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December 11th, 2018
Welcome to Leading Indiana Ambition – a new series of leadership stories fueled by Elevate Ventures highlighting entrepreneurship across the Hoosier state. To kick off the series, we profiled Kristen Nunery of myCOI. Stay tuned next month for more!

 

Kristen Nunery, myCOI, Leading Indiana Ambition

myCOI’s Kristen Nunery Talks Flipping Houses, the Tech Scene and Positivity

Kristen Nunery founded Indianapolis tech firm myCOI in 2009. The software gives people saddled with tracking certificates of insurance a better way to manage them and protect themselves against underinsured claims, costly litigation and failed audits.

She and her team relocated from the north side to downtown this year to accommodate growth and be closer to the heart of Indy’s tech scene. When Nunery first opened shop, female SaaS founders were few and far between. She says we need more of them.

 

What kind of kid were you?

Two words: Super competitive. I grew up in Indianapolis, and I played volleyball and basketball. I also have two older brothers, so I spent a lot of time watching competitive sports. I watched people putting it all out there on the field and from those lessons I became very independent and a risk taker. That life taught me a lot. I still play volleyball today, and now I play flag football and I absolutely love it. It’s given me a few injuries recently — first a sprained ankle and then a broken thumb. After one month, when I finally hobbled back on the field with my ankle all taped up, on the very first play, I broke my thumb, so I’m out for another month. But I’m recovering. Life is good.

 

How did your education or career path in your early 20s lead you to where you are today?

Kristen NuneryI always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I thought I wanted to start a stock photography agency. I started at Miami University and then ended up transferring out to Northern Arizona University (NAU) to study commercial photography and advertising, taking a lot of business courses. The stock photography industry has a couple of very large corporations that have significant market share, so I learned some market opportunity lessons that convinced me that I didn’t want to continue to put my time and energy and resources there. I learned a lot in that process. After I graduated, I ended up moving back to Indianapolis and started flipping houses.

I flipped houses and had rentals. I had my real estate license, eventually my broker’s license, and had a brokerage to run my own transactions through it. I was living that self-employed life and that was a blast until the housing industry turned south. That was what led to starting myCOI. I understood what myCOI was from a customer perspective when I was flipping houses and hiring subcontractors. You have to make sure they have the right insurance, and it’s the exact same customer problem we solve today, just on a much larger scale.

That experience, going to NAU and going out West and just having a different experience, is sort of in line with my independent, risk-taking nature. I wanted to go explore and spend time in a new place. I absolutely loved it. I’m a believer that everyone should leave their home for a little while and go experience life somewhere else. It for sure gave me a whole new appreciation coming back to Indianapolis. When I left Indianapolis, I didn’t think I would come back and live here as an adult. I thought for sure I’d be in the mountains somewhere. When I did move back, I just had a whole new level of appreciation for what Indianapolis is all about. I love it here.

 

What do you see as this mission of Indianapolis’ tech community?

As a whole, there are a lot of people who understand how much the Indiana economy is going to be driven by the tech community. We have put a ton of time and energy and resources into becoming one of the top tech communities in the country — we’re recognized for that now. We are one of the up-and-coming cities, continuing to make our way higher and higher on the ‘cities to watch’ lists. We understand the direction the world is going and how beneficial it is for Indianapolis to be a tech hub. How do we go about that? How do we support all tech companies and entrepreneurs from day one to the earlier startups to the scale up to the larger organizations to keep feeding that ecosystem and help to continue to grow and build that? It creates a tremendous amount of jobs here. It drives money into our state that helps support the growth of Indiana.

 

What made you want to take the leap from being self-employed to having employees and the responsibility that goes with that?

Kristen NuneryIt is a whole different world. Initially, I’m just an entrepreneur at heart and just have that drive and that desire. And I am always up for a challenge and I’m driven by accomplishment. I recognized that there’s a big opportunity to build something here. That was exciting, right? We had the opportunity to be an emerging player in an industry that was in its early stages, with just a tremendous opportunity for growth. To be able to become a leader in our industry — that was an exciting challenge and mission to go after.

For me it was seeing the market need for a better solution and the passion for helping companies be successful in this complicated space that drove me to create and continue forward with myCOI. Yes, I am an entrepreneur at heart and love a challenge, but it is the convergence of my passion for this industry and how we can be a huge part of making it better that bring me to work every day.

 

What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned firsthand?

