- April 29, 2016
When Jason Marra started First Family Insurance in 2008 from his home, he bought a fancy raft so he could float in his pool with a laptop computer and cell phone.
But when the phone rang for the first time and he reached for it, Marra nearly tipped the raft and the laptop into the water. “In theory it sounded like a great idea,” Marra chuckles at the memory.
Good thing the raft incident didn't sink his startup.
In 2014, Fort Myers-based First Family ranked as the 94th largest company on the Gulf Coast according to the Business Observer's Gulf Coast 500 ranking of the top companies in the region. The company has 150 employees and 1,500 independent agents scattered nationwide who sell insurance ranging from health to life and property.
First Family's commission revenues of $136 million in 2014 were nearly triple its revenues in 2013. Marra projects revenues will reach $250 million in 2015.
More expansion is coming. First Family was recently awarded $250,000 in incentives from the state and Lee County in return for employing 250 people at its Fort Myers headquarters and making a $3 million capital investment.
A software engineer by training who earned his college degree at age 18, Marra moved to Florida in 2001 to work for Royal Caribbean. When his boss got laid off and he was promoted to the top spot, he had a vision that he'd suffer the same fate, so he quit and started selling insurance. “Here I am getting a promotion and now I'm self employed working on commission,” Marra smiles.
In 2004, after a hurricane damaged his home on the east coast of the state, Marra moved to Fort Myers where his fiancee had family and he found a job selling health insurance.
After four years working for someone else, Marra decided to start his own company. Once again he defied the odds: It was 2008, when the financial crisis was at its peak. “The intent was to work from home,” he says. “Next thing you know I have three friends working out of my house.”
Marra's pregnant wife was the push he needed to move out of the house and into an office. “We outgrew that in two or three months,” says Marra, whose corporate headquarters today measure nearly half a football field.
The key to the phenomenal growth has been the software Marra developed for his agents. Marra wrote software programs that combine customer management, phones, lead management and commission tracking so that agents are motivated to excel. The key is its simplicity: “You plug the headset into your computer and that's it,” Marra says.
Because the software tracks phone calls and computers, it measures performance and users can see the results immediately. “You just run one report and it gives you insight into your business,” Marra says.
Marra is the lead developer for Intruity, a company he formed that now employs a half-dozen software engineers. Today, 17,000 agents around the country use the software, called Agency Intel. It's sold as a service for $10 to $100 a month per agent, depending on the modules.
Agency Intel has allowed First Family to expand nationally, using webinars to train agents who work remotely. “It's really a mobile business,” Marra says.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss