This CEO Thinks Traditional Life Insurance Can Be a Rip-Off — Does He Have a Better Alternative?

Ethos' Peter Colis is a master of 'indirect authority.'

Peter Colis is the CEO of Ethos, a life insurance provider that allows clients to sign up online, quickly and simply. Prior to co-founding Ethos, Colis was the co-founder of Ovid Corp., an online life insurance exchange. Under his leadership, Ethos has raised $46.5 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, and the company was named one of CB Insights’ top Fintech startups of 2018. 

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 Colis really is one of the best. He told us how playing chess helps keep him balanced, why striving for perfection should never be a business goal and ways that you can find (or build) your own dream job, too. Below, find our favorite moments from the story of how Colis launched his business.

See: 15 Tips for Starting a Business From People Who’ve Been There

He Wanted To Shake Up a Long-Standing Industry

Ethos was actually inspired by a personal experience my co-founder, Lingke Wang, had with a life insurance agent when he was just 20 years old. This agent convinced Lingke to purchase a permanent life insurance policy, which he quickly came to realize was not in his best interest. Years later while studying together at Stanford Business School, we recognized that he was not alone in his experience. The life insurance [industry] was in dire need of disruption. We created Ethos to combat all of the things that typically deter people from purchasing life insurance through this often intimidating and confusing traditional model. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to protect their families through life insurance coverage, and at Ethos, we prioritize families through simple, affordable and accessible policies.

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When we were first starting out, we feared that we wouldn’t be able to deliver on [our] vision because of the difficulty of execution in the life insurance industry. Whether it was raising enough money to get started or hiring the right people, there was a lot of opportunity for bumps in the road to turn into cracks in the road.

But as an entrepreneur, you need to be an optimist. One surprising part of the process was that it took longer and cost more than I had anticipated. We faced the challenge of launching a technically complex product in a highly regulated industry, that required partnerships with major life insurance companies. We quickly learned having the right people on our team — from engineers to industry partners — was going to be essential to our success.

The hardest part about turning our initial idea into an actual business [was] convincing the best people to join our team. Today, we employ some of the smartest and most capable people in the entire insurance industry. But when you have a relatively unproven startup, it’s difficult to convince these same people who are getting offers from Facebook or Google to take a risk and to buy into a vision. We learned very quickly how to tell our story and how to explain what we see Ethos becoming.

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Quiz: Do You Have What It Takes to Start a Business?

He Leads With This One Thing in Mind

I started my career in account management at an advertising agency in Chicago, where I was responsible for the work of team members who didn’t report to me. This was an incredibly valuable lesson in “indirect authority.” I quickly learned how leading through motivation and respect, rather than orders and authority, enabled me to get the best out of people. We live this every day at Ethos — how you make people feel is more important than being right.

Ethos was created to empower people. We’re building something greater than ourselves with this idea of ethical life insurance, and we are truly all in it together. It is absolutely essential to us that our team feels respected coming into the office every day.

Find Out: How to Be an Effective Leader, Even When You’re Not in Charge

Here’s Why He Never Aims For Perfection

Success for Ethos is becoming a market leader in the life insurance industry. There are multiple paths to get there, but what’s most important is providing our members with a high-quality experience, and delivering on our promise of being a trusted partner in protecting their families. Spectacular financial success only follows from delivering a clear value proposition and unrivaled customer experience.

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Our success is something that we strive for, never something we attain. The beginning of the end is when you decided that something is perfect. At Ethos, we dream big, and we often re-imagine parts of our product or business.

He Still Gets in a Game of Chess Whenever He Can

As an entrepreneur, it’s difficult not to let your emotions and identity become one with your everyday business successes and failures — especially when just starting out. It’s definitely important to bring your personal passion for the idea you’re bringing to the world, but you have to prioritize investing in yourself, too. For me, taking care of myself means prioritizing my health with frequent meditation, and keeping up my chess game.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.

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About the Author

Gabrielle Olya

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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