innovationQ&A: Gregory Bailey

CEO and founder, Denim

In 2015, Gregory Bailey like many entrepreneurs struck out and launched a startup from his Urbandale home. He had spent more than two decades in the corporate insurance world, including holding executive positions at Athene USA and Pacific Life. Now, his startup, Denim, operates from a bright, airy and open workspace on the skywalk level in downtown Des Moines and has developed partnerships local and international. The mobile marketing platform for financial services companies received international recognition in October 2018 by being named an InsurTech 100 company by London-based FinTech Global. Denim announced later in 2018 that it was partnering with Startupbootcamp Colab InsurTech London, an innovation program, in 2019. Bailey offered insights into what Denim is working on and what the needs are in the fintech and insurtech industries, major players in the Central Iowa business community. He added: “On a personal note, the most exciting area I’m working on is raising two boys with my wife, Ali.”

How do you define innovation?

Innovation is an ongoing process of thought patterns and execution sprints that ultimately lead to breakthrough or disruptive forces, offerings or products being brought to market. Breakthrough innovation provides new solutions to previously unsolved business challenges. Disruptive innovation means incumbent businesses will soon be out of business because of the disruptive new entrant entering the market.

What was your first significant innovation, invention or process?

Over my career, there have been several business processes, including new thought patterns or frameworks to execute by, that have led to new and improved business outcomes. But my first invention – currently patent-pending – is a system of processes or methods for affecting the placement of highly personal digital advertising. This innovation is the basis of the organization on which we have built our product, which makes marketing personal, at scale for multi-location brands.

What is a key trend or what are key trends in the insurtech and fintech arenas?

As fintech and insurtech mature, the trends have shifted. It’s important to acknowledge that insurtech has followed the lead of fintech in many areas, including three impactful trends:

Creating impact and delivering value on mobile.

Matching proprietary data with artificial intelligence to drive better business results.

Leveraging great talent (humans) with great technology.

You’ve been in the insurance industry for some time, including at bigger companies such as Athene. What are some of the ways an organization can cultivate a culture of innovation, no matter the size?

Cultivating a culture of innovation must start with the senior-most leadership at a company. While many people throughout an organization can and will play a role in the innovation cycle, it must begin with the C-suite deciding they desire to be ambidextrous. “Corporate ambidexterity” is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Michael Tuchman and Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Charles O’Reilly. 

As the famed strategy consultant and author Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And he’s right. Without the right leadership setting the tone for the right culture, it’s next to impossible for the organization to execute on an innovation strategy.

What is the state of Iowa’s biggest challenge when it comes to innovation in insurance and finance, two of the state’s largest industries?

It should come as little surprise that the insurance and finance industries are generally risk-averse industries. One could argue both are in the business of risk. Exploring new methods, new systems, new opportunities is inherently riskier than doing what you’ve always done. And often, doing what you’ve always done has led to consistent, incremental growth in the key performance indicators or metric of the month.

Meanwhile, understanding the “who, what, when, where and why” of consumers and consumer behavior has fundamentally changed in the last dozen years with the introduction of more new consumer technology than at any other time in recent history. Hence, one of the biggest challenges insurance and finance companies are faced with is being out of touch with the drivers of consumer engagement and how best to provide a valuable proposition to digitally savvy buyers.

What are two or three of the most exciting areas that you are working on?

Professionally speaking, building a transformative tech company based on values is extremely exciting for me. The people I’m blessed to work with day in and day out are the most talented people I’ve worked with in my career

At Denim, we are focused on innovating in big ways. I consistently challenge our team to think big and to create impact for our customers and for each other. Being a young tech company not only allows us, but requires us, to be risk takers and to leave the ordinary business playbook behind.

“Cultivating a culture of innovation must start with the senior-most leadership at a company. While many people throughout an organization can and will play a role in the innovation cycle, it must begin with the C-suite deciding they desire to be ambidextrous.” 

What is needed to make it easier for digital innovations to reach consumers?

Years ago, reaching consumers meant you’d place an advertisement with a catchy slogan or a fanciful jingle in a newspaper, magazine or billboard. Then came radio, network television, direct mail and cable television.

But then came the internet. And then came a smartphone equipped with a breakthrough internet communications device (as Steve Jobs famously called it in his 2007 iPhone launch). In the last dozen years, this “internet communicator” has changed how we read the news, listen to music, watch videos, and communicate with our friends and colleagues. This is why in 2019 the amount spent on digital advertising has surpassed the amount spent on television advertising for the first time in history. And mobile advertising continues to represent 80 percent of all digital advertising.

Reaching consumers today is about connecting with them on mobile and delivering the most personal marketing message possible, at scale. This is the challenge Denim is solving.

What areas of education or expertise are needed in your field?

Coding education, along with data science and machine learning expertise, are all in short supply and heavy demand.

What is the most pressing challenge in insurance and financial services that innovation could meet?

One of the big challenges I think often about is how to transform the insurance and financial services industry from a reactive business model to a proactive industry that provides life-altering value to its customers.

As an example: When I make a claim on an insurance policy, I’ve already incurred the peril. This method is reactionary. What if instead, the product I had purchased from my insurance company had helped me prevent the peril and thus the claim in the first place?

For us, personalizing and scaling valuable marketing are helping our customers transform and become more proactive. It’s about finding and engaging with consumers before they even know they are in the market for the offering.

What is your top goal in innovation or development this year?

It’s difficult to pick just one top goal. This year, we are continuing our product extension to add even more mobile ad networks to the Denim platform. We’re very focused on extending our platform across more types of financial institutions, including insurance, banks, credit unions, mortgage and wealth management. And finally, we’ve started expanding our geographical footprint into international markets, so we’re excited about developing new customers and partners in places like the U.K., Europe and South Africa.