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Founder Everywhere: Michael Konialian
Michael Konialian is the co-founder and CEO of Modern Life, a tech-enabled life insurance brokerage platform empowering today’s advisors with advanced technology.
Welcome to Founders Everywhere, where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at Everywhere Ventures, a global pre-seed fund supported by a community of 500 founders and operators.
Have you ever bought life insurance? Did you find the process to be daunting, or is it so intimidating that it’s still on your to-do list? If your answer is yes, then you’re not alone. Michael Konialian, CEO and co-founder of Modern Life, was floored by how challenging it was to purchase life insurance for his family. The process was so frustrating that he was inspired by the opportunity to dramatically transform the experience through technology.
Michael has a diverse background across various industries. Not only did he hold senior positions at successful fintech company CoverWallet, he also worked on space structures as an aerospace engineer and engaged in diplomacy for the U.S. Department of State. After his ordeal purchasing life insurance, he teamed up with friend and another fintech veteran Jack Arenas to build Modern Life, the tech-enabled life insurance brokerage platform. Their product focuses on the heart and soul of the life insurance industry - the advisors. Modern Life’s innovative solutions streamline and accelerate the process of purchasing life insurance, so you can get back to living life!
What is Modern Life’s “North Star”?
Our North Star is really empowering life insurance advisors - we think that the advisor is indispensable to the process. It’s a very complex product and it's very consequential for people and their families. It's also discretionary and famously something that's ‘sold, not bought.’ We want to arm the army, and really support the advisors. We’re working to accelerate the process of buying insurance, to make it go from something that takes months to something that takes minutes.
What sets Modern Life apart from competitors?
Many startups have tried to cut out the advisor, or treat them as another marketing channel similar to driving leads from Google or Facebook. We really have the opposite approach, where we think the much broader opportunity is through advisors, as they make up 90% of the market today. It’s a huge market - $150 billion in the U.S. We really ask ourselves, “What does the advisor need?”, rather than orienting around the specific insurance products. We provide choices and are really agnostic to the product, the carrier and the channel. We build for the needs of the advisor, to be able to help them give great quality advice to their clients and still have a streamlined process.
Tell us about a milestone that Modern Life just crushed.
We just launched to the public with $15M in funding led by Thrive Capital & 12 unicorn founders from Hippo, Plaid, Reddit, Flatiron Health, Newfront, At Bay, Vouch, Cedar, and Lattice. We’re excited to bring the best of technology, data, and design to streamline the process for advisors helping all of us who are purchasing life insurance.
How has your diverse background helped shape you as a founder?
I've always been in the position where I'm the least technical person in a technical audience and the most technical person in a non-technical audience. When I was at the U.S. State Department, one of the offices I worked in was half nuclear physicists and half lawyers. I'm neither, but I could comprehend what both were talking about enough to be able to synthesize and glean the relevant details for everyone else to understand. I've always been really happy being in that space. At Modern Life, I'm close to our technology, but I'm not an engineer. I'm also close to our brokerage and spend a lot of time speaking with the advisors and carriers we work with. While I am a licensed insurance agent, I’m not yet an expert. That in-between zone is a place I’ve been happy in across my career.
Any books you can recommend to other founders?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a classic and worth reading. The book Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street focuses on talent development and recruiting and we’ve used that extensively. It’s been really helpful, not just for executive recruiting, but for the whole team.