stems into financial realms, you know, with annuities and then financial, there’s a lot of mirrors between the two. And so, within P&C you’ve got personal lines and commercial lines. Within commercial lines, you’ve got niche markets.

So when you’re trying to build technology for “insurance,” it’s a very big task. And so, you almost have to break it down into smaller pieces.

What type of insurance are you trying to revolutionize with technology? Because the workflows for a P&C agency are just not the same as they are for a life and health, and you know, there's different guidelines.

So when you’re looking at platforms to work off of, and we’re used to looking at legacy systems (which are single systems that are non-customizable) and we’re trying to apply one workflow for all of insurance, and that is -- I don’t like the word impossible -- but, it’s improbable.

And eventually what happens is, you’re leaving out segments of insurance agencies or even carriers that don’t adhere to that. So they’re using a bad software with a bad business practice, and they end up not being successful.

The reason why we gravitate toward Salesforce is twofold. One, it eliminates that, “you have to use this process, that we have predetermined, and if it doesn't work for you, too bad.” with Salesforce you have the flexibility to look at your own business practices and then mirror that in your system, which is revolutionary if you’ve ever worked in insurance and you’re working with legacy systems. It just doesn't happen that way.

And two, the cost. To go out and try to build a custom software without the platform that is Salesforce, and to do that on your own, is, completely excludes, you know, your mid- to small-business insurance agency or even regional carriers or MGAs. They’re not going to spend millions of dollars on custom software.

Where Salesforce allows us to get that customization without having to build everything from the ground up. Its API integration, the ability for everything to live on the Cloud, the security that surrounds it: those are all things that you would have to build on your own, that cost a lot of money.

And we can bypass that and use the best technology that Salesforce has already developed for us. But still get the kind of feel and flexibility that you get with custom software.

So that is, that is why we love it so much.

Can we talk about clients? Tell me about your clients. Who does GoGiles work with?

GoGiles works with a plethora of clients within insurtech. We started out being agents ourselves, helping our fellow agencies. So that’s kind of where we started -- mid- to small agencies, revolutionizing their tech, doing things for them specifically.

Once we got to a certain point and word started to spread, we moved into some carrier space. Carriers started to see their agent partners doing well and they wanted to know, “Hey how do we integrate with our agents?” So we moved into working with departments within carriers, our aggregator partners, wholesalers that wanted to also make sure they had that direct agency connection.

Then we moved into other insurtechs. So, “Hey we want to build a product in this space in insurance. We want to make sure that one: the problem we’re solving is a problem that needs to be solved. And two, that from the user experience, it makes sense.”

And so those insurtechs wanted to seek out people who were, you know, extremely knowledgeable in insurance, but also tech savvy. Because it’s hard to speak both of those languages. And it's a very rare thing to find, because technology in insurance is just emerging. So people that know both sides of the fence are just starting to come out of the woodwork.

So then we started to do that for insurtechs, and then naturally that leads to VC’s. And speaking to Venture Capitalist firms about what type of tech, you know, we would advocate for. You know, trying to get in and realizing, if a tech is made for a certain market: does it have other applications possibly, that could be used better? Or how does it evolve over time? What does the market look like? So we started moving into also advising these VC’s on what technology they should be investing in and why.

So that’s kind of an array of who we work with at the moment. You know, that’s what we do.

What kind of projects motivate you? What are you excited to work on? What makes you excited to work on it?

What gets GoGiles’ team up in the morning, and what do we like to work on? There’s a couple things that get us motivated. But mostly I think what motivates myself and my team and the projects we gravitate toward are those that take a new approach to an old problem.

And an example of that would be, you know…. Let’s do this, okay, so.

An example of a good project that we like to work on is something where, we’re used to doing a system in a certain way: maybe filling out documents in a certain way, in a certain flow. And a new insurtech comes and says, “We’ve got a, you know, we’re gonna do the documents in a better way!” But they’re still doing the same flow. They’re still filling out the same documents.

The ones that get us excited, are the ones that say, “How do we eliminate the documents altogether?” And then we’re like, “Yes!” That’s the kind of tech we’re talking about. Not just, you know, revamping something that already exists, or following in a path that already exists, and just trying to make that path better. But how do we just completely smash it? How do we get out of the box and think of a way that’s just never been done before?

And we are very lucky, because right now there are so many emerging technologies that are starting to have that thought process. Which is, “We’re not just going to follow that same path and make it prettier, or make it more of a user experience, or make it nicer looking, but like -- how do we just completely either bypass it or find something better to replace it? And those are the projects that we really get excited about, and that the team loves to work on.

