During his senior year of college, Josh Snead was feeling pretty good.
He was preparing to graduate with a degree in International Business and Supply Chain Management from the University of South Carolina. And he’d already knocked out the number one priority of (most) college seniors: land a job.
During the fall of his senior semester, Josh accepted a job to work for Amazon and planned to move to Tampa, Florida.
“So I thought I was done at that point. You know, I got that job December, and so senior year is basically a victory lap for me,” Snead said.
With everything lined up, Josh felt a little bored but, he needed to fill some time since he wasn’t scrambling to submit job applications. So, he went on the hunt for an internship to make a little extra money.
While he was searching, Josh participated in a startup weekend. He pitched an idea and was one of eight participants selected to build out their product, which he did with a small team over the weekend.
Josh’s idea and work left an impression. One of the platinum sponsors asked him to stop by their office the following week.
Josh’s conversation with Sam McGuckin, of then TCube Solutions, set him on an unexpected path that has led to the founding of pet insurtech startup Rainwalk.
After interning at TCube, Josh turned down the offer from the company with everything from A to Z and joined Sam and his team full-time.
Where the Journey Begins
While Josh was working at TCube the company was acquired by Capgemini. The startup experience had been great and taught Josh a lot about building a business.
“I stuck around there for a couple of years. And then I left Capgemini to go work at the largest publicly traded insurance technology software company in the United States, Guidewire.”
Josh’s new gig required a move to Minneapolis. But, he stayed in touch with a former co-worker and friend, Tong Wu, who continued working at Capgemini. They spent time kicking around business ideas, and Josh was stuffing money into savings with the hope of launching his own venture.
Going back to high school, Josh always wanted to start a business. But, he didn’t know when or how it would happen.
The time came about two years after Josh left Columbia. Tong felt the need for a change, so he told Josh that he was heading back to China unless they started a company together.
Josh decided to leave Guidewire and move back to Columbia in 2018 to take a chance and found a company with Tong.
Finding Opportunity in an Underserved Market
They had a concept for what would become Rainwalk.
“Rainwalk was initially going to be a peer-to-peer auto insurance company with renters and pet insurance bundled in, and it was going to be all on a blockchain,” Snead said.
But as they spoke with investors and regulators, they realized that the market for auto insurance was saturated. And renters insurance doesn’t have margins that motivate insurance agents to push the product to customers.
After about 6-months of brainstorming, Josh and Tong pivoted Rainwalk to be a pet insurance company in 2018. It’s a line of business gaining momentum and attention. Josh saw an opportunity because the US market is underserved, with only 2% of pets insured.
Americans are spending more money on pet healthcare, which Snead said has increased from $10 billion per year to $33 billion in less than a decade. The costs create more interest in an insurance product that can help offset those out-of-pocket expenses for consumers.
But, launching an insurance business is a long game.
“It took probably about 18 months really to get our pet insurance company up and running after that full regulatory approval and actually able to sell that first policy, which turns out is almost exactly average,” Snead said.
The inspiration for naming the company Rainwalk established that the founders were ready to weather the storm. The “rain walk” in Chinese lore is a tale about a well-dressed member of the royal family who, instead of waiting on a rain shower to end, was determined to begin his procession regardless of the weather.
Rainwalk wants to have the same spirit as they work to disrupt a traditional industry.
How Rainwalk does business
Many large, traditional carriers have explored the possibility of adding pet insurance. However, Josh and the Rainwalk team saw the opportunity to go direct to consumers.
“What Rainwalk does, there are a lot of pet insurance companies out there, but the thing that makes us unique from those other pet insurance companies is the way that we sell the product.”
According to Josh, Rainwalk partners with existing insurers and pet brands to plug their health insurance coverage into existing platforms. So, it’s easy for potential customers to access Rainwalk’s insurance through the workplace or with a company with which they already do business.
“So our goal with this strategy is to just make it as wildly convenient as possible for individual people and for companies to get access to a pet health insurance product,” Snead said.
Rainwalk makes it easy for partners as well. They handle the integration, claims processing, pricing, and regulatory compliance.