Every single day is an opportunity to grow; to learn and expand as an organization. One thing that has stood out is the importance of having an open, positive attitude every single day. As the founder or CEO, you’re expected to lead the organization and the attitude you come with every single day, no matter what is taking place that day within the organization, is so critical to our collective success. We’re building a company and leading a category, which comes with challenges, but we address them head-on with a positive attitude and tackle them as a team. We’re open and honest about what is working and what isn’t and work together for better outcomes for our clients.

 

What about on those days when you just aren’t feeling very positive?

Not every day is perfect, every entrepreneur knows this. The challenging days are the hardest ones to get yourself in the right mindset before you walk in that door. Those are the days that matter the most. When there’s something going on that’s challenging for the CEO, others pick up on it. Others are aware. I think it’s unbelievably critical to stop and be aware in those moments and make sure you take that deep breath and show up with the right attitude, ready to move forward. It’s OK for our team to know I feel the challenges too, but the way I react is what matters most.

 

Who would you call a mentor or hero?

I can’t really pinpoint that to one person. I have learned things from a lot of different people in my life. You get different tidbits of personalities and people, wisdom and experience, so for me it’s more of a lot of people that I’m surrounded by and that compilation of knowledge, experience and character that you lean on and admire and grow from. Those include other entrepreneurs, leaders in the community, team members, family, friends. It’s different parts of people you pick out.

 

In May 2017, you announced a relocation and expansion in downtown Indy. What made you decide to take that leap and how is it coming along?

Kristen NuneryPrior to this, we were on the north side of Indianapolis and were growing out of our space. We had intentions of staying on the north side, but I was talking to Scott Dorsey at High Alpha about finding space. He said, ‘Why are you not considering downtown, Kristen?’ I said, ‘Well I don’t know. Our whole team’s used to the north side.’ We had a conversation about how beneficial being downtown was for ExactTarget’s recruiting efforts, and also what was happening in the tech community, part of that being for female entrepreneurs as well. Scott’s a wise person. He’s lived a lot of entrepreneurial years. I said ‘OK, Scott, I’ll give it one day. You’ve convinced me enough to give it a chance.’ So I called a broker to do a one-day tour downtown. Within the first hour of looking downtown, our VP of client services Kathleen and I were like, ‘We’re coming downtown. No question about it. This is where we belong.’ We probably had 20-some people at that point and have over 60 today. And we’ll be adding more space shortly.

 

What was it about downtown that led to your change of heart?

It was this immediate recognition of the energy, the growth, the excitement. It just had a very different feel and vibe to it. Everywhere we went, there were people we knew and something exciting happening. We knew that it would be a challenge, picking up a whole team and moving to a new side of the city, but it ended up going really well. I think our entire team absolutely loves being here. It’s fun being right on Mass Ave. It’s fun to be able to walk to different things going on downtown. The residential community of downtown is really growing. There are team members who live down here who walk to work and bike to work. The tech community itself is really strong downtown. We’ve become much more a part of that ecosystem, and a lot of support has come with that. We love it. We’re here for the long haul.

 

Tell me about your relationship with Elevate Ventures and its impact for myCOI.

There’s weight that comes with being an Elevate portfolio company. Elevate was a very early-on investor, and they have supported us through multiple capital raises in many different ways through the years. I am a huge fan of what Elevate’s doing, and they’ve been incredibly supportive for us in multiple ways, not just by being an investor. They’ve helped support from a board level, helped with a lot of introductions and hold events that are really useful. I’ve had a phenomenal experience.

Every person I’ve worked closely with has been really supportive and helpful each step of the way — helping us continue to work through things and grow. The size of their portfolio is quite a bit larger than it was when they first invested with myCOI. Being able to have a fund focused on Indiana companies is one of the key elements of what’s helping our community as a whole grow. They’re a core part of what the mission is right now in the city.

 

That first Elevate investment in myCOI was an early-seed round. How has having access to capital along the way impacted the company?

Funding is critical. Having that early-on capital and support allowed us to continue to be competitive in our landscape. As we’ve had additional follow-on rounds, Elevate has followed on. For us, we’ve focused on being a growth company with a product innovation focus, and we couldn’t do that without the outside capital. It is what has allowed us to hire top talent and scale out our sales and marketing team, grow our development team, and continue to evolve and grow our products. Elevate’s been an absolute fantastic investor for us.

 

You’re a big supporter of women in tech. Why is it important to step up to this issue?