What are some challenges you have faced? Either in your career or specifically with GoGiles?

Well, no good origin story is without challenges, right? Every comic book lover knows that. But um, you know. We’ve faced a lot of challenges at GoGiles. I would say that the first big one is that a lot of the employees at GoGiles are female, are women, are female-identifying. And to me, it’s crazy that we don’t hold more position of power, or that we’re not looked at as you know, consultants or experts in this field, because, you know, insurance is made up totally, as a whole, of mostly women. They’re lacking in leadership roles. So one of the challenges that we’ve had to overcome is, you know, educating people, that it’s important for the people who do the work -- your female workers, your female CSRs and secretaries, if you will -- in those seats, they have incredible value to provide. Not just to the agency or the carrier, but you know, to insurtechs, if you want to know how the user needs to use the system, you need to ask the person in the seat. And those people tend to be women. So the first big hurdle we overcame was, you know, trying to convince people that we knew what we were talking about because we were women. And it's just not something that people see often in this space. So you know, I feel that we’ve come a long way with that. And i don't think it’s a hindrance to us anymore. But It certainly was a hurdle in the beginning.

The second piece would be convincing large companies, or insurtechs, or VCs or, you know, the bigger companies that are investing tons of money into this space that: insurance professionals, like the knowledge of insurance is critical if you’re building software for insurance. This isn’t like a restaurant POS system, this isn't, you know, a hairstylist that's booking online, you know, appointments. We’re talking about incredibly complex systems, legal language, coverages, schedules, endorsements, all of those things that are, that, you know, are incredibly difficult to teach someone, one.

But unless you have been, and sold those things, and transacted those things, and worked with people and taught them, and explained to clients how things work, you -- it’s difficult to, as a software developer or somebody that’s sitting in that seat, to make the jump, to understand that complexity within insurance.

And I joke all the time, because it’s easier to teach an insurance-knowledgeable agent -- or person who’s been in insurance for a long time -- software, than it is to teach software: insurance. And I think we’ve seen, the biggest hurdle is, getting people to change their mind about that.

The perception is, “Well we’ve developed all kinds of software, how hard could it be do to this for insurance?” Well, if you do not know insurance, it’s hard.

And a lot of times, you know, you’ll create a product, and you’ll sit back and go, “This is wonderful!” And an agent will look at it in two seconds, be like, “This is -- we’re never going to use this.”

Where is the disconnect? Well, look in your product people, look within your development team, and ask yourself if anybody there has ever written an insurance policy. And if the answer is “No,” then you probably need to readjust that thinking.

So those would be the two biggest hurdles, I think, or mindsets that we’ve had to overcome coming out of the gate.

What is your hope for the future?

My hope for the future is, to let’s see, let me think about, what do we want. What is our long? Do you want to talk industry hope or GoGiles hope?

So where do we want to go with all of this knowledge? Where do we see ourselves in five years, both at GoGiles and then as an insurance industry as a whole?

As a whole for the industry, I really hope to see the opinions and the needs of the actual users -- and our agent partners, and our carriers -- really being taken into consideration, when we see a lot of these, large mergers, you know, large acquisitions in the space, lots of tech moving in. You’ve got Google moving in. You’ve got Salesforce moving in.

And my hope is that with these giant companies coming into the space, that they still take the time and the, you know, the responsibility of what they’re doing seriously. And not just look at it as a “wonderful money making opportunity.” Because it is. It’s a great place to be as an investor and as a builder.

But to take heart, and I hope realizing that, what they’re doing can trickle down to everyday people: everyday people purchasing insurance, everyday people selling insurance.

That we’re not just looking at profit, you know, return on investment and profit margins but, you know, “Does this actually help push the industry forward?”

And then my hope for GoGiles is that we’re just right there in the middle of all of it. And all of our people raising just their hands and saying, “Is this the right thing for the industry partners? Is this the right thing for our insureds? Is it the right thing for our carriers?” And us to just be that annoying voice of reason in all of this chaos.

And keep pushing the message that, you know, we need to be listening to our insurance experts when we’re building this stuff out. And those people are not always, you know, famous product owners. A lot of times they’re, you know, a 35-year-old woman in, you know, an office in Indiana who processes, you know, constantly COI requests. And I want people to remember that.

So I think, if we can be in every “thing.” If we can be in every conference and every transaction that we’re doing, just to, if nothing else, to remind people to keep that in mind when they’re building insurtech, I think that would be a huge win. And we would be very happy with that.

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