InsureGood Founder and CEO Meredith Messenger launched her insurance and professional services agency in June 2021. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Meredith about building a startup and empowering female entrepreneurs.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
MEREDITH MESSENGER: I’ve always been entrepreneurial. What I find interesting is that a lot of people in my age group weren’t necessarily educated about or made aware of the fact that we could be business owners—especially as females. When I was younger, both my parents worked in corporate America. It seemed like having a “safe” job with benefits and structure was the norm. So, even though I was entrepreneurial with all the professional roles I’ve had leading up to InsureGood, I wasn’t aware that business ownership was an option for me, because I was so used to having that safe structure.
NAN: What encouraged you to step outside of that safety?
MEREDITH: I worked for a lot of startups, so I got the opportunity to see businesses scale, especially tech businesses, from the very beginning of raising funding and moving into different rounds of sales.
When I started working for Travelers in 2011, I was doing some business consulting for insurance agencies. I became fascinated by the economics behind it and how it all worked. I used to ask my seasoned colleagues and mentors: Would you ever start an insurance agency? And they always said, no.
NAN: Because of risk?
MEREDITH: Yes. Because it was hard. And there’s a risk of starting an agency from scratch, not buying one. From then on, I knew I wanted to start an agency. I was very structured about what I wanted to do, so, everything I did going forward was strategically teaching me what I needed to learn to be prepared and able to open my own agency.
I worked on the carrier side at Travelers and Hanover Insurance. Then I went to work as a consultant in actual agencies. I ran one an agency for someone else and then I was ready for my own. I had learned a ton; it was about seven years’ worth of experience.
NAN: Did you work with any local resources as you were launching your business?
MEREDITH: I found amazing people and several local organizations in particular. I have a great mentor system, including two SCORE mentors, one who ran a large national insurance division and one who started and sold a community bank. The expertise and perspective they both brought into the business planning process was immensely valuable, in particular, the financing piece. While I’ve worked with a lot of businesses, I haven’t gone through the business financing process of applying for loans and determining cashflow. So, they were helpful with the financing process and connecting me with bankers.
I also got support from the KeyBank Key4Women program, which is a wonderful program for female entrepreneurs. I worked with Ana Gois, who is immensely helpful. She helps communicate with the underwriters, helps us understand and translate into regular terms what the lenders are looking for.
Also, I always encourage business owners to reach out to the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford, where I work with Program Director Milena Erwin, who is fantastic.
NAN: Tell us about building a team of employees.
MEREDITH: There is an infinite number of ways you can start a business, but our business plan called for developing culture and talent almost immediately. Once we got our systems and some of basic foundational things set up, now we’re starting to hire. That’s been a fun experience because there’s been a tremendous interest in our agency. It’s been exciting to see people buy into our mission and want to work toward some of our goals.
The other big piece of our talent development plan is working with the Connecticut Department of Labor to develop an apprenticeship program for our agency. We’re trying to funnel women into the insurance agency space, not the carrier side so much, since they have a lot of resources to get talent. We’re focusing on developing a pipeline of talent for agencies. We’re going to develop our own internal resources and then we’re going to offer many of these women the chance to own their own agency with our support.
That’s really our mission, to make business ownership, specifically in insurance, more attainable for more women. It’s a male-dominated place and a lot of women don’t have access to the education, the systems, or the capital they need. So, we’re setting aside a portion of our profits through our charitable organization to help them.
NAN: Do you have a specific niche?
MEREDITH: We like to say we work with helpers and healers. So, we work with a lot of consultants and miscellaneous health professionals, like allied health, chiropractors, and acupuncturists. Mental health professionals are also a big niche for us. We feel like they’re so critical to the development of strong communities. We want to make sure that they have the support that they need. And we do a lot of home care, very specifically hospice and personal companion type of care, because again, they’re really valuable to the community and supporting people in times of need.
NAN: Why Hartford?
MEREDITH: I have an emotional connection to Hartford. When I was growing up, my parents worked at Phoenix and Travelers. I spent a lot of time downtown and it holds a special place in my heart.
As an adult, when I came back to work at Travelers, I was based downtown. Before COVID-19, it was starting to become very vibrant. The startup and entrepreneurial space was really exciting here, especially being based at a 20 Church Street, where there are a ton of startups. That energy and enthusiasm within that ecosystem of entrepreneurs and startups is really valuable. It’s a special place to be. You tap into all the things that are available—the energy, the resources, the education.
We’re hoping we can bounce back from COVID-19, return to that vibrancy, and keep pushing forward in terms of Hartford being the center for small business and startups. As an agency, we’re focused on supporting small businesses and startups. So, there’s a nice connection there.
NAN Any learning lessons to share?
MEREDITH: I’m learning something every single day. My biggest piece of advice is to get out of the comparison trap because it’s easy to look at other business owners and think: It seems like I should be as successful as them or I should be doing the same things.
A lot of people don’t realize that many of us have been working on building our dreams for many years. So, comparing yourself to someone else, can be really dangerous. From the outside, you don’t know how much effort, time, or resources someone has already put in.
My other tip is collaboration over competition. For instance, years ago, I would’ve looked at the Chamber of Commerce and thought: There are already insurance agents, they have what they need, so there’s no reason for me to join. But the truth is, I do something completely different than what anybody else does. I bring something else to the table and there’s enough opportunity for all of us because we’re all different. So, getting the right mindset around abundance and knowing that you have a place is really important.