Kristen NuneryAs a female entrepreneur, no doubt I feel like I’ve faced situations that were challenging because of being female. As an example, I know there are meetings that have been more difficult to get because I am a female. It’s really key for females who are wanting to start a business or are growing a business to have the grit to push through and show that building a successful tech company can be done. The process will only get easier for those who follow because as we have more successful female entrepreneurs, it will encourage other females to be in this ecosystem of growing businesses. That diversity of experience, diversity of thought, is very powerful for an organization, and for an ecosystem across the board.

My executive assistant is an entrepreneur herself. She is working on a business in her off time right now, and the day will come she will step out on her own. I’ll cry because I don’t want her to leave, but I’ll also cheer her on and support her because I think she has the grit and the courage to do it, the wisdom to do it. We need more women who step up like that that.

 

Fighting Alzheimer’s disease is a cause you support. Tell me about it.

The Alzheimer’s Association Annual Blondes vs. Brunettes fundraiser is an all-women’s flag football game I’ve been a part of for several years. It’s my main mission when I’m supporting nonprofits. There are a lot of families impacted by Alzheimer’s, mine included. I have seen first-hand the effects of this disease on not only an individual but their family. Being involved in this event, I’ve been so inspired by the stories I hear from my teammates. It’s a terrible disease and it’s important that we continue to support to figure out a solution. That event is a lot of fun and aligns incredibly well with where I want to commit my time and energy. We raise a whole lot of money every year and have a blast doing it.

 

We heard you’re a big dog fan?

I love dogs and have a passion for helping them get adopted. I have adopted five dogs myself — I only have two today! But someday, I will start a non-profit focused on helping to change the experience of adopting a dog from a shelter. I want to make the experience of walking in a shelter feel more warm and welcoming and have it be a positive experience, especially for kids. Right now, it tends to be a sad and sometimes scary feeling. There are always a lot of dogs in a very small area, there aren’t enough resources to poor into training and comforting them, and they are usually scared and barking when you walk by each crate. If shelters had more resources, this could be changed. I believe that can help the adoption rate increase. I’m gaining a lot of valuable experiences and knowledge as an entrepreneur that I know will be invaluable when I take the leap with this mission.

 

What is it like to head a company in Central Indiana?

Kristen Nunery

I just love that we’re here and a part of the growing community. Everyone’s always talked about Silicon Valley and some of the other key areas, but to be able to be in this community that’s the up-and-coming in the tech scene and being part of a scale-up company in this window of time, I love it. It’s an opportunity for us to have an impact on that. It’s an exciting time.

 

How does being in Indiana shape your culture and leadership style?

The Indianapolis tech ecosystem is on a mission and we are growing very quickly. The number of startups here today compared to five years ago is significant. And the amount of capital being poured into this city versus five years ago is very significant. There are a lot of organizations, people and leaders who are constantly seeking to grow and improve with a collaborative mindset. I think we mimic that here in our organization. One of our core values is daily and continuous improvement, with collaboration as a key component of that. Being in an ecosystem and in a community that is driven that way, it impacts that mindset and thought process, and the importance of it, and it’s something we live here at myCOI for sure.

 

What’s happening in Central Indiana that excites you?

Kristen Nunery

Downtown is growing so much right now. It’s fun to be in a city that has so many sports teams and different events constantly happening. I don’t know how many times I’ve been traveling and someone will say, ‘Oh, you’re from Indianapolis? I was there for this conference. You know at first I heard it was in Indianapolis and I was so disappointed, but then I got there and, oh my gosh it’s such as amazing city!’ That’s a constant theme when you’re at trade shows and meeting people who spend time here at conferences. They see it’s a pretty cool city. We’re not just cornfields.

From a business perspective, I’m really excited about Next Level Fund and how that’s going to support what we’re doing. I’m excited to see all the startups pop up, and collaboration happening among associations, organizations and leaders in town. Companies that are moving here and being headquartered here. We are seeing companies move past startup and into the scale-up stage. Announcements around growth and capital raises are being made every day. During the second quarter of 2018, $18 million was publicly announced around investments in startup and scale-up companies here in the city. In one quarter, to be able to bring that much money in is exciting. High Alpha finished out their $100 million raise and fund, and that’s going to pour back into the companies here. There’s just so much happening.

 

Do you have any favorite apps, habits for tips for working smart?

Music — definitely. I love listening to all different genres of fun, inspiring music. There are times when I want to just stop thinking and let my mind relax, and while doing that, draw out that positive attitude. For me, music is such a great way to do that. Don’t be surprised if you drive by me some time and I’m singing in the car with my music turned up loud, dogs in the back and my sunroof open.

 

What bands are you listening to?

Oh, I don’t know if I want to share that. You’ll have to drive by me to find out

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