At the age of 18, Craig Sturgill founded his first business. While the young entrepreneur built his Medicare-focused insurance agency, he was unable to find lead-generating vendors that met his standards for quality and high-performance.
“I decided to take control,” Sturgill said. And so in 2013, Sturgill and his two partners co-founded Excel.
Serving as Excel’s COO, Sturgill has a clear vision for what he intends to achieve. “Our focus is being the top brand in the digital customer acquisition space focusing exclusively on insurance,” he said. “I believe much of our success has come from a simple reality — doing what is right, even if that may result in lower profits from time to time.”
“I believe much of our success has come from a simple reality — doing what is right.”
But that doesn’t mean Sturgill has tempered his ambitions for how Excel can grow.
“We are a privately-held company with no outside investment, and while we have experienced rapid scale over the last decade, we want to take our business to entirely new heights,” he said. “We need to bring on the right talent who have the hunger, skills and experience to lead our company into a new stratosphere. We brought on four amazing board advisors in 2022 to help guide our growth strategy.”
What are your responsibilities as COO?
My responsibilities are broad, but my main focus is to align our vision and mission with robust strategy and execution, while keeping operations organized with a balance of simplicity. Culture is at the heart of everything we do. Our culture is made up of individuals who want to excel in a high-performing team environment and are fiercely dedicated to winning and making the digital customer acquisition space a better place. Our goal is to bring on the right people, and the rest will take care of itself.
What has led to Excel’s success so far?
We believe in a win-win-win business model. The consumer should win in the form of getting their insurance needs resolved and have a good experience along the way. Our clients, which include large brokers and insurance carriers, should win by acquiring the right customers at scale. And we want to win for the company by having a reputable, growing and profitable business.
Who did you look to for inspiration early on and why?
We didn't begin with a specific source of inspiration within our industry. We wanted to create our own unique business model with an intense focus on strategic partners and a quality-driven business model. However, after we started to scale and build strong industry partnerships, we became inspired by many of our clients and vendors alike who had businesses aligned with our core values. Many of those organizations have gone on to become large publicly-traded companies.
Were there any moments when you felt like giving up? If so, what pushed you to keep going?
Starting Excel wasn’t my first business, so I had some prior lessons I was able to reflect on during challenging times. One of my earliest memories when I considered giving up on being an entrepreneur was randomly bumping into a high school friend. At that time, I was two years into starting my first business, putting in tons of hours and barely seeing the personal financial results start to flourish. My friend, however, was bragging about his brand new car that was paid for by the company, ample paid time off, company paid insurance, benefits and cell phone — he went on and on. That night, I deeply questioned if being an entrepreneur was really worth it or not. However, after digging deep, I realized the motivation that drove me more than anything else was the freedom I could gain by being an entrepreneur.
While my friend may have some nice job perks, I had the ability to define my future, control my time, make a positive impact on society and achieve whatever dreams I set my mind to. And as I grew a team, I could design the best policies and environment for my team to thrive and achieve freedom of their own. That became my mission. I have not looked back since.
“I had the ability to define my future, control my time, make a positive impact on society and achieve whatever dreams I set my mind to.”
What scared you the most during your first few years as a founder?
The fear of the unknown. As an entrepreneur, you always try to be brave. The definition of bravery is not simply the absence of fear. It’s having fear, but deciding to execute anyways.
The challenging thing is deciding which things are worth the time and attention and worth taking a risk on. Many new entrepreneurs and businesses are flooded with new ideas and opportunities, so it takes careful planning and focus to execute well and not get distracted. At the same time, you don’t want to get paralysis by analysis while waiting for the perfect moment. If you feel like you have all the answers figured out and a “perfect” plan, you likely already missed the boat. Timing is critical in business and it will never be perfect.