Podcast

Episode: 109 |
Anish Shah:
Comedy and Consulting:
Episode
109

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Anish Shah

Comedy and Consulting

Show Notes

So a professional comedian and management consultant walk into a bar…

Actually, that’s just Anish Shah getting a drink.

Anish Shah is a McKinsey alum and professional comedian who does corporate gigs around the world as well as independent management consulting.

In this episode, Anish shares the story of how he built his comedy career, and we’ll hear a clip from one of his performances.

Check out videos on his website, https://www.anishcomedy.com/videos, where you can also sign up on his mailing list to get notified of upcoming shows, or reach out to him about booking him for your corporate or charity event.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Anish, it is great to have you on the show.
Anish Shah: Thank you, I’m excited to be here, Will. I appreciate you having me on.
Will Bachman: So Anish, you were 19 and you started Discount Saving Group. Grew to a company of 30 employees. Talk to me about that.
Anish Shah: Yeah it was, I think, something that wasn’t really expected. And the way it started was during my freshman year, during second semester, I was in one of the bookstores, Follet’s Bookstore at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champagne. And I overheard the manager talking to her employees saying, “Don’t forget today after the store closes, the band is going to come in. There’s about 300 of them. And they get five percent off on all texts book and 25% off of everything else in the store.”
And I’m sure textbooks cost way more now, but back then they were still pretty expensive. It was like 300 bucks a semester for textbooks. So five percent was $15 a semester on textbooks. And so, when you’re a college kid and you’re scrounging literally for quarters to pay for Taco Bell, that 15 bucks per semester is useful.
So I thought to myself, “I could probably get a group of 300 people together. And maybe I can get this bookstore to give me five percent off for those 300 people, and maybe give me a small percentage as well.”
So I went to Follet’s the next day, sort of thought about it, and said, “Hey, if I can get 300 people, will you give them five percent off, 25% off of everything else? And give me a three percent on everything that’s sold.” Which, on 300 bucks of textbooks would be an extra nine dollars.
And they said, “Sure.” And so then I actually didn’t end up doing it with Follet’s, I did it with another bookstore called TIS Bookstore. Because I liked them a little bit better and they gave me the same deal. Then I had to figure out how to go out and get 300 people.
So I messaged the top 50 student organization presidents on campus and just said, “Hey, we wanted to give you a free membership into this name that I made up, Discount Savers Group for one semester. And you’ll get five percent off on all of your textbooks if you send people over to pick up a card.”
And then I didn’t know how many people would show up. I had promised the bookstore 300, and we had, they said, “Bring as many as you can,” and 1,200 people showed up in the first five days.
So we collected the percentage of revenue on all those people. At the same time, because we were only doing it for a semester, I would sell them the next semester. Basically say, “Hey look, you can get three months now or you can get the full year of discounts for an extra five bucks.”
So like 98% of people would pay the five bucks so that they would get the same savings next year, or next semester.
Will Bachman: Wait a minute. They’re going to go to the store. You’re going to get three percent on what they buy, and they pay you five dollars for that privilege.
Anish Shah: Yeah, and five dollars is only the first semester when we set it up. After that we were like, everybody, 98% is way too high of a conversion rate. Let’s take it up to $10.
And we were still getting like 93% conversion. So then it was like, okay, this is making a ton of money. We had thousands and thousands of customers at our campus. And so started expanding to other campuses, starting working with some national retailers and it just became this really crazy endeavor for a 19-year-old college kid. But it was super fun and you learn all the sort of pros and cons of starting a business very quickly.
For example, one of the cons, or one of the mistakes, I guess, that I made was switching from Follet’s to TIS. Because when I wanted to expand, these bookstores were giving me real estate in their store for people to come and pick up their cards, because it would spur the immediate sale of the books.
So when I wanted to expand, the natural path was to expand to other TIS stores, of which were there were five. Compared to Follet’s, who had 800.
Will Bachman: Oh. Nice decision there. That was great.
