The Hidden Agenda of Interning at Pablow

Introduction

“The CEO of the company was telling me about the things he enjoyed doing when he was my age.” Ask yourself, how many interns are able to say they had the opportunity of working alongside their CEO every day? It would be great to say a large number of interns have that opportunity, but realistically speaking that is not the case. When I was in the interview process for an internship at Pablow Inc. I did some research to get an overview and was not too impressed. I was not impressed because I realized they were a small startup founded in 2015 that had just 3 employees and when googling “Pablow”, Miley Cyrus kept appearing as the first link. My mindset changed completely once I started the internship.

 

Refurbishing Corporate Culture

This internship was full time summer internship; however, I did not have to be in the office by 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. (even though I was, because I’m a morning person). The culture here at Pablow allows you to manage yourself as long as job duties were done in the required time period. Imagine being told you get to manage yourself, I tried my best to respect that privilege and never show up as if I just rolled out of bed. We were allowed play music and there was always a bit of fun involved throughout the week. It was nice being able to have a laid-back environment, but more than anything it was a learning experience for me. When you treat people right and provide a unique working environment, you’ll find that they enjoy going to work. Throughout the period of my internship there was not one day where I didn’t want to go to work, I was ready to see what was in store for the day. Along with these fun perks it also led me to understanding how I can be a leader by respecting the self-management privilege I was given.

 

Be a Leader

I was fortunate to have worked on projects for Pablow where I was able to lead them in the way that I thought was best. One of the things I remember was when Steve, CEO of Pablow said, “Whoever suggests something, make sure you’re the one to lead.” It’s difficult to learn when you are being micro managed or being help step by step. Look at it as a child, if you try to keep them from getting hurt every moment, they will never learn. When Dylan, VP of sales and marketing, assigned my projects for the summer I felt overwhelmed. I was two days into my internship and already had been assigned projects that would last me the whole summer. There were five projects assigned, and I had complete control from beginning to end. I set timelines, determined the approach and led team meetings to complete the projects. This taught me how I should not fear to take initiative and set a standard for others to follow.

There are many traits and characteristics that describe a leader. Leaders are able to find a balance in certain situations, listen to others, and ask questions. “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” I tried not to ask odd questions for the most part, but because I have little to zero knowledge about the travel industry there were a lot of questions that I had to ask my team members. Of course, to them it was probably old news, but they were very helpful and motivated me to learn more. You can never stop learning, no matter what the subject is. This led me to learning tools that I can use in the future.

 

Figuring out the tools

There are many software tools that businesses utilize that students don’t have the opportunity to learn since everything you need to know for your career apparently is in a textbook. In this internship, I was able learn and eventually use software tools that I had no experience with for business purposes. This was a fun learning experience seeing how a business can use tools such as Survey Monkey, MailChimp, Canva, and Asana. The best part of all this is that this business is a start-up, you can make it what you want it to be. These projects are an ongoing process, which I believe is great because you can see the improvement. For example, I was developing a customer satisfaction survey, which I predicted I would have done in two days or so. I was wrong, there’s more to it than just listing a couple questions on a survey. I had to look at it from two different viewpoints; the goal was to develop a survey efficient for the customer and valuable for Pablow. It took some time and toying around to understand these different software tools, but there was always help from team members if needed. When I first arrived at Pablow, Dylan made it clear that at Pablow things would be transparent. This provided me with a sense of comfort knowing that there would be honesty, which is great to have when it comes to working with others.

 

Conclusion

Growing up there were movies or television series where interns were seen taking lunch orders, filing documents, or cleaning. Fortunately, it seems like that stigma has been buried (at least with Pablow) and interns are learning and being compensated. I can honestly state that not once did I have to go get coffee for Steve, and I spent my time learning and contributing to Pablow. I am very fortunate to have had the great opportunity of working alongside talented individuals such as Steve, Dylan, Jay and Michael. The freedom I was given allowed me to take initiative and determine how valuable I can be as an individual. I was fortunate to have obtained such a great, motivating and fun learning experience. The beginning was a bit overwhelming, but with time, patience, and confidence it all ended just fine with many successful completed projects. I’m happy and fortunate to say I interned at a startup company rather than a corporate firm. This is an experience I would not trade for anything else and I hope to keep supporting the startup community in any way possible.

The Newest Vacation Rental Necessity

Introduction

Have you heard of post-sale travel insurance?  The new concept is quickly becoming a vacation rental necessity for vacation rental retailers, property managers, and software providers.  In the next three minutes I guarantee that you’ll understand post-sale travel insurance and some of the ways it can help your vacation rental company meet your goals, obtain more profit, and build better relationships with your guests.  In addition, we’ll explore a few of the more popular reasons why guests purchase post-sale travel insurance.

What Is Post-Sale Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is a common way to protect guests from the risks of travel, and most professionals in the vacation rental industry understand how it works.  Post-sale travel insurance, on the other hand, is new and different from any other travel insurance products.  The primary differentiator is that it can be sold after the booking and final payment date all the way up until 24 hours before the start of the guest’s trip, which benefits both guests and hosts.

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What Can Travel Insurance Do For Your Vacation Rental Company?

Post-sale travel insurance offers vacation rental companies an additional revenue stream without having to invest any resources, which means that all of the money generated is pure profit.  One software provider estimated that travel insurance could increase their profit per booking by up to 35% and that property managers could increase their profit per booking by 7%.

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Guests love a seamless online purchase process, so finding a travel insurance website that fits your brand and is easy for guests to use is the key to earning additional revenue.  Some companies will even help you create a customized travel insurance website free of charge and in a matter of minutes.

Post-sale travel insurance is incredibly popular with property managers, because it allows them to protect the long term relationships with their guests.  Any travel insurance that prevents guests from purchasing insurance after the final deposit date inherently limits which guests it will cover. What you want is a policy that can be offered to guests up until just before the start of their trip.

Insurance companies are often known as heavily regulated and difficult to work with.  However, post-sale travel insurance is just the opposite since it eliminates the need for insurance licensing and signing a contract.

What Can Travel Insurance Do For Your Guests?

Many guests find that post-sale travel insurance provides them with peace of mind when traveling, a rare occurrence for most guests.  Furthermore many guests are used to staying in hotels where cancellation conditions are very generous, in comparison to the strict cancellation conditions of vacation rentals.

worry-less

Post-sale travel insurance claims happen most frequently due to guest injury or illness.  Purchasing post-sale travel insurance helps guests protect against accident and medical expenses during their trip, and also protects against emergency medical evacuation.  Even if guests have a pre-existing condition, they can purchase a valid policy if it is bought within 20 days after their trip deposit is made.

Post-sale travel insurance is also extremely valuable in case of injury, illness, job loss, or a myriad of other covered reasons that might cause a guest to cancel all or a portion of their vacation rental reservation and/or trip.  By purchasing travel insurance the guest immediately transfers all of  these cancellation risks to the insurance company.

How To Get Post-Sale Travel Insurance

The best place to begin offering post-sale travel insurance is through www.pablow.com, which will allow you to create a customized travel insurance wpablow-splashebsite in just a matter of minutes without the licensing and contracts as mentioned above.  The website they provide is completely free and their affiliate fees are competitive with the rest of the industry.  Post-sale travel insurance can be yours in no time!

The Emperor’s New Startup

Is it possible that one of the simplest reasons that most startups fail is because of the “emperor’s new clothes” paradox? Founders tend to surround themselves with founders and first hires that are too close to them, and rather than speaking up and calling it as they see it, they pander to each other’s views in an effort to save positions, friendships or their job. I believe that this paradox directs the founders to pursue fundamentally stupid ideas with little substance, ultimately leading to the demise of the company.

In Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment, he explains the benefits of a diverse team. “A diverse team helps make enchantment last, because people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and skills keep a cause fresh and relevant. By contrast when a naked emperor runs a kingdom of sycophants and clones, the cause moves towards mediocrity.”

In Think Twice, Michael Mauboussin’s book on harnessing the power of counter intuition, he talks about seeking out dissent by finding data from “reliable sources that offer conclusions different than yours. This helps avoid a foolish inconsistency.” He continues, “When possible, surround yourself with people that have dissenting views. This is emotionally and intellectually very difficult but is highly effective in exposing alternatives.”

I agree with Guy and Michael to a degree and think that this is a fundamental reason for most startup failures. If we can resolve or prevent this common paradox it will result in much better outcomes. So how do we overcome such tendencies, obtain diverse viewpoints, and avoid sycophant behaviour in our workplace?

I am glad you asked! If you think like me, it is not so much about finding the right people, more about creating the right environment and understanding so that this can occur. To make sure that instead of getting acquiescence we get as close as we can to real agreements, we are going to need a radical overhaul in thinking.

Our proposed solution is to create a simple and precise value system that creates a safe working environment where the lowest of positions can effectively have as much say as the top position and will not suffer any unfair treatment in the process.

We call it Decarrt (pronounced as per the philosopher), which serves as an agreement among our team to use the same system for moderating and resolving issues, problems and resulting disputes. Additionally, Decarrt is a guiding philosophy for all we do as an organization.

1. DaringBe willing to step up when the need arises and even when there is not a need, and stand up for stepping up.

Making it …

2. EnjoyableEnsuring how we step up is enjoyable for all, a roller coaster ride should still be fun.

3. ConsideredBeing cautious when we step up, using disclaimers, like “I think”, appreciation, acknowledging and apology like “I beg to differ”. Understanding that anger can be understood as a tool for identifying a problem, but not as to tool for solving it. Old fashioned politeness can still go a long way.

4. AccountableWhen we step up successfully we get the accolade, but when not successful we can acknowledge it and give an acceptable apology.

5. ReasonableWe step up using evidence based reasoning rather than mere emotive views and hearsay. Dogma, stubbornness and post-truth not really being appreciated.

6. ResponsibleBeing more formal and prepared in our approach to stepping up, like complaining responsibly & going direct to the person or source of the issue.

7. TransparentWe are all part of the exploration of stepping up and what we say and do is always open to scrutiny, no matter who it is as we all strive to improve it.

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Now, from the cleaner to the CEO we can all have an equal say, providing we are willing to accede to the agreed upon values. Anyone in the company can dare to suggest a solution to any problem, and if they feel confident and daring they could even step up and take responsibility for solving it with the support of the rest of the team. In the end, they’ll receive the accolades if successful or have to acknowledge and apologise if they fail.

Is Your Startup Part of the Paradox?

This is very easy to test to see if your startup or company falls under this paradox. If you have not set up a detailed and agreed upon process for sorting out disputes, then there is a good chance you are part of the “emperor’s new clothes” paradox. A good example is where founders and staff have agreed to resolve a dispute by going directly to the person(s) involved. Then if unsuccessful they’ve agreed to bring a witness and if still unsucessful go before the team to explain and try resolve the dispute.

This means that the CEO could be brought before the team by the cleaner to resolve a dispute. No one is above this transparent process!

The Biggest Battle Facing the Vacation Rental Industry Today

INTRODUCTION

There are thousands of battles occurring in counties all across the United States between those in favor and those opposed to short-term vacation rentals.  At the center of the intense debate between both sides are short-term vacation rental regulations and enforcement of those regulations.

Those who support the vacation rental industry and advocate for fewer regulations and enforcement mechanisms primarily consist of vacation rental guests, property management, and rental companies.  On the opposite side of the argument are those who are opposing the vacation rental industry and are advocating for stronger regulations and enforcement mechanisms.  Those opposing the vacation rental industry typically include the hotel industry, vacation rental neighbors, and local government officials.

