Sebastien Gaudin – The CareVoice

Spøtlight : 8 min read

Sønr CEO Matt Connolly sat down with Sebastien Gaudin, CEO and Co-Founder of The CareVoice, a leading health insurtech based in Shanghai.

Sebastien shares the company’s journey, from their founding in 2014, to the launch of their API-based infrastructure and health ecosystem just a few days ago.

They talk through The CareVoice’s new partnerships with major insurers like Generali and Cigna and how the company is targeting 10 markets in the next 9 months across Asia, Europe and Latin America.

It’s a great interview and you can find the full transcript below:

A few highlights from the conversation:

  • New API-based infrastructure and health ecosystem allows insurers to create and manage bespoke health customer journeys
  • New partnerships with major insurers, Generali, Cigna and PFI, targeting 10 markets within 9 months, in Asia, Europe and Latin America
  • Revenue tripled in 12 months, reaching positive EBITDA
  • Serviceable members passed 4 million, including 200,000 yearly paid members, growing by 400% in the past 6 months
  • Additional capital as part of ongoing B financing round from Apis Insurtech Fund I and other new and existing investors

A big thanks to Sebastien for his time.

If you want to find out more about The CareVoice, you can check out their Sønr profile or you can visit their website.

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

Matt Connolly 

Hello, and welcome to our Spøtlight Series where we get to talk with leading innovators from in and around the world of insurance. This week we are joined by Sebastien Gaudin from CareVoice. Sebastien welcome.

Sebastien Gaudin 

Hey, Matt.

Matt Connolly  

So let’s kick off. It’s a pleasure to have you here. First of all, I’d love to understand the business a little bit more. So can you tell us a little bit more about CareVoice? What do you guys get up to?

Sebastien Gaudin 

Yeah, so CareVoice, we are a leading Asian health Insurtech. We’ve been working with insurers for the past four plus years, helping them around building innovative customer engagement solution. Tapping in our platform, CareVoice OS, we cover a service that allows to aggregate set party technology and services and really create bespoke health customer journeys. We are really changing the way insurance can combine health services with insurance products, and focus on the value that they bring to customers, obviously helping their customers to be healthier access, we more convenience to medical services, driving more relevance by being able to be more tailored to some population in drive satisfaction and retention.

Matt Connolly

Random one, why aren’t they able to do this themselves? Well, why do they need you?

Sebastien Gaudin 

I think, in the past 10 plus years, combining health services and insurance, actually is not really new. The first one insure we did this quite successfully is Discovery with Vitality program, which was really the first health engagement program, combined with insurance. And actually, it was so successful that many other insurers license-out, you know, license-in, that technology, in different markets. And what happened in the past three, five years is that the booming, or the wealth of digital based health services, right? From telemedicine wearables, and number of now, options for insurance companies to combine health services insurance.

But actually, if you look at this way, which is going to be the new way of doing health insurance, or insurance plus health services, only very few players are taking, you see it a few digital native players, like Oscar Health, or Alan. And among the incumbent players, you know, you have some exception going on in this part of the world, right? The ability to be a good doctor. But actually, most insurers really struggle around these health and customer engagement. And the main reason is that insurers don’t have the digital capability to build these, especially the ability to integrate with multiple technology and services that are needed, ultimately, to really take advantage of this very, very broad ecosystem out there that needs to be pulled together and make it accessible to their customers.

Matt Connolly 

Sure, thanks. I get that fully.

And tell me so we met, oh, I don’t know. I feel like COVID has stopped time, a couple of years ago, in Shanghai. I feel the business was doing great then. And that’s why we wanted to come and spend some time with you. We took a client over there and tried to bridge that connection between you guys.

Now, the business I saw then to the business I see today is very different. You’ve had a phenomenal couple of years. And I’m sure a great future, which we’ll talk about a little later on in this chat. And if you can, it’s a big ask, but are you able to walk me through the milestones, right?

So from the entrepreneur who had the idea of setting up this business all the way through to the kind of the key stages both. I don’t know, obviously fundraising has an aspect to it, the product set has changed over the years, who you work with your partners in the ecosystem, all that kind of thing? Are you able to walk me through a little bit of the journey of CareVoice to where you started and where you are today?

Sebastien Gaudin 

Sure, sure. I can try. So actually the company started in a very different model that what we’ve been doing for the past four or five years we’ve insurance, thing initially we were a consumer app, where we were helping Chinese consumers with their trust issue with medical, hospitals and doctors. So we were kind of TripAdvisor for health care. So that’s how we started and we pick up on that model.

