Entrepreneurship, when done well, creates a great impact on people, communities, and the world. Especially when grounded in faith, businesses go beyond profitability and aim for the welfare of employees and bring about the transformation of individuals, families, and communities.
In today’s episode, we talk to Tim Metzner of Coterie Insurance about his entrepreneurial journey. From co-founding two startup companies to striking out on his own to create a commercial insurance startup, Tim has been operating his businesses in the context of building a great culture and in fulfillment of the mission that God has called him to do. It is by attracting good employees and influencing and helping them flourish as persons that he creates a great impact on people, their families, and society. Click now and learn why earning money alone won’t keep your people committed to doing meaningful work for you.
Key Points From This Episode:
“When employees feel empowered, listened to, and cared for, when you have a great culture, they're more productive, they are more loyal, they want to come to work. There's a different level of energy and impact that they have on their work and their co-workers that they wouldn't have otherwise.”
“Whatever that next big thing is, you should work hard for it but bring God into it.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
About Tim Metzner
Tim Metzner is co-founder of Coterie, an API-based commercial lines insurance startup. Coterie empowers agents and brokers to secure coverage for small businesses faster and easier than ever. Previously, he was co-founder of Differential, a leading digital product studio, and of OCEAN, a faith-based non-profit organization that teaches, mentors, invests in and gathers entrepreneurs around both business and biblical principles critical to their success. Tim is currently an active member of the Board of Directors for all three organizations. In addition to his direct contribution as a co-founder, OCEAN and Differential have spawned dozens of venture-backed organizations that have raised millions and created hundreds of jobs.
Tim is very active in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial community which, among other efforts, has included bringing Startup Weekend to Cincinnati, serving on the Advisory Board for NKU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, serving as an EIR for the University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab, as well as being an active mentor to entrepreneurs and students in the region.
In addition to his volunteer and entrepreneurial endeavors, one of his greatest joys and challenges is co-leading his four young children (Nolan, Owen, Faith, and Emma) with his wife, Kristy.
ANNOUNCER: Imagine taking your generosity to the next level, impacting more lives, and leaving a godly legacy for generations to come. Get ideas and strategies to do just that when you listen to these personal stories from high-level Kingdom champions.
The Kingdom Investor Podcast showcases business leaders who have moved from success to significance, sharing how they use worldly wealth for kingdom impact. Discover how they grew in generosity, impacted more lives, and built godly legacies. You'll find motivation, inspiration, and practical steps to grow as a Kingdom Investor.
Daniel White (DW): Hello everyone, and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. If you're an entrepreneur, or ever thought about starting a business, you're going to love this episode with Tim Metzner. Tim has been a part of several startups and is now working to change the insurance industry with his newest venture, Coterie. If you have enjoyed our podcast, please share it with your friends and leave us a review. And now let's jump right into the show.
DW: Welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. This is your host, Daniel White. And today we get to interview Tim Metzner. Tim, would you share with our audience where you're coming to us from?
Tim Metzner (TM): Sure. Happy to be here, Daniel. I'm in Cincinnati, Ohio.
DW: Awesome. Tim, would you tell us maybe just a little bit about what you're doing right now? And maybe a highlight from this week?
TM: Sure. Yeah. So, right now I'm currently one of the co-founders of Coterie Insurance. So that's my full-time day job today. Let's see a highlight from this week, man, you know, as an entrepreneur, there's so many highs and lows throughout every single week. But I would say a good one this week would actually be coming back on Monday. So, I was out last week with the family and just kind of walked into Monday feeling really refreshed after actually taking some downtime and really enjoying the holiday and the holiday weekend. So, coming into Monday feeling like I had a lot of energy and was ready to go. That's probably one of the highlights so far.
DW: Great. Yeah. So before we get into your story, do you mind praying for our listeners, and just this time?
TM: Yeah, I'd be glad to. God, we, first of all, we just thank you for the opportunity to gather and to gather in your name. It is not often that I get to pray to start a podcast. So, I thank you for that opportunity just to maybe overtly talk about you and your kingdom. It's a blessing in a cool opportunity for me. Lord, I pray that you would take this conversation down whatever rabbit hole makes sense for the audience that's going to hear it Lord, whether that's one specific person or a group of people. You know, better than we do, what needs to be said and what folks need to hear. And so we pray that you will just use us to ask the right questions and to think about answers in a way that will be refreshing and will resonate with the folks listening. We ask this all in the powerful mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
DW: Amen. All right, Tim, would you share a little bit about your background and how you got into entrepreneurship?
TM: Yeah, happy to do it. Yeah, it's funny, like I always talk about it as a seed planted by God. It's the way I describe my journey, because at some point, I really think it was early in college. So I graduated high school, and I got an opportunity to have a full ride scholarship at the University of Cincinnati for academics, which is an awesome opportunity. I'll be honest, I was an 18-year-old kid, I had the chance to go play basketball at some small schools that couldn't offer me money, but said like, hey, we have a spot on the team. But, you know, then I got a full ride academic scholarship. And, you know, for me, I was the first person in my family to go to college, and my parents, you know, scrape, scrape things together to take care of the kids. So the fact that I could go and have college be taken care of was, was a harder decision than it should have been. But I made the right choice, went to University of Cincinnati for a full ride. And that program was business specific.
TM: So, I was accepting an opportunity to go study business at the University of Cincinnati as part of this program. And it was really built to kind of fight, they call it the brain drain in Cincinnati. So, we'd have great smart students who would leave Cincinnati to go to school elsewhere, and then not come back. And we have, you know, amazing corporate citizens in Cincinnati like Procter and Gamble, and Kroger and Fifth Third, and, you know, a lot of actual Fortune 500. So we're like, man, we need to retain the talent. So a lot of folks got together and basically said, let's build a scholarship program that will attract and retain great talent here in Cincinnati to build the future kind of business leaders. So that's the program I got accepted into. One of the things I was attracted to the program was, they require co-op but just met every other quarter. You went to work. So you got a real job. So you do like a quarter of class and then you'd go to your co-op, which would typically be at one of these large Fortune 500 or, you know, pretty large organization and you do kind of real work.
