“You can have all of the fancy marketing you want but if you don’t have happy clients, none of it matters.”
Ernie Bray is a high-energy entrepreneur and CEO of ACD, a leading Insurtech company based in San Diego, California.
Ernie has been the driving force in helping grow ACD from a bootstrapped startup into the preeminent virtual claims provider in the auto insurance industry. He is a highly sought after expert in insurance, business strategy, sales, leadership, marketing & entrepreneurship.
Ernie currently writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, TechCrunch, HuffPost, TechCo and Business.com. He’s a top 100 global Insurtech influencer and has led ACD to six annual rankings on the Inc. 5000, four years on Deloitte’s Tech Fast-500 and Entrepreneur Magazine’s, “Best Entrepreneurial Companies In America”.
Ernie has received recognition including 2012 Insurance Industry Executive of the Year at the American Business Awards, finalist for Most Admired CEO on three different occasions and 2016 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist in San Diego.
Ernie produces BrayTV, a video series of tips for entrepreneurs and chronicles the challenges of building a company. He also hosts a Q&A channel on Quora and is the author of “The Entrepreneur’s Field Manual.”
Where did the idea for ACD come from?
I’d been working in the auto insurance claims industry for about seven years but I was never satisfied with just being a corporate employee because whenever I’d see inefficiency it would frustrate me. Often, those who were promoted to leadership at insurance companies weren’t necessarily the most qualified and forward-thinking and it lead to poor performance for the claims department. One day it dawned on me when seeing how paper centric and antiquated the vehicle loss process was that I spotted an opportunity. There was a need for a company to combine technology & services into one efficient solution that really optimized the process. I then made it my goal to launch a company that would solve this problem. ACD was born!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day as CEO revolves around keeping a pulse on all departments within my company, conducting multiple meetings (which I like to keep short), holding strategy sessions and focusing on new product development. I also carve out time to write each day for about 30 minutes to keep the creativity flowing. I feel it’s vital to be a thought leader in one’s industry and I enjoy contributing in that manner as well. To balance everything, you have to be extremely organized and I focus on making progress every day in each area within the company. I’m not satisfied unless I feel the company is pushing ahead and building momentum. My job is to be the driving force of the company. Another quick tip is that I walk every day and have phone meetings during that time so I knock out some fitness while getting work done. It’s a quick one-two punch to productivity.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am constantly thinking about how to improve our processes. When I approach problems or challenges with creativity and a mission to make things better, I find it easy to make it a reality. I start out with a rough concept in an area I think can benefit the industry and then begin to apply technologies and workflow strategies that can drive efficiency. At that point, I work with my team to get a proof of concept together and then we power ahead. I’m a big believer that you have to be open to a lot of ideas and take the best from everyone on the team. The driving force though is to keep your mind active looking to better things around that can improve on that status quo.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I think AI & Machine Learning. There’s a lot of hype out there right now and many of the companies touting the technology are not approaching it realistically. This area though I think has massive potential to augment our lives. We just need to be careful though not to put too much stock in the idea that AI will replace humans. Technology should exist to improve our lives not replace it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I work to control my schedule instead of letting others dictate my day. In the past, I would take every meeting I could and answer every question as fast as possible but over time I lost control of my day and ended up accomplishing little of what was on my agenda. I now prioritize my day and don’t try to take on everything. You have to know when to say “no.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
I wouldn’t stress so much about the job you get right out of college or feel the pressure to succeed immediately. Your first job isn’t necessarily going to be your lifelong career so your goal should be simply to soak up as much knowledge as you can. If you focus on learning, gaining skills and realize that college didn’t train you on the real-world nuances of working in a company, you’ll grow much faster. Just relax and don’t rush things and realize it’s okay to not know everything.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I think I’m a very calm and relaxed person a lot of the time… But, I think everyone sees me as high energy, amped up and non-stop.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You need to have a routine. I recommend you build a daily routine that you stick to everyday. Sure, there are times you have to be flexible but using the 80/20 principle, you should have a general schedule you stick to. It can be a daily walk and workout at a certain time, time to enjoy your coffee, designated times for calls. Having a regimen that works and you stick with is key versus being unorganized and rattled.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Every customer interaction is either a chance to impress a client or fail them. You have to build a reputation that is impeccable and not settle for mediocrity. I believe that building a solid client base of advocates that spread the word through referrals is one of the most valuable assets you can have. Raving fans are your best marketing tools and the people new prospects trust the most. You can have all of the fancy marketing you want but if you don’t have happy clients, none of it matters.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest failure was hiring the wrong people in certain leadership positions. Earlier on in the business, I trusted people too quickly and decisions they made backfired and caused the company problems. I quickly fixed the issues but the lesson learned is to trust but verify when delegating to new managers. They have to prove themselves before they deserve full autonomy.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there will be a huge opportunity in the area of senior care. With a large aging population, I think a business that focuses on delivering a human touch combined with simple technology can help seniors stay independent longer. Errands, pickups and small easy tasks that consume an elderly person’s day could be handled quick & efficiently.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
A dinner out with my family. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to become so laser focused on the business that it’s difficult to take time away enough to focus on what is actually most important – family.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Dropbox. It’s been a great tool to manage and access files and documents wherever I am and get key information quickly. I’ve been a solid user for over 3 years.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. It’s an oldie but goodie because one of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur is managing people. Too often, leaders take on the “problems” of their staff and try to solve everything. Eventually you will become overwhelmed trying to work the responsibilities they actually delegated back to you. Not good.
What is your favorite quote?
Steve Job’s quote, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
- Always be looking to improve on processes.
- Control your schedule and don’t take on too much.
- Have a routine (framework) which you follow daily.
- Take time out to get creative and come up with new ideas.
- Remember family first. Don’t forget to focus on what’s important.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.