Local Startup “Root” Rethinks Insurance

For decades the insurance industry has remained largely unchanged, but Columbus start-up Root is looking to reinvent it.

Gone are the days of paperwork and office visits. Root operates out of an app. Once it’s downloaded, it tracks your driving for 500 miles and generates a quote based on how safe or erratic your driving is.

Some might try to trick the system by stopping at yellow lights instead of trying to beat them, or by keeping their speed within five miles over the limit. Using statistical testing, they found that people can maintain this only temporarily, and by 500 miles they’re back to regular habits.

To develop Root, Co-founder and CEO Alex Timm partnered with Dan Manges, co-founder and former CTO of web payment company Braintree. From there, the app is 100 percent Columbus-born, invested in by local business development service Drive Capital and developed in-house by Columbus engineers.

The team spent the early days working through kinks based on feedback from family and friends. At first launch, a product seems crystal clear, but over time they saw where consumers run into problems. Canceling car insurance can take forever on the phone, leading callers through endless menus, convoluting the process. Root developers added a function on the app that cancels and switches insurance for them.

It’s the first tracking device of its kind, automatically installed with the app. Other insurance companies track driving through a device attached to your car. Progressive’s Snapshot tool is an example.

“There’s a lot about car insurance that’s really just broken,” said Cristol Rippe, Marketing VP for Root. “Because these platforms are so old and built on legacy, they just don’t have the ability to take advantage of the technology available today.”

While they also look at age and marital status, Root has dropped factors like occupation and education, and Timm said the primary driver for the insurance rate is how you’re driving. On more dangerous driving days, like St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, and New Year’s Eve, Root offers free Lyft rides to policyholders.

In that, responsible behavior is rewarded, a system that Timm plans to carry forward as he branches out.

“If you eat right and exercise regularly, why are you paying the same price for life insurance as somebody who’s not doing that?” He said. “Why aren’t you reaping those benefits?”

“There’s all sorts of places where people are doing things that are responsible behaviors that the insurance industry is ignoring,” Timm continued. “I think as Root continues to find those, we’re going to continue to roll out new products.”

Within the next year, Timm hopes the company will offer home insurance, with rewards for people who take care of their homes and take security measures.

With its subjective prices and ease of use, Root has attracted users of all ages, contrary to Timm’s initial assumptions.

“I think that’s because regardless of your age we don’t really want to participate in a broken system,” Timm said.

Roughly 10 percent of people at any given time are searching for insurance, said Rippe. Since Root launched three months ago, she’s found that, through the number of people downloading and navigating through the app, Root is resonating in the Columbus area. Statewide, they’re still a little behind. Root is available on iPhone only.

For more information, visit www.joinroot.com.