Joe Floyd is founder and CEO of InsureSign, a secure e-signature solutions company. Floyd, a veteran creator of software for the insurance industry, founded InsureSign in 2011, after creating a rigorous yet quick and easy-to-use online-signature tool for his family's insurance and finance company.
Where did you grow up?
Whiteville, North Carolina. It's a small town that's a lot like Beaufort, except where you see water and marsh here, replace it with tobacco fields. My grandfather had an insurance company and that's where I worked as a kid.
How did you end up in Beaufort?
My wife, Karen, is an anesthesiologist and she followed up on a job opening that led us to move here in 2000. We really knew no one within a hundred miles when we got here. But that was a fun time to be in Beaufort. There were a lot of people our age. Our two kids, who are now in college, have grown up knowing Beaufort as home. We came for two years and have been here almost 18.
What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?
My first job was working in the family business. I'd walk after school to my dad's and grandfather's offices and file paperwork, which was a job that nobody else wanted to do. I learned about a small-town office and how they operated. It was a down-to-earth business. Several people that were there when I worked there after school are still there. The experience stuck with me, even now running a tech business. So many things about working in tech are grow, grow, grow. If you're a small business feeding a family, your only concern at the end of the month is whether your income is greater than last month. That one business has sustained my entire family since 1939 – it put us all through school.
I majored in TV and film at UNC at Chapel Hill. I was always interested in that kind of thing. So after college, I was in the movie business in Wilmington for a couple of years. Back then, there were a lot of feature films being filmed in Wilmington, things like Billy Bathgate andTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I worked mainly doing sets and props. Essentially, I was a glorified furniture mover. I guess I passed this along to my son. He's now a film major at Emerson in Boston.
Did you have an entrepreneurial drive early on?
It always appealed to me to work for myself. Maybe as a kid I read too many comic books.
The comic books I liked best were Richie Rich – he always had some kind of business going; always had some kind of angle. Looking back on it, my friends and I always had one moneymaking scheme or another going on when we were in school.
In your own words, what does your company do?
We provide businesses with the ability to get documents completed and signed electronically from any device at any time. We take something that has always been a paper-and-pen process and turn it into a mouse-or-finger process.
What drew you to your current business, or inspired you to start it?
In my previous business, we had to get a lot of contracts signed and people were coming in less and less, doing more online. So I started thinking, "There has to be a better way to get signatures through the internet." We looked around and saw that the existing solutions weren't easy and the easy solutions didn't exist. That's when we developed what is now InsureSign. At first, around 2011, we rolled it out to our home customers. As that caught on, people would ask us if they could use what was, to us, an in-house tool. By 2013, we had enough demand from others that we thought we must be onto something. So we decided to commercialize it.
How would you describe your organization's culture?
In our world, we are the underdogs and we like that. We're team David taking on a battle with Goliath. We're up against a lot of deep-pocketed companies and we celebrate the little victories. There's nothing better for the team than winning a customer away from a multimillion dollar company. We're a small team of about ten or eleven people and we like it that way. Our goal is to stay there. In a good way, we walk around with a chip on our shoulder. We are lean and mean and like to be small.
What is your management style? Why is that your approach?
If I do my job correctly, one of my main roles is to keep the team aligned with what we're doing, especially as we grow the company. Everyone wants a purpose when they go to work. They want a salary, but they also want to know that what they do matters. I make sure they know as much as possible about the specific companies in the specific businesses where our product makes a difference. That way I can tie their efforts to what brings revenue in the door. Business exists to turn a profit and that should not get lost. But making a difference, making people happy, is a key driver.
This emphasis on working toward a meaningful goal and making money goes back to when I went to work in the family business after college. I was not at all sure that's what I wanted to do, but as we moved from paper processes to electronic, I saw that if I could do little things more efficiently, it felt good. Sometimes it was something like automating a two-hour process down to a ten-minute process. You just gave someone two hours of their day back. Any time you can connect the work to people like that, you help create that sense of purpose.
As far as management style, I still have to keep myself from micromanaging every detail. We're small enough that I have to wear a lot of hats right now. I don't always recognize that I should give someone else one of my jobs I'm taking on. I don't always see the need to have the right person in the right position. I can be a little too slow to make the hire. Looking back, I can see that has slowed us down, so I'm trying not to get in my own way.
Do you have a routine that's important to your day? A morning ritual, meditation, etc.?
I tried meditation and liked it but can never find the time to devote to it. Every day, I have to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. I always do that. I end the day with a glass of wine or a cold beer. Those are really nice ways to start and end the day.
What obstacles have you faced building your business? How have you overcome them?