TM: But at some point, as I started interviewing for that, I just had this really strong feeling that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And I always say it's a seed planted by God, because I couldn't have even told you what entrepreneurship was. I don't think I could have defined it. Like I didn't grow up around it. I didn't know anyone who was, it's just, I had this inclination that I wanted to be a business owner or start a business. And so as I started interviewing for my first co-op, I had some great interviews with some large companies. And then I got randomly placed with an entrepreneur. This was a guy who had built and sold a company to eBay already, this was kind of early 2000s, or maybe the year 2000, actually. So this is the early dotcom era. He had built his first company, sold it to eBay, and was working on company number 2 on the side, while he was doing his earn-out with eBay still. And he just happened to decide because he was a UC grad, he's like, I'm going to hire a co-op to help, you know, get this thing kind of started, as I'm spinning plates over here doing this earnout thing. And so I got placed in an interview with him.
TM: And I just fell in love with the idea that I could go work for someone who had built a company, and had this very, like missional vision for what he wanted to do. He wanted to help people achieve goals in their life. And he wanted to build a company around it, and use kind of the web and technology to do it. And I'm like, man, all that sounds amazing. I don't know what the heck he's talking about. But I'm gonna go learn. So that was the I, you know, I got placed with that. I ranked that as my top choice for where I wanted to go work. And they ranked me as their top choice. And they hired me as a co-op and ended up spending, you know, most of my school working kind of full time, even like when I was in class, I was still doing all putting in a lot of hours because it was a startup. And it was really exciting. And, you know, they gave me a lot of responsibility as a young kid who didn't know what the heck they were doing. It was like, go figure this thing out, go learn this thing, right. And so I just, I fell in love with that opportunity to have a huge impact with a small team who's kind of running hard after a big vision, like that really stuck with me.
TM: So, that was kind of the early journey. That was my first entrepreneurial endeavor. I wasn't a founder there. But I was, you know, one of the first employees. And after I graduated from University of Cincinnati, I went and worked there full time for, I think another five or six years or something like that. It was like 10 years all in and I had been a part of that organization. And they were kind of no longer a startup, you know, had started to figure some things out, were doing pretty well. And, I met my wife and I had gotten married, and I had my first kid. So it kind of found myself at this point where it's like, I still feel like I'm supposed to be an entrepreneur. And I feel like if I don't make the leap soon, I'm not going to, like you kind of get to that point life where it gets harder, right? Like you have more responsibility, more pressure.
TM: And, so I started to have that feeling. And that so there was a little bit of a like a, I call it a nudge, maybe that that God was given me and you know, it was finally in. I had this kind of prayer experience. I'll never forget, there's like, at my church crossroads, we go through what's called an all church journey. So it's like, you go through this immersive experience where there's a weekend service, there's individual work, and then there's a prayer experience. And then there's group work as well. And that prayer experience at the time was like, he kind of walked down this path, and you're carrying a suitcase filled with rocks, and it's kind of symbolizing like the weight of the world. And then you kind of sit down and you're just resting in God's presence. And it was the first time I feel like I truly heard from God. Like, it wasn't audible, but it was as clear as I can imagine, hearing from God would be, he was just like, I need you to go, it's time to take the leap. Like, I've been praying for like a year before that, like put me in coach, I'm ready, tell me what to do. Like, what where do you want me right? And I felt like I was hearing crickets. And finally, what I heard was like, you just need to go. Like I need to, I need to teach you something about faith by making this like true leap of faith moment.
TM: And so yeah, it was like that night, I went home and told my wife, I think I need to put in my two weeks. And she's like, okay, like, I know, this has been on your heart and mind. But like, I thought we're waiting for the company, like, what company you're gonna start? I'm like, I don't know. But I know I can get some consulting work. Like I'll find a way to pay the bills while I figure this thing out. But like, I think it's time I need to do this. And I'll never forget the conversation with Christie. She was just like, she was super supportive. But she's like, man, just promise me that if in six months, you haven't figured something out, you'll go get a "big boy job" quote, unquote. I remember her saying this specifically, right? Like, that's totally fair. Like, yes, you got it. And, you know, I doubt we had things figured out in six months, but we never had that conversation again. And she supported me throughout that journey. And I'll tell you, Daniel, like it was so clear on the other side of that making that decision like doors opened up. I was getting jobs. I wasn't looking for a job I was getting job offers that I would have never expected to get. I was you know, it was just kind of like, I felt God's favor in that time where it felt like a lot of opportunities were opening up that shouldn't have or I wouldn't have expected to.
TM: And so, it definitely felt like God was honoring that choice. And 10:13 that was where I started to have this realization that and this has happened a couple of times in my life now, I feel like most of us wait for the calling or the call, or like "what's that thing I'm supposed to go do?" And I know, for me, my own experience has been like, I have not heard that. I think, calling I believe is a two-step process. Like you need to first be called away from the thing you're doing today. Before he can be called to that next thing, for me at least, right? And so, for me, it's been, again, multiple occasions where until I honor the first step, and like, okay, I think it's time to move on and make an actual decision put a stake in the ground, like, you know, kind of burn the ships. Like, that's when God starts to show up as like, okay, here's some opportunities for you. Which one would you like to Tim? So that's kind of been my journey in a nutshell. Left people in that first company, got...
DW: So Tim, what stage of life were you in? How old were you? Did you have kids yet? Like, what can you give a little context for when you made that kind of step out of faith, out of the position without really knowing where God was leading? Or what the next step was?
TM: Yeah. So I would have been 30, right, about 30 years old, and just had my first kid. I think, I don't even think our first kid was one or it was close to one, made that decision stepped out. And then I remember like, it felt like weeks, maybe it was months later that we found out my wife was pregnant with kid number two, like, oh, boy, pressure is really on, that was that like, step out of the startup environment or the company I was in, and like, with the purpose of going to start something not knowing exactly what that thing would be. That was kind of that first leap of faith.
DW: So where did that take you then?
TM: So like I mentioned, plenty of opportunities, I did get some consulting work pretty quickly that kind of pay the bills, which was super helpful and fantastic. And I had started to get like, really excited about entrepreneurship in the Cincinnati Ohio region, and you know, kind of tech startups specifically. And there just wasn't much activity at the time. So I, I started kind of stirring the pot and helped like organize some things like Startup Weekend and some meetup events and like, started trying to kind of replicate what I had seen in some other places, which was like community around entrepreneurs. Like, it felt like for most of my journey at SparkPeople. At first, company was like, we were kind of just on an island figuring it out. Like, there was no one telling you like how to do this thing. Like, I love my education. But it didn't prepare me to be a tech entrepreneur, like all the marketing, customer acquisition stuff I was doing was very different than the marketing I was being trained to do like basically like brand marketing at P&G, like very different experience from what I actually formerly was trained in.
