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Meet Chris Kelly, George Mueller, and Cassie Carlon of NextGen Leads

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Kelly, George Mueller, and Cassie Carlon.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Chris, George, and Cassie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Chris Kelly: My career had some stutter starts. I graduated from college thinking the only job I was qualified for was investment banking, so I did that for a few months and realized it wasn’t for me. I quit and tried starting an online dog breeder directory with my friend Kris Kibak, who later became my partner in NextGen Leads, but that didn’t work out either. I was nearly broke and needed a job but it was 2007, Google had just won Fortune’s Best Place to Work for the first time, and I was dead set on working there.

After about nine months and something like 18 interviews — during which time I worked a few temp jobs to pay the rent — I finally landed a position as an AdSense Product Specialist in Mountain View. I was stoked. This was basically the starting point of my career and a really formative experience. I learned how online advertising works, how to program, and I got to see how a large company builds (awesome) products. I drank deep of the Kool-Aid and am still a huge Google fanboy to this day, but I still had an entrepreneurial itch.

In late 2009, I saw that my friend Kris was having a lot of success at media buying, and I decided to give it a shot as well. After about six months of spending my evenings and weekends building up my online advertising business (White Harp), I decided to leave Google in July 2010 to work on it full time. About a month later, my business started struggling and I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. More stutter starts, hard times. Thankfully, I still had health insurance through COBRA and so was able to receive treatment at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco without too much hardship.

After about six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation treatment, my oncologist gave me the good news that I was in remission (and still am!). White-Harp also started growing quickly around this time, and I spent the next couple of years building it up from my home office. Having spent my entire post-college life in San Francisco, in 2012 I was ready for a change of scene and moved to San Diego. Shortly after that, I made the decision to try something that was a little more stable and less risky than media buying, so I co-founded a health insurance agency, HSK Insurance Solutions, with two friends, Mitch Swersky and Shaun Hunsaker.

My role in the company was to manage the back office and lead generation, and it was in that role that I started working on the idea for NextGen Leads. I felt that many of the lead generation companies I saw were lagging when it came to technology and giving customers what they wanted and that a company that took more of a “Google approach” — solving problems with technology rather than throwing bodies at them, putting customers first — would do well. I had never undertaken a project of this scope before and decided I’d have a greater chance of success if I partnered with someone with more experience.

In the intervening years, my friend Kris had co-founded The Control Group (TCG), a successful San Diego based web development and marketing company. I took the idea to him and we decided to incubate NextGen Leads within TCG. Our first developer (now our CTO) was Ronnie Garcia, who has architected all of the products we’ve built since Day One. His team spent about a year building the first iteration of the NextGen platform while I stayed busy signing on our first customers and getting our marketing campaigns off the ground. This was a “many hats” time for me, running our ad campaigns, doing sales and customer support, and taking care of the myriad random things that crop up on a daily basis when you’re starting a new company. There were some long days and a heaping dose of stress here and there, but it was also an exciting time.

In early 2015, we left our incubation stage and hired our first salesperson, George Mueller (now our VP of Sales and Operations). We moved into a new office, launched our Live Transfer product, and hired our first ten Live Transfer Agents, one of whom, Cassie Carlon, is now our Director of Sales. Suddenly our little project was an actual company with a lot of employees! In the three years since then, we have moved offices a couple more times and grown quite a bit. We now have about 65 employees (all here in San Diego), thousands of customers, and have expanded to three verticals — health insurance, life insurance, and Medicare.

It’s been a wild ride and a lot of hard work. I’m very proud of our team and the awesome company we’ve built, and am excited to come into work every day to see where we go next!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
George Mueller: The road was about as smooth as any road in San Diego. From the humble beginnings of door desks, which, as the name suggests, are desks literally made from doors and saw horses, to where we are today, it has always been a wonderful challenge (which we gladly accept). But I guess that’s what you should expect when entering an industry dominated by corporations with decades-long experience and hundreds of employees! I’ll touch on the first challenge we experienced since it was the foundation for where we are today.

