Three years ago French startup Alan won a French insurance licence. This may not sound like a big deal, but it was the first one that has been awarded since the 1980s, allowing the young team to have a crack at disrupting the country’s €36bn health insurance market.
On the back of this win, Alan started providing health insurance for employees of small companies, differentiating itself from the century-old industry giants such as Axa and Generali with a simple pricing structure and cheerful app.
Today it is seen as one of the most promising startups in France, targeting increasingly big companies and with a long-term mission to become a platform for a range of different healthcare services (for example, connecting people with doctors) and not just health insurance.
Alan raised €23m last year and on Monday announced that it had raised another €40m, bringing total funding to €75m. Sifted caught up with the 31-year-old chief executive and co-founder Jean-Charles Samuelian and asked him four questions about his plans:
You raised quite a lot of money just 10 months ago. Why did you need to come back to investors again so quickly?
We were not actively looking for new funds. The investors actually came to us. But we had achieved a lot of our goals set in our Series A round last year — for example, we wanted to have 20,000 people insured with us, and we have 27,000 already.
We also realised that if we want to become the European champion of healthcare — becoming a gateway to the whole healthcare system — we need to be aggressive.
We need to spend on sales, hiring, software — everything really to help us grow quickly.
You plan to more than double your number of employees from 70 to 175. Is that going to be tough?
Hiring is always a challenge. Our competition is the best companies in the world, like Facebook and Google, and there is a global race to attract great talent.
But I think that ultimately, in the European insurance market, hiring is a competitive advantage for us.
The big incumbents in the sector just can’t get the same calibre of people as we can because we have a real mission. We are trying to change healthcare, not make more money for some shareholders.
Paris has also changed a lot over the last five years, and it is much easier to convince foreigners to come and work here. We already have a very international team, with a third of the engineers coming from Silicon Valley and companies such as Square, Facebook and Twitter.
At the moment you are just in France. When do you plan to expand elsewhere in Europe? Is there anything stopping you?
The regulation around insurance in Europe is actually great — for once, there is something Europe has that is better than the US.
Our French insurance licence allows us, at least in principle, to grow across the continent.
Of course, each national healthcare system is complex, so in practice, we will have to adjust to the needs of each one.
The big thing that would help us at a European level is if there was a simplified option scheme system. This would help us attract more talent.
But for sure, in the next few years, we will be expanding elsewhere in Europe.
After a decade of loose monetary policy around the world, there is money sloshing around. But it seems that the credit cycle may be starting to turn. Are you worried?
We are not worried about it for ourselves as we are operating close to breakeven, but there are clearly a lot of startups out there who rely on venture capital funding and might struggle if financing starts to dry up.
Even if there is less money though, I'm convinced that the best companies will still manage to raise. Our challenge is to be one of those "best companies".