TM: And so we just kind of figured it out hired smart people who are self-learners. And you know, we kind of just figured stuff out. But I had visited some other ecosystems, cities where like, I saw the bubbling up like startup communities, I'm like, ooh, this could be powerful. Like I want to see this happen in Cincinnati. And it turns out, there's a couple of other people who had already done some stuff here locally. So I started hooking up with them and just kind of tagging along and started adding on some trying to build momentum around startups in the community. So I think a lot of that pre-work was what made it a lot easier for me to find some consulting work and then ultimately meet who would become my co-founder at Differential, which was the company I would end up starting next. And really, it was, again, I would call it God's favor, just lots of opportunity, like, felt like I could have gone a couple of different directions. And then it was just like, over beers with this one guy, who we realized, like we had the same vision for the Sunday company, we wanted to start and was just kind of like, why not try it now. Like, you know, I know, we have no business doing this thing. But we had this vision for like a startup studio, or a venture studio where like, we want to serially launch companies, with this kind of SWAT team of folks who've, who've got some experience around startups and building technology companies, like let's partner with entrepreneurs who have ideas and like help them bring those to life and kind of act like co-founders come alongside them, and also build some of our own stuff.
TM: So that was kind of our vision for Differential and that's what we did. So we kind of initially scrapped together like, we basically just ride walkers, my co-founder there, and he was doing the same thing I was, which was like, he had quit his job. And he has had some consulting work that he was doing to kind of keep the lights on and we just started throwing all of our money in the pot and saying, like, what does it take to pay for your bills? What's it take to pay for your bills, like let's just take care of our families, and then put everything else into you know, building this company, like let's try and bring some more people along and do some, build some of our own stuff. That led us some cool opportunities. And you know, ultimately we were able to raise some capital to help us kind of pour fuel on the fire. But we, we really got to do this, this kind of magic thing we want to do, which was like, We got to build some of our own stuff. We got to partner with entrepreneurs who had ideas, but didn't know how to bring their ideas to life. Usually, it was like, I'm a domain expert, I have this idea for a software. But I don't know how to build a software company like great, we will come alongside you. And we'll act like your co-founders. And then we did some services, right? So we would help build technology and websites and MVPs for entrepreneurs. And, man, we just had a blast, we get felt like we're moving a million miles a minute, we had so many plates, we were spinning, it was, it was really amazing.
TM: We ended up having a couple of ideas that turned out to be pretty interesting. And one of those now, one of those eventually, Ryan, my co-founder would spin out of Differential and go run as CEO for a while. It's called Astronomer and they not too long ago raised money at about a billion dollar valuation. So they're one of those kind of unicorn software tech startups up into the right fit, you know, most of our ideas did not turn into that, right? But we had a couple of nuggets that did. And so we kind of validated the model. And really at Differential started, really leaning into like, the profitable business we had that we were ignoring was like really services like a lot of people saying, love what you're doing, like, come help us build, right. And these would be larger companies would say come alongside us and help us build more like a startup. Help us think through this kind of more innovative way to build software and technology.
TM: And so helped spent a couple of years helping to scale that service business and build like a really nice culture and team and environment where we can do amazing work using technology. But in less of the kind of startup frind type state that we were kind of surrounded by initially. So that was Differential. The quick aside, I know you've had Luke Dooley on as a guest. So a quick aside, not long after I started Differential, which by the way, we started differential out of my church atrium. So at some point, when I left my job, I realized like, I don't know where I'm going to work from. And I remember thinking, like, oh, Crossroads has free coffee, and free WiFi, and their atriums are open from like, 6am to 9pm. And like, those are all the things I need to build a tech company, like I'm just gonna start showing up there. And so that's what we did. Like we literally started differential out of our out of my church. And it turned out a couple of the people were kind of doing something similar.
TM: And that led to a really interesting conversation at a breakfast with the senior pastor there, Brian Tone, who's just like, you know, I mean, his quote was something along the lines of like, I'm used to seeing, like homeless people hanging out in our lobby and like, chug our coffee and creamer and you know, it's fine. You know, but, but I'm not used to seeing entrepreneurs hanging out, like, what are you guys doing here? Tell me about your story. And like, that was when we had this sort of aha moment that there's something interesting about the combination of faith walk and an entrepreneurial walk. And actually combining the two was a conversation I'd never even really thought, even though I had, you know, even if God told me to go leave my job and start this thing, it just hadn't really occurred to me how much overlap there is in an individual's faith journey. And in their kind of journey, being an entrepreneur.
TM: And so that breakfast led to become Ocean Programs, the nonprofit that loop now runs today, and all the amazing program we're doing around kind of faith and entrepreneurship work. But that was kind of a cool accidental, like, I didn't mean to start a nonprofit, but God was kind of speaking to my heart and connecting me with other people. At the same time I was starting my for-profit business was like, hey, let's do this in a different way. Let's kind of run counter to the common narrative of like, life, friends, family, all that be damned, go all in for 10 years and make a ton of money and you can do it whatever you want. Like, yeah, but most of the people I've seen do that end up like divorced with kids who hate them and their loss at the other end of that, like, that doesn't sound like success. So that was kind of the thread we pulled on with starting Ocean.
DW: Gotcha. Yeah. Would you be able to maybe like visually walk us through what Differential and Oceans are? I guess they are similar in a sense, right?
TM: Kind of yeah. So there definitely are some similarities with Ocean specifically. We've got a number of programs, some specifically geared towards like the tech entrepreneur who is going to raise capital and kind of that fast growth tech companies. We've got an accelerator program. So the accelerator program basically takes 10 companies a year through a six-to-eight-week journey. So it's very specific, like here's you're going to be trained as an entrepreneur and you're gonna be trained as an individual, to build into your faith and build community and also the basics of building blocks of like, how do you prepare yourself to build a tech company that's going to require venture capital and kind of get to that next level? So, we do you know, as part of that program, those companies get an investment. So, we invest in those companies, they get training, they get mentorship and community And then ultimately, you know, they kind of leave and go off and go run their businesses. And, you know, after that kind of eight to 10-week journey, they're kind of off and running. So that's kind of the accelerator model, and you know, that they're obviously in our network forever, and we'll help them as much as we can.