When we first started actively selling NextGen Leads’ product and service, we were up against a few major hurdles:
1. The advertising industry did not have the best reputation.
2. We were a brand-new company with a relatively small online presence.
3. We knew how to generate leads, but had no idea how to sell them.

We knew numbers 1 and 2 would take care of themselves as we grew, but number 3 was a toughy. It took a few months of research to fully understand what our target consumer was looking for in a lead vendor and create a compelling offer to entice them to sign up.

After what seemed like hundreds of conversations, we decided Warm Transfers were the ticket to growth so, we shifted our laser focus from data leads and began hiring call center agents to flesh out our live call product. The creation of our call center was a huge inflection point in the history of NextGen Leads which, due to the increase in customer count, inbound interest, and revenue, allowed for much greater flexibility in terms of team composition and gave me the freedom to begin hiring dedicated sales and support agents. This was really what I consider the catalyst to our exponential growth and the foundation of where we are today. Since this time, we have expanded into three distinct verticals and grown employee headcount to more than 60!

I am grateful for the challenges experienced during my time with the company due to the opportunity it gives us to learn and grow. The challenges we face on an individual and company level are the stories we share.

Tell us about your business/company. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc.
Cassie Carlon: NextGen leads is an industry-leading provider for health, Medicare, and life insurance leads. We understand the success of our customers is primarily reliant on the quality of our leads, so we are dedicated to relentlessly making optimizations to our lead-gen process and gathering feedback to ensure that success. We’re known for our dedicated customer support, lead quality, buyer-friendly dashboard, and the optimization process.

What are you most proud of as a company?
Cassie Carlon: I’m most proud of our ability to remain 100% transparent with our customers and employees. In my 3 years of working at NextGen, I’ve listened to various customer concerns and qualms surrounding their past experience with lead vendors. I love that I am able to confidently and authentically alleviate these concerns by openly explaining NextGen’s processes and practices.

NextGen’s lead generation process is done internally, so we are able to track every lead from beginning to end and we can confidently share with customers where leads come from and how it came to us. This transparency allows us to maintain long-lasting relationships with our customers and give a positive connotation to the agent/agency and lead vendor partnership.

What sets you apart from others?
Cassie Carlon: NextGen’s optimization process and self-serve platform are what sets us apart from others. We’ve found that leads aren’t a one-size-fits-all, so we implemented a process that allows us to increase lead performance for customers based on their reported sales and feedback. This process allows us the opportunity to focus on generating quality leads for each customer so they can focus on what they do best: selling insurance.

NextGen’s proprietary buyer interface is 100% self-serve and allows customers to create a free account, lead campaigns, and start buying leads in less than 5 minutes. All lead campaigns are fully controlled by the user and can be paused/activated and updated in real-time. Also, there are no contracts, funding minimums, or obligations to using NextGen, so customers are able to find ease in getting started without any binding commitments.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Chris Kelly: I think success is less about achieving exactly what you set out to do and more about how you feel about what you’ve done. There have been times where I followed a plan and went exactly where I was trying to go, and in the end felt like I failed; my extremely short career in finance is a good example. Conversely, there have been many times where the path was rambling and the end goal ill-defined or changing along the way, and the whole thing felt like success. If you had told me 12 years ago I’d be selling insurance leads for a living, I’d have said, “What’s an insurance lead?”

Ultimately, if I feel good about something — whether through the satisfaction of building something, pride and admiration for the people you work with, financial reward, whatever — I think of it as a success. If I don’t, it’s not a success. I guess that’s kind of a “well duh” answer but that’s the best answer I’ve got for now. You try answering it! It’s hard.

Pricing:

  • Shared Leads: $3.50
  • Exclusive Leads: $10.00
  • Live Transfers: $20.00
    Medicare Supplement
  • Shared Leads: $10.00
  • Exclusive Leads: $20.00
  • Live Transfers: $35.00
    Life Insurance
  • Shared Leads: $10.00
  • Exclusive Leads: $20.00
  • Live Transfers: $25.00

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