Kin Insurance: How Passion and a Focus on Doing Good Gave Rise to Chicago’s Latest Unicorn
Sean Harper, AB ’03, MBA ’09, knew his passion from an early age.
“Going back to high school, I was the kid who was reading Milton Friedman while programming his own computer and writing software in my free time,” said Harper. “I knew early on that my passion was at the intersection of finance and tech, which wasn’t necessarily great for my popularity at the time, but has been a driving force in my life. Everything I’ve done has been at that intersection.”
Following that passion led Harper to attend the University of Chicago, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Economics in 2003. After graduation, Harper started his professional career at Boston Consulting Group in a consulting role that allowed him to see into and learn from many different companies. Early on, he was assigned two accounts – one in payment processing and one in insurance.
“While I was working with the insurance company, I started asking everyone what their biggest problems were,” said Harper. “Each and every one of them had the same answer – the technology was bad.”
Additional conversations sparked more issues: a convoluted supply chain, unnecessary costs, needless intermediaries.
Harper started putting the pieces together and laid out the initial plans for what would later become Kin Insurance, a tech-enabled, direct-to-consumer insurance company.
“Each of the conversations I had led me to believe that insurance needed to be more high-tech. Everything was being done on computers, but why was the technology so bad?” asked Sean. “I got the idea that insurance should be tech-enabled and these companies should have a direct relationship with their customers, and it grew from there.”
While the idea was starting to form, Harper wasn’t quite ready to fully pursue it just yet. In fact, it would be about 13 years until he ultimately launched Kin in 2016. But while that idea took a backseat, Harper, an entrepreneur at heart, pursued his passion in other opportunities.
He started a number of companies – first a rental car company and then an ecommerce platform for selling SiriusXM radios and accessories. Eventually, Harper stepped away from both projects and in 2009 he started his next business: a payment processing platform named FeeFighters.
Harper formed the company during the final year of earning his MBA at the Chicago Booth School of Business and entered it into the 2010 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. While he didn’t win the competition, the entire process, combined with the expertise provided by Booth and the Polsky Center, proved to be immensely valuable for his future success.
“One of my biggest problems with becoming an entrepreneur early on was having faith in myself, so having the support from the entire Chicago Booth and Polsky Center network was so important for my success,” said Harper. “Before graduating, I was able to incubate the company – we had a product, we had a plan, and we were ready for funding. That process was priceless and if I didn’t have the time at Booth to do a trial run and to be supported by other entrepreneurs who were in the same stage of the process, it might not have happened.”
Harper received funding and launched FeeFighters in 2009. Over the next few years, the company continued to grow and eventually garnered interest from large tech companies. Ultimately, Harper decided to sell FeeFighters to Groupon in 2012.
Harper’s entrepreneurial spirit, however, was still alive. Following his passion for finance and technology, he revisited his early career idea of making a tech-enabled insurance company. He reached out to his friend Lucas Ward and they began to focus their efforts.
“We were very deliberate about Kin. It wasn’t something stemming from a bad customer service experience, we were both looking for a business opportunity that could have a positive impact on the world, the potential to be an iconic company, and put good use to our skills – and Kin met all three,” said Harper.
The two got to work and spent a year developing their business plan, conducting research, and running trials before launching in 2016. The following year, they continued to deeply research the market while running the business and decided to focus on getting new customers and developing plans to scale. And from that point on, the company has grown.
Over the last four years, the company has seen a lot of success and has received financial backing from numerous institutions.
Kin has been supported by the UChicago Startup Investment Program, an initiative wherein the University co-invests alongside established venture funds in startups led by UChicago faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
“The UChicago Startup Investment Program focuses on supporting the entrepreneurs who are building the companies and products that are pushing their respective industries forward,” said Joanna Rupp, assistant vice president and managing director of the private equity portfolio of the university’s endowment. “We are so proud to see what Sean and the team have accomplished thus far with Kin, and we are excited to see them continue to grow and make an impact on the insurance space.”
Earlier this year, Kin raised $33 million in Series D extension funding, bringing its total equity funding to approximately $265 million and its total value to $1 billion.
The company has attracted big-name investors, including NBA star Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and four-time golf champion Rory McIlroy, both of whom participated in Kin’s $80 million Series C round.
Harper has plans to make Kin publicly traded, although he’s in no particular rush – saying they’ll wait until it makes complete sense for the company.
The future appears bright as well, as the homeowner insurance market is continuing to grow. When he started the company in 2016, the total addressable market was approximately $100 billion. Now, Harper says that number is expected to grow to $200 billion by 2027.
There are real people behind those numbers, and for many, affordable homeowners’ insurance continues to be a big problem. That’s where Harper says his primary focus lies.
“From the moment we started, we wanted to create a company that had a positive impact on people’s lives,” said Harper. “Expensive insurance is a huge problem for many, and we’re focused on giving people an option that is affordable and that can work for them, and if that’s all we ever do – good.”
// Where Are They Now? is a column featuring past program participants, investment recipients, and others who have worked closely with the Polsky Center.
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