 

THOSE SUPPORTING THE VACATION RENTAL INDUSTRY

Ironically the vacation rental industry depends on guests for revenue, but they are the least passionate about the ongoing battle surrounding the vacation rental industry.  Realistically it’s because guests have the least to lose in the situation.  If vacation rentals are outlawed across the country then the guests that used to use short term vacation rentals for their travel accommodations will simply find another place to stay, which most likely means a hotel.

Comprising vacation rental property management are property managers and property owners.  Property management is in favor of fewer regulations and enforcement mechanisms because every change to their process and additional staff person required to ensure compliance with regulations costs the company money.  Lifestyle Properties’ general manager Katy Armes in Newberg, OR explains “There’s not enough beds in the county to accommodate the tourism influx. Short of new hotel construction, [increasing local accommodations] will likely come about through more residences being converted to vacation rentals.”¹  Similarly in Sonoma, CA vacation rentals make up about one fourth of all travel accommodations.²  Other reasons property management state in favor of vacation rentals include that the industry brings additional guests to the area, it creates additional revenue for residents, and it provides competition in a non-competitive industry.

The strongest advocates for short term vacation rentals and companies providing the strongest opposition to new regulations are the vacation rental companies, whose largest players include Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Booking.com.  These companies profit mightily from short term vacation rentals, which provides quite the motivation to make it as easy and profitable as possible for homeowners to become vacation rental hosts.  Airbnb, the most well-known company in the industry, in the face of heavy regulations in Miami says that it wants to work with the city to develop “clear, fair rules.”³  In general the largest companies are fighting heavier regulations to ensure survival of the industry and sharing economy they depend on.

 

THOSE OPPOSING THE VACATION RENTAL INDUSTRY

The hotel industry serves as the biggest barrier to the continued success of the vacation rental industry.  As the vacation rental industry has grown, hotels have seen their competitors increase and occupancy rates decrease, though the growth in the vacation rental market is not proportional to the small decrease in hotel demand.³  Given the decrease in demand for hotel accommodations, hotels have to reduce their rates to ensure occupancy, which reduces their profitability.

Some neighbors of vacation rental homes are understandably upset with vacation rentals because of their experiences.  Henan Cardeno, a passionate opponent of vacation rental homes contends that short term vacation rentals are “changing the character and the nature of our neighborhoods.”³  Alicia Wuscher, a Palm Island resident, says the short term rental next to her home is notorious for throwing parties that shake her home.4  Susan Strong told the Desert Sun that she had to endure five years of loud music, yelling, and laughing because of a short term vacation next door that was not judicious in who could rent it out.4  While it appears as though some neighbors have a negative view of vacation rentals, according to a 2017 David Binder Research poll of 500 Miami residents, more than half said they had a favorable opinion of Airbnb and just 1 in 10 respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion.³  So up to this point reactions are still mixed among the general public.

Local government officials are usually opposed to vacation rentals, which make their job of regulation more difficult than ever before.  As a result of their frustration, those in favor of the vacation rental industry would contend they have received heavy regulations and ridiculous fines.

 

REGULATIONS AND ENFORCEMENT

Since the regulations are largely passed and enforced on the local level, there is a great variety in what the regulations look like.  In San Francisco, the city where Airbnb was founded, short-term vacation rental owners are limited to renting in certain areas and must register their homes for $50.³  In Palm Springs the local government is proposing a limit on the number of times a home can be rented each year, which discourages short-term weekend rentals.  Palm Springs officials also are considering raising permit fees to $900 per year and limiting vacation rental owners to just a single vacation rental.4  On the corporate side of the industry, Airbnb recently agreed for the first time to enforce legal limits on the number of nights a vacation rental can be rented each year in London and Amsterdam.5  This compromise with regulators could be a foreshadowing of what is yet to come in the United States.

