Here we are in the final few days of March, closing out Women’s History Month with our last #WomenMakingHistory Blog Series! If you missed the first few installments, simply head back to the blog page and click on a recent entry. If you’ve been following along, you know that this last post is featuring Kate Terry, Co-Founder and COO of Surround Insurance - an insurtech company, reimagining insurance for young adults in the 21st century, and the agents that serve them. Kate has been building the Surround brand, as well as her own as a thought leader in the insurtech space, so we asked her to share a bit of her personal story with us:
NVP: Let’s get personal. Tell us part of your personal story. An inspiration, an exciting moment, a turning point…
KT: My daughter has an independent streak a mile long. I remember watching her toddle across a crowded playground soon after she learned to walk. She could scarcely keep her balance, but she had no fear of the bigger kids running around. She just kept going. I remember thinking "I hope she always forges her own path." And in that moment, I realized I was hoping for something for her that I wasn't willing to seize for myself. The best things in my life have come from taking a chance - moving abroad at 22 (and staying four years), taking three months off to do a (winter!) adult Outward Bound course, getting married, having a child. But somehow I was in a senior but dreary job, all grey suits and steering committee meetings. It took me a couple more years to leave, and I didn't leave to start this business specifically, but it was the change that released a logjam. I'm more myself than I was, a better role mother for my daughter, and building something new in the world. I'm so grateful for where I ended up.
NVP: Why insurance? What’s interesting about the space to you?
KT: On an emotional level, one of my core values, one that I feel all the way down to the depths of my heart, is fairness. Life is inherently unfair, but every day I go to work, I make life more fair. I can’t control who is going to get in an accident today, or who is going to get hurt, but I can be there to help put their lives back together. And I’ve seen the power of that again and again. It’s our privilege in this industry to stand with people at some of the worst moments in their lives, and to help them move forward.
On an intellectual level, insurance is fascinating! It’s a combination of so much data - billions and billions of data points, and human behavior. So, there’s this ongoing intersection between the two where you get to apply really rigorous quantitative analysis, but also a deep understanding of psychology. And in that intersection, we get to figure out how to make the world a safer place.
NVP: Building a startup is hard. What has been the biggest challenge and the greatest reward so far?
KT: It sure is! If you knew how hard it would be before you got started, you might never try it! The biggest challenge has been just how many pieces there are and how intricately they are connected, since we’ve literally built an insurance company. When I joined my co-founder Jay Grayson at Surround, we were two people and a PowerPoint. Since then, with our amazing team, we’ve gotten reinsurance, built a brand, built a system that can handle almost any kind of insurance, raised money, got regulatory approval for our products, signed up fantastic distribution partners, and launched! There were times when the road ahead seemed incredibly long and uncertain, but we made it.
The greatest reward so far is the amount of growth I’ve seen - in myself, in our team, in our understanding of our customers and insurance agent partners. There’s an enormous sense of agency that comes from creating something from nothing, and that’s exactly the kind of miracle getting a startup from idea to launch is.
NVP: What do you consider before promoting someone?
KT: Decency. There is no recovery from putting someone who isn't decent down to their core in a position of power over others. And there is no excuse for doing so either. So yes, they've got to be able to do the job, to really drive execution in their area. But, are they good people? Not just in what they say they believe, but in how they act? Do they do what they say they're going to do when they say they're going to do it? Do they treat people fairly? Can they admit when they are wrong? Do they speak up when they see something they believe is wrong? People who do all of these - they're the ones you want at your back in good times and bad. They're the ones you should promote.
NVP: Open Mic Time: What else should we be talking about during Women’s history month as it pertains to business, startups, tech and VC?
KT: I believe we thrive as a society when everyone can use their talents and gifts to their fullest possible expression. My slice of the startup space is incredibly male dominated - I've seen statistics that 2% of insurtech founders are women. What holds women back isn't generally men (or women) with bad intentions - most of the people I know in this space are good people who mean well. But access to capital, partners, ideas, jobs - these pass through informal social networks. And those networks are very white and very male. To be a person of character requires doing better than just meaning well. If we all want to build a stronger, better, more vibrant ecosystem, we have to let people who aren't just like us in. And we can all be mindful of that. So, who didn't we invite along, and why? Can we invite them? Speak up for them? Direct social activities towards something a little more comfortable for all of our teammates and colleagues? That's what will make the difference, and we'll build better companies in a fairer society. We all deserve that.
That’s a wrap on our #WomenMakingHistory Blog Series, but celebrating the incredible women within our portfolio, our community, and the greater VC/tech ecosystems is an ongoing endeavor at NVP. Special thanks to Kate as well as Naomi Shah, Jessica Gonzalez, Eden Full Goh, Crystal Evuleocha, or being a part of this effort and sharing their stories with us.