Case Study: How American Family Insurance partnered with Highline Beta to build Relay

THE CLIENT: American Family Insurance (AmFam) is an American private property/casualty insurance group, a Fortune 500 company. It focuses on property, casualty, and auto insurance, and also offers commercial insurance, life, health, and homeowners coverage as well as investment and retirement-planning products.

The Challenge: When Ryan Rist, Director of Innovation at American Family (AmFam) Insurance, approached Highline Beta, AmFam had already built up a sophisticated innovation team of 20+ employees. This team had a mandate to come up with outside of the core, new business concepts — and they partnered with Highline Beta to leverage our experience helping large companies use their resources to spin out new startups. AmFam wanted to avoid ‘innovation theatre’ and instead, work with a venture studio without ego; a partner whose incentives and goals were perfectly aligned with theirs, that would help them build out high-growth ventures and go after new investable opportunities.

Turning Innovation Challenges into Investable Opportunities

Together, we worked towards finding an investable opportunity by:

  • Collaborating with AmFam leveraging our collective industry expertise to uncover 10 early venture ideas that we thought were interesting
  • Narrowing in on a few ideas that we validated were solving a problem in specific insurance verticals
  • Identifying which of those verticals had the most widespread problems – and therefore the most opportunity 

All of this work led us to focus on the reinsurance industry. As an opaque industry, its problems weren’t easy to identify. But once we dug in, we realized that that opaqueness meant that there was a lot of untapped potential for something new.  From this insight the MVP for Relay was co-created between Highline Beta team members and reinsurance experts that were connected with AmFam. Through a process of rapid iteration and testing, we were able to create a focused platform that aimed to solve widespread problems in the reinsurance industry. 

THE PROCESS: Co-Creation Allowed Relay to Scale Rapidly

In the historically slow-moving insurance industry, co-creation proved itself as a model for success. AmFam’s industry expertise, networks and initial funding, in coordination with Highline Beta’s enterprise experience and agility in the start-up space, cut the time from concept to pilot considerably.

  • Collaboration. Both sides accelerated the path to innovation by bringing essential pieces of the puzzle to the table. Our collective industry expertise unearthed 10 interesting and potentially viable venture ideas. 
  • Validation. We pressure-tested each idea and validated whether or not they would solve problems within specific insurance verticals. At the same time, we identified which verticals would yield the most opportunity. Our work led us to the reinsurance industry.
  • MVP Creation. Through a process of rapid iteration and testing, we quickly developed an MVP for Relay; a next-generation workflow and collaboration platform that dramatically elevates the level of control, integration and innovation in reinsurance. Through the intuitive, visual, and intelligent interface, reinsurance-buying teams can focus on getting better deals faster.
  • Leadership. To get from MVP to an investable venture, Relay needed the right person at the helm. Highline Beta’s model for co-creation includes hiring a founder – and Greg Boutin was the right entrepreneur with the right experience for the job.

Instrumental in gaining traction, building momentum and developing robust relationships throughout the reinsurance industry, Greg setup Relay’s first pilots and ensured the product was on track, solving real problems and creating value for its customers.

“The beauty of this start-up creation process is that it cut the initial exploration and MVP development work by 1-2 years. I hit the ground running. I had a corporate partner (AmFam), an investor in Highline Beta, a team (5 people), an office and I didn’t have the constant stress of figuring out how to pay my bills. In a model like this, having two experienced partners on each side gives us the perfect quarterbacks to supercharge growth.

— Greg Boutin, CEO of Relay.

Impact: Relay has gotten to its seed round in <1 year

Relay has been selected by Plug and Play, a well known incubator, for their insurance program and the Global Insurance Accelerator for their InsurTech Week — proof that the insurance industry took Relay seriously. With that momentum under its belt, Relay recently announced a US$2M seed round, with investors including NFP Ventures, Highline Beta, AmFam and Plug and Play. Those funds will allow Relay to build out its team and scale in 2020.

“Relay originated in a collaboration between our innovation team and Highline Beta. As we realized the potential Relay held to deliver efficiencies and effectiveness gains for the whole industry, we decided to spin it off and are excited to witness the rapid market adoption of this elegant – and now independent – cloud-based solution. There is no question that complex risk transfers, whether in reinsurance or insurance, can benefit from the boost into modernity that Relay offers.”

Dan Reed, Managing Director, American Family Ventures

This success wouldn’t have been possible without co-creation.

For more information on Relay, please visit https://www.relayplatform.com or contact [email protected].

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