To ensure that regulations are followed, Miami penalizes illegal vacation rentals by charging both the owner and the rental company $20,000.  These fines are much higher than most other counties across the United States, but Miami regulators suggest that they could even raise the fines further.  To this point they’ve already passed out $4 million in fines.³  In Palm Springs, with the new proposal in place operating a home without a permit and failing to report the rental agreement could result in a $7,500 fine and homeowners would be limited to one vacation rental.4  Other enforcement mechanisms besides fines are still being explored, as fines do not appear to be effectively deterring many vacation rental owners from operating outside of the law.

 

RESOLUTION

Instead of proposing a resolution in this battle, given that each county and city are imposing their own regulations, it’s probably better to consider a couple of questions moving forward.

Are short term vacation rentals on their way out?  Are all vacation rentals doomed to fail?  If the vacation rental business continues to grow, will our hotel industry collapse?  What will the future of tourism and travel accommodations look like?  Is there a way the industry and its opponents can come to a compromise?  Can the vacation rental and hotel industries coexist in the sharing economy?

What are your thoughts on this very contentious issue?  We’d love to hear them and have a discussion!

 

SOURCES

¹ http://pamplinmedia.com/nbg/142-news/334281-214131-vacation-rental-industry-experiences-modest-growth

² http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6343358-181/sharp-rise-in-sonoma-county?artslide=0

³ http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article117332773.html – Miami stuff

http://www.desertsun.com/story/money/business/tourism/2016/11/30/palm-springs-set-tighten-vacation-rental-rules-prompts-industry-pushback/94628142/

 http://www.wsj.com/articles/airbnb-agrees-to-enforce-amsterdam-limit-on-rentals-1480580233

 

Coming to a VRMA Conference Near You!

In the last quarter of 2016 Pablow, Inc. is looking to come out of stealth mode with our go to market strategy. One of the key elements of this go to market strategy is to build strategic business relationships with the US vacation rental industry, including property owners, managers, retailers, and system providers. The first major step will happen at the national VRMA conference in Phoenix, AZ starting Sunday, October 16th. This blog is for the people and companies we will meet at VRMA and serves as an introduction to our company and our booth next week.

WHO IS PABLOW?

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If you’re wandering around the VRMA conference in Phoenix looking for a guy named Pablow, you’ll surely be disappointed to find out that Pablow is the name of a company rather than a person. Our company is an insurance and technology start-up located in Des Moines, IA, but with employees and executives from across the globe.

Our mission is to rid the world of suffering … in relation to travel insurance. More specifically, our goal is to solve the insurance industry’s problems of extreme lack of personalization and clumsy infrastructure.

Our company’s vision is to make hassle-free and relevant travel insurance offers available to travelers all over the world. We want to move the perception of travel insurance towards an intelligent and highly personalized protection option for travelers on a global basis. To accomplish our vision we strive to be daring, enjoyable, considerate, accountable, reasonable, responsible, and transparent.

WHY IS PABLOW AT VRMA?

Pablow is an insurance company focused on the vacation rental industry. This year at VRMA our goal is to establish strategic business relationships with VRMA members that will allow our company to offer insurance to travelers all across the US. That means that we want to meet you and figure out if our companies could work together!

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PABLOW?

Last year we had the chance to attend the show in New Orleans and were very impressed with the professionalism of the entire conference. As a first-time exhibitor at the national VRMA conference this year we are excited to share our fun and innovative technology with the travel insurance industry. In fact, we will be launching our automated website builder that will allow vacation rental companies to create a fully customizable insurance website in just minutes.

In addition to the new technology we are launching at VRMA, we want to have some fun as we learn about other companies and share information about Pablow. To do this we will be playing a fun and interactive game at our booth that anyone has the chance to win. If you can successfully complete the challenges at our booth you will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win a $150 Amazon gift card. Visit booth number 308 to find out what game we will be playing and to win yourself a $150 Amazon gift card!