Anish Shah: Yeah, exactly. So lots of interesting lessons learned. Lots of fun experiences and built a really cool business in a college town where beer costs, I think we had 25¢ pitchers when I was in school. So I was kind of like the little rich Indian kid on campus, which was fun.
Will Bachman: And how long did you ride this wave? And did you end up selling this thing? What happened to it?
Anish Shah: So I did it for three years. And a couple things. One is that I learned that barriers to entry really matter. So I started this on campus and I remember the Daily Illini, our school newspaper, came and interviewed me about it, because it became kind of this big sensation. When I started there were lines of people going out the door at TIS to get their card. And so they wrote an article. A bunch of other people inquired about it.
And within one year, six different competitors had opened up. One of them run by the Daily Illini. They created their own discount card.
Will Bachman: Business manager reads the paper, “This is a pretty good idea. Let’s do this.”
Anish Shah: Exactly. They literally, they wrote an article about it and then stole it. My best friend started one, it ended our friendship. It was craziness, because there was nothing, all that could stop you was technically I had an exclusive contract with all of these retailers that were local. But I had no budget to defend those contracts.
So they would just go out and get similar deals. So that was one thing that happened, and then another thing that happened was, it’s a very cyclical business. The reason we had 30 people was because we’d hire a bunch of part-time staff to help sell cards at the beginning of each semester. But everybody’s starting roughly the same time, and so I can’t really be on every campus all the time. And I’m missing months of school at the beginning of each semester, which is, in business school application I argued that that why I had such a terrible undergrad GPA.
So this replicability of it was not great, right. So that first campus, we were getting 93, 98% conversions on that upsell when you came up for your card. Other campuses, we would do worse, depending on how good the campus manager was, it might be like 50%, something like that.
And so I ran into a bunch of problems. And so we decided, just sell some of the contracts that were more valuable, some of the cooler things that we’d set up to some of the competitors.
And I at that point had gotten a job as a marketing guy for a hot, new internet company that I thought was going to be huge, and it did not. But it kinda was this, sell the contracts and then get out of the business basically.
Will Bachman: Let’s talk about standup comedy. You were at McKinsey, and you said, just like most people that leave the firm, you decided to go into standup comedy. Standard path, business school, McKinsey, standup comedy. Talk to me about that.
Anish Shah: Yeah, you know, I was always the kid when I was younger that liked being on stage. So I was often the lead in the school plays in high school. And when I was in college, they would have these big South Asian cultural shows, in this 1,600 person auditorium. And I was the kid that would MC that stuff.
And so I always liked being on stage. The MCing was really doing standup comedy, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I thought it was just MCing the show. And then even when I went to business school and McKinsey, I was always just kind of having, poking a little fun at the whole thing.
You were at McKinsey, right? I think we were there around the same time. I was ’04 to ’09.
Will Bachman: Yeah, we overlapped.
Anish Shah: Yeah, so if you remember, at McKinsey they have the Know Portal, which is like our internal knowledge portal for your listeners, and there was this declared expertise section. Do you remember that?
Will Bachman: I do.
Anish Shah: Right. So nobody ever filled out the declared expertise, because it felt very egotistical. And no one read it. So I did silly things at McKinsey. Like I filled out that declared expertise and it was, the expertises were like, you know, giving clients a non-answer answer.
The non-answer answer, by the way, was like, it came from a private equity project that I did where I was in the elevator on the second day of the project, I was like an associate, it was the first private equity gig I ever did. And someone got on, and he was like, “Oh, you’re one of those McKinsey guys, right?”
And I’m like, “Yeah.”
And he’s like, “What do you think about the deal?”
And it was like day two, and I’m like a new associate, I know nothing. And I gave him a non-answer answer, which was: “You know, I like the business, I don’t know if I like it at this price.” Which is nothing. It literally gives him no information.
And he looks at me and he goes, “I like where your head’s at kid.” And he gave me this thumbs up and left.
And I’m like, “Great. Non-answer answer.”
So it was stuff like that that I wrote. And it went pretty viral within the firm. These consultants from South Africa came in to Chicago, and they knew I worked in Chicago and they wanted to go out for drinks.