TM: At Differential, we're actually in the business of building businesses. So we were literally acting as co-founders, you know, building the ideas, either internally or with entrepreneurs who came in from the outside, but were hand in hand actually writing code for them, like building their go to market strategy, like raising funding that we were the entrepreneurs and also kind of the investors with our time instead of writing checks. So, that's kind of the difference. And then Ocean now has gone on to do a lot of other things. But actually, the biggest part of the business today, the nonprofit is serving non-tech entrepreneurs or kind of mainstream entrepreneurs. So you know, whether it's, I'm trying to start an accounting firm, or services firm, or a coffee shop, or whatever it might be, you know, we're coming alongside them. And usually, it's like, I'm really good at a thing, how do I turn that thing into a business?
TM: So, we help train them in the building blocks of building a profitable kind of, you know, main street business, again, coinciding that with a journey for how do I build into you as the entrepreneur so that, you know, you can withstand the challenges, the tribulation, the trials that you're gonna go through. And so then the other end of that, whether you're successful, or you fail, like, if you fail, you don't sort of lose your identity and your hope and, and life and in Christ, like you can kind of weather the storm. But if you're successful, like this is the thing a lot of people will talk about, like, we want you to be a great steward of that success, right? Like, we want you to turn into a Kingdom Builder, right, who is building into teams and communities and giving back and doing really good things with, with, you know, on the other end of that, that success. So that's kind of the difference there on what oceans focused on. Like I said, Differential was doing a little more of the company building itself versus just, let's guide you on a journey and mentor you.
DW: So we kind of covered like, high level, but do you have maybe like a personal story to kind of bring it down to earth to really see from the inside?
TM: Through which lens?
DW: Through just maybe...
TM: As an entrepreneur?
DW: Yeah, as an entrepreneur?
TM: Yeah. So well, I'll maybe quickly bring you up to speed on what I'm doing now. So, you know, 6, 7, 8 years into Differential, I felt that call again, to step away. And it was very similar. It's kind of like God was not nudging me again. So, I'm like, love what you've done at Differential, the company's great, the culture is great, it's profitable, it's growing. But I want you to take a bigger swing, okay. I have something else for you and I was just like, oofff, like that. It was scary and not so great. And, you know, finally paying ourselves a normal salary. And, you know, things were a little less chaotic and feeling a little more stable, and felt that call again. And that led me to, eventually wanting myself out of Differential and starting Coterie Insurance, which is an insurance startup focused on small business insurance. So we're literally building an insurance company, which is every bit as hard as it sounds. But that's, that's where God called me, right.
TM: So, I'll bring you up to speed there. Just to say like, you know, that journey, now we're four years into that journey, we raised a bunch of capital, and we've had really great success. But for the first year and a half of that thing, were an absolute grind, just trying to figure out how to build an insurance company and a technology company all at the same time. Because that's kind of what we're doing different is we're trying to use tech, we're building an insurance company as if you were to start one today and leverage all the modern data and technology infrastructure that's available, that's what we're doing, right? So. So there's a whole lot to building both insurance and technology and bring those two together at the same time. And to do that, like it also requires really great expertise and talent. And it's really hard to do that without money.
TM: And so, unlike a, just a pure technology company, like you can, if you're scrappy, you know what you're doing like and you'd have a good network, you can get pretty far without raising a ton of money. You can go and build your product, get to market, prove that you've got something there. Not as true on the insurance side, like we had to hire great insurance experts, you know, to get to market and you can't attract someone away from a legacy insurance company, to go start a startup very easily. Like it requires quite a bit of effort and frankly, some capital and so, you know, we had to raise money early on. And before we were ever in market, we had to convince investors like we've got this big idea, but it's gonna require, you know, some capital ahead of really having anything to show you other than a plan and a vision and some previous experience. And, you know, that led us we were able to do that where we built the team. Got to the point though, where, you know, we were running out of money again, and we still weren't really in market, we were close with some staff. But I mean, we got to that point where it was literally like $100 and something dollars in the bank, a payroll coming up. We had been pitching, like, it had to be close to a hundred investors we pitched you know, almost all nos.
TM: And I ended up my wife and I ended up like investing our own money in the business to help us make to make timelines line up so that we can make a payroll and keep going. And then, you know, God provided an investor, but that one term sheet after pitching a hundred people ended up being the exact right one at the exact right time, we close the round before we ran out of money. And two weeks later, you know, COVID shut down the world. So it was like one of those just truly like God teed it up, and like, what I would say is, that sounds really stressful and tumultuous and it was.
TM: But there's this level of peace that like my faith journey had just prepared me for. It was like, you know, however, this thing turns out, I believe I was called to this thing. I know, God is building me through this, like, I felt it right through that tension, that hardship, the struggle, like, I know, I'm being built through this. And so like, I'm gonna work my butt off to make this thing work and do everything I can, control whatever I can, to get that investor to get us to the next level. But it's not up to me. It's not going to be in my control. I know that right. Like, there's a tattoo on my arm that reminds me daily. It just says , "not in my power, not my glory". Like, "it's not about me, it's not because of me".
TM: And so like, if I truly believe that, yes, I'm going to be stressed out at times. And it's going to be hard. But like, there's a level of peace that comes from you know, my kind of walk with Jesus that just wouldn't be there had I not gone through that journey. And so that's the why behind Ocean. It's like that level of kind of spiritual, and community preparation, right? Like, I'm not doing that on my own. I'm doing founders therapy with other believers who are founders as well and who've been there and can counsel me through, like, keep me humble in the highs and keep me from cracking in the lows, right? Like I have that, that the repetition in the community around me to survive through those storms. And there's been, you know, I could probably spout off a couple of other a lot of other examples throughout, you know, any one of the journeys I've been on, including the nonprofit have, you know, there's just the stress and challenge that comes through the entrepreneurial journey that if you wear it on your sleeve, or like you, your identity becomes too tied to the success of this thing? That's where the stress and pressure really ramps up, right? You believe that your success or failure is tied to the success and failure of this business, Like, yeah, of course, that's going to be stressful, right? Like you believe you're going to be a total loser and failure if this thing doesn't work out. And like, you know, that's just not true but it's a lie that we tell ourselves as entrepreneurs all the time.
