S4 EP40: How to attract and sustain a talent density in the 90th percentile – with Datha Santomieri, Co-Founder & COO, Steadily

“We’re able to move mountains with far fewer people because of the fact that everybody in their role is exceptional and they’re that 90th percentile.

It’s really hard to maintain that talent density, especially as we’ve started to scale. But we absolutely refuse to just put bodies in seats because we need them”, says Datha.

On the podcast this week, Steadily’s Co-Founder & COO shares her career journey.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the insurance industry. Geico heavily recruited in the university I went to. They ended up recruiting me into their Emerging Leaders program.

Then I was recruited again by Brown & Brown, a large international insurance brokerage. They recruited me into their internal audit program. Within that role, I learned everything about insurance.

She discusses the steps she took to weigh up the risk of leaving an established insurance leadership role to co-found insurtech Steadily.

“I’m an insurance person, I’m very risk averse. The idea of going out on my own and doing something that could fail. That was terrifying. 

I sat down and calculated the risk. I thought, ‘Ok, let’s model out worst-case scenario and best-case scenario. We raised $4million in a seed round, so we had 12 to 18 months to prove our concept.”

With a recent Series B fundraise of $60m and a team of 100+, Datha gives an overview of the business’ current position and the insurance solution Steadily provides.

“We wanted to make sure that real estate investors, no matter where or what type of property they had, could come to a single place to find somebody who could help them and who could do it quickly.

Steadily does have a product of its own but we also have very strong relationships with retail partners. That allows us to support virtually anyone who comes to us with any type of rental property. Some are using it for short term, some are using it for long term.

Our sales agents during the hours of 7am to 7pm have three minutes to respond to a customer. When a customer is on our website, they’re going to hear from us within just a few minutes. That’s why we’re winning.”

To achieve this level of service and achieve a continued growth trajectory, building a high-performance insurance leadership culture is paramount. Datha highlights how she weeds out the B & C performers from the A-players.

“When we bring somebody in to interview, the entire process is designed to figure out, ‘Are they the person or the few people who were carrying the weight for their whole team at their previous company.”

We have a culture deck for everyone who applies to Steadily to look at. Our philosophy for hiring is to hire a company that’s only made up of 90th percentile team members.

We save money in other areas so we can pay people the max, so we can attract the very best people in their fields. It can be painful sometimes, but if you drop that bar then very quickly your talent density starts to go downhill.

It’s easier to get in to Harvard than get hired at Steadily.”

Datha shares her approach to hiring the best insurance talent.

“As one of the co-founders, I still meet every single candidate in my downstream. I want to know who they are and who is joining our company before they come on board.

So much of my calendar is spent interviewing people. It’s worth it because by doing so, we are able to keep our talent density high.

As for her advice to candidates coming to interview, Datha says,

“We talk a lot about our culture deck in the interview process. Sometimes people bow out of the interview process after they read it.

Make sure you know the culture deck inside out. Make sure it gives you warm and fuzzy feelings. If you don’t like the culture deck, you will not like it here.”

Advising fellow Insurtech founders and insurance people leaders,

“You have to prioritize money to pay them. You need to give them a stake in what you’re building.

Prioritize giving them money in their pocket over all of the other benefits because people value those differently. We prioritized giving people as much money as we can versus ancillary benefits.”

Datha emphasizes what she looks for when working with an external insurance executive search partner.

“The reality is, we can find every candidate who’s on LinkedIn. Find us the millions of people who are stellar in their role, but they’re so busy, they don’t have time to be on LinkedIn.”

As closing advice, Datha urges unsuccessful candidates to think about their response.

“This is a small industry. Even if it doesn’t work out today, my suggestion is be careful not to burn a bridge. Even if we’re saying no today, the situation may change in the future.”

Connect with Datha Santomieri on LinkedIn or find out more about Steadily

The Insurance Coffee House Podcast is hosted by Nick Hoadley, CEO of Insurance Search.

We are a global Insurance Executive Search Consultancy, supporting Insurance and Insurtech businesses to attract and retain the very best senior insurance talent.

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