I think I’ve been told that it still hangs in the office in Milan. The consultants that work there don’t know it’s a real person, they thought someone just made it as a joke.
Yeah, I would just do stuff like that, and then, you know …
Will Bachman: Any other areas of expertise that you had beyond the no answer answer?
Anish Shah: Yeah, it was “How to Get Ready on a Monday Morning in Under 30 Minutes.” And it had lessons like brush your teeth in the shower and stuff like that. And then there was “How to Let Your Expenses Pile Up” until they’ve reached something like $26,000 and your wife is threatening to divorce you.
I don’t remember all of them. But it was like, you know, knowing exactly what type of clothes to wear to the airport to get through security as fast as possible. So slip on shoes only, no laces. That sort of stuff. Belts that don’t set off the alarm.
So it was like, it was actually somewhat useful stuff. But, it was fun.
Will Bachman: Some of the important skills that weren’t captured in the engagement and performance review.
Anish Shah: Exactly.
Will Bachman: So, okay, so you’re doing that. And then back to the story. So keep going. What was the path?
Anish Shah: Yeah, so I was there for something like five years. And then I got an opportunity to work for a company called SPSS, which is a, a lot of people know it for their statistics package. But they had this new, cutting edge analytics technology. And so they actually were, they had a plan which was they were in the process of buying a company called Confirm It. Which was a $50 million market research company.
And so they said, “Look, you’ve never worked in technology before, so why don’t you come be our head of strategy? Learn the business, work on sales and marketing issues while we finalize this deal. And then once the deal is finalized, that’ll be your company to work with and help make successful through the acquisition.”
Which was cool. It was sort of like getting a $50 million P&L coming out as an engagement manager from McKinsey. And so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll take that.” And then I went in and I worked on the sales and marketing stuff. And before we could close the Confirm It deal, IBM swooped in and bought us for like 40% above our share price.And the first thing they did was kill all the deals that we had going on.
And so I had left to join this small, almost startupy type of environment to have a fun business to be pretty actively involved in. And now I was employee #7D5560 at IBM, something like 17 levels removed from the CEO. I counted once.
And if I’d gone straight to IBM, it would’ve been a, from McKinsey, I would’ve come in at a completely different level.
Will Bachman: I just want to pause to say that I think there’s fewer than 17 levels between a seaman recruit and the Commander in Chief of the United States. So that’s pretty impressive [inaudible 00:13:33] at IBM.
Anish Shah: Yeah, and you’re just like this sad McKinsey boy, like 17 levels down, screaming into the ether. Like, “No, you don’t understand, if I’d come another way I’d be on this corporate strategic planning team.”
But I also didn’t want to work for such a massive company. But as part of the acquisition there was retention contracts and all of that. And so I decided I’ll finish out the retention contract and then I didn’t know, that was two years long.
So I did that. I led the integration of SPSS’s sales and marketing function into IBM. So I learned a lot about how this massive acquirer acquires and integrates companies. And so that was kind of the silver lining of the whole thing. That and obviously all the money from the equity. Both of those things were upsides of IBM buying us.
So I left, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, and so I said, “I’m going to take,” I’d been working like 90 hours a week for 12 years at this point. And so I said, “I’m going to move to New York, live life for a year as a standup comedian.” Which I had been doing on the side while I was at IBM, I’d been doing it as a hobby.
And the way that that came about was, so we got bought and then shortly thereafter my wife, who had kinda been my counterpart, like I was the McKinsey consultant, she was the Goldman banker, I was the Yale MBA, she was the Harvard MBA. She had asked for a divorce. And so that created a huge, open space in my calendar. Plus IBM, people are done working at 4:30 every day. And I had been working from home so I realized, “Oh, normal people do things on a Tuesday night.”
So I decided there’s all this turmoil happening in my life, how can I use this productively? And I’d always wanted to try standup comedy, so I went to an open mic and I tried it and it was super fun. And I was like, “Oh, I gotta do this again.”
So while I was at IBM, I just used that time to really have fun doing standup comedy. And then when I decided to leave, I was like, “I’m going to move to New York, live life for a year as a standup comic. And then I’ll go back a year later to the corporate world.”