DW: Right, yeah. So before we got on, we talked a little bit about culture building, and how impactful entrepreneurs can be in the world and really even changing the world. Can you dive into that a little bit?
TM: Yeah. Yeah, I love this topic. It's, you know, I think like most people, when I first started thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, it was very much like, you know, belief that entrepreneurs can change the world, like you can solve big problems, you can literally, you know, make the world a better place through entrepreneurship. And I still believe that. I think that's absolutely true. And that should be a motivator for entrepreneurs. And I hope we're doing that at Coterie and I know, I've seen us do that, you know, throughout the years at Differential and at Ocean. So, I don't want to downplay the change in the world through your business, because there's you can solve some amazing problems through entrepreneurship.
TM: But I had this realization at some point in the middle of the differential journey. We had probably 25 or 30 employees around the table. And most of those were software engineers, and most of those have been with us for five years plus, and we don't pay Google salaries. We're not able to, we're a service company, basically, right? So, we pay pretty good salaries, competitive salaries, but I know those folks are getting offers for, you know, higher paying jobs very regularly. That's not why they're staying at Differential. And I started to, like, lean into that more. And when we started Differential, I remember Ryan and I had the conversation of like, let's build the last company we would ever want to work for. I don't know whether or not that will be true, but let's build the kind of company that you would want to work for for the rest of your career, the rest of your life. Like let's make that be our goal.
TM: And so we did a lot of stuff too. I use the term "over-invest in culture" like we over- invested in culture, like, spent money on stuff that didn't make sense for the stage we were at. And so, at some point, though, you don't think about I didn't necessarily connect that to retention, employee retention, I just connected to like, I'm gonna build a great place to work, and of course, I hope people stick around. But, you know, fast forward, I'm thinking about, like, how are we retaining these engineers, you go talk to them, they're like, I feel cared for, like, I feel like I'm heard, I have a voice, like, you don't grind me to death, like, I work hard, but I get to go have hobbies. And like, I started playing in a band, and I hadn't played in a band in forever. I, you know, I travel quite a bit, and I would not be able to travel if I didn't have this flexibility and freedom.
And so you just start to realize, like, man, the impact that we can have through the lives of our employees might out pay significantly, maybe even outpace the impact that the business has. And it's like, it just became this aha moment of like, man, see, if you help people come alive in their work, they come alive in their lives. They become better spouses, parents, volunteers, community members, like they pick up hobbies there. They're just more joyful human beings. And therefore, like, have a chance to have even more impact on the people around them. And so it's like, and we spend most of our waking hours at work, like more, you know, you think about the impact of a church and, you know, I love our church, but like, they get me for an hour a week on Sundays, or, you know, an hour and 15 minutes, and, you know, maybe some between time through my own study and whatever, but like, you know, I get my employees for 40-plus hours a week. And not that I'm preaching the gospel to them day to day but I had the chance to influence and impact people significantly more than just about anyone else does if I treat them well.
TM: And so I just started having this realization of, man, I think God called me to take a bigger swing because he wanted me to influence more people. Like it was more about creating a place where you can, you know, attract and retain and care for more of my people as employees of Coterie. And so that became a big focus of mine. If you build and it's not that hard, it's sad that people get blown away when you care about them. Like, when you tell them like, you know, don't take time off and spend it with your sick mom. Like, why would that even be like, why would you hesitate even to bring that up? Like, you know, like, it just, it's mind-blowing, the little things that blow people away, when you like, if you dig into it, all you're doing is like treating them as a human being and showing that you care about them?
DW: Yeah, I think that's really it. And I think the same goes for like when they turn around then and care for our clients and for customers. It's just a whole nother level.
TM: Yeah, and I mean, I've seen it like they're, you know, folks, they kind of bring it like, because when they feel empowered, and they feel listened to and cared for, like, that shouldn't be the reason you build into your people when you have a great culture, but I can promise you, they're more productive. You know, they are more loyal, they want to come to work, like there's a different level of energy and impact that they have on their work and their co-workers that they wouldn't have otherwise. And so I do believe it's a bit of a secret weapon like, you know, treating people well, it's the right thing to do, turns out, it's also a good thing for business.
DW: So, a lot of our listeners are entrepreneurs and business owners. What would you say to them about maybe some keys that you have learned to being successful as a as an entrepreneur and going through some of those highs and lows and challenges? And do you have any maybe words of wisdom?
TM: Ramp up your prayer game. I tell people all the time, if you want a strong prayer game, go start a company. Because like you will be in so many of those situations that are outside of your control. And I don't think it's often in life where we realize that like you're like, man, like there's little I can do to control this situation. And the entrepreneurial journey, though, it's fairly frequent, where you're just like, again, I'm gonna work as hard as I can and do what I can to control this thing. But I don't know whether I'm going to have the right investor meeting and whether the investor is going to, my pitch is going to resonate with them today or not, right? Like, it's just, I can't really control that. I can only control my own actions. But what I can do is walk into every meeting and pray to God that this is the one. I can literally say a prayer before I step into that meeting, that pitch that next, you know, sales pitch, like whatever it is, like whether you're trying to recruit, to raise money to land, a new client, whatever that next big thing is, you know, you should work hard for it but bring God into it. Like why wouldn't you? Why would you just leave him in the morning and walk into your day without him or leave him at church on Sunday?
TM: So, I really think it's a lot of it's like, just be really bold in your prayer and what you want and what you need to come through, you know, for the next level like one of my co- founders and I still today I go through every week, we have this discipline of we have a prayer list and it starts with the first thing is just gratitude. What are we thankful for this week, what happened since we last talked about this that we know isn't about us or it's a blessing from God. So we've got, here's a list of things we're thankful for. And then next list is like, here's what we need help with. And like, this is an every-week discipline where we would practice gratitude and we praise God for what He's doing in our business. And we ask for specific things. And we're not an overtly Christian company, we don't pray before our meetings and talk about it with our team. But I can promise you it has led to conversations with folks who have come to me and asked me and, you know, it leads to some really cool stuff. Whether or not you're overt about your faith, like it's pretty obvious to people.
