Assessing Risk Leads to New Business Idea

By Melanie Plenda, Originally posted in Business Monadnock

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Heart of the StartSteve Roll likes risk.

He likes assessing it, creating statistical models for it, trending it out and wrapping it up in a neat little explainable, sensible insurance package. And as an actuary for Liberty Mutual in Keene, this is what he did day in and day out.

Which is why it is not surprising he decided to take a big risk himself, leaving his job last August to go into the test prep business.

Roll is the owner and developer of Rising Fellow, a study system designed specifically to help people trying to pass the exams necessary to become a credentialed actuary.

“These exams require hundreds of hours of studying and have a pass rate of only about 40 percent,” Roll described. “The insurance companies, your employer, reimburse you for the materials. My experience along the way was that, at least for some of the exams, that the materials really weren’t all that great. And after I finished the exam, one thing I wanted to do was to go back and create better study materials for people taking the exam. So that was kind of my original idea in creating this business.”

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Roll attended Roberts Wesleyan College before landing a job with Liberty Mutual as an actuarial analyst and ultimately an assistant actuary. An actuary, Roll explained, is someone who analyzes risk and creates statistical models for insurance companies in order to manage risk and therefor price insurance. Also actuaries help offset losses for insurance companies so that the insurance company doesn’t go insolvent – so that they have enough money to pay out claims.

“You know, one thing actuaries do is they take a look at the claims history in the past and trend that information forward into the future,” he said. “And kind of use that todecide if the overall rates are appropriate to cover losses in the future.”

While he was working, he was also studying to become an accredited actuary.“So while you’re taking the exams, typically what they do is get a study manual or take an online or live seminar to prepare for taking the exam,” he said.

The seminars are challenging, he says. Not only that, the manuals include a lot of technical and detailed information based on old papers written for actuarial journals and can be hard to understand. Not wanting to have to do it all over again if he couldn’t pass the test the first time, Roll created his own system of studying.

“One thing I did was sort of along the way I had created these pretty detailed notes for some of the exams,” he said. “I created a sort of step-by-step approach for how to solve certain problems that might come up on the exam. And so, I found that to be something to be incredibly helpful to me for passing some of the upper-level exams.”

These notes were so helpful, he passed the exam in one sitting, he said. Afterward, staring at the pile of books, papers and notes he didn’t have the heart to move or open again following the exam, he had an idea.

“I had all my old study materials sitting around,“ he recalled. “I thought that might be something that if packaged right could really help others pass the exam.”

On a whim one day, he signed up for a session with Wayne “Wink” Faulkner, a business coach who offers a free coaching session once a month at the Hannah Grimes Center.“I kind of told him about my idea and he was really excited about it,” Roll said. “And it definitely was pretty inspiring to get a little bit of outside validation that this was a good idea. From that point that’s what kind of spurred me to get going and actually open the material again and start creating the program.”

Roll started gathering his materials, but he also availed himself of a lab at Hannah Grimes where he was able to develop a business plan.

“It really helped me just think about a number of areas that I didn’t really think about,” Roll said. “I know the material real well, I know that, I know the actuarial side of things really well. But there’s a lot in terms of creating a business – the marketing and sales side – that I didn’t know.

“The startup lab was helpful to kind of explore more and learn about the different areas you need to know to start a business.”

Roll left Liberty Mutual in August and officially launched Rising Fellow in January. Roll says he recently entered the incubator program at Hannah Grimes, and now has an office space.

“I launched my first product, which is a study manual and other prep materials,” he said. “I’ve been making good sales and getting good feedback, and I’m very excited about that.”

He says the exam for which he built the study guide wraps up in May.

“I am looking forward to getting more reviews and more feedback to continue to build out my products for this particular exam,” he said. “Longer term, I want to expand out to additional exams, a whole series of exams.”

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