Will Shaw’s journey to entrepreneurship is far from typical. The former Youngstown State football team captain was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and played special teams and tight-end until 2014. After sustaining an injury, Will decided it was time for a career change.
He landed a role at Infusionsoft (now Keap) doing consulting and implementations for customers. After a couple of years, Will decided to venture down the path of entrepreneurship, creating a marketing agency that served insurance agents. He successfully grew that business, but after realizing some of the problems facing insurance agents, he decided to build a software solution now known as Better Agency, a marketing, prospecting, sales, and retention platform aimed at helping independent insurance agencies.
Despite being “cash-strapped,” Will has managed to grow Better Agency at a rapid pace, achieving 250% growth in 2020 and is projecting to hit $50,000 monthly recurring revenue (MRR) by the end of the year.
In this edition of Collective Conversations, Will talked with us about why he started Better Agency, what’s next, and his advice for entrepreneurs in Arizona.
Why did you start Better Agency?
It’s a long story, but the short version is in my previous life, I played in the NFL and got injured. My wife was working at Infusionsoft (now Keap) and got me a job there. I did implementations and consulting for customers for a few years. After that, I started a marketing agency geared toward the insurance agency space and grew a team there.
When I left that agency, I decided to create a software company based on the needs we found in the insurance space. That’s where Better Agency came in.
What was your launch process like?
We came up with the idea in January 2019, started development in June 2019, and then launched what we called our MVP in October of that year. In January 2020, we really started to open up and ramp up our sales.
How have things been going since launch?
It has been great so far. We’ve achieved about 250% growth this year so far, and we’re growing at about 10% month over month. We intend to hit $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue by the end of the year.
What have some of the challenges been?
Well, there are challenges that come with starting any software company, like development and staffing. For us, we self-funded our company, so we’ve followed the lean startup method. We didn’t have the funds to go through multiple iteration cycles and long development cycles, but I believe this helped us really get to know our customers and take their feedback seriously. We’ve had to be very nimble and quick on our feet. I guess you could say our biggest challenge so far is being cash-strapped, but it has also been a major driver of our success.
How do you go about getting that customer feedback?
We try to do some of it automatically, but in my role as CEO, I spend at least a couple hours per day speaking with customers. It’s something we take very seriously. I don’t think there’s a better use of my time than hearing from our customers that are paying us money and trying to use our system about what we can improve. Whether it’s our onboarding, training material, or product, we want to improve it and solve problems.
People often think one-to-one conversations aren’t scalable, but I don’t think there is a better way to collect feedback and really take your time to understand what a customer is going through. If you can find out their difficulties and problems, and then solve those problems, you’re going to have a lot of success.
What sets Better Agency apart from others?
For insurance agencies, we deliver a solution that allows them to manage their core functions with one platform when they normally might have to manage 5-10 different platforms. We handle the three core phases –– sales, service, and retention–– with one application, which allows their entire organization to run, work, and communicate on one platform. It brings a level of operational efficiency.
What’s been the best thing to happen since you launched?
It’s been our customer testimonials. Having our customers telling us, “This is what it has done for us,” is really cool. Things like customers telling us their retention rates have gone up from 93% to 98% and how much it means to their business, or them having an operational efficiency that allows them not to go hire somebody right away and save on that expense, or just increasing their sales coming in through the door. Those are the cool stories because at the end of the day we serve independent insurance agencies, which are often very local. We think it’s great to be helping a small business operate at high efficiency.
What prompted you to join the StartupAZ Collective and what have you gotten out of it?
I originally applied because I knew other people in past cohorts who recommended it, and it’s really been a game-changer to join such a great community.
In the short time I’ve been a part of it, it’s made a big difference because you are with other people who have all been through it before, and you can see the pitfalls, trials, and success they’ve been through. To be able to get that feedback from people who have been there before is valuable beyond measure.
Was there anything that surprised you about the StartupAZ Collective?
Some of the collective members are so impressive that it made us feel like we weren’t even running a legit business. Some of them are running award-winning businesses. Some have grown and sold previous companies. And some are changing the entire landscape of their industry. I’m just so impressed by the level of success and intelligence. I knew I would be but just not at this level.
Is there any advice you have for fellow Arizona entrepreneurs?
Two things I heard a lot when we started out is that Phoenix isn’t a tech hub that produces a lot of successful startups, and that if you’re trying to raise money, Arizona is not the place to do it.
I think those two things are absolutely, positively false. First, Arizona is a much larger tech hub than people realize, especially with businesses doing between $5-20 million annually. Second, there is plenty of investor money available in Arizona.
I would argue that Arizona is one of the best tech hubs in the country for entrepreneurs.
What’s next for Better Agency?
Right now we are beginning to open up a seed round. We plan on raising somewhere in the range of $400,000, which will let us double down on our product development and make some key hires.
We already have 10-12 full-time and part-time employees, and that will probably grow to 15 by year’s end. Having cash on hand will be huge as we teeter with being a bootstrap startup and actually raising money to double down and be able to hire the team we need. We have a new product release that we'll be rolling out in the new year that we're already starting to work on. We’re super excited.