Jared and Eric co-founded AKKO, the Spotify for protection plans. They’re bundling together protection for all your most valuable personal possessions and they're already 20+ people on the team. They just raised a $3M seed funding round with Fika Ventures and Pear VC.
Hi Eric & Jared! Who are you and what are you currently working on?
We are Jared Brier and Eric Schneider, and we’re the co-founders and co-CEOs of AKKO, the Spotify for protection plans. Just as Spotify bundled together all the songs people wanted to hear in one convenient package, we’re bundling together protection for all your most valuable personal possessions – starting with your phone, but including up to 25 other items, including laptops, TVs, audio equipment, sports gear, and much more.
Before AKKO, as folks currently know it, we were making a physical product in the vein of a smart lock. In researching warranties for that product, we realized there had to be something better out there – and since there wasn’t, we decided to make it. Once we came up with this idea, we knew we had to pivot and throw ourselves into this fully, which is exactly what we’ve done.
We’ve scaled up from humble beginnings and now have thousands of customers nationwide, plus some major partnerships and new seed capital enabling us to continue growing steadily and developing the AKKO platform to be even better at suiting the needs of our partners and customers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Jared: I come from a background in branding and digital marketing, but I’ve always had a passion for making music. Strangely, that’s why this all happened – I was sick of all the confusing, expensive, and unnecessarily complicated warranty plans for all my music gear, plus my phone, my laptop, and so on. I knew there had to be a way to make this better for me as the customer, and when I found out that the product I wanted didn’t exist, I decided to build it.
Eric: Out of college, I was originally a jet engine engineer with GE Aviation, but I ended up moving into management consulting and venture capital while attending Harvard Business School. When Jared told me about his concept of bundling device protection this way, I knew immediately that this was the kind of big idea that I was looking to execute and help reach its fullest potential. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
Jared: We initially launched direct to consumer, which wasn’t necessarily the best approach for us, but because the product is so compelling, we ended up getting a lot of inbound interest and business partners. That made us realize that organizations all across the country wanted the same thing we did – a single, seamless way to protect the devices of their customers, members, students, or teams.
Eric: That led us to build an entire platform to service B2B and B2B2C opportunities, and at this point, we’re truly a universal platform that sits at the center of our repair-shop partners, underwriting options, customers, and business partners.
How did you go from idea to product?
Eric: We first tested the concept by partnering with an established insurance company in the student property protection space. Once we saw the initial response to the product and the areas where we needed more flexibility, we switched to a new underwriting partner that allowed us to take over full control of the program and create completely customized protection and a far better customer and claim experience.
Jared: The biggest question was, how do you scale an amazing customer experience using tech? From Day 1, our focus was on the design and user experience of a tech platform that would make it easy for users to inventory and protect their items, all in one place. The goal was for our users never to worry or wonder about what was protected and what wasn’t and to give them a single destination for all their support questions, repairs, and replacements.
Eric: Since launching, we’ve gotten picked up organically by several news outlets that recognized the uniqueness of our approach and how much more customer-friendly it is. That resulted in a massive rise in customer and brand awareness, signups, partnerships, etc. Our collaboration with the Repairs First Association has been particularly beneficial because we can sell plans through hundreds of local repair shops and send customers to them when they make repair claims. The focus on the claims experience that they’ve enabled has been enormous for us.
What were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Eric: All the inbound interest we were receiving made us quickly see that we needed to form partnerships with businesses and influencers who recognize the value of AKKO and want to offer it to their users, viewers, etc. We have these differentiators and a unique product, but it’s been about spreading the word and building a customer base that’s allowed us to achieve a sort of critical mass.
Jared: We initially focused on students and marketing directly through and at their schools, but we found that wasn’t the best avenue for us. We started to see more adoption when we appealed instead directly to parents and administrators, who are more inclined to see the value in the protection that AKKO offers.
Eric: That was also when we added the adult and family AKKO plans, which expanded our customer base far beyond our initial implementation. It turned out that once we’d built the product, all we had to do to succeed was find our audience – which turned out to be just about everyone.
Jared: We’ve been working on marketing via social media and just generally trying to grow our presence as well. We’re in an interesting position as a young company that’s seen a big jump in revenue because we’ve grown our customer base pretty rapidly. Now we’re being mentioned among the industry giants. So we always feel we have to go that extra mile to demonstrate to prospective customers that even though we’re a new face in a space dominated by the old guard, we’re legit and reliable, and we keep our promises.
How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?
