Jan 26, 2022 - News

My very best Austin day with Meetesh Karia

Photo illustration Axios Visuals. Photos: Asher Price/Axios and Peter Tsai/Getty.

We recently caught up with Meetesh Karia, chief technology officer and chief data officer at The Zebra, an East Austin-based online insurance adviser valued at $1 billion as of last year.

What he's saying: Over lunch at LeRoy & Lewis, the barbecue trailer off South Congress Avenue, Karia declared that the beef cheek was terrific: "It's really tender, but doesn't feel fatty." There, we talked about the insurance business and the best pizza in town.

  • Full disclosure: Asher and Meetesh were teammates, eons ago, on two Austin ultimate frisbee teams that competed in national championship tournaments.

What characterizes The Zebra as an Austin company?

The biggest thing is our motto — and what we live by — "all stripes welcome." ​​It does really speak to that sense of inclusion, equity and belonging. The biggest thing, and this even goes back to the early days, is the percentage of our teams from non-traditionally educated backgrounds. You had people who came from boot camps, from chemistry, from other careers, joining our engineering teams.

How does the company benefit from that diversity?

The biggest value is … to look at problems from different perspectives. They also have a passion, energy and drive that contrasts sometimes — and I'm generalizing — with software developers, who were so in demand and who might had had a little bit of entitlement. That passion, that grit wasn't always there. They didn't have to work for it as much.

How do you describe The Zebra?

We're your digital insurance adviser. We want to do what years ago you would have done by walking into Joe's Insurance Shop. We're trying to help manage and educate and support people's insurance needs. Depending on where you are in life, some people just need auto insurance to be legal to get the car off the lot. Some people have assets to protect. We're serving a lot of people who have different considerations.
Personalizing the experience and education is critical. That's where machine learning and artificial intelligence comes in. You can't build one product to serve everyone's needs.

Walk me through your very best Austin day.

​​I picked up road cycling in 2017 because of arthritis in both knees. So I'd start the day getting in a nice, good ride with some friends— we could go down to San Marcos and back.
Coming back, we'd stop at Lazarus on the East Side for a beer and the chilaquiles — it's the best chilaquiles in town.
Then I'd go back home, hang with my family, my kids, ideally go watch my kids play tennis — they're both into it, and having played ultimate frisbee for so many years, I like to live vicariously through them.
For dinner, I'd get some pizza. My current favorite is the Sammataro Pizza, and bring that home with an Austin beer — maybe the Electric Jellyfish IPA. We'd watch a movie — or a Duke basketball game if it's on.

What sort of pizza do you like?

I'm a pepperoni-and-mushroom guy.

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