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Find Pablow, Inc. at Booth #308 (circled in the above map)

You will also be able to bid on our company’s donation to the silent auction. Although not a typical item people would see in an auction, we pulled together some resources to support the cause of preventing regulations on vacation properties.

To all those who are joining us at VRMA’s national conference starting this Sunday, we look forward to meeting with you soon.

Small Company, Big Responsibility

INTRODUCTION

While most college students are going to end up working their summers for the parks and recreation department as an assistant manager, for the local pool as a lifeguard, or in the best scenario for a company as an intern in their field of study; few will get the opportunity to lead a department, determine company strategy, or work on their own schedule.  The one opportunity you have to make a real difference for an organization is surprisingly an option that few students apply for, an internship with a startup company.

This blog will cover the intern experience of one of Pablow Inc.‘s most recent hires, Dylan DeClerck, who was hired to lead the company’s marketing efforts this spring and has continued to work for the company this summer.  Among the projects Dylan has helped lead for the company include developing and implementing a content strategy, developing and using sales materials to contact prospective business partners, creating new processes for marketing efforts, implementing a CRM system, directing the work of freelancers, and revamping social media strategies.

DYLAN

“This spring I had an excellent experience working for Pablow Inc. and CEO, Steve Sherlock, on all of our marketing efforts.  What I enjoyed most about my internship was 1) the flexibility of my work schedule, 2) the autonomy of my work tasks, and 3) importance of my efforts on the direction of the company.

  1. FLEXIBILITY

During my internship this past semester I was taking a full course load of 18 credits and traveling eight hours every weekend to play professional ultimate frisbee, a big passion of mine.  Luckily, Steve gave me the flexibility to set my own schedule and work hours as long as it was approximately 10-15 hours per week.  After some discussion, we decided that it would work best in my schedule if I worked 6-7 hours per week in the office each Tuesday, and the rest of the work time I could simply report every two weeks so Steve could input it into the payroll system.

Besides a flexible weekly schedule, Steve was incredibly accommodating with my full academic schedule.  In fact, the week before finals I worked just a few hours and the week of finals I didn’t work at all so I could focus on my tests and projects.  While not all startup companies may be as accommodating as Pablow, I think that a majority of small companies understand the importance of certain personal commitments and are more than accommodating when it comes to flexible working arrangements.

  1. AUTONOMY

In addition to flexibility, I enjoyed the autonomy that working for a small company provided.  In a small company, not only is it unrealistic for managers to micromanage all of the intern’s tasks, it’s detrimental to the organization as a whole because work never gets done!

An example of an autonomous project was when I developed and used sales materials to contact prospective business partners.  At the beginning Steve and I sat down to cover our objectives for the project and potential approaches to achieve our goals, but after a short time of planning and introduction the rest of the project was mine to handle.  First I began writing our sales materials using information I had learned in sales classes and based on my research of the vacation rental industry.  After I had written the script I ran it by Steve and laid out our approach to contact travel system providers and retailers.  Once I had his approval, I spent two weeks reaching out to partners using our sales and marketing materials, and successfully brought on new business partners.  The best feedback I received from Steve that made my efforts feel worthwhile was that my work had “helped prove that this business concept could be a reality.”

Looking at how much autonomy I was given says a lot about the trust Steve had in my abilities to market his product to our target market, and because of the internship’s structure I can say that I successfully completed a lot of important projects for the organization.

  1. IMPORTANCE

I alluded to this in the previous section, but working for Pablow gave me the chance to work on some incredibly important work.  Did it create some pressure that I needed to perform at a high level?  Sure it did, but Steve made sure the pressure was always manageable and kept my projects moving in the right direction.

I felt the most pressure within the first couple of weeks of my internship when I was asked to essentially lay out the marketing direction and strategy for the entire company.  This challenged me to think outside of the box and use my limited experience to develop the best plan of attack for the company.

