Brightway Insurance: From zero to $1 billion – Jacksonville Daily Record
About 15 years ago, brothers David and Michael Miller, founders of Brightway Insurance LLC, had an idea they were convinced could change how insurance is sold to consumers by neighborhood agencies.
Their idea has since grown from one office in North Jacksonville into a $1 billion-a-year business with more than 300 franchises in 30 states, one of the largest privately owned property and casualty insurance distribution companies in the U.S.
Brightway placed No. 11 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2022 Top Franchises for Less Than $50,000 list, up six places from 2021.
The company also received the highest ranking among all U.S. insurance franchises on the 2022 Franchise Times Top 500 Franchises list.
“We love the industry and felt like it could be done better if it was built around the customer instead of around a company,” David Miller said.
Brightway independent agencies offer consumers insurance coverage for their residences and their vehicles, including boats. The company also represents business and life insurance carriers.
“We do everything except health insurance,” Miller said.
Franchise options range from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the initial size of the office and the territory.
Brightway handles carrier relations and appointments for its franchise agents and provides support with licensing, onboarding, hiring and training.
The company’s corporate office staff provides expertise and support in areas including customer service, accounting, marketing, communications, public relations, technology and business analytics.
The Millers say that improves customer service and allows the franchise owner agents to spend more of their time writing and renewing policies.
“The idea is to invest in technology that allows us to support our customers from one location. In many insurance offices, 80% of the time isn’t for sales, it’s for service and that’s not good,” Michael Miller said.
“Being able to service our customers from a central location makes us more efficient and a greater value. Our agents can focus on building relationships.”
The concept soon proved successful.
“When we took 80% of the work away from our agents, sales doubled and tripled overnight,” he said.
More efficient, more commissions
The Millers, who were inducted into the First Coast Business Hall of Fame by the Florida Council on Economic Education in 2020, said the Brightway business model allows the company and its franchise owners to work more efficiently with the central office, handling business processes between the agents, their customers and the insurance carriers.
“We share the revenue that is paid by insurance companies to sell and service insurance,” Michael Miller said.
“That allows our franchisees to keep the lion’s share of the commissions, so they make more money with Brightway,” David Miller said.
Jim Pihl owns The Pihl Agency in Mandarin. He was one of the first agents to join Brightway.
“I had a small independent agency. It was just me and one employee,” Pihl said.
The Millers offered him a chance to put his effort into sales instead of everything else that has to be done to run his business, and it worked, he said.
“My customer base multiplied by 2,000%. It’s me and five people now and we can concentrate on bringing new clients to the agency.”
Billy Wagner is a Brightway territory owner with an agency in Ponte Vedra Beach. He was in the restaurant business before joining the Millers in 2006, two years before Brightway debuted its business concept to potential owners.
“I came on even before it was a franchise. I had a successful career, but wanted to do something on my own. David was a mentor,” Wagner said.
The resources Brightway offers allowed Wagner to grow his office to 15 employees.
“I’ve done 10 times what I thought I could do. I have built the business of my dreams.”
Evolving the concept
In 2017, the Millers changed their roles in the company. David Miller went from chairman to executive chairman; Michael Miller went from vice chairman to chairman.
They said it would allow them to work more closely to develop and implement marketing strategies and business enhancements.
In 2021, the Millers negotiated a private equity investment with GrowthCurve Capital that expanded financial and human capital and data and analytics access to accelerate growth and expand market opportunities.
“We strongly believe that GrowthCurve is the right partner for Brightway to create a win, win, win for franchisees, customers and team members, and take the business to the next level given the firm’s unique model of combining functional expertise with deep investment and industry experience,” Michael Miller said in a news release when the agreement was announced.
“We seek to accelerate the company’s growth trajectory by leveraging the company’s rich data assets and our expertise in AI, data enablement and digital transformation to introduce new solutions and capabilities to our franchisees and customers and to scale the platform nationally,” Sumit Rajpal, GrowthCurve founder and former global co-head of the Goldman Sachs merchant banking division, said of the agreement.
Part of the restructuring was GrowthCurve bringing in a new C-suite team, including President and CEO Mark Cantin.
An executive for more than 30 years in the insurance field, Cantin was GrowthCurve’s lead operating executive for insurance distribution with experience in underwriting, business strategy development, profit and loss oversight, sales management and technology.
Chief Revenue Officer Rick Fox previously was head of agency sales at Vertafore, an insurance software solution service, and president of Agency Revolution, an agency automation and marketing consulting firm.
Head of Customer Experience Eliah Kahn has 35 years of experience developing and building customer service platforms.
In 2000, Kahn developed and launched Allstate’s first contact centers, onboarding 1,500 licensed employees and integrating service and online channels.
The Millers retain a minority interest in the company and their seats on the board of directors.
They also continue to own their office building at 3733 University Blvd. W., the base for the company’s more than 350 full-time employees.
A milestone years in the making
Brightway’s franchise owners began 2023 with more than $1 billion in combined annualized written premiums on the books and growth is accelerating.
“When we started, it took us seven years to hit the $60 million mark. We hit $1 billion the first of January and then we added $60 million by the end of the month,” David Miller said.
Brightway’s future is guided by innovation and providing more support for customers and franchise owners.
“We are employing data scientists who look at thousands of data points to be able to provide better access and service,” he said.
“There is constant evaluation to better understand our customers and their needs to provide a customized experience,” Michael Miller said.
The Millers are evaluating expanding Brightway’s product line, possibly adding home warranty policies and health coverage for pets.
They also plan to integrate more online processes and explore the potential of artificial intelligence technology in the industry.
“From their teens to their death, people need various forms of insurance. We want to make the experience as easy as possible and we’re always looking for ways to add value,” David Miller said.