Gary Hoberman: CEO and Founder of Unqork: Accelerating innovation with no-code

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This week's episode, recorded in February 2020 - is a great lesson in the "art of the possible" when it comes to having, and delivering on a bold vision. 

CEO & founder Gary Hoberman and his team have raised more than $150m for Unqork since the company was founded in 2017, to provide "no code" solutions to insurers.

Today the company is working with a number of insurers, and at scale. Wondering if legacy is still a problem? Keep listening.  

Topics include:

  • what no-code actually means
  • how companies are managing the move from legacy systems
  • making an impact with key decision-makers and investors
  • building a business and team at speed

Accelerating innovation with no-code - Episode 73 highlights

What does no-code actually mean? Why are you finding that it is helping you to make progress with your clients? 

We believe a business doesn't know what they need until it's in production. It's in their hands. This is a fundamental shift in technology in that essence, meaning Agile is too slow and Waterfall's way too slow to deliver technology. 

If the business doesn't know what it needs until it's in production, there is no way to change that easily. Code is an immovable object, it's a security risk, it's got compliance and controls.

We built the concept of no-code, which is a visual drag-and-drop enterprise tool that allows whoever knows what needs to be done, to take control and drag-and-drop to create that solution without ever thinking again about code, or programming, or fundamental concepts and algorithms.

Is this a solution for legacy or is it a question of having to start afresh to be successful?

Most initiatives I've seen fail or written off in my life were because we couldn't integrate it back into the way the business functioned.

We built integration to be nothing but a drag-and-drop exercise, where you map fields and data, and everything else is done magically by Unqork.

What's different about us is while we could integrate into the tens of thousands of legacy systems each company is running today, we also could become their core system and be the books and records of holding their data.

We're doing that for companies like Goldman Sachs, who's an investor, was a client first and other Fortune 100 companies.

What we're finding customers do is start to migrate their core functionality into Unqork, so their administrative systems and core legacy are doing less behind the scenes to the point they're eventually replaced by Unqork.

How have you managed to move so quickly with companies that have very long procurement cycles? 

In the first meeting with a customer, we do most of the work in the platform to show it's real and build an application.

The second they see it's real, you would be surprised how fast we can expedite through procurement. A very large insurer in the US went live in two months from the first meeting to production. 

It's really about understanding the way companies work. Even the largest Large Cap companies in the world don't understand the way software is actually being built today. They don't understand the pain points.

How much help do companies need with the installing and configuring Unqork? 

With Goldman's Series A investment in April 2019, we were able to invest in building the platform to be self-service.

There is an Unqork Academy site where we've trained over 2500 people and 1000 of those in-person, in building technology and applications.

We also have strategic integrators, including Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, Cognizant and Virtusa, who have embraced this and said their customers love Unqork.

Those companies and more are building their own platforms on Unqork for mortgage servicing, mortgage origination, LIBOR, claims processing and admin systems. 

So you've got a very powerful virtual sales force out there through the consulting organisations?

We do, and we started the company with a very different concept. We were going to get revenue first, and we had revenue from four of the largest insurers before we raised a single dollar.

Our original business plan hasn't deviated once since we went live, and it just keeps expanding with further tentacles and industries.

You served 16 years at Citibank and were CIO at MetLife four years. How did you make the move to starting your own business?

It's been a journey I've been on and I've always looked to build solutions that allow us to be more effective.

I invented something called Grand Central in Citi which was powering 1300 applications and another thing called City Market Place. I invented something called web frame, which became the way everyone talks to the mainframe COBOL programs back in 1999, for the web.

For me, going from 10,000 people to one to two to three, to now 225 has been one of the most exciting journeys. We're creating new opportunities for people and bringing in talent better than any Fortune 50 company could ever bring in.

We brought on the most incredible investors at our seed round in March 2018, we brought on Goldman Sachs in April 2019 and we brought on CapitalG, which is Alphabet and Google, in September 2019. 

It's a tremendous story. Can you explain what is CapitalG looking for in their investments?

What we loved about CapitalG was their diligence process. They brought all their top engineers who said we had built the next wave of software development, that this is the way software is going to be written in the future.

We are excited by Google because of their technologies, Google Cloud, the vision, the AI, the machine learning, their capabilities are incredible.

Laela Sturdy from Google is one of our board members. We also have Paul Walker, who ran all of Goldman Sachs Technology in his past life, as an independent board member. 

Your team was over London recently. How do you compare what's happening in the UK and Europe versus what you're seeing in the US?

The problems that companies are facing in the UK are the same problems we see here in the US. The inability of technology to solve the problems and many of those problems are because companies believe they are special in their requirements and needs, and very different from each other.

When there's no more coding, when customisations which typically require a code become no cost, it means you could be a special as you need to be. From that point of view, the London market is wide-open for us to explore. 

There are lots of companies out there offering commentary solutions. Are you looking to integrate with analytical and data companies? 

We're more than happy to work with any software company, insurtech company on using Unqork internally. I love the ideas being generated from these insurtechs in the way they function in the way they work. 

The challenge I have is around the in-carriers’ purposes of investing in these companies if they do it from their own venture arm.

A lot of the insurtechs you see being acquired by large carriers, I do question the value that they have and evaluation aspect, if they're not an independent platform.

I worry a little bit about the insurtech game as to whether or not they're making these companies, which could be amazing industry solutions, a single carrier solution in the future.

In terms of running Unqork, what's the top tip you can give people to be able to move more quickly and bring their teams with them?

The major lesson we've deployed in Unqork is we all have a natural bias to hire people like ourselves. When you meet someone and you interview them, if you like them, it's because they might look and sound like you. And it's a natural bias.

The one commitment I made early on was that no one working directly for me should be anything like me in any way, shape, or form. we have diversity of thought built into the culture.

There are two main values that we target, which is to change an industry and to disrupt enterprise technology.

Defining those values in a company in which no one is like you, and everyone below you is not like you, is probably the most critical thing for any business to deliver against.

How do you keep up with everything that's happening with technology outside of the business, particularly in the world of insurance?

The word "digital" to me really means listening. Listening to customers, clients, your team, and everyone in the company. I have coffee with all the new employees one-on-one when they come in.

Listening means listening to the industry, hearing the pain points, and understanding where they are. We always ask a simple question to CEOs. What’s your biggest problem and where can we help you? We’re not telling someone their problems; we’re asking and understanding.

You've got a big following on LinkedIn. How do you use LinkedIn as an effective business-learning tool?

LinkedIn allows us to reach our customers, potential customers, and leverage it in the way it was designed for, connecting people in networks and sharing.

You'll start to see us share more stories and conversations on there, as well as LinkedIn Live, where we’re going to do our first video posting and some streaming.

Our LinkedIn network, which is incredible, are people looking at us and saying, "This is the future of disruption, this is Disruption 2.0.”

As Greg Larkin said, the new face is people that understand my problems and understand my needs, fixing it, instead of vendors making money off of those inefficiencies, which is traditionally how it's been functioning and working.

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