In May 2016, Openbay and Allstate released the thrilling news of a formal relationship. The announcement was a long time coming; Openbay had first begun working with Allstate in 2014, shortly after Frank Kazas had joined the company as the Allstate connected car manager. He and his team have put a great deal of work to bring the partnership to life, and to extend the benefits of Openbay to Allstate’s users. We spoke with Kazas to learn about his background, how he came to work at Allstate, and the complementary relationship between the Fortune 100 company and our startup.
What’s your background?
I grew up in the Chicago area, in Schaumburg, and went to the University of Illinois. At first, I was undecided on a major, but after attending an info session, I decided to study supply chain management. I was attracted by the notion of collaboration across channel partners, and how powerful the results could be when it’s done right. At the time, supply chain was an up-and-coming area of focus, so the program was very small. There were only about 15 of us in my cohort, so it was a nice change-of-pace from being at such a large University.
Caterpillar was heavily recruiting at my school, so I interned there and then went to work full time after graduation. In my seven years at Cat, I held various roles. I began as an account manager, then worked as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, and moved into a financial-modeling role.
While with Caterpillar, I graduated from Kellog with my MBA, and decided it was time for a career change. I went to work in strategy consulting at L.E.K. Consulting doing M&A and corporate strategy work, mostly in the industrial sector. It was fascinating, exciting and rewarding, while also being a high-pressure, high-demand environment. About two years ago, I moved out of consulting, and started at Allstate.
What attracted you to Allstate?
Having known a few people who worked at Allstate, I knew that it was a great place to work. Growing up in the Chicago area, Allstate has been a staple company for years, and working for a company with deep Chicago roots was attractive to me. After a few days at Allstate, I quickly learned that the people are wonderful; they’re very smart and driven, and have the right set of values. It’s a family-focused company with the notion that employees have lives outside of the office. I really liked the combination of all those things. Allstate gives us the flexibility to work on interesting projects while also having time to be with our families, which I found to be a super attractive balance.
I joined Allstate on the Connected Car team, where I am now. I find the work interesting for a variety of reasons – it’s a new and innovative space and can be the foundation for a lot of future opportunities for Allstate. It was a very new group when I joined – I think I was the fifth person to join the product team – but it has grown a good deal since then. It’s been a great experience to help build and mold our group into a forward-thinking and innovative team.
What kind of work do you do?
Within Connected Car, I oversee a product team and our focus is on building consumer-facing digital products. Currently my team is looking at the vehicle ownership journey to determine which experiences cause vehicle owners the most pain and stress. Then, we look for areas where can we help.
Openbay fits in that journey; repair and maintenance has a big role to play in vehicle ownership, and it addresses a significant chunk of the overall experience. We also look for other opportunities to make vehicle ownership easier, less complicated, and less stressful. We constantly seek feedback from consumers, and then align that with our capabilities to determine where we can play.
How’s working with Openbay?
I began working with Openbay very soon after I started at Allstate in July 2014.
I think we have a really good partnership because I view our respective strengths as complementary. Allstate is a well-known brand with a large customer base, and we have a strong history of developing products and delivering them to consumers across the country. Openbay has solid product that we think solves a big problem for our customers. The culture at Openbay that reflects a startup mentality is a healthy check-and-balance for us. We appreciate the quick-and-nimble mentality they bring to the partnership.
Do you have any car memories to share?
Our family has a car-repair story that’s a big reason why I see a lot of value in the Openbay partnership.
When I was younger, my family got a referral to a local mechanic in town, so we took the car to him. At first, the car was fine, but then we started noticing that things would go wrong a few weeks or months after he’d complete a repair. In one instance, all of a sudden our A/C stopped working, and we discovered a fuse had been loosened. It turns out the mechanic was breaking stuff — whenever he’d fix one thing, he’d break another thing. I can imagine how many people go through this, and they have feelings of uncertainty when they’re in need of auto repair. People just want someone who’s honest and will do good work, and they want to pay a fair price. That’s real to me.
I think that uncertainty is why so many people head to dealerships; they offer a real sense of security. When my wife and I moved to downtown Chicago, we didn’t know a local mechanic, and the thought of beginning the search for one online was harrowing and time-consuming. We said, ‘Let’s go to the dealer, so at least we know what we’re getting.’
I like that Openbay takes the mystery out and solves problems for customers who are going through the same experience. We’ve had this problem validated time and time again, whether doing formal consumer research or just chatting with coworkers about their experiences. When it’s time for people to get their vehicles serviced, they don’t know what to do, or where to go. Openbay solves the problem in a direct way.
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