Each week, GOBankingRates sets out to discover what makes the people behind top companies tick. We like to call this series “Best in Business” — and Fitzgerald really is one of the best. She told us why she left a secure job at McKinsey to launch her own company with zero entrepreneurial experience, what she learned from working at a pizza chain — and a few ways that you can find (or build) your own dream job, too. Below, find our favorite moments from the story of how Fitzgerald launched her business.
She Quit Her Consulting Job To Try To Solve a Problem With the Insurance Industry
My Policygenius co-founder, Francois de Lame, and I met while we were working at McKinsey & Company. Together we noticed a recurring theme: Insurers don’t know how to engage with digital consumers. This was a problem Francois and I thought we could solve, so we left McKinsey in 2014 to see if our idea could be viable — and now we have Policygenius.
The most surprising thing about the process of going from the initial idea to the actual business is how hard every little thing is: hiring employees with no brand, finding your first customers, figuring out payroll, finding an office, keeping the lights on. When you only ever work at bigger companies, you don’t appreciate just how much goes into the day-to-day, and how much of a slog it is to go from zero to something larger than zero.
My biggest fear was probably every entrepreneur’s biggest fear: That this would be a flaming, absolute failure. I’d never started a business before — not even a lemonade stand as a kid. To venture down a path where there is a high risk of failure is pretty scary.
The hardest part is staying optimistic and persistent, especially during the early years when building the business feels like pushing a bowling ball through wet sand. As the founder, your investors and your employees look to you to have the answer and keep everyone motivated.
She Learned an Invaluable Lesson From Working at Pizza Hut
Before starting Policygenius, I had a pretty diverse work history: from working at a Pizza Hut in West Virginia to being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras to being a management consultant at McKinsey in New York City. There were a few common threads through those experiences that I wanted to bring to Policygenius, including a focus on serving your customer and an emphasis on values and problem-solving.
The main thing I did not want to be a part of Policygenius was an overly bureaucratic environment. I want the organization to be able to move quickly, and for employees to feel empowered to make decisions and run with them.
She Sees Having the Right People Around You as Essential for Success
It’s important to find, focus and surround — find someone who started their own business and is about a year ahead of you in the process to give you advice on your journey; focus on your customers and the problem you’re solving for them; and surround yourself with great people, from mentors to talented employees with positive attitudes.
So many people have been important in this journey [to found Policygenius]. First and foremost, my co-founder, Francois de Lame. We’ve been building this business together, metaphorical brick by brick for six years. I’m not sure how founders go [at] it alone because it’s so hard. Our friends, families and former colleagues were all early angel investors in the company. I’ve picked up a support network along the way of fellow founders and CEOs. And last but not least: I would not be here without our employees, especially the early ones who took a chance on Policygenius.
She Has Big Goals for Policygenius’ Future
Success for Policygenius is delivering on our promise to our customers, at scale, and continuing to attract and retain the best talent to work at the company. We still have a lot to do to realize our vision of becoming a household name and being the go-to platform for financial protection. But I feel confident in saying that we’re on the path to success because of two things: One: Our deep loyalty from customers, who are referring friends and family to us. And two: Our growing employer brand as a great place to work.
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This interview had been edited and condensed.