How Branch Became One of Ohio’s Unicorns
Thanks to a major funding round and a forward-thinking approach, this Columbus insurtech company is now worth more than $1 billion
When it launched in 2017, Branch Insurance was a two-man operation run by founders Steve Lekas and Joe Emison. The industry veterans knew that they could make insurance easier, more affordable and more beneficial to customers if their company could just catch on. Just five short years later, it’s safe to say that Branch has caught the nation’s eye. The company announced earlier this month that after raising $147 million in private equity, they had been valued at $1.05 billion, making them one of a handful of unicorns in Ohio.
“It’s a milestone that matters to a lot of people,” Emison said. “It gives you a level of seriousness that we’re now afforded. I think this has become the proxy for the perception that you’re likely to go public and you’re in the position to challenge incumbents. I think all of those things are great and reflect how we’ve seen ourselves from the beginning. So this is a really important milestone for the company and our employees as well.”
For Emison and Lekas, the funding and valuation are confirmation of what they’ve known all along: that insurance can be done a different way. Now, the company is ready to be in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. within the next year, and they’re ready to prove to the country that they’re the future of insurance.
“We have been saying what we can do from the beginning, but we have much more proof of that now,” Emison said. “At the beginning, Steve and I were both working other jobs. We said, ‘We’re going to raise some money, leave our jobs and start a company that will be the largest home and auto insurance writer in the U.S. eventually.’ It takes a while to get there because people don’t shop for insurance very often. You say that to people and they say, ‘Yeah, I hear that from a lot of people.’ But we’re at a point now where we’ve built things and have proof of what we’ve been able to do that nobody else has been able to do.”
For Emison and his team, the major milestones won’t change how they operate. Instead, they’ll allow them to think in terms of “‘Can you keep doing it?’ instead of ‘Can you accomplish something?’” Now, focus will shift to maintaining the quick growth trajectory that they’ve been on without compromising their values and strategy.
“We’ve scaled really quickly. Four years ago, it was just me and Steve. Now, we have more than 400 employees,” Emison said. “We’ve worked hard to make sure that scaling goes correctly and that we’re providing the right services and training internally, as well as growth opportunities for our employees. We’re focused on making sure that what we keep doing what we’ve done that’s so magical so far, which is being great to our employees and for our members.”
The Branch team doesn’t just think they’re building a great business, they’re also focused on building a great culture at their Columbus headquarters, where they’re developing their own new pipeline of talent by creating a tech boot camp that aims to hire inexperienced developers straight out of the program rather than requiring years of experience like many other companies. That’s just part of the work they’re doing to repay the “affordability, lifestyle and ability to raise a family” that came with their choice to establish Columbus as their home, which won out over 20 other cities at the launch of the company.
“We had a sense that some other cities were at or near their peak,” Emison said. “We both felt very strongly that Columbus has a lot of room to grow and was undervalued for everything it has. I cannot imagine a better city in the U.S. to raise children than Columbus, and I’m incredibly happy here. We’re not going anywhere; Columbus is fantastic.”
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