And then one year became six. So now I still live in New York, I’m still doing standup comedy. I do shows. I do a lot of shows for corporate events. So I just spoke at Google a couple of weeks ago. Did Microsoft’s holiday party.
And the fun thing about these corporate events is they happen all over the world. So I get to go do these quick trips to typically 15-20 countries a year. And have some fun making jokes about the corporate world and supplement it with independent consulting stuff, which I just started doing over the last couple years.
Will Bachman: So, right here is probably a good place. Let’s just take a pause and listen to a clip from one of your recent performances.
Anish Shah: Sure.
Will Bachman: Okay, and we’re back. Anish, that was awesome.
Anish Shah: Thank you.
Will Bachman: Okay, so you’re going around the world doing this, that’s pretty cool. What’s the plan? Is the plan continue pursuing this, that standup, the path that you’re doing?
Anish Shah: Yeah, I don’t, I used to be this type of person that really wanted to be the CEO guy in the business world. And then if I ever went into entertainment, I thought I’d be this type of person that wants to be the greatest comedian, like Eddie Murphy.
And I think what’s happened over time is I learned that one of the reasons I think I’m a decent consultant is I really like variety and being able to move on to the next thing. And in order to be the CEO or the greatest comedian of your generation, you have to really only want to do that thing for 20, 30 years.
And, for me, I think an ideal world is if I’m flexing up and down between some business type of stuff, like independent consulting or startups, advising young companies, that sort of thing, standup comedy, and maybe even adding some sort of nonprofit work. If my time, on average, is split a third, a third, a third, between those things and sometimes something big happens in comedy and that takes up a huge chunk, or something big happens in terms of a business I’m working with and that takes up a huge chunk, it can ebb and flow. But my ideal scenario is, I just want to enjoy the variety of doing a bunch of different things with a bunch of different people out there whether that’s the entertainment world, the business world, or something else.
Will Bachman: And I can imagine that keeping a foot in consulting continues to pay dividends and give you fresh material.
Anish Shah: Yeah, absolutely, it does.
Will Bachman: So, I’d love to hear a little bit about your process for coming up with material. Do you just set aside an hour every day and just write, or is it very spur of the moment? Do you test stuff out in comedy clubs?
I’d love to hear about the process of what eventually ends up on stage when you’re giving a show at the Microsoft holiday party.
Anish Shah: Yeah, I think it’s evolved over the course of the years of doing it. Now I’m coming up on eight, or ten if you count all that college jokes on stage stuff, years of doing this. And when I first started out, I, everything was scripted. I would write every word I was going to say on stage with markers for inflection and even written in a more colloquial style, rather than a formal writing style. Sometimes I’d have parentheses to cue some sort of body action or something like that. Or a hand motion, or an act out.
And over time, that’s become less and less so. Where now there’s not like this, you know, I have some idea and I sit down and I write for two hours. It’s much more I have an idea, I lay out the outline, structure of that idea, and then I take it to a stage and I start playing with it and seeing what works and what doesn’t and how can I add to it.
And a lot of times I might do three or four small shows in New York in a night. And so starting at six o’clock I’ll go test out the joke at one show and then I’ll walk 20 minutes to another show. And during that 20 minutes I’m rehearsing what went well in that joke and what didn’t and how can I change it.
And then I do another one and take a 30 minute walk to the next show. And so over the course of the night, the joke is very different at the end of the night than it was at the start.
Which, I think this whole process feels a little bit like in consulting, where, when you’re young, you build that PowerPoint deck and you want to get through it. And you want to read it word for word and make sure that the client really understands all this amazing work that you’ve done. And then you get to be a director and you have the PowerPoint deck, but you can talk to it because you the outline and you’re almost better improvising it than you are reading it as a script.
Will Bachman: That’s amazing. Do you keep a database of material? Or is it all … I’m curious about how you retain all those different ideas.
Anish Shah: I’ll say for … As a consultant, I definitely don’t have a great system. I’ve thought very long and in detail about I should build a database so that if I’m doing a show for a tech company that I can just search my database for anything that’s tagged tech and all the tech jokes will come up.