Rainwalk plans to make integration so easy that anyone who purchases home insurance or car insurance can access pet health insurance.
The Future of Rainwalk and Pet Health Insurance
Three years after launching, Rainwalk has seven employees and is working towards being a leading insurer of pets.
“We want to build a market leader in pet health insurance,” Snead said.
Snead noted that they do that by doing one thing: getting uninsured pets insured.
Rainwalk sees millennials as a key target market. According to Josh, even though millennials earn less than their baby boomers counterparts, they spend more on pets.
As someone who grew up with dogs (and now the owner of two miniature dachshunds), Josh knows how important pets are to families. For many people, they are part of the family. And it’s Rainwalk’s mission to make sure they’re protected.
You can check out Rainwalk and apply for your pet coverage right here.
Starlitt Miller knows what it’s like to hustle. She’s a serial entrepreneur who built an accounting and bookkeeping business. She’s been a valuable member of the SOCO community for many years. Now, Starlitt is changing things up in her career and life. She’s participating in an entrepreneurial fellowship program through Visible Hands, which seeks to empower founders of color. In the first round alone, Visible Hands received more than 900 applications.
Recently, Starlitt went to Tulsa, OK for an in-person meeting with other founders and members of the fellowship. When she came back to Soda City, we asked her a few questions. Here’s her response and why she’s pursuing this new hustle.
Give us the elevator pitch of what you were doing prior to joining the fellowship? And give a little background on how you got there.
I was providing operational accounting and workflow strategy services to small businesses. This was being done through a variety of methods and touch-points. Setting up an accounting system, fixing/cleaning accounting system, training and supporting the support personnel and owners.
I started off by solving my own problem of needing to have agency of my time. I knew that I was overqualified to bookkeep and could leverage those skills because they are needed by many.
I learned many hard lessons around how to start and grow a business as a solopreneur that makes sense for you.
I started a bookkeeping business (Star Accounting and Business Solutions, or SAABS, which is still operating). I quickly learned that the value that I needed to provide and was best fit to provide was broader than that [bookkeeping]. It’s in the overall operational accounting structure and how it impacts the operations of the small business that added a lot of value.
I witnessed what the lack of automation and technology systems on the backend could look like and the negative impact it had, and was really drawn to solving that problem.
SAABS evolved into assisting on the backend with more financial and workflow strategies and developing accurate records and best practices.
What’s been driving you for the last few years?
Such a great question. Prior to the fall of 2020, my goal was to build a profitable, self-sustaining business that would eventually not need me.
There was a lot to learn and establish foundationally to make that happen, and since I just got started and made the leap, I had to navigate the evolution of the business to get it close to that point while running it. My driver is my personal goal to have ownership and agency over what I am doing, to become financially free, and show my daughter that you can create something from nothing without relying on the permission of others or for them to say “yes,” and assign a dollar value to your time and work. While I knew that SAABS might not be the business to get me to financial freedom, it has been the vehicle to growing as an entrepreneur while financially caring for my daughter and me.
After the fall of 2020, my drive is similar but a little more assertive in not questioning whether or not being an entrepreneur is the right path.
The additional motivation is finding a way to create the passive income necessary to free time to live and spend time with family, friends and contribute to impactful causes. So the value that the company provides is not resting on the shoulders of one person, and the customers will be serviced no matter what.
Okay, let’s talk a little about the Fellowship. First, how did you find out about it?
I learned about the fellowship during its early stages of development from my good friend. I started following the firm on social media and subscribed to their communications to stay up-to-date.
Tell us about the Fellowship. Who is supporting it? What’s the purpose?
The fellowship is created and facilitated by VisibleHands (VH). VH has a pre-seed fund and the 14-week program to help support overlooked talent of color and women in the venture-backed tech startup space. VH has received the support of many leaders from all of the country that have provided their time through advising, workshops, funds, and assisting in organizing within their first year.
The funding is in the millions, and VH has grown pretty quickly in its first year. Notable names [of supporters] are Liberty Mutual, Goldman Sachs Launch with GS, JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Bombas.