TM: So yeah. So, pray is kind of the first one. Surround yourself with amazing people like not enough people have. I call it founders therapy, but they don't have that group of entrepreneurs they're spending time with like, I've been doing this almost throughout my whole entrepreneurial career of having a weekly cadence of a small group with other entrepreneurs. Where we're doing life together, we're talking about the trials and tribulations, the problems, the stressors. We're celebrating successes, the highs and the lows, like week in and week out, we're either on Zoom or around the table, you know, kind of processing that stuff real-time. And my spouse is amazing. And she's so supportive, but she's not an entrepreneur, like there's just, it's a different conversation I can have with almost anyone else with that group of folks who've been there or are in the trenches now. Or they've been in the trenches. And so having that group, like, I've solved many problems through that group, where it's just conversation that like, h`ey, have you thought about this, or you know, a different angle, or lens or viewpoint, or even just like a therapy session of like, God's got this, man, like, I know, it feels stressful. I know, you're overwhelmed right now. But like, let's pray about it. And let's release it right.
TM: And so having that level of just freedom to process on a weekly basis has been incredibly powerful for me throughout my journey. And I always say like, everyone says it, it sounds cliche, but like, your job as an entrepreneur is to hire great people. That's it, like, I am not very good at most of what I do, I figure it out until I can hire someone better. You know, I've just I've gotten to wear a lot of different hats. So I can cover a lot of ground if I need to. But that doesn't mean I'm any good at any of it. I can keep plates spinning. But I need to find someone who's an expert at that task as quickly as possible, and then give them the opportunity to go crush it and you know, run it, run hard in their lane. And so I think it requires an incredible level of humility to do that well, to admit that there are people better than you. Admitting it is one thing and actually giving them the freedom and flexibility to go do the thing without you interjecting is another thing and it's hard. But I've seen so much success through just hiring and empowering well. Those two things are just massively important. And, you know, early on, I know it's really hard to do that. Because you got to get to a certain level before you can even hire well. But some of that is a leap of faith to where like, occasionally you gotta be like, I really believe we need to get to the next level. And to get there, we need this person. We're going to trust that we bring them on and you know, we'll figure this thing out. So that even requires a leap of faith at times is hiring well.
DW: Tim, do you mind sharing a failure that you've learned a lot from?
TM: Yeah, the question is just which one? Yeah, it's like which one? Let's see, a failure I've learned a lot from. So, a couple jumps to mind immediately. One is at Differential, fairly early on. So, we had raised our first round of capital. And that was going pretty well, we've kind of I won't say proven the model, but we had enough momentum and energy to, without raise a good bit more capital, say, okay, let's put some let's put our foot on the pedal here, pour some gas on the fire, let's go a little bit faster. So we went out to raise a couple of million dollars. And at the time, you know, we were in Cincinnati, Ohio, there weren't many investors in the area. So we're pitching all over the place. And mostly got nos and most of the nos were because we were in Cincinnati, Ohio. And like it's just not where you build a tech company. Like if you want to move to the Bay Area, you want to move to New York City or even to Chicago or like, all these places where you could build a tech company then we'll consider investing in you. There's just a whole lot of nos.
TM: We finally found one though. VC who was like, okay, what you're doing is interesting enough that, you know, I'd be willing to take a flyer on this, but I need you to, you know, basically I'm gonna write half of the round, I'm gonna be half of your investment, I need you to go get the rest of it. And if you get that first million, I'm gonna match your second million and we're gonna go do this thing. And, you know, we were able to do that, like we, you know, had been pitching a lot of angel investors as well and got to a point where like, we had enough kind of rounded up and it was literally like time to go close and like bring this thing to life. And two of my angel investors, we're going to write like more than like two thirds of that other million, we're going to come from two individuals, and they got cold feet last minute, and like literally called me out of nowhere. It's like, we're not going to participate in this round. And it just like, overnight, the whole thing crumbled, then the whole round fell apart. We had some other investors who were still willing to write some checks but ended up being you know, what was it like half a million dollars total, maybe instead of 2 million. So, you know, no, I was green enough, we made the mistake, like we started acting as a money's in the bank and it wasn't because we had verbal commitments, like this was a done deal, we'll just get a paper, get signatures, and we're off and running. But it fell apart.
TM: And, you know, so like, a couple of big things I learned there. The first was like, you hear it, again, it's cliche, but like, until it's in the bank, it's not yours. Don't start spending, don't make those big changes, don't distract the team from that, like stay focused on whatever you need to do to keep the lights on right now, and assume that's going to fall apart and know what you're gonna do if it does, you know, fortunately, we were able to scramble and kind of figure it out. But it was a true scramble, it was like an oh, crap moment of, I don't know how I'm gonna even be able to pay salaries and keep these people around, and how I like, we'd do some really creative stuff with our cap table when splitting out the company and like, it was chaos. And by the grace of God, we figured it out. And, you know, all the things we were trying to bet on ended up successful. But, you know, there were probably six bets we didn't get to make because we never raised the rest of that money. And we had even recruited some people in to join us who were going to help us get to that next level that we now had to pay and honor and, you know, so that was a crazy moment.
TM: I think another big thing, though, out of that was as upset as I was, I was able to maintain my composure, and I never burned a bridge, even with those, those couple of investors who changed everything overnight. Like they ended up investing in some other companies I was a part of, and some other things I was doing. So I maintain relationships. And those folks have been actually really supportive in various different ventures I've been a part of so even though they got cold feet on that, in hindsight, like one of the big learnings was like, they weren't tech investors, they're like private equity investors who are interested in this kind of tech startup stuff, right. So it's not crazy that they will get cold feet around somebody they don't really understand, like, it was new to them, but like, through a couple of years of getting to know them, like and walking out and showing them progress and like staying in touch, like they ended up being fairly active angel investors in tech companies as well. So that turned out to be a good thing.
TM: But you know, if everything ended putting up a middle finger and, you know, go pound sand, I'm outta here, I don't want anything to do with you, it would've ended up being a harmful thing for me as well, right? Like just harboring bitterness, and it's not good for any of us. So that was a really just chaotic, tumultuous time, I wish I had handled things differently. You know, I wish I had been a little more careful about will really like should have had a lot more capital committed, you know, like, round up way more than you need. If you need 2 million, go get two and a half. And, you know, by the time you close, like maybe you'll have the two. But you don't those are things that you're not really thinking about. You just feel like we've got yeses, yes means yes. Like that's a that's a check in the bank like, well, not in the venture world. You know, it doesn't always mean that and, you know, people have reserved the right until they sign to change their mind. So yeah, that was a crazy hard journey.
