Chris Kelly started his career at Google, where he held product and marketing positions with AdSense and Google Apps. He went on to found a successful online advertising business, where he became interested in lead generation. He founded NextGen Leads in 2014 with the goal of creating a modern, customer-oriented lead generation platform for insurance agents. Chris graduated magna cum laude from Claremont McKenna College. In his spare time, he enjoys surfing, travel, and reading.
Tell us about the early days of NextGen Leads.
NextGen Leads was born out of my frustration with buying insurance leads. I was a partner at a health insurance agency and was in charge of marketing and lead generation there. I found that existing solutions on the market had some major gaps in their platforms, technology, lead quality, and customer service. At Google, where I started my career, I was instilled with a strong preference for tackling problems with technology rather than throwing bodies at them, and I felt this mentality was missing from insurance lead generation. I started NextGen Leads with the goal of making it as easy to buy insurance leads as it is to buy clicks on a self-serve ad platform.
It wasn’t easy. We spent the first year going over iteration after iteration of our platform, never quite getting it right. We also had virtually zero customers, meaning if we were lucky enough to sell any of the leads we were generating, it was at a significant loss. Our entire development team consisted of Ronnie Garcia (now our CTO) and one other person. Advertising, sales, customer service, product management, and many other random roles were filled by me. There were many times between 2014 and 2015 when we considered throwing in the towel, and on a couple of occasions, we were very close to going out of business.
Luckily things started turning around in early 2015. We hired our first couple sales people and shortly after we opened our first call center, selling Live Transfers. This was a pivotal moment for the company, and helped us reach the point of breaking even on the leads we were selling and gradually starting to see a profit. Our self-serve model, with fair second pricing and industry-leading controls, also started catching on around this time, and the company started growing very rapidly. From 2015 to 2018, our revenue grew by nearly 1500% to about $36 million, making us one of the fastest-growing private companies in America.
Many things are easier for us today. Some things are harder. When I’d call or email a prospect in 2015, more often than not I’d simply be ignored because no one had ever heard of us. It’s easier to get calls returned now, though I’m still ignored multiple times per week, but harder to do other things. If we needed to turn on a dime in 2015, whether in terms of sales, marketing, or product, we could do so, quickly adapting to please our customers. At our current scale, that’s harder, and requires a more methodical approach and more patience. We’re learning how to be a larger company right now and looking forward to 2020 and beyond.