Atento Capital out of Tulsa, OK was also a great supporter and hosted and financially covered aspects of the in-person orientation that kicked off the fellowship program.
Atento is interested in bringing people of color and their businesses back to Tulsa and revitalizing the Black Wall street area. They are offering investments in early-stage companies and incentivizing a relation to Tulsa.
What was your thought process behind applying? Was it a no-brainer decision, or did you have to think about it a bit?
I was hesitant at first for a few reasons; I do not have a tech background, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my service-based business that was paying my bills, and I never imagined building something that I would raise funding for.
The decision became a no-brainer after I had a call with one of the General Partners (GP) and understood more about what the program may look like and considering the $25,000 pre-seed investment they would provide during the fellowship. After speaking with the GP, I realized that even if I leave the fellowship without a clear direction on a tech solution (in my mind the worst case), I knew that I would learn a lot as an entrepreneur, and I was already feeling the need to learn and grow.
Running my business had caused me to be stagnant in learning, and I was already feeling the urge to expand my knowledge. I knew that it would be challenging because I had no clue about the world of venture-backed startups, let alone how to build a tech solution.
The other piece would be learning from other people that are in the community. I knew enough about the GP’s to know that their network is rich and has quality people in it, so I assumed the cohort would reflect that, and I was correct!
Tell us how it’s felt to be surrounded by other people building something?
Being in the community with other fellows has been the best part. Each time we get to connect through Zoom calls (individually and in a group), it’s refreshing. The orientation week was awesome and the best way to transform from being on-screen to connections with real people.
I realized that we all have similar fears and insecurities even with the varying stages of the companies/ideas and experiences. I believe the true power and magic is with the people within the cohort. The experts are great, but it’s not the same as building connections, helping, and sharing with other fellows.
After the week of in-person, we all went home and back to some semblance of isolation. It’s there where the challenge seems to grow. I am constantly encouraged when I connect with a fellow in a real and vulnerable way and vice versa.
You’ve changed your hustle a bit to make this new path happen. Why are you doing this and what are you hoping to accomplish?
I decided to pursue this venture because I believe the best thing that I can do is solve a tool problem with a better tool and I am only one person, so I would like to scale the impact of my services by converting into a tech tool. The other side of this is the desire to build a profitable business.
While I am not saying that this is the only way to do so, it’s an opportunity that I have so I plan to leverage and activate in this space to work towards building something that will add value to a world that is bigger than myself.
You can learn more about Starlitt’s journey and Visible Hands right here and subscribe to her newsletter so you can stay up to date on all that’s going on.
While sitting at home during the early months of the pandemic, Dawn Dawson-House started thinking.
Dawn was working in a job she loved as the Director of Corporate Communications at the South Carolina Parks & Recreation Tourism (SCPRT) department. But, Dawn’s schedule was turned upside down. No more lunches with her boss or coffee meetings with colleagues.
So she found herself doing a lot of self-reflection and considering a deeper meaning in her life.
It was during these moments that Dawn began planning a change. She had spent her entire career (31 years) at SCPRT. Now, she knew it was time for something different.
Inspired by her new outlook on time and the cry for social justice by thousands across the country, Dawn embarked on a new path.
A Career Built on Service
Dawn’s entire career has focused on helping the state of South Carolina. She promoted the state’s parks system and tourism attractions all over the world. Her goal was to get people here so they couldn’t experience what the Palmetto State offers.
Despite being in a job she loved, Dawn felt like she could do more.
The pandemic created a restlessness in Dawn. Like there was a different way for her to contribute. And during those long months at home, she spent time reading and researching African Americans and how they’ve shaped South Carolina history.
The pandemic changed things for Dawn. She started seeing her skill set through a different lens.
Dawn was involved with the South Carolina African American History Foundation, which rebranded as the WeGOJA Foundation.
It was around August 2020 when she put plans into motion to lead WeGOJA as the Executive Director.
“I felt like my talents could be put towards this effort [WeGOJA] better than PRT,” said Dawson-House.
So Dawn left the job she spent her entire career doing. The one that had “raised her” so she could pursue work that will elevate African American history.
