This article is part of Carrier Management’s Cultural Q&A series featured in the Nov/Dec 2018 print edition.

Q: There is a famous saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Do you agree? Do you spend more time on culture or strategy? How does your culture support your strategy and vice versa?

Assaf Wand, CEO and Co-Founder, Hippo

In a 2012 video interview available online, Assaf Wand describes his background as an “eclectic array of random experiences” that included five years in the Israeli military, going to business school at the University of Chicago, being an entrepreneur and “junior venture capitalist,” McKinsey consultant, founder of two telecoms, before shifting from tech to design at Sabi (later sold to Urbio).

Before co-founding Hippo in 2015, Wand was the CEO and co-Founder of Sabi, a consumer products company intent on elevating everyday experiences and the design of everyday products, including an agility line specifically designed for seniors (aesthetically pleasing and better functioning walking canes, pill boxes, etc.).

At Hippo, Wand and his team are intent on elevating the homeowners insurance buying experience. Hippo uses modern technology to provide a simpler process, smarter coverage and a completely new approach to how we care for our homes, the company says in a LinkedIn description. In addition to promising a nearly instant quote—within 60 seconds—and the prospect of saving up to 25 percent on homeowners coverage by automating process, Hippo executives talk about putting customers first with modern coverage.

“Many policies are still designed to meet the needs of customers from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” wrote Aviad Pinkovezky, head of product, in an article for Carrier Management earlier this year (“How Hippo Is Putting Customers First“), explaining the need to limit coverage on pewter bowls and furs and to extend cover for HVAC systems and home office equipment instead.

In late September, Hippo teamed up with Notion, a provider of home-monitoring sensors, giving policy discounts to homeowners who install them. The Smart Home sensors send alerts to homeowners’ mobile devices about water leaks, temperature changes, motion and other changes that might affect the things they care about.

Hippo also created “Away Mode” for Amazon’s Alexa, allowing owners of the device to play recorded conversations of awkward family interactions (written by comedy writers), including a staged break-up of a couple while watching TV, intended as a deterrent for burglars.

Assaf Wand, CEO and Co-Founder, Hippo: At Hippo we defined a unique value proposition and mature business strategy in our early days, which still acts as our guiding light. We are a customer-centric company, through and through, which could only work with an open and humble culture. All startups need people that are action-oriented, transparent, collaborative and have a sense of urgency in their work.

Our strategy focuses on offering a very different customer experience from the traditional insurance industry, and so that is reflected in our culture. We talk with people who have worked in insurance for a long time and are able to offer a culture that moves fast, is innovative and takes the right types of risks.

Q: How would you describe your company’s culture today? Has the culture changed since the early startup days? If so, what prompted the change?

Wand: We are still a young company, with $39 million in Series B funding and just over three years in business. Hippo’s culture is open, transparent, diverse and respectful. We pride ourselves on our family-first culture. Our work hours are precious, and we’re “head’s down” while at work, so when family needs arise we can fully focus our attention on what matters most—family—knowing we’ve put our best foot forward at work and our colleagues have our backs when needed.

We have a relatively flat organization, which helps drive collaboration and ideation from across the organization. For example, our insurance team, engineers and business teams all sit under one roof so there’s constant discussion about how to improve our customer experience. You can see it when you walk into our open workspace, overhear two or three foreign languages spoken on the floor, and join our weekly BBQs. It’s evolved since our early days but hasn’t changed significantly since leadership and our drive hasn’t changed.

Q: How does the structure of your organization support the current culture? Describe your role in shaping and perpetuating the culture.

Wand: At Hippo, we hired top-down and not bottom-up, like many startups, so we allow leadership to set the example and tone for the culture. At traditional insurance companies, I’m not sure how accessible top leadership is. In the entrepreneur-as-CEO model we have at Hippo, our founders and top leaders are always accessible to every employee.

For example, I host all-hands meetings with the full organization when there’s news to share and don’t hold back to drive transparency throughout the organization. I’m heavily involved in hiring decisions and strategy to ensure that our cultural shifts are in line with our strategy and business outlook.

Q: Does the company have a chief culture officer, or are you considering adding that role to the C-suite? What other leaders help to shape the culture of your company, and how?

Wand: At Hippo we believe the culture should be set by the leadership of the company and be learned by new employees through experience. I think this is very typical of high-growth, fast-paced work environments synonymous with technology startups. While we want to be respectful of the decades-old marketplace, and compliance is always top of mind, we also want to create a culture that allows people to not just come to work in the insurance industry. We want to provide a culture that allows employees to move fast, challenge traditional models and ways of doing things, as long as it answers the question: “Is this good for the homeowner or customer?”

More articles in Carrier Management’s Cultural Q&A series:

Topics InsurTech Leadership Homeowners