But in reality what, the only discipline that I have is that every time I write a set, or prepare a set for a show, I know all my jokes by certain keywords. So, for example, I have a joke about Harvard, and the keyword is Harvard.
So I have that keyword in there and so I’ll write out, say, a 45 minute show for BCG and it’ll have 50 keywords in there, something like that. And I email it to myself before the show. So invariably what ends up happening is instead of having a database, just, I’ve done so many of these now that I just to look in my email for, okay, if I’m doing Bain instead of BCG, lemme search my email for the various BCG shows that I’ve done or other consulting firm shows that I’ve done, look at those keywords I’ve put together for each of those and figure out which keywords I want to put together for this show that I’ve got coming up with Bain. Does that make sense?
Will Bachman: That’s very cool. So it’s kind of, the keywords unlock an entire anecdote, story. It actually really reminds me of chunking and what Josh Waitzkin talks about in his book about building expertise and Anders Ericson about how as you become more expert you start chunking moves together and you have larger and larger chunks. So for you, you have just one word, one keyword that unlocks the whole joke. You don’t need the parenthesis to indicate body movement anymore. That’s fascinating.
Anish Shah: Yeah, it’s, I’ve never really thought about it in terms of that chunking memory technique, but that’s what it is. And those keywords might unlock one line, or if it’s a newer joke, or if I’ve figured out how that line fits into a broader three minute joke, then the keyword might unlock a full three to five minute story or something like that.
And I’ve told that joke a million times before, I just need something to cue me to tell it.
Will Bachman: How does the business of being a comedian work? Do you have a booking agent who books you? Or do you just take the incoming calls? I imagine there’s a bit of a vetting or a sales process, they don’t just call you up and because they want at a holiday party. Do you have to try out or do they just watch videos? Talk a little bit about that side of your life.
Anish Shah: Yeah, so there are both agents and managers who have somewhat similar, somewhat different roles. They would tell you that their roles are very different. I haven’t totally figured out the nuances of the difference. But I think that a manager is a little bit more someone who partners with you specifically on your career and is almost like your personal consultant and is helping to think through things strategically and help open doors for you and all of that and make the right intros. And if you’re developing a TV pilot, they might be helping to work on that with you.
Whereas an agent, their main job, I think, is, at least in the early stages, to open doors for you. So you have a clip that you think would be good for the Tonight Show, you can get your agent to send it to the Tonight Show. Whereas you can’t really do that on your own unless the Tonight Show bookers end up seeing you on a show or you get referred by some other comedian that you work with.
That said, it’s interesting because all of that stuff, the industry stuff with managers and agents and all of that happens in New York and LA for the most part. So you have this weird choice that you have to make as a standup comic in terms of do you want to make money or do you want to become famous? Because the things that you have to do for those things, at least in the near term, are somewhat different.
So if you want to get famous, you should probably have another job. And spend all of your time doing shows for free in New York and LA so you can develop relationships with the other comedians so you can get seen by all the important industry types and cut your teeth against some of the world’s best comedians who are doing the same thing.
If you want to make an income, you have to leave New York and LA for long stretches of time to go and do road work or to go and do these corporate gigs or to go and do a college tour and all of that stuff. And those things will all make you a lot of money, but they don’t matter in terms of your ability to get a show with NBC.
And so I think for what ends up happening is for most comedians, they start at the age of 22 and they have ten years that they can burn just doing the local shows and develop a reputation, all of that.
For me, I started at 32. I was very much an adult and I had a lifestyle that I really didn’t want to give up. And so I had to figure out how to make an income. And this corporate and college stuff really provided that.
That said, I think one of the advantages of doing the independent consulting stuff is I get to stay more in New York and LA, which means I get to do more local, free shows that are frankly more fun and a little bit more artistic than some of the bigger road things I do.
Will Bachman: So it’s fascinating. I had never thought there’d be that distinction of that forced choice of be famous, which could eventually, at the very tail end of it, lead to lots of money. Or do you take the money now?
So I guess there’s a whole world of good comedians out there that most of us have not heard of, but they’re great. They’re just making money doing holiday parties.
