As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Clifton.
Andrew has a Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Louis University and an MBA from Rice University. Andrew first started out in commercial real estate but was inspired to enter into healthcare following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Since moving into healthcare, Andrew has worked as a strategy consultant and held various roles at health insurance companies such as Regional President, Chief Growth Officer, and Chief Sales Officer. Recently, Andrew joined Advise Insurance, a fast-growing Medicare brokerage company as President.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory” and how you got started?
I grew up in Houston, Texas, and graduated college right before the Great Recession. I began my professional career in high school education and working in commercial real estate, but jumped into healthcare right after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I am from a healthcare family so I have always been drawn to it, but I was really excited by all the change that was coming to the industry.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Sherman Rogers founded our company and was really ahead of his time. I was leading sales at a very large insurance carrier and seeing that people were not getting “placed” into the best plans that complimented their healthcare needs. When I heard about Advise’s business model of partnering with doctors to ensure that their patients selected the most appropriate healthcare plans that met their care needs, I was drawn to the idea that this was the exact innovation the industry needed. I was so excited and knew I had to be a part of it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or “take aways” you learned from that?
I think the key mistake many people make is that they think they know more than they do. I have been working in this space for a while, so I thought I knew every aspect of it and operated under that assumption. I think the great part about starting something new is the humility you arrive at by being reminded that you don’t know as much as you think you do.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
As I said before, Sherman Rogers founded Advise Insurance; however, its purpose today is still the same as when it was founded. As our aging population progresses and grows, there’s been a lot of investment into the growth of Medicare Advantage. As a result, a lot of marketing has been selling people into health plans, regardless if it means that the individual may need to change primary care doctors. Advise’s model is to only sell health plans to individuals that their doctor accepts. The core idea is that your health insurance plan should strengthen the relationship between patients and their doctors, not impede it.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
We try to message our values in all communications and marketing, as well as any interactions with patients and doctors. If you are serious about what is core to your business, its values will be represented in everything you do, including all of your processes and communications.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Treat everyone fairly and always be respectful.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Fast-paced growth is always difficult. It presents challenges to your infrastructure, as well as hiring, that can be incredibly difficult to overcome. You have to have a resilient spirit and be staffed with an incredibly talented team to overcome the obstacles.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Treating people well is always the right answer. Things are going great, and we continue to overcome whatever comes our way because we have a great team. Part of the reason we have a great team is because we value our team members.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Building the right team is critical
When I moved to work in health insurance after consulting, I had the attitude that if you want something done well, do it yourself. However, as I became accountable for more functions, I came to realize that I was accepting some mediocre results because I was the limiting factor on our operations. Since that time, I focused on bringing in the best talent and supporting them in their success. I have seen the ability to thrive at-scale dramatically improve since adjusting my approach.
2. The right culture will drive business results.
At one point in my career, I thought culture was just a buzzword for something folks did to retain employees. However, with the right culture that promotes acceptance of all employees and one that celebrates wins and learns from failures, improved business results absolutely follow.
3. Deciding what you will not do can be just as important as what you will do.
In growing industries, often opportunities can be overly abundant. In those situations, it’s easy to chase everything or take on too many initiatives. In my experience, the result of this often ends up with overall mediocre results. As hard as it is to not go after an opportunity, I believe those decisions can often be just as fundamental to business success as what the core strategy of the business is.
4. Keep a close eye on the industry around you and constantly challenge your strategy.
Growing businesses are exciting! One risk is that same excitement can make folks so enamored with the business model that they put on blinders to competition. Making time to read and network with other individuals in your industry is critical and allows you to gain competitive intelligence and constantly challenge your strategy.
5. Focus on who your real customer is and how to exceed their expectations.
While it sounds simple, businesses often lose sight of who the actual customer is. It could be another business, an individual, or a segment of the population. Teams that lose sight of who the ultimate customer is can lose focus quickly and spend time on things that are not impactful. It’s always helpful to remind team members who the customer is and remind them where their focus should be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Lots of people. There have been multiple people along the way who have helped me. Some have led by example, some have taken time to mentor me, and a few have taken chances on me that led me to big opportunities. Additionally, my parents really set the foundation for me to build on the foundation of a good work ethic, resilience, humility, and treating people with respect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think isolation has become prevalent throughout our society, especially with seniors. Even though this affects seniors disproportionately, COVID-19, and even the rise of social media and online communication, ironically, has rendered people of all ages more isolated. If there is one thing I would emphasize, it would be in forming more communities for people to interact over the phone or in person. I believe, not only would this help with the isolation, but it might help to break down some of the divisions our society currently faces.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Visit the Advise website: https://www.adviseinsurance.com/