Co-founder and CEO of Aniline Kevin Gregson has over 30 years of experience in the insurance and financial services industry. He has worked in several executive capacities, including senior executive, public and private board director, insurance industry expert, and tech entrepreneur.
Kevin Gregson brings to Aniline his vast experience. He has “worked extensively with PE and Financial Ownership of Insurance Companies and C-suite executives specializing in complex global business and financial issues.” For the past several years, Kevin has “focused on identifying and commercializing new technology in the insurance industry,” which includes “building processes and structures to support sustainable innovation.”
Before Aniline, Kevin Gregson sat as director of the board for public and private companies. He has gained some experience in “taking public companies private, remediating and going public again.” Likewise, he holds “significant expertise in corporate governance, strategy and corporate development, mitigating enterprise risk, and financial and operational performance improvement.”
Also before Aniline, Kevin Gregson has “led efforts for Willis Towers Watson in identifying, developing and commercializing early stage Insurtech companies.” He has also “licensed, funded and operated a Bermuda-based insurance company focused on insuring and reinsuring bulk annuity contracts to finance significant pension liabilities in the private sector.”
It’s about resilience and maintaining proper perspective. Kevin Gregson, Aniline
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Kevin Gregson: I spent 35 years as a management consultant and recently ventured into the tech entrepreneur world.
In my last role, as Global Leader, Commercial and Client Development at Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory firm in Insurance, Brokerage and Human Capital, I was tasked with finding new technologies that enable acceleration of corporate innovation through startups. I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley hearing pitches from new companies. I noticed there were a lot of young, bright and talented technologists who were designing great technology, but it was based on flawed assumptions about the industry, due to gaps in domain expertise, and relied too heavily on solving negative personal experiences. That dynamic led to a crowded consumer focused segment and left a significant gap in B2B opportunities in the sector I knew best, insurance and HR based solutions. I saw this as an opportunity to begin Aniline, an analytics company that aggregates employee sentiment (i.e., what employees really think) across a number of publicly available sources, such as review sites. This data helps companies use sentiment to determine where the opportunities lie to create a better, more productive, and sustainable working environment.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Kevin Gregson: It was February 2020, and I had just finished putting together all the paperwork to begin raising the seed round funding for Aniline. I returned home to New York from Silicon Valley and within days of coming home, the world was turned upside down with COVID-19. Rather than be deterred by being locked down, I used this time as an opportunity to continue to refine Aniline’s business model, messaging, and began assembling the team that would form the core of the company.
In June, after the initial shock of COVID-19 had set in and we were all getting a bit more used to operating in the “new normal,” and the kinks of working from home began to get ironed out, we successfully raised our first round of capital. It was three months off schedule, but we kept at it, no matter what. The key is to be resilient, focus on the task at hand, and what you have control over rather than get caught up in what you don’t. Look out over the horizon at what the post-COVID world may look like, and what your business can do to improve this new world and work within whatever new guardrails may be put in place.
Where did I get the drive continue through a rough patch? I think we can all draw strength from personal experiences and other difficulties we may have experienced in our lives. In my case, both my younger brother and my mother succumbed to cancer at early ages. My brother at age 17, my mother at 59. It was devastating to our family. That’s hard, business is easy. It’s about resilience and maintaining proper perspective. There are always forces and events that are out of our control. What you can control is how you react to them, learn and play the hand you’re dealt the best way you can. One lesson I learned from that experience is to live and act with a sense of urgency.
It’s not about you, it’s about the customer.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Empathy. Have a deep understanding of your customer and meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. It’s not about you, it’s about the customer. Many companies become so focused on product and process they forget the customers and people they serve.
A shared vision of the future and the business. Including how you intend to impact the industry and the lives of the customers you serve. Internalize and repeat your purpose often and make sure everything you do aligns to it.
Alignment. You can’t be a great company unless you have alignment across the organization. As a leader, getting alignment can be time consuming, requires patience and energy. Yet, nothing will push a company to mediocrity faster than not having it. Alignment doesn’t mean, “no difference of opinion,” it means once differences are expressed, considered, and a path chosen, it’s time to get on board.
Execution. Sounds boring, but having seen many great ideas and charismatic leaders, nothing works unless you can execute on it. Execution is underrated as an operating principle and risk mitigator for investors.
Humility and gratitude. At a time when bravado seems to be the order of the day, humility and a willingness to learn from others is critical. You can learn from peers, team members, customers and the market. None of us has all the answers. Take feedback no matter how harsh — even if it’s Gordon Ramsey harsh. It’s often the most critical feedback that creates the desire to take you from good to great. Be grateful for the team, customers, investors and advocates you have. No one “has to” do anything. Don’t keep it to yourself, it helps to express that gratitude from time to time.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Kevin Gregson: Shared purpose is the strongest motivator for any endeavor. Just look across human history, the greatest achievements of countries and civilizations have been attained by people organized around a shared purpose. Commercial enterprises are no different. Some of the most significant changes in history come from small groups of highly motivated people focused on a shared purpose that gains momentum and turns into a movement or a highly successful commercial enterprise.
Shared purpose is the strongest motivator for any endeavor. Kevin Gregson
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Kevin Gregson: Not surprisingly, it’s down to value. If you can attract people with an introduction to your product so that it impresses them, it says to them: “If this is what they are giving me for free, I really need to see what I get when I have to pay!” It all boils down to that simple equation.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Kevin Gregson: In my view, there are three ways: Quality, Consistency and Respect. First, create a very high-quality product, without that you’re nowhere. Create trust by being consistent in delivering high quality. Then the customer knows what to expect and gets that and potentially more each time they engage with you. Most importantly, treat the customer with respect. Continue to try to win them each time they engage and don’t take them for granted. Every interaction is a chance to gain more trust or lose them completely.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!