It has been challenging to find the right technical talent in the area. We've had to look at a lot of people to find the right ones. We solved for it in Charleston, where we have an office and great talent on board. Also, you have to be willing to pay people what they're worth. It takes a while to find the right people – interviewing, calling references. But it pays to take the time. That's just a longer process here.
I still work as much as I can out of Beaufort. I will admit that for me, working remotely can be a challenge. It's getting easier, with tools like Slack, project tracking. Once you have the right tools, it's a matter of getting in a rhythm, challenging yourself to find ways to stay on each other's daily radar.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Make sure you have some angle to get your business started. I have seen a lot of bad business ideas, where you can tell they are bad right out of the gate. All businesses look like they could make money starting out. Ask: Is there a market? Am I thinking of something no one else has thought of? Do I have an in-road to move things along? This was my angle: I had a network of ready-made customers, people to call on in finance and insurance. They were my first customers and are still my customers today. If I hadn't had that in-road, I don't know if it would have worked.
You don't have to come out of the gate making a million dollars, but if you can't cover expenses and a paycheck, you have to think of another business. In the early days, I found a developer on a message board and hired him to build a minimum viable product – we built a prototype. Once we showed it to folks and it looked like it would work, I brought him on. At first, I was a salesman and part time developer. Gradually, we built a team.
What do you see as the future of your company?
E-signatures are going to become more and more integrated so we have to keep our eye on that. We're rolling out a new platform. Our product is going to start to encompass things like taking payments as part of the process, for example. The product will evolve to meet the way people want to work and that will always be a moving target. We will continue to service the insurance industry but we are also growing laterally, into other industries. We've had inquiries now from landscaping, beauty salons, and even a town in Illinois. The market itself is really growing. It's probably only about 5% penetrated.
How can the Beaufort Digital Corridor support you and your business?
Personally, I would love to see the BDC bring people out of their silos. Even though I am all set on space with our offices in Chapel Hill and Charleston, there's a cool dynamic in cross-collaboration and having an avenue where entrepreneurial and tech ideas flow. I would love to see a community of people engaged in software development in the area.
Keep looking for ways to connect local people and keep them connected. People like me, living in Beaufort, working in this newer business paradigm, who have a technology and entrepreneurial focus, we don't run across each other. Do what you're doing now: profiling people in the entrepreneurial tech areas so that it comes across our field of vision.
Sell the physical environment of Beaufort. Hold a junket for technology recruiters. There's a shortage of talent in Charleston. Pick them up in a bus and bring them here. Host them, show them around.
Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?
I'm strictly iPhone on my mobile. For Mac and PC, I have both. That's due to legacy – certain software we have to use still only runs on a PC. I do a lot of work now online. The Chrome browser functions the same on either.
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
My wife and I are now empty nesters with kids in college so we like to visit their college cities. We like to get outside, doing things that Beaufort makes easy: spending time on the water, boating, kayaking. I like to run, but only short distances. A few weeks ago, we went to Bonnaroo in Tennessee and camped out to see the headliners: U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers. We like to travel and now we travel a lot.
What has it been like building your technical team in Beaufort?
We've been able to find the talent we need in Charleston. I can commute back and forth and they can come down. That said, this is the lowcountry. The lifestyle brings people down here. Today, more than ever, doing things remotely, I think there's a lot of tech recruitment to be done in places like Beaufort. I'd like to see us bring people out of the woodwork. Let's crack the code. Why are so many tech-accomplished people only in Charleston? Couldn't one or two of them be just as happy in Beaufort?
When you encounter tech skepticism about Beaufort, how do you respond?
I am at least as effective working out of Beaufort remotely than when I managed my family's company in Chapel Hill from afar in 2006. I'm almost more effective from the coffee shop with Slack and a phone than I was in my office in 2000.
I think people think that technology is somehow inaccessible. But that has changed radically over the last ten years. The way I run my company could never have worked ten years ago.
We outsource our infrastructure to Amazon Web Services. We have remote tools that allow us to compete with anyone. We have support people in Australia, developers in Pakistan. No reason at all why Beaufort can't be part of this.
I often think about education here. There's no reason kids in Beaufort couldn't be as technically oriented as anyone in Silicon Valley. There's no reason tech has to be geographically limited, the way, in the old days, manufacturing or farming were.
The first people to embrace this will be way ahead of the pack. For kids going through high school, we still think of computer coding as optional, elective. It should be required. As software powers more and more of our world, I can't think of anything more relevant.
Even regional businesses will be affected. We're still lucky we have a thriving community downtown. But we don't have as many bookstores anymore. Our Best Buy closes. A shoe store goes out of business. Businesses are slowly being displaced by technology alternatives.
The more you learn about tech, the better the community you can build.