TM: Another one I'll share maybe that's that's fairly top line was at Coterie earlier this year, in the summer, we had to go through layoff for the first time in my career had to actually lay people off about 20% of our staff. And, you know, I've told you this story. You know, I told you, Daniel, how it was like building companies and teams and cultures and people was like, a big part of my heart and I think it is what I was called to do. So, with that being said, to have to turn around and lay off a good chunk of those people you've worked so hard to build into and build a great culture around. It was one of the most brutal experiences of my life to be a part of that and I don't think there's any right way to lay people off, you can't get that right. I think either ways you can get it wrong. I think you can you can do it worse. But you know, I think a number of the things we learned through that journey was like number one, like we, we just we scaled too quickly. And it's easy to beat yourself up and say that and it's true like it's objective that we look at and go okay, we heard too fast.
TM: But at the time the narrative from investors was love what you're doing, go as fast as you can, we're gonna raise another round that's even bigger next year. And not just from our investors. I mean from the world kind of the venture world around us, you'd look at valuations and checks people were writing or like, the model is pretty clear here, like, we're gonna raise our Series A, now we're gonna raise a bigger B, we're gonna raise a C, and like, we can do that all within a couple years of each other. So let's be really aggressive in this thing. And, you know, then, like, a number of events happen, right? A war economy that starts tanking, like, all these things that are again outside of your control. But they affect you absolutely, right. Like, once the stock market starts crashing, guess who gets spooked? Investors who have a bunch of money in the stock market, and they're like, yeah, maybe we should slow down in this venture stuff and stop writing checks, or, like, really be discerning about what companies are writing checks into. And so it's like, it's really crazy how quickly their narrative went from, grow, grow, grow, focus on top line to focus on profitability, like, almost overnight, it's like, the companies that are profitable, or have a path to it, we're going to be the ones that survive in advance. It makes sense, right? Everyone should want to build that it was in our roadmap too, but it was like two years down the road. We're gonna bring that up to now it's like, now that's the primary focus is what's our path to profitability and extending our runway. So we can survive in advance if you know if this world doesn't turn back to what it was before.
TM: So, you know, that's a really hard lesson to learn, and to have to lay people off. And, you know, one of the things as hard as it was, we had investors who had survived the dotcom, crash in 2008. And they had been operators. And so their lessons learned were like, act before everyone else is acting like, I know, you're not seeing a ton of layoff headlines yet, like you will probably, and the longer you wait, the worse it is for your company, and the less likely you are to survive. So act fast and cut deep was their advice. And what they meant by that was like, if you act fast, your team will have a much easier job getting hired down, like they won't have a problem going and finding new jobs. And you'll be able to take care of them with service severance packages and give them time and space.
TM: And cut deep, what they were saying is like, don't have to do this, again, like you can't fully control it, but like, don't go halfway and then realize in a couple of months, it wasn't deep enough. And you have to go through another round of layoffs. Because that's, it can be really hard to recover from a couple of rounds of that from a culture and just trust and team building standpoint, right? So rip the band aid off, do it fast, and try and go, you know, make sure you're doing it deep enough so that you won't have to do it again. So super painful lessons, terrible time where I was, like, you know, just really bummed out. But I felt good that we were able to take care of people, we even paid some of our recruiters that stick around longer and help with outplacement and all of us kind of acted like, you know, helped a lot of folks find jobs, which was really good. But it ended up being the right thing for the business. And, you know, fast forward, you know, we're now in a spot where we have been able to raise additional capital, even when no one else is because the fundamentals of our business look a lot better than they did six months ago. And we have that story and that narrative and the path to profitability where we're now just a better business than we were then for a number of reasons. But a lot of it was just we had to control or burn, you know, we're spending too much money too quickly. And, again, enough frothy capital market that works like but that's not where we're at today.
TM: So, you have to, you have to think about, you know, those things that are outside of your control and how you would act, you know if the world changes overnight. So yeah, painful stuff, and I think in the aftermath of that, like what I'm still wrestling with today, Daniel is like, our culture has changed. It's probably forever changed, right? Like, there was a spot we were at at Coterie before where it was just everyone would have said 10 out of 10 or almost everyone would have said like this is the best place I've ever worked like, love my job, love this environment. And we've struggled since and we've had attrition, like some people who voluntarily leave and you know, have lost some trust and some belief and you know, maybe start to question like, were some of that stuff fake that you talked about and all the culture stuff because then you let people go and like, man, I get it. That's a fair question. Like, you should ask that. And, you know, we have to restore trust and make sure people know that none of that was BS. It was genuine. But we had to make tough decisions as a business that unfortunately meant letting people go.
TM: So, we've spent a lot of time and energy and kind of rebuilding trust and trying to think about how do we, you know, how do we make sure Coterie becomes that great place or really is and honestly like, a lot of it just becomes like a narrative folks are telling themselves like this isn't a great place to work anymore. Like, you know, it's kind of doom and fear. And some of it's because of our layoff a lot of it though is like you look outside and you're like wow, Twitter's doing this. Google's doing this. Facebook's doing it, like Intel now. I just saw this morning, Intel's about the layoff a ton of people it's like it's happening everywhere. And so you start to get in this like cycle of like doom and fear and like then everyone starts questioning and again, is Coterie gonna have to do this again? I can't promise you we're not I'll never say that, because I don't know what the future looks like. But we're not planning on it. We feel like we did our work early on and put ourselves in a good spot. But it's one thing to say and it's another thing to help people really believe that. So that's been hard to recover from honestly.
DW: So before we jump into the mentor minute, I want to end on a high note. I know we talked about some of the failures. But also, I want to talk about a little bit about your vision for Coterie and, and where you're going and really, maybe a little bit more optimistic about the future.