“The pandemic pushed me into a different mindset of worth and time and contribution before I die.”
Dawn developed a passion for historic preservation early in life. Growing up in Beaufort, she was taught about the rich African American history in the area.
When she started her professional career, Dawn served on the African American Heritage Commission. She knew that more work must be done to highlight the role of African Americans in South Carolina’s history. She wanted to lift the stories of African Americans and help people today have richer conversations and experiences about history.
“My passion now is historic preservation because I do believe it’s the first step towards social justice.”
How the Pandemic Changed Dawn’s Mindset
Coupled with Dawn’s passion, the shift to remote work sparked her life change.
Instead of spending two hours commuting every day, she connected with family, contributed to her community, and thought about ways to utilize her talents.
It wasn’t easy for her to make the change.
After a long career with SCPRT, she was nervous about doing something completely different.
“I was too afraid to tell my boss that I was going to retire,” said Dawson-House.
The social justice marches and outcry, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, also made an impression on Dawn and created a desire to do more.
“I was so inspired by the multitude of people who go out in the streets and stood up for victims of police brutality.”
Living Life to Make a Difference
In December 2020, Dawn retired from Parks & Recreation Tourism. Now, she spends her days leveraging WeGOJA’s resources. She works on moving projects forward, fundraising, and making sure operations run smoothly.
Dawn feels like she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be, and in her words, “it’s fun as hell!”
She has a vision for WeGOJA over the next decade. She wants to grow the endowment so they can hire staff and take on even more projects. She’s hoping to get industries involved.
And ultimately, she wants to educate people on African American history, so they become advocates. And then those advocates become champions for the cause.
Dawn wants people to have enthusiasm for historic preservation and see how it connects to their present lives. She wants people to ask hard questions so they can learn.
“When I look back, I want to say I made a difference, and we’re a better state because of it.”
Since Dawn has taken on her role as Executive Director, WeGOJA has a brand new board. She’s found talented people to help amplify her efforts.
Dawn re-shifted her focus. She’s pursuing her passion and redefining the why behind her work. So her hustle hasn’t stopped.
In fact, if you ask Dawn, she’ll tell you she’s just getting started.
You can learn more about WeGOJA by visiting their website.
The whole “rise and grind,” “never stop working,” “hustle” mentality isn’t healthy for anyone. But we hear it on Instagram, we see it on LinkedIn, and on those inspirational posters you put in your home office. At the end of the day, it’s not sustainable. All that talk about work doesn’t get to the thing that’s really driving you. Without going full Simon Sinek, we want to address what really gets you out of bed and at the keyboard everyday: your why.
Why do you wake up and bust your ass every single day?
It’s not for the sake of hustle or to land on Inc.com’s latest list. It’s for your family, for your kids, for the sake of having a life that’s not built around your job.
We’re going to get off the hustle soapbox for a few sentences (don’t worry, it’ll all come back around).
The last 18 months at SOCO have been tough, to put it mildly. Like a lot of you, it rocked us to our very core. It was an emotional roller coaster and there were days we didn’t know if we’d even make it. It challenged who we are.
At the best of times we were white knuckling this pandemic ride. We saw members lose gigs, income, and clients. We went through some of those awful moments ourselves. And it sucked.
However, in the midst of all this chaos, we rediscovered our own purpose. We’re here to support the “why” of each and every member in this community.
We remembered that SOCO’s purpose is to inspire people and give them an opportunity to build connections and access resources to pursue work that matters to them.
And we’re more fired up about this than ever.
In a strange way, we’re thankful for the hardships of the past year. It helped us remember why we’re here. Why this community matters.
And truthfully, we probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for folks who believed in us during the darkest moments of the pandemic.
So in the spirt of anti-hustle culture and discovering the “why” of SOCO, we’re creating a new series called “Why We Hustle.” It’ll features the stories of our members and what drives them everyday. We’ll discuss their passions and how they’ve overcome adversity to do work they love (hint: it’s not for the glory of hustle culture). And hopefully you’ll walk away feeling inspired and motivated about your own “hustle.”
Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a fun ride. You can read each story right here on our blog.