At the end of my internship I will be able to say I’ve done so many great things for this organization, and that it was an experience well worth my time.  Are there challenges of working for a small company?  Yes, of course there are, but I wouldn’t give up this experience to work for any other company or any other CEO this spring.”

Licensed to Thrill! How an Insurance Startup Became Licensed in 50 States.

While thinking of some titles for this article the first one that came to mind was: Walking with dinosaurs. I know that it’s a bit rude to refer to the insurance industry as being older than the Stone Age, but it many respects it fits their outdated technology and systems, not least the process of becoming licensed here in the US. Alas we settled on something a more affirmative, “Licensed to Thrill!” Given this is the emotional outcome we aim to elicit when consumers engage with next generation insurance technology. To realize this vision however, we first needed to become licensed throughout every state in the US. Here is my story …

Let me start by saying ignorance really is bliss! If I had known what I was in for, I am pretty sure I would have pivoted the business model. My ignorance led me forward to roadblock after roadblock, and after significant investments of time (more than 10 months) and money, I realized I had to keep going. In a way this is the entrepreneur’s equivalent to a gambler’s experience of “just one more roll of the dice and I’ll win it all back”.

IT BEGAN WITH AN IDEA … AND AN ACCELERATOR

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My brother, Des, and I shortly after arriving in Des Moines

In February 2015 my brother, Des, and I were accepted into the inaugural Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA), in Des Moines, Iowa. At that point I had no idea where Iowa was and had never even heard of Des Moines. When people ask how I ended up in Des Moines I retort, “I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.” The GIA is one of the very first insurance-focused accelerator programs; leveraging Des Moines’ reputation as one of the three big insurance cities in the US, to host the program.

Surprisingly, Des Moines is actually a pretty nice city, except for the bitter cold winters (at least from an Australian’s point of view). My brother arrived a few days ahead of me to set things up, and on my first day in Iowa it was -20 degrees Celsius (that’s around 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite the awful cold weather, we survived the winter but I vowed never to spend another winter in Iowa.

As part of the accelerator I had the chance to speak with a licensing lawyer who told me if I “solicited, sold and negotiated” insurance then I needed to be licensed. But what did that really mean?

THE FIRST OF MANY TESTS

I came to the simple conclusion that I would have to sit for the property and casualty insurance exams and after that our business would be compliant in no time at all. So I bought some study material online and thought how hard can these exams be? After three days of study I went to the exams and failed both with a 68%, needing to reach a 70% to pass. Doh! Not deterred, I purchased more online training material including practice exams and studied this time for more than 70 hours in a single week and passed with flying colors, averaging 84%.

After passing both exams on May 30th I called the Iowa Insurance Division to find out how to register my exam results and was told that I needed a social security number (SSN), which of course I didn’t have yet. This was a serious problem because you only have 90 days to submit exam results and get the license, and failure to do so on time means you have to do the exam again. I had until August 27th to solve this problem and get my license.

A LOT OF WORK FOR A NINE-DIGIT NUMBER

First, I tried to apply for a SSN at the Social Security office in Des Moines, but they told me that unless I was a refugee, I’d need a valid work visa. Luckily we had already incorporated a company and received some funding, which was going to be essential given our company needed to sponsor my American work visa.

To obtain a work visa I hired an immigration lawyer who helped me put the application together – which was a massive effort, requiring employment contract, education record, several rounds of application documents and finally a trip to Mexico for my visa interview.

Why Mexico? Well you can’t apply for the visa while actually in the US, so I needed to go to another country. I first tried to schedule an appointment in Canada, but the next available appoint was in mid-October and I only had until August 27th to submit my exam results. Another option was going back to Australia, but that would have meant flying 20 hours each way. After a little research, I found out that I could go to Mexico City instead and do the interview there. I also used the trip as an opportunity to brush up on my Spanish skills.

