Since its founding in 2006, Astonish Results LLC in Warwick has grown rapidly while many other Rhode Island companies have had to take a step back during the recession. This summer, Astonish was ranked the 267th-fastest-growing company in the United States by Inc. Magazine, second among Rhode Island companies to only Alex and Ani. What’s as surprising as the trajectory of Astonish’s growth – from 45 employees at the end of 2010 to 100 this year – is that the company jumped into an entirely new primary market in 2008 and 2009, just as the recession was taking hold.
Originally serving the mortgage industry, Astonish’s mission is now to “change the way insurance is bought and sold in America” by giving local, independent insurance agencies a presence on the Internet, where they have lost ground in recent years to larger national companies.
Astonish CEO and founder Adam DeGraide discusses that mission and the rapid change happening in insurance.
PBN: Did you know in 2008 that the mortgage industry and real estate were heading for serious trouble?
DEGRAIDE: It was pretty obvious. We got to the point where we were generating so many opportunities for mortgage brokers, so many leads, but they had no lenders to lend money. So it was a chronic problem: no matter how many people were looking to get mortgages and get financed, they just couldn’t place the notes anywhere. We continued to serve that industry through the end of 2009, but switched into the local insurance space because one of our successful mortgage customers referred us to an agency outside of Malden, Mass., called Paul Murphy, and that’s when we built and installed our first digital-marketing system into the insurance space.
PBN: Why was insurance such a good match for you guys?
DEGRAIDE: When we look at the local insurance channel, we were able to help them change from being something that was a commodity to having to market themselves online. So we would help them with websites and [search-engine optimization] and social media so they could build their brand. The yellow pages at that time were obsolete, even though they didn’t realize it in that industry, so most of their ads and volume were based on the traditional media, which had gone the way of the dodo bird. So we started to get them online to where the people actually were – instead of people’s fingers doing the walking on the yellow pages, they were walking on Google. We gave them a presence on the Internet to attract customers and gave them email, marketing tools and a social media strategy. … We have [customer-relationship management] software that automates 90 percent of the activities their agents and employees used to have to do manually.