Matt Younkle

Co-Founder, Pythonic AI

Co-Developing with Northwestern Mutual: Three Key Takeaways from My Experience

Topics: Cream City Labs.

After winning Northwestern Mutual's second Reverse Pitch MKE event in April of last year, my startup company, Pythonic AI, is about to pilot a product we've been co-developing with the company. Our application uses artificial intelligence to read and review medical records – a process that, for the most part, is done manually at insurance and other companies. We apply machine learning to speed up this tedious and time-consuming process.

So, what's it like for a startup to partner with an industry-leading company? In a word – powerful. Here are three key takeaways from my experience so far:

Having access to potential customers and their expertise is invaluable: I'm a fan of Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator), and I think he put it the best when he said, "The only thing that will absolutely kill a startup is if you build a product that nobody wants to buy." You have to talk to potential customers early and often. That's difficult to do if you're on the outside, particularly if you want to work with enterprise customers, because it's hard to get access to the right people. But, because we're co-developing with Northwestern Mutual, we have access to some of the leading experts in life and disability underwriting and claims, who have happily offered us their time, expertise and feedback. As we learn what they want and need as a potential customer, we're removing a lot of our product-development risk. Everybody involved has been very enthusiastic about what we're doing and is truly rooting for us to make this work. Even a company that is 160+ years old still wants to evolve and be at the forefront, so they are open to great ideas wherever they may come from.

As a startup, the logistical perks of working on the Northwestern Mutual campus are a big help. As co-developers, Northwestern Mutual has given us a home base inside their innovation space, Cream City Labs. It's a great setup. With plenty of desks, meeting rooms, great WiFi, a café with coffee and snacks – it has everything. Because we don't have to think about any of these logistics, we can remain very product-focused. Cream City Labs is also a perfect location for our team; I'm from Madison and my co-founder, Dr. Baoqiang Cao, lives in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, so Milwaukee is a natural meeting spot.

Working with Northwestern Mutual will better position us to succeed. Northwestern Mutual is a well-respected organization in the financial industry and beyond. That opens a lot of doors for us to meet other potential customers. We often hear: "Well, if it's working for Northwestern Mutual, we're interested. We need to figure out what this is all about." From a business development standpoint, having that association is incredibly valuable.

As I write this, we are on the brink of piloting with a major carrier, and in talks with several others, so it’s all very exciting. Interestingly, we also have a couple of potential customers in verticals that don't involve insurance, but they have the same desire to create a more efficient way to review documents.

Our relationship with Northwestern Mutual has given us seed capital, access to subject-matter experts, inbound interest from investors and customers, and a dynamic place to work – allowing us to stay focused on building great products. Everything a startup needs.

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