Eric: We’re now in all 50 states and Canada. As mentioned, we’ve partnered with over 500 repair shops around the country through Repairs First. We’re ramping up hiring and partnerships with businesses and schools. We have 20+ people on our team right now, spread from New York to Hawaii. As far as goals, our growth has been inbound requests, and we want to get more outbound sales going.
Jared: We already have a great platform that’s seamless and easy to use, but we’re almost ready to deploy a new partner portal that further streamlines our partners’ ability to sell plans and track claims, making the experience on all sides even smoother. We also recently completed a seed funding round with Fika Ventures and Pear VC, which has enabled us to continue scaling up and keep up with our growth.
Eric: What we’ve done, despite not necessarily embarking on the journey with that goal in mind, is build an ecosystem. All of our repair-shop partners, our underwriters, our customers, and our other partners (universities, businesses, etc.) all live in the AKKO ecosystem with us now, and that enables everything we’re doing. The product sounds simple on the surface, but that’s exactly what the technology and the platform have allowed us to do – decomplicate what had been an overly complicated process for everyone involved.
Since starting AKKO, what have been your main lessons?
Jared: Our team is entirely remote right now, which is only partly a function of the pandemic. We’ve found that it’s essential to focus on building culture and community, and it’s also crucial to give our employees flexibility in terms of their location and their hours and roles.
We’re genuinely interested in their well-being because we care about them and think it makes us better as a company. The customer experience isn’t just about our direct interactions with the customer. It’s holistic. How we work with employees and teammates, how we work with partners and providers – all that goes into forming the customer experience, and none of it can be ignored.
Eric: We’ve learned not only that we have to be flexible but also that we have to be open to being wrong. In any business, but especially ours, you’ve got to listen to the customers’ needs and adjust accordingly. Always put yourself in the place of the customer. Since Jared and I come from non-insurance backgrounds, we always come at everything from the customer’s perspective. Would I use this product? Do I get what it is and how it benefits me? What’s the cleanest, quickest way that I would want to see things handled if my phone broke or was stolen?
And in doing that, we’ve discovered that a great customer experience not only helps you attract and retain customers but it also makes you an attractive partner for other businesses. Everyone wants to work with you when you’re doing things the right way.
What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?
Jared: As we mentioned earlier, we’d started explicitly as a student plan. We had a partnership with the University of Central Florida, and we were marketing it to the students directly. That ended up being a pilot program that taught us what was working and what wasn’t. Selling to students directly was challenging because they didn’t know a lot about warranties, so we started integrating transparency and education about how insurance works in our product. And, of course, working more with students’ parents and school administrators helped us achieve better results.
Eric: Once we decided to expand and go national, we had to learn how to find our customers. You might think that our base of potential customers is everyone, but it’s tough to appeal to everyone at once, so we tried to hit a number of highly specific demographics. It was like, “Okay, musicians will want this, and extreme-sports enthusiasts will want this,” and so on. So we tried appealing to these somewhat niche groups, but it didn’t work. But we learned a lot about our customers, and we learned not to make assumptions about consumer behavior and purchasing decisions without the data to back them up.
What tools & resources do you recommend?
Eric: I’m a poker enthusiast, and I always come back to one particular lesson from the book Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, who’s a very famous professional poker player. In poker, you don’t often have the luxury of a sure thing; you have to play the odds, and if you do that efficiently over a long period, you come out on top. So what Annie Duke advises, and this is a great life lesson in general, is to think about things in terms of the process rather than the outcome. If you make a tough call and it’s the right one, it doesn’t stop being the right one because of extenuating circumstances or luck. In the same way, if you make the wrong call and luck out anyway, you still made the wrong call, and if you keep doing that, your luck will run out eventually. Keep making the right calls, and even if they don’t all generate the results you wanted, the general effect is that you’re going to move in the right direction.
Jared: I know this might sound a little banal, but sometimes, the correct answer is right in front of you: the internet. I can’t tell you how useful it was simply to use Google to learn about our competition, their offerings, their marketing strategies, and so on. I didn’t come from within the insurance or warranty industry, so I had to learn how it works from scratch, and I was able to do that right from my home office. Similarly, I didn’t go to school for web design – I learned how to build an effective, enterprise-grade website all on my own. The tools are out there for anyone to learn an industry and start a business.
Eric: I’ll add that building relationships is always positive, even if they might not seem like they can directly boost your business at the moment. So many interesting people are working on building revolutionary products; so many people have compelling skill sets and life stories. You can learn a lot from people when you come at them with a curious mindset rather than a transactional one, and you’ll be surprised how those lessons and those relationships can end up benefiting you down the line.