TM: Thank you, I would much prefer to end there. Yeah. So that's the cool thing, right. Like I said, we have a better business than we had a year ago, two years ago, like six months ago, because of some of the hard work we've done to really focus on building for a profit organization. But what that doesn't take away from is our long-term vision, like we believe we can build the next great commercial insurance company. And this is a, you know, couple of hundred billion dollar industry, like just in the US alone. 50 of that's in small commercial which is what we're focused on today. Our vision, Daniel is like, we're building the playbook for how we do insurance differently than the rest of the world. And we're starting with small commercial, but there's a massive commercial insurance industry outside of where we're at today. So we want to start with being kind of that one-stop shop for small commercial. And it's really cool. Like, one of the reasons I got super excited about this industry is number one, it's a social good. If you're an entrepreneur and your building burns down, and you don't have insurance, like you don't get to come back, like that's it, it's game over for a small business owner, over half of small business owners don't have insurance. We're making it really easy for them to get insurance. And you know, at an affordable accurate price, we're charging the right price for the insurance you need today is our goal. And we want to make it a two-minute process for you. So you don't have to think about it, get it done, get it over with and have that security in case of catastrophe.
TM: So we feel great about helping small business owners who are really the backbone of America and trying to get more of them insured. So they're covered in case of catastrophe. So that's kind of step one. We think we can, we can make a huge dent in the small commercial industry, which, you know, $50 billion industry, no one company owns more than like six or 7% of the market right now. That's the crazy opportunity that I saw. I was like, man, for an industry that large to not have a couple really dominant players. That means like, I don't have to disrupt the Hartford for us to have a great business. Like, we can take some points, you know, start to build market share, and no one even cares or knows we exist. And that's kind of a beautiful thing, right?
TM: So that's the massive opportunity we see. How do we build the best small business solution out there for business owners and for our partners who sell it? We don't sell direct to small business, we work through agents and brokers and their partners like QuickBooks and other platforms that want to make insurance a part of what they do. And for that agent and broker, they make almost nothing on that small business insurance policy. So we're like, okay, great, we understand that, it should take you no time, then. So we're going to make that a couple of a process, a couple minutes for you so you can write small business insurance, you can care about it, and you want to help entrepreneurs in your community. But we're actually going to allow you to make money on it, because it's not going to take you any time to actually get it done. So that's our kind of near-term vision is like, let's build the best small commercial insurance company out there. And then repeat the playbook, we're building in small commercial in other areas of commercial insurance over the years. So that's kind of the long-term vision of what we're trying to do.
DW: Well, that's neat. Tim, thank you so much for sharing that and really enjoyed having you on. We want to jump into the mentor minute. The first question is, who is the most influential person that you know? And how have they impacted you?
TM: Most influential person that I know it's my wife, for sure. Like I don't think spouses whether it's a husband or wife of entrepreneurs get enough credit, like I seriously Would not I have four young kids like 10 and under. And I like love being a dad, I love coaching and doing other like being really involved in my kids lives. There's no chance I could do that if Christie didn't teed me up to do all that. Like she she does so much to support my entrepreneurial life and my home and family life like that. If I didn't have that constant support and know that like things are taken care of and I can still be really involved because she makes it super easy for me to be really involved. I would be going crazy or you know, who knows maybe divorced or with kids who didn't like me like it would just be it'd be a much worse scenario than it is today. But like I have that constant support and like she you know, I talked about with my small group but it starts with her words like she keeps me humble when things are going well and like reminds me of like, it's not about me and it doesn't matter. are like my kids don't give a shit, they raised capital, they don't care, they want you to spend time with them. That's it. Right? Like, go, go do that. And she's amazing at that. And also, like, you know, when I'm going through some of those, like the layoffs around, like she felt my pain, she prayed with me, she saw me, you know, in a really hard dealing with a really hard time. And she felt that and she didn't dismiss it. Like she sat with me in it and, you know, walked with me through it and, you know, prayed through it with me. And so yeah, like Christy has just been such a great, a great part of my life. The other thing she does is like, she forces me to have a social life outside of work, like, you know, she organizes get together with friends and make sure we we do date nights, and like she keeps on top a lot of stuff that I value, but I don't do a good job of left to my own devices.
DW: That's good. And then what book or podcast would you highly recommend?
TM: We're entrepreneurs specifically. Let's see, there's so many amazing ones, I think, probably one of my favorites has been following anything Reed Hoffman puts out. So he wrote a book a long time ago, around employee culture, and that has influenced a lot of a lot of what I've done at Differential and then at Coterie. I don't know why I'm drawing a blank on the name of that book. But he's the founder of LinkedIn. And he has a podcast called masters of scale as well. So if you're a venture backed founder, who, who is trying to scale a business over time, like I've learned so many lessons from reading his books and listening to his podcast, so reads like just a wealth of knowledge. And his thoughts on, like I say, culture and employee employer relationship, influence a lot of how I think about leading people well, and the businesses I've been a part of.
DW: All right. And then final question is, what is the greatest lesson in leadership that you've learned?
TM: The job of a leader is to serve, not to, not to direct like, again, it's a cliche, but servant leadership, I found to be the most powerful form of leadership. And that means tearing people up to do their best work and getting out of their way not directing, like a lot of people think leadership or managing the things are the same thing, first of all, and they think managing is leadership and managing is not leadership. Sometimes you do have to manage sometimes they do have to direct, but more, I wish more leaders solid as an opportunity to lift people up to do their best work. And that's really what a leader needs to do well.
DW: Alright, Tim, is there anything that we can be praying for you or do to help you accomplish your vision?
TM: If you're a small business owner, you need insurance, Coterie Insurance is here for you. So check us out, talk to your agent or broker about it or go to CoterieInsurance.com, just to learn more. Yeah, always, always welcome prayers, for the business, for the team, for the culture. And that all that I can be successful at without sacrificing on the home front as well. So always striving to be a better husband and father as well. So prayers for leading well at home and at work would would be appreciated.
DW: All right. Well, let's pray right now. Thank you, God, I thank you and praise you for Tim and the work that he's doing with entrepreneurs and, and businesses and, and serving through insurance. God, I pray that you're just continue to bless him and guide him, help him to invest in your kingdom well, and that he and his family would be a light and be able to encourage and lift people up. God I thank you for this time and all that we've learned in Christ and pray.
TM: Amen. Thank you so much.
DW: Thank you for coming on. And thank you guys for listening to the show. And we'll catch you next time for another episode of The Kingdom Investor.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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