Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Brian Anderson at Nationwide Ventures, and David Lyman & David Tobias of Betterview.
Brian Anderson, Nationwide Ventures
Give us some background on Nationwide: How did the firm start, what is your mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?
Nationwide Ventures is the venture capital arm of Nationwide, one of the largest insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. We started deploying capital in 2016 and focused initially only on early-stage companies. Today, we take a slightly broader approach – both with the stage of company maturity and thematic focus. Today we look at industries and technologies that impact our customers but might not be directly in the insurtech or fintech space.
For example, we invested in Flo (acquired by MOEN in 2020), an IoT/hardware startup that remotely monitors water usage, leaks, and plumbing in the home using machine learning (ML) and dynamic home water profiling – this approach allowed the device to understand when and when not to shut off water in the home based on each home’s unique seasonal ML profile remotely and automatically (after a training period). Flo prevents >90% of non-weather-related water damage, and helps customers avoid the hassle of water damage and potential insurance claims.
We also grew to expand into growth-stage investments in companies such as Beam Dental, Hover, BlueVine, Extend, etc. In 2021, Nationwide increased our venture capital strategy to $350 million in 2021.
What does Nationwide look for in a partner when choosing to invest in a company?
We look for two things:
- a path to a financial return that we believe in
- companies who have multiple paths to strategic partnership with Nationwide and we have some strong domain knowledge around
Of course, there are many categories of diligence inside that including mission and vision, distribution strategy/go-to-market, company pace of change, durable economic or talent advantages among many others. But, in the absence of both return and mutual strategic value, we’re just not going to pursue an investment. On the strategic side, about 25% of the companies we’ve invested in have formed partnerships with our business leaders.
Nationwide has several investment domains in which we specialize these include insurance / financial services infrastructure, small-medium size business-based fintech, cybersecurity, and cyber risk management, technologies at the intersection of money and management of a home, and products and solutions related to living in retirement.
We are usually doing “sprints” throughout the year on domains and sub-domains to sharpen up our assumptions, market landscapes, and even add new areas.
What does Nationwide value? What do you value in the Betterview team?
The Betterview team is a great mosaic of next-generation ML skill in geospatial data; strong product management capabilities; and critically deep insurance industry understanding which enables them to productize their insight in a software platform which is integrated into the common enterprise software core infrastructure. They’re efficient, focused on growth, and understand how to build a team and culture that is self-sustaining, and not only that they take nothing for granted … especially their customers.
How does Nationwide support its portfolio companies? How does it help entrepreneurs grow and advance the VC industry?
When investing in, or partnering with, a company, Nationwide’s venture capital team brings our expertise, network, and transparency to help the portfolio companies navigate through and within our sector.
We endeavor to be one of a startups’ closest advisors who are:
- focused on what’s best for the company
- long-term minded
- highly engaged/interested
An investor will never be as deep or knowledgeable about a company as the management team – we all know this, but there are times when having the intimacy of knowledge and the strategic distance as an investor can be of value for a startup team whose time is over-taxed, charged with team dynamics, and brutally focused on hitting key milestones. We aspire to be direct and honest when those commodities can be hard to find.
David Lyman & David Tobias, Betterview
What is the mission of your company and how did you start? How has your partnership with Nationwide helped you fulfill your mission?
Betterview is the Property Intelligence & Risk Platform that leading P&C insurance companies depend on to identify and mitigate risk, improve operational and inspection efficiency, and build a more transparent customer experience throughout the policy lifecycle. By empowering insurers to automate pricing, underwriting, and renewal while focusing strategic action on critical properties, Betterview is transforming the insurance industry from Repair and Replace to Predict and Prevent.
Betterview began in 2014 in response to feedback Dave Tobias was repeatedly receiving from insurance companies needing better insight on the condition of roofs during the property inspection process. Growing up in and eventually running his family’s insurance inspection business, Dave had first-hand experience with the problem. Their customers also generally needed more data about properties they were insuring much earlier in their process. Dave got together with David Lyman, who had deep experience in saleably bringing insight and action to large quantities of data, to develop the solution to these inspection problems — Betterview.
Nationwide’s combination of capital investment and deep industry expertise has been pivotal to Betterview’s growth. Without the financial support, we would not be able to build and sustain the great product we have today.
In addition, the input and insights many people at Nationwide have been gracious to share have helped shape what we have built and delivered to Nationwide and the broader insurance industry.
We are excited to have helped our strategic partner save millions in predictable losses and look forward to expanding our offerings and use cases providing even greater ROI.
Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next five years?
Our team is helping transform the entire P&C insurance industry from operating in a Repair & Replace capacity to a more proactive Predict & Prevent model. It is essential that insurance companies quickly respond to losses when they happen, but there is a huge opportunity to prevent those avoidable losses instead. Betterview can identify which properties are at an elevated risk and provides the tools to help manage that risk.
For instance, if a property is in a geography susceptible to high winds and its roof is in bad shape, an insurance company work with the insured or agent explaining why it is crucial to replace the roof before the next big storm. Or, if a property is an area that is vulnerable to wildfire, there can be open, transparent discussion around increasing defensible space, including specific recommendations on what vegetation to remove.
Five years from now, our goal is that we have empowered insurance companies to be partners in risk management with their insureds. Insureds will see their carrier as helpful, when they file a claim, not potential adversaries. There is a huge opportunity to help people stay in their homes and keep their businesses up and running by ensuring the structures they rely on are resilient in the face of inclement weather and other human-driven events.
What problem is your company trying to solve?
While there are myriad valuable data sources available to insurance companies, it is formidable to leverage all that data at scale successfully. Bringing that data together into one platform driving automated workflows and human analysis when needed enables a deep understanding of properties at insurance industry scale. Additionally, leveraging high-resolution aerial imagery and geospatial data of properties at scale has proven especially challenging.
Until recently, people analyzed imagery manually. Fortunately, considerable advancements in AI and computer vision make it possible to train models that interpret the data consistently and instantly. Betterview has brought these capabilities together, empowering carriers to know more about the properties they insure as soon as possible and making it easier to act and most importantly, help prevent avoidable losses.
How has Nationwide impacted your company’s future for the better?
Nationwide has been a tremendous partner the past four years as an investor and even prior. Our friends and trusted advisors at Nationwide have provided valuable input to help drive our product development and invaluable guidance on working with various stakeholders to establish a healthy business relationship between our two organizations. We have applied many of these learnings to help grow our business with other carriers and grow our product to become the leading platform for understanding property intelligence and risk.
Robin serves as the Communications Manager at the National Venture Capital Association, where she enhances day-to-day external and internal relations for NVCA while utilizing her expertise in content creation, storytelling, and data to elevate NVCA’s long-term communications strategy. As a conscientious leader, Robin is integral to the forward-looking investments NVCA makes in the greater venture capital and startup communities.