Recently, I spoke with our SummerHack 2021 runner-up, Team Westland. I asked the team about their experience collaborating to develop their solution and invited them to share advice for SummerHack 2022 teams — check out the full interview below!
Team Westland, congratulations on a fantastic job at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into the event and your solution, let’s do a quick round of introductions first.
Susan: I’m Susan Gilbert, and I came over to Westland in November of 2020 on an acquisition. My role within Westland is Director of Digital Operations. I’m able to use the expertise that we’ve hopefully developed out in the MIG environment and trying to bring that over to Westland and, and work with the team going forward.
Joel: My name is Joel Nagai, and I’m the Director of Sales. I also came over to Westland as part of an acquisition about eight years ago from Atkinson and Terry. I’ve been in a variety of different roles over the years, but my primary focus for the past seven or eight years has really been digital sales.
It’s always cool to see the different roles that come together in these types of events. We often get asked who should join and the answer is “Everybody!”, so it’s really great to see how the team put all of those perspectives together. Coming to the event itself, we’re curious to know: What inspired you to get involved and how did you put your team together?
Susan: As you know, MIG has been involved with Cookhouse Labs previously, which has been a great experience each time. When we got the invitation to SummerHack, I forwarded it to our Executive Vice President of Customer Experience, who shared it with our CIO, and it snowballed from there. One of our team members thought of inviting our partners at Acturis, which was a great idea.
Joel: Susan invited me, and I really appreciate that. I’m glad that she had that previous experience and was able to bring that and extend that warm welcome to not only Westland, but some of our strategic partners as well. That was really key to our success.
With a team that big and with such little time on your hands, how did you prepare for the event?
Susan: We did a pre-hack meeting right before the event just to bring the team members together and to talk about what we might expect. I did a mini-innovation session to show the team how to use a shared whiteboard space. We talked about some industry issues, because regardless of what challenges would be announced at the kickoff event, we could probably relate to what we’re seeing not just in the Canadian insurance industry, but globally, as well. Honestly, there really is no preparing for it until you get into it and really experience it.
Joel: Something unique and exciting about our team is that we hadn’t really met or worked with half of our team prior to this event. Susan’s intro session not only helped set expectations for the event, but also allowed us to meet each other before we started. After that, we just learned on the fly from then on.
It’s great that you hosted this session beforehand, because something that our winning teams have in common is that they all met beforehand. They had a strategy and expectations going into the event, and it really paid off in the end. Now, on the topic of the challenges, which one did you select and why that challenge specifically?
Susan: Right now, Westland is in a heavy acquisition mode, where we’re trying to pull all these brokerages and groups together to create one united brand. It’s interesting because as soon as we heard the challenges, we talked a lot about how we might impact environment and look after ecosystems. Knowing what we might be able to do and differentiating a brand going forward, it was really fun to see everyone else picking up on that.
Joel: Our team had international colleagues and across the entire gambit of people, we had different personalities and experiences. Everyone aligned on the eco-friendly challenge, and everyone was passionate and excited about it. It’s really easy to get fired up and to focus when you’re excited and passionate about something.
Well, now we’re very excited for this next question: What was your solution to this eco-friendly challenge?
Joel: We had several goals we wanted to achieve with our solution. One, we wanted to directly connect the actions of our clients to benefit our environment. Another key component is quantifiable results. Our solution has a dashboard connected to your iWatch, your Fitbit, and the telematics in your car. Clients can see that these patterns are driving either their insurance rate or additional discounts. We also wanted to include IoT and offer a smooth and seamless experience or our clients. We didn’t want for them to have to enter a bunch of information or feel like using our product was a hindrance, so we focused on connecting to smart meters and other tools like I mentioned earlier.
Susan: We asked, “How could we partner with different companies and create this experience that would align with people’s values?” because that’s what purchase decisions are often based on. That really resonates with people these days.
Plus, your pitch video was really fun and memorable! Reflecting on this entire experience, how would you describe it?
Susan: What’s great about the process is there’s room for everyone’s voice to be heard. Thank goodness we had someone like Joel and Mary who were willing to do the YouTube video style and others who are happy to work in the background. That’s what’s so great about not just an event like this, but also what it can spark within a team is that ability to recognize that everybody has value to bring. Plus, you (Cookhouse Labs) have really nailed the online experience and you’ve done a lot of hard work to make that very seamless, so kudos to the team at Cookhouse for being able to pull that off.
Joel: We had a great experience, very collaborative and positive. A lot of the teams had their webcams on and a lot of people were chatting, so a lot of positive vibes everywhere. It’s still a professional context and everyone is working hard, but the ability to keep it fun and engaging is very unique. Everyone involved in the process deserves a lot of credit there. Obviously, a well-run event, very structured, very timed, well-organized, and the templates and guidance that we received exceeded my expectations. It set the bar for other digital events that I have or will continue to participate in.
Thank you for the kind words, we’re happy to hear you had a positive experience! Now thinking more forward and futuristic, what advice would you give teams coming into SummerHack 2022?
Susan: That’s a tough one, because each event I’ve been to at Cookhouse has been very unique. Having that pre-event meeting was really helpful, where we met everyone and discussed industry issues. Otherwise, the best advice is just let the process roll. It’s such a well-organized event that if you just take it as it comes and understand the methodology and tools, you’ll do great.
Joel: Be ready to sprint because it’s a lot of work! Have the mindset of knowing you’re going to have a really great experience, but the expectation will be that when it’s time to work, you really need to deliver in that short period of time. Be ready to put your own thoughts, ideas, and ego to the side and trust the process because it is a robust, well-thought-out process.
That’s fantastic advice and we can’t wait to share it with next year’s participants. Final question for you: From global perspective, how do you think an event like SummerHack can help make insurance better for everyone?
Susan: It was interesting to see the ideas that were pitched at the end. Even if two of them move forward into the world, they can help the insurance industry but also can help people in general. If you help mitigate risk in any way, you’re helping people. There’s a spark of something that could really make a difference.
Joel: It’s very easy to get caught up in the monotony that is our jobs, right? Sometimes, you get comfortable doing what you know and do very well. Events like SummerHack take us out of those comfort zones. They bring together people who have great thoughts, experience, and education, and they run us through a process that’s primed to spark innovation and creativity, but to also provide a framework of how you take these great ideas and turn them into something that could be a business pitch. It shows people that you can get a lot of work, innovation, and creativity done in two days.