“Bestow was built for those you love. That’s why we’re making it faster, easier and more affordable to protect them. Through the use of data and artificial intelligence, we built a company dedicated to helping more families plan for an uncertain future because everyone deserves the protection that comes from having a plan.“
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jonathan Abelmann, Co-founder and President of Bestow, to chat about being ranked 2nd by Forbes as one of America’s Best Startup Employers of 2021, and how culture plays a pivotal role in building a successful company that will endure.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Forbes recently ranked you as the second-best start-up to work for in the U.S., Can you share with us how you achieved this and was it a goal when starting Bestow?
Jonathan: Bestow was founded on core principles that define our culture, and we aim to attract the best talent across diverse backgrounds who embody those principles. That results in a mission-driven team that is passionate, authentic, and successful at solving challenging problems that positively impact society and families.
Learning that Bestow was awarded the #2 spot on Forbes’ Best Startup Employers List among 2,500 companies is a nice surprise and an honour. We give all credit to our team — they’re incredibly talented and great to work with every day. As we’re growing quickly, we continue to identify opportunities to evolve and improve along our journey. It’s an exciting time to be at Bestow, and awards like this help spread the word.
Can you share Bestow’s core values and how important it is to communicate this to your employees and, more importantly, your customers?
Jonathan: An internal motto is to make hard things easier. Our customers experience this by getting coverage in 5 minutes instead of 5 weeks. It also speaks to the benefit of life insurance as a product, easing the financial burden after the passing of a loved one and when a family needs support the most. Our team’s daily actions bring this to life — whether that’s building infrastructure to automate manual tasks, continually optimizing underwriting to expand eligibility, or creating software to expand channels. Bestow also has 10 principles:
I’ll spare you the long-form details and definitions of each principle here, but these are often referenced when challenging ideas, interviewing candidates, or in performance reviews. Certainly, the application of principles starts with us as founders. But it’s only cemented in culture to the extent the entire team strives to embody them regularly. While we don’t always get it right, we’re constantly looking for opportunities to iterate and improve.
Do you think building a mission-driven company that protects and supports so many people and families cultivates a great work culture?
Jonathan: This has been our experience. Many of our team members and leaders joined Bestow instead of other companies because of our mission and the opportunity to directly impact customers in a very tangible way. What did Steve Job ask John Scully? “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” Great companies leverage their advantages, and a clear mission and tangible customer impact are powerful.
Could you talk about the process by which you came to understand that culture was important to Bestow and building a company?
Jonathan: A distinct and attractive culture was critical to the success of previous companies we founded, and proved to be a key ingredient to attracting and retaining talent. But culture isn’t something you architect. In our experience, culture is the product of our collective daily actions. Since, at its core, our mission is about helping others, we find that people attracted to it also organically build and foster a healthy, happy culture.
Hiring is such an important ingredient when building a business that will endure; how important is cultural fit when hiring employees?
Jonathan: Hiring and retaining top talent is of paramount importance for us at Bestow. We have 10 principles because we believe the manner and degree to which individuals contribute at a high level are broad. We’re not hiring for one type. We strive to approach problem-solving from a diverse set of perspectives, have empathy for the substantive impact these products have on our communities and possess an entrepreneurial spirit to challenge the status quo. The people we hire are helping us grow the business and are shaping the culture for years to come.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jonathan: There are too many people to count whose contributions over time proved instrumental to our journey. I’ll put family and co-founders aside since they categorically are my strongest supporters and deserve any credit I receive.
One story that comes to mind is about Carl, my boss at my first job out of college. I thought I hit the jackpot getting a job at a prestigious Wall Street investment bank, and I still believe I did in many ways. But despite attracting legions of overachievers, first-year investment banking analysts are at the bottom of the investment banking cultural hierarchy. So the expectation was that first-year analysts sat silently in meetings, against the wall (never at the conference table), and took notes. Or they worked all day and night on financial models and presentations, carrying them to an offsite meeting across town, never actually attending the meeting.
However, Carl was a different type of leader. He brought me into meetings where I sat with him at the table with clients. Sometimes he would ask for my opinion, and I could feel the room shift toward me, waiting for something valuable to come out…not sure what my hit rate was! Carl asked me to jump on client phone calls with him, working through complex financial solutions and finessing relationships. I absorbed more, learned faster, and gained confidence. After 6 months, sometimes I ran meetings with clients when Carl was double booked. Even though Carl could have treated me like everyone else, he didn’t. Our team was a meritocracy, and he anticipated that I would rise to his expectations. That has become a core tenet in my leadership style, investing in people, expecting a lot, and trying to give them space to perform in their own ways.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson”? Can you share how that was relevant to becoming one of the best start-ups to work for?
Jonathan: In my family growing up, I was always the kid who set big goals and worked the long game. Maybe it was a pair of Air Jordans that took me 6 months to save for. My mountain bike took me over a year of washing cars, pulling weeds, etc. When Melbourne and I founded Bestow, we aimed to build a transformational company because we believed, as we still do, that the opportunity before us was rare and the potential extraordinary. Significant change can require long-term investments that don’t pay back immediately. VCs don’t like to hear that while competitors are knocking down vanity metrics. But we found investors who saw the opportunity the way we did. And we found employees and leaders who did too. So we were contrarians at the time, maybe a bit more popular now as those investments start to return in meaningful and differentiated ways. The most valuable reward is in the journey, which we can share with an immensely talented team.
The Morpheus Team