Anish Shah: Yeah, no, there are definitely a bunch of corporate comedians who make a few hundred thousand dollars a year. And they make a very nice living doing it and they have no desire to get any fame or further in comedy, because you book, your typical corporate gig might pay ten, maybe 20 thousand dollars. And so if you can book 15 or 20 of those in a year, it’s not a bad life.
Will Bachman: And then, for you practically, how does the booking process work? Are you managing it all yourself? Do you have somebody that takes inquiries? Is there outbound outreach, proactive reaching for it? How does the mechanics of it work?
Anish Shah: Yeah, so I have an assistant who helps take a lot of the day-to-day work off of my plate. And then I also have agents. Agents again are, it’s funny, agents they, it’s kind of like you work for them in terms of helping to generate enough revenue that you’re worth them keeping on. Until you get big enough that they work for you. It’s a weird thing.
And so it’s more like me hoping that through commercial auditions and things like that that I’m a good client for my agency. So all of the other bookings that I do, we just handle between me and my assistant. So typically we will either have some sort of marketing going or someone saw me or there’s a referral or whatever the case may be. And we’ll get some inquiries or we’ll reach out for some potential opportunities.
And there’s not a ton of vetting that happens. It’s essentially once we’re engaged with somebody and we have an event, we give them, we understand what’s needed, we give them a quote based on where it is, how much time I’ll be doing. Is it like, do I come in and do an hour? Am I MCing a conference for three days?
And then I send them a couple of videos to show them what I do. And that’s typically it.
Will Bachman: I’ve seen cases where booking folks will come and see a whole series of different, for example short versions of theater shows or various dance or whatever performances. Is there something similar where a ton of booking agents will come in and see a whole series of standup comedians perform so they can figure out who do they want for their corporate shows?
Anish Shah: No, not so much for the corporate shows. There is that for college shows through an organization called NACA, which is like the North American Collegiate Association, I assume.
And so they have these national and regional events where motivational speakers, entertainers, comedians, etc. all kind of come in to compete for college booker money.
But the thing is, if you have a good enough process in place of marketing yourself, you can reach out to those colleges directly and not have to go through the whole NACA process, which is a little bit of a, it’s a little bit of a crapshoot. Because you might go into NACA and you set your price at the right amount and you have to guess relative to everybody else. You go in and hope that you do well and you might leave with 150 college bookings, or you might leave with nothing.
And so, to me, I’ve always found it better to just build relationships with the various universities and have a show that we do every few years at each university and I don’t have to bother with the whole NACA, gamble everything on one day type of approach.
Will Bachman: Cool. Let’s talk about your consulting. So I know you’ve done a lot of gross strategy work, there’s one area that you mentioned that is, I think, relatively distinctive. I don’t know of other folks that do this, which is around this claims evaluation process.
I would love to hear about that. I know that you did a whole number of those while you were at the firm.
Anish Shah: Yeah, so they’re called claims file reviews or closed file reviews. And it’s a really interesting process. I think you have to understand the claims process pretty well and the nuances of what an adjuster does and have some decent systems backing you up. But if you have experience doing that it’s a pretty interesting project that is quite valuable to insurance companies.
So basically what the idea of the project is is it says claims adjusters have a process that they’re supposed to be following. And when they make mistakes in that process, that often costs you money. Whether that’s payouts you shouldn’t have made, whether that’s future liability issues. Or anything else. Or just expenses in processing a claim that you should’ve have had, because it’s just something that you should’ve paid upfront.
So you have a bunch of different stages of a claim, starting with first notice of loss through to at the end, potentially there’s litigation or something like that. And for each of those steps, your claims adjustment process has a bunch of things that you’re supposed to do and ask that can send you on different paths.
So if it’s a very straightforward claim, it might be the first notice of loss just sends it directly to, yeah, it’s nothing really for us to check out here, let’s just pay this and not waste money sending somebody out.
If it’s more complicated, maybe you send somebody out, they have to calculate the appreciation cost, they have to do all sorts of other stuff. They have to investigate, right?
