Lingke Wang – Co-founder of Ovid Life

Always focus on the customer. Figure out their problems and build stuff to solve them.

Lingke Wang is the co-founder of Ovid Life, a life settlements technology startup. Ovid helps seniors sell a life insurance policy that they no longer can afford to institutional investors. In exchange for the policy, the senior gets a large upfront cash payout and is no longer responsible for paying the premiums on that policy.

Aside from his duties at Ovid, Lingke is also starting a second life insurance startup, Ethos. Ethos is still in stealth stage, but its goal is to make life insurance easier to buy and more affordable for the average American.

Where did the idea for Ovid come from?

My co-founder and I were roommates at business school. We learned that a big portion of baby boomers are financially unprepared for retirement. As we researched more about personal finance, we came across a crazy stat: ~90% of permanent life insurance never pays a claim. This was baffling because permanent life insurance is meant to last you for your entire life.

During our research, we eventually learned that seniors can actually sell their life insurance to investors, just as you would sell your house (it’s called a life settlement). We looked at the life settlement market and realized there is a lot of opportunity for improved speed, efficiency, transparency and decreased transactional cost. And so, Ovid was born in our dorm. During our summer, instead of taking on internships, we grinded away in a library to build Ovid.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t really have a typical day – I focus on whatever needs to be done. My primary responsibilities consist of software development, growth, and hiring. To be efficient, I ask: does this task directly affects revenue, cashflow, product or employees? If not, it’s probably a distraction.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a practitioner of design thinking. Our team generates lots of big ideas which may seem outlandish or impractical, but we withhold all judgement and cynicism. Once we’ve further developed how these ideas could be executed, we separate the wheat from the chafe.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The US senior population is growing. 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day: 10,000 new potential customers per day.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I only check my email 4 times per day for 15 minutes per time. Constantly responding to people hurts efficiency and capacity for deep thinking. Emails are often not as urgent as you think they are.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Always focus on the customer. Figure out their problems and build stuff to solve them. Building anything without having a crystal clear idea of what problem you’re solving is a mistake.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Life insurance is too complex for consumers and so anything that involves life insurance needs an expert to handhold the customer. Consumers are smarter than you think. Usually it’s the delivery/messaging that’s too complex.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

When prioritizing tasks, always ask yourself: does this directly affect revenue, cashflow, product, or employees? If not, it’s probably lower priority.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

In the early days, we did a lot of non-scalable things on purpose – like spending lots of time talking with lots of customers to figure out their exact pains. Today, our business doesn’t require us to speak with anyone – but that was so important early on because it helped us figure out how we should design our experience and evolve to best serve our customers.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I started a software company to replace real estate agents – it failed miserably because we didn’t understand exactly what problem we were solving. I learned a lot and quickly applied those learnings to Ovid.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Build a 10X better escrow experience.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A gym subscription. Staying healthy is key to both running your life and a startup.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Heap Analytics. We use it to track all sorts of behavioral metrics and it helps us figure out what parts of our product is and is not working.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Zero to One, by Peter Thiel. The concept is that very intelligent people mistakenly go into businesses with intelligent competition where their inherent strengths are normalized. Fewer smart students should be going to Google or McKinsey and more should go into businesses where they can beat unsophisticated competition and dominate the market.

What is your favorite quote?

Things are never as bad or as good as you think they are.

Key learnings:

1. As a startup, prioritize tasks that affect revenue, cashflow, product, and employees. Other stuff should be deprioritized.
2. Have a clear understanding of exactly what the problem you are solving is. Otherwise you will likely fail.
3. Start with unscalable tactics before trying to scale your business.