S3E14: Ilya Bodner on Building Bold Penguin
From U.S. immigrant to insurance agent to startup founder.
On this episode, Gregory sits down with Ilya Bodner, founder of Bold Penguin, an insurtech startup company helping businesses, agents, and carriers streamline the commercial insurance experience. Ilya shares his unique story about immigrating to the United States, starting his career as an insurance agent, and becoming a startup founder. Ilya explains how Bold Penguin is pushing through barriers for agents and carriers in the commercial space. He also shares advice for other startup founders and entrepreneurs.
Ilya immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan with his family in 1993. He says that he grew up “average.” Having parents who didn’t speak English was a tricky thing, but they got through it. His role models growing up — his father, brothers, and uncles — were small business owners. The notion of working hard to achieve the American Dream was something he was surrounded by.
One of his good friends immigrated with him, and the two brainstormed exactly how to achieve that American Dream. After attending The Ohio State University, Ilya found that their ability to build relationships and sell set them up to be great insurance agents.
As an insurance agent, Ilya saw the challenges presented by legacy systems and the more complicated nuances of selling insurance across the board. He set out to make marginal improvements in a space where the same issues kept cropping up — a lack of data and a lack of technology. He built Bold Penguin as a SaaS for insurance professionals in commercial insurance.
Ilya started his career with the “hand-to-hand combat” of selling insurance and dealing with underwriters at a home office dealing with personal lines. Through this experience, he saw that the need for trusted advisors wasn’t going anywhere. He also saw that the means and channels of delivering advice was changing. He set out to build a non-intrusive tool that would help agents do quoting and binding faster, easier, and simpler. This results in a win for the customer because of a smoother purchasing experience, and a win for the company due to data flow, cost savings, and a faster process. Commercial insurance producers can log in and interact with everyone they need to: customers, underwriters, data companies — all under one roof.
An interesting feature of Bold Penguin is that the tech savvy companies in the space don’t have to use Bold Penguin’s platform directly. They can pull from their API the data they need.
And the name? Well, the thinking was to stand out in an ever-growing insurance space, a company either needs to be patriotic with bold colors or have an animal in the name. After choosing a penguin and watching a documentary about how penguins will crowd the edge of an iceberg, waiting for that one bold bird to jump in (either to find fish or be eaten by a sea lion) before all the others follow, the name was sealed.