So what you do is you end up recruiting the, from within the company, the top ten to 15 top 10% adjusters. Like the people that they think are the best. And you bring them in and together you build a questionnaire for the claims process, for whatever product you’re doing, say auto insurance.
So they’ll build a questionnaire and that questionnaire might have 150 questions on it. It might have 350 questions on it. And it basically covers everything that should happen in a claims process for an auto insurer for that company.
And then you take those questions, and usually there’s some logic in there yet, if you answer yes to this then you go here. If you answer no to this …
SO you input that into some sort of a question, like a sort of survey management system that takes you down say 300 questions or whatever you have. And then what you do is you go out and you pull a sampling of files.
You do the math to say what’s statistically significant, say, you know, 300 files is enough to give me 95% confidence on some of these things. And you go and you pull those files and you have that group of top 10% claims adjusters go through those closed claims with the questionnaire that you’ve put together for how the claims should be adjudicated.
And then you start to look at the data to see patterns. And you see, “Oh, 10% of the time we calculate depreciate wrong.” Or two percent of the time is maybe more likely. “And our incorrect depreciate calculation is costing us, you know $6 million a year over the course of a billion dollars in claims.”
So is it, if we can build a depreciation calculator for $300 thousand and it saves us $6 million and now they don’t have to leave it up to the adjuster to figure out the depreciation manually, you’ve just saved $5.7 million, right?
And so you go through and you figure out all of these different areas of what we call leakage and say how much are these different leakage points worth and what can we do to solve them. And if you can build solutions around them, you can kind of eliminate that and it’s real, hard dollars that you create an impact for a client.
It’s pretty, I think it’s good for a couple reasons. One is it’s a pretty clearcut impact for the client. Two is it gives you quite a bit of access. So you learn a lot about the company from just learning about their claims adjustment process. So you learn about different parts of the company, you meet lots of different people in the company to potentially find opportunities to contribute in other areas.
Will Bachman: How often do you find cases where the company is actually probably underpaying the claim? And I suppose you have to count those as, you probably have to take action on those, too, right?
Anish Shah: Yeah, you do. If you find something where it’s clear they’ve made a mistake and they’ve underpaid something. I think that you do have to go and make those right. But I would say for every one thing you find where they underpaid, you find ten things where they overpaid.
Will Bachman: What are some of the other types of mistakes? You mentioned depreciation. Some of the other typical things that you would find?
Anish Shah: One is investigating something that didn’t need investigation. So there’s clear, one of the ways that insurance companies save a lot of money is by improving their accuracy on knowing when to just pay a claim without investigating.
And so there’s rules in place for when that first notice of loss call comes in for what’s supposed to happen there. And a lot of times if you send something down an investigation path, you’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars investigating this thing. And if the adjuster [inaudible 00:38:22] says, “Nope, this should’ve just been paid right off the bat.”
You’ll find a lot of that where, you know, how can we find ways to make our first notice of a loss process better with less wastage?
Another example is–
Will Bachman: Are we talking mainly auto insurance claims? Or fire and property damage? Or life insurance? What are we, or health insurance?
Anish Shah: Yeah, it could really be anything where there’s kind of a big payout. That’s where you have a fairly standard process. I think health insurance is a little bit more complicated, because you don’t really have necessarily one big payout for a lot of your customers.
You have a physical and blood tests and all that sort of stuff. So I think that is a little bit different. But things where it’s, people have been paying a premium for a long time and you don’t pay anything and then something happens and you have to pay a big chunk, whether that’s life insurance or whether that’s car insurance or renter’s insurance or home owner’s insurance. I think those are the areas where this makes the most sense.
Will Bachman: So the inclination could be to be conservative and “Let’s investigate this,” but you actually spend a lot of money. And sometimes it’s better to just pay the claim?
Anish Shah: Yeah, and I would say it’s often that way. The vast majority of your auto insurance claims that come in, they’re not faking it. It’s not made up. And you spend a lot of money trying to, it’s like the IRS, you spend a lot of money trying to find the small percentage of people that are trying to cheat the system. And if you can better at doing that, you can save a lot of money and reduce a lot of infrastructure.
