“From an early age,” Clearsurance Co-Founder and CEO Michael Crowe said, “my father really drilled into me that your career goal should be to work for yourself—to be your own boss so you're not at the mercy of something you have no ownership in.”
This advice would become the basis for Crowe’s professional life from the very beginning, when he, like a number of entrepreneurs, went to Merrimack College. But rather than going a more traditional business route with his studies, he used his time as an undergrad to study political science and government. This was because, originally, he planned on going to law school.
“I didn't have a clear sense of exactly what I wanted to do at the time. Law school seemed to be the clearest path to working for yourself, because a lot of lawyers end up owning their own law firm, having equity in those law firms, and being their own bosses.”
Following his undergrad, Crowe went to Suffolk University Law School in 1992. He realized a year in that “practicing law was not for me,” and after his first internship, he decided to pursue business and entrepreneurship. It was during his second year of law school that he would get his first taste of this world, when he answered a job posting for a company called CRA Managed Care (now Concentra) looking for a law clerk.
When he was hired, CRA was in its growth stage and growing quickly. They were a healthcare company that applied managed care principles to automotive and workers’ compensation insurance.
After spending a few years with the company and its IPO, the CEO of the company was let go by the Board of Directors, and Crowe then decided to go out on his own and, for the first time, try his hand at entrepreneurship. He went into business with two lawyers—Ken Paradis and Brett Albren—to start a new company in 2002: Crowe, Paradis, & Albren (later shortened to Crowe Paradis). The company, which specialized in Medicare compliance and disability services, grew “from nothing to collectively $50 million,” in less than ten years.
Crowe Paradis was ultimately sold in 2010 in two separate transactions; Verisk Analytics bought the Medicare compliance side, and insurance intermediary Brown & Brown bought the disability advocacy services business. Crowe joined Brown & Brown as SVP of Services & Acquisitions, stayed for five years, and left in 2015 to think about his next move.
“I took a good nine months off, and started to think a lot about crowdsourcing. I was thinking a lot about TripAdvisor and Glassdoor, and how crowdsourcing and user-generated content may create a better consumer experience for insurance consumers.”
Crowe thought back to his time running Crowe Paradis, when he was traveling nearly two weeks a month. In his travels, he found himself to be an early fan of TripAdvisor. “I loved the way they curated content. I felt it was more objective, so I would put a lot of stock into their hotel recommendations when I was traveling.”
After looking deeper into TripAdvisor’s business model and other review sites like Glassdoor, he went forward with the founding of Clearsurance, a review, ratings, and education community platform dedicated to auto, homeowners, and renters insurance experiences. “We wanted to distill the collective wisdom of the crowd in order to share insights on people’s experiences with their insurance companies—in a way that’s both constructive and useful”.
Following the company’s founding in October 2015, the team built the platform and raised a $1.75M seed round in August 2016.
When they launched that December, Crowe said that the company had two key validation points. The first was to generate 10,000 user reviews in the first six months; the second was to get insurance companies to claim their profile pages. Clearsurance gives companies the ability to claim their profile for free, which includes the ability to upload a logo and other images, add basic information about their company, be notified of reviews, and respond to reviews.
For the first validation point, they reached 10,000 reviews in the first 90 days. As for the latter, insurance companies—especially smaller regional ones—began claiming their profiles very early on. “When we built the feature, we didn't think much of it because we thought it would take three to five years, and it would really just take us showing up on the first page of a Google search for any insurance company to want to engage,” Crowe said.
In February of this year, Clearsurance expanded its offerings with a new, paid subscription tier that gives companies a number of premium features in addition to those outlined above. This includes data trend analysis reports, competitive benchmarking, the ability to republish their rating as part of an advertising campaign, and the option to add a live referral link to their profile.
Clearsurance’s 17-person team is based in North Andover, Massachusetts, in the same building as the old Converse headquarters. The reason why they chose North Andover, Crowe said, is the engineering team. “Most of our engineering team is from southern New Hampshire, so we're finding it really easy to recruit very talented full-stack engineers who were commuting to places like Cambridge every day and didn't want to live in the car for three or four hours anymore.”
Crowe feels good about the current state of the business. The company raised a $4M Series A in October 2017, and over the next year, he plans to focus on both the product and the customer experience. Moreover, he plans to add four new hires to the team by the end of 2018.
When Clearsurance was first introduced to the public a little more than a year ago, I mentioned that a core validation point was to get 10,000 reviews on the platform in six months. Not only did they achieve that goal in half the time, but today—just over a year later—the community has nearly 85,000 reviews for more than 350 different insurance companies, and 45 insurance companies are subscribed to the Clearsurance community.
At this point, it’s safe to say that Clearsurance’s mission has been validated, and one hopes that being the first mover in this space will be the headstart the company needs to scale to the level of success of TripAdvisor, the Needham travel ratings giant.
Images provided by Clearsurance.