I scheduled my interview for August 19th, which gave me eight days to pass the interview, obtain my visa, return to the US, obtain a SSN, and turn in my exam scores. Needless to say I needed everything to run in a smooth manner. Luckily the interview went well and I got the verbal approval, as all my documents were very well prepared.

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A photo of the pyramids I took while visiting Mexico to obtain my visa

Normally you have to wait about a week before you can pick up the visa, though I was able to apply for the fast track process and was told to come back in two days time. I went back to the US Embassy on August 21st and without any problems had the visa nicely stamped in my Australian passport just in time for my departing flight.

On the plane back to Iowa I began to worry about how long would the SSN application take. First thing August 24th I went to the social security office where a lovely lady helped me complete the application. Even though the SSN normally would be issued and posted within a week, after telling her my predicament about the deadline just three days from now, she assured me I would be able to pick it up ahead of time. On the August 26th with just a day to spare before I would have had to redo the insurance exams, I brought my license exam results, the application and my SSN into the Iowa Insurance Division and that afternoon I was the proud owner of a property and casualty Iowa insurance license. Just in the nick of time! Shortly thereafter I applied and was approved to become the designated responsible person for our company’s Iowa entity insurance license.

IT ONLY GETS HARDER

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My first of many insurance licenses I received in 2015

As it turned out obtaining a visa, SSN, and license in Iowa was the easy part! In order to sell insurance to all US citizens and residents I had to apply to the other 49 states and Washington DC for non-resident licenses, for both our company and myself.

I began the application process online, but there were around 30 states that also needed a travel insurance certification that Iowa did not require. For all of these states I had to submit paper applications, passport copies, my new SSN, and checks totaling thousands of dollars. Luckily a letter from Iowa Insurance Division stating that I was qualified to sell travel insurance via my property and casualty license, was included in all applications, which made the process easier for a majority of the states.

For a number of states I needed to establish a business in their states before I could get a license. This required me hiring a registered agent in those states and applying for a Certificate of Authority for our company to operate there.

The states that were the most difficult to work with included New York, California, and Virginia. In New York they rejected my application because I had included a comma in the business name. I used Pablow, Inc. and they said I should have used Pablow Inc. Hence they rejected my application twice for really minor problems. Additionally to sell in New York (but also Hawaii and California) our company also needed to be licensed in accident and health insurance. Once again I hit the books for about 2 straight weeks of preparation and passed the accident and health insurance test with 88% accuracy.

California was challenging not just because of the accident and health insurance requirement, but also because their travel agent license cost over $4,000, whereas the other states were generally between $100 and $300. Similarly, in Virginia your business registration costs $25 for every 10,000 shares your corporation is eligible to issue. Pablow, Inc. had only issues around 170k shares, but it was eligible to issue 1M shares and therefore had to pay over $2,000 just to register as a business, whereas in the neighboring state of North Carolina this cost just $180.

THE HARD WORK PAID OFF

As of March 2016, Pablow, Inc. is finally fully licensed and appointed by three insurance carriers to sell insurance in the United States! While I certainly couldn’t have expected the challenges that an insurance entrepreneur would face when trying to get their business off the ground, it makes our business model stronger and shows our commitment to alleviating the industry’s technology problems. In the scheme of things, what we’ve achieved with licensing is really only a warm up, our ‘license to thrill’ if you like. Now the genuinely difficult part begins of building and scaling a value added business that brings the travel insurance supply chain into the age of data and machine-based personalization.

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Delivering one of Pablow’s pitches for the Global Insurance Accelerator

If you are looking to go through this same process I’d suggest you take a look at these resources: the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ website, the online National Insurance Producer Registry, Sircon Solutions, Pearson Veu, State Based System and A.D. Banker. Oh, and a good therapist! Also be sure to remember that this is a journey and not an event, so you will need to be patient and roll with the punches!