Will Bachman: I’d like to hear about any of your routines. Either productivity routines of things that you’ve been doing a long time or adopted recently or your creative routines. Do you set aside an hour a week? Or do you just jot down ideas in a notepad when they come to you? I’d love to hear about either one of those.
Anish Shah: Yeah. I think that both as an independent consultant and as a public speaker/comedian, you have to be pretty self-motivated. And create structures that allow you to get things done without the forcing mechanism of a boss who is giving you a deadline for something.
And for me, routines have actually really helped me to create that forcing mechanism. And it’s kind of, I guess, a somewhat odd thing. So it’s not like I say I have to write for an hour every day. It’s more like when I first became a standup comedian, like full time, I got to New York and it was like I would go and start doing shows at six, seven o’clock at night, and then I’d continue either doing shows or hanging out with comedians until two, three o’clock in the morning. Go grab a slice of pizza, come home. Go to sleep at like five a.m. and wake up the next day at two. Two in the afternoon.
And after a couple months of this, I was like, “Alright, am I really trying to become a professional standup comedian, or am I just saying I’ve worked really hard for twelve years and now I’m taking a year off?
And if it’s the former, I should probably figure out how to add more structure where I can get things done during the day that are important to make the night successful. So I set this rule for myself that no matter what time I went to bed, because comedy is a late night gig, that I had to be up by nine o’clock in the morning.
Which now I actually wake up most days at like 6:30 or seven.
But that was kind of the first rule. But I had to be up at nine. Because if I did my last show at midnight and got home at two, I still slept for seven hours. If I stayed out super late, it better be worth it. If I’m hanging out with Jerry Seinfeld it’s worth it. Otherwise, go home.
And so I kinda created this forcing mechanism where I’m up at nine. And so even if I didn’t, I didn’t have to do the write for an hour thing because I’m just up with nothing to do.
And so that kind of created the opportunity to write or to work on the next college tour, whatever the case may be. And then the other thing that I did was I hired, when things started to pick up I hired an assistant who also just shows up every day.
So if you have somebody show up every day, you kind of have to work. And do all of the things that are necessarily to be successful, because this person is depending on you to A) pay them and B) be available to work when they show up.
So that, these kind of forced habit things I’ve found to be quite useful in my life. It’s not like I have to fight with myself to write for an hour every day. Or to do expenses. It’s just I just have to create the thing that forces me to be productive and then I can choose what I’m going to be productive on, whether that’s writing or something else.
Will Bachman: I have been having this in mind here, I wrote it down because I went to Harvard. And as we wrap up, I’m wondering if I could be so bold as to ask you about the Harvard story?
Anish Shah: Yeah. So I do a lot of college shows. And one of the shows I’ve done a few times is I’ve performed at Harvard. And one of the years they had this meet and greet before the show. And I didn’t go to Harvard, I went to University of Illinois in Urbana-Champagne, like a big town type of school.
And some of the people at the meet and greet, you could see, you know Harvard people are very proud to have gone to Harvard, and they would, kind of like a little bit of a smirk when I would say where I went to undergrad. Or a couple people cracked some jokes or something about McKinsey letting in [inaudible 00:44:46] people these days.
And so I open the show. My favorite part of that show was I opened the show by telling them that actually, I turned down Harvard to go to University of Illinois.
It’s not true. But I loved doing it. It’s like my favorite part of the show. And there’s literally generations of Harvard students that have graduated believing that I turned down Harvard to go to University of Illinois. But everyone else that I’ve ever performed for that’s heard that story knows that I lie to Harvard students every time that I go there now.
Will Bachman: So on that, Anish, I want to thank you for at least sharing that with this Harvard alum. I won’t tell any current Harvard students.
Anish Shah: Yeah, thank you, I appreciate it.
Will Bachman: Anish, thanks so much for being on the show. This was a lot of fun.
Anish Shah: Thank you so much for having me, Will. I hope we get to work together at some point. And think it’s amazing what you’ve built in terms of this community and all the work that you put into supporting the consultants out there. So I really appreciate you having me on.

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