But then for different reasons we fully pivoted the business late 16 we were first insure contract. And that’s what started the journey working with insurers as enterprise software, as I said, around combining health services and insurance through innovative customer digital solutions. And we’ve been, I would say, have three main phases.

The first phase was actually when we took our assets, which was CareVoice app, and we open up the access to the app to insurers like Axa for the first one and their customers. So that back then Axa like customers and the first or clients, we got were able to use CareVoice app to easily figure out which hospital which doctors to go based also on their insurance product based on where they are covered where they have access to direct billing. And this was a kind of first offering that we put together and that point of time, I think we managed to get maybe four or five insurer clients. And this is when we did our pre-Series A. The first time we got this is it was one year after doing an accelerator program that helped us in our transformation from the consumer app to more enterprise software and so on.

And we raised again, like 2 million US. And then we entered into the next phase. And in that next phase, we were okay, we wanted to keep expanding, obviously the product offering and go beyond hospital doctors use directory or medical litigation starting to have other function that makes sense like e-claims integrating the system of insurer on that phone starting to bring up triage and symptom checker, but also starting to go to us in house engagements are before, you know when you do secure, so starting to open up to get some third party technology to complete this because it was not a loop easily to build. And also to speed up the adoption by insurance. We had the concept of starting to be able to create more population specific insurance and customer engagement solution because our app was built in a way that we can create a different front end for insurance plan A or for population sport enthusiast or a plan B for provision of let’s say, a white professional woman.

So that has been the second phase where we grew quite a lot by partnering ventures, and design population specific insurance and helping them to launch or going after new population. But we’re also opening a new way of commercialisation because this is a product where you can do different way of distribution. So in that second phase, we also rent through Ping An accelerator program in Shenzhen work further we think especially we work on insurance product for startups and SMEs that became a blüüm team. They’ve been quite successful. And we’ve replicated in some other markets. And that’s also when, during that phase, this concept of starting to put some third party technology and services inside CareVoice app led to the creation of the first OS – CareVoice OS was in late 2019.

And that’s the point where gradually we raised a series A and raised a quite substantial series A. We even spun off blüüm as a company dedicated to commercialise some populations specific health insurance, but keeping CareVoice as a technology enabler, for blüüm and any insurer working with us.

And then we gradually enter into the third phase, which is, you know, to the phase where we are in the early days. Where we realise that really if we want to be able to help insurance company to bring that innovative type of customer engagement, you know, full journey and ecosystem of health service for their customers, we needed to give them another option than using CareVoice app. Because insurance, in many cases wants to have their own app, they want to potentially even create different customer experience for different channel whether it’s with their part. So that’s where we had to become more an infrastructure and an ecosystem play through API’s to feed any front and this has been the basis of the latest product that has been now starting to be adopted by a number of insurers for the past you know few months that we brought it to the market and now officially.

Matt Connolly  

Awesome. So Sebastien, you talked earlier about the raising of series A and that’s giving you the ability to kick into this third stage of your business. Just keeping with the financing a little bit, what’s next for you in terms of fundraising or the kind of raising money journey and kind of where’s your business performance at to support that next round for you guys?

Sebastien Gaudin  

You so, you know, we briefly mentioned that COVID had been obviously, a good driver, in terms of demand for health insurance, but also digitisation of insurance and bringing more health services. So actually, in the past 12 months, we tripled our revenues. And this we did without increasing our expenses. So we managed to eat a bit that milestone, which is good for a tech company and reflect the efficiency of the model.

That said, in that context, we’ve still, we’ve already just actually announced also additional capital as part of an ongoing D round. So this funding is really to allow us to manage our current growth, alright? We have a number of customer project departments, we want to speed up the product format delivery around this new version of the platform. And so stress anymore, a product and engineering team, and also the customer success team. So that funding and also some resources that we got from some of the investors joining are going to help us to continue to accelerate including our geographic expansion.

And so we foresee that within the next three to six months, we’re going to eat some important milestones, in terms of the again, number of markets, impact of the contract and the implementation we have with the latest version of the platform that would allow us to complete quite a big B round.

Matt Connolly  

Love it. Okay, that’s a great answer. Thank you.

I’m gonna stop you there because I want to dig a little bit deeper on who you are, and you was an entrepreneur before we talk about this third phase, because I think that’s gonna be super interesting. And then not only for you as a business, but I think for the wider health insurance market as well.

Let’s rewind the clock if you’ll humor me, Sebastien, so I still I’m fascinated by what drives people to set up businesses, how their background maps to what they’re doing today. It’s always a classic from an external perspective, certainly from a venture capital perspective, you know, the assessment of the founding team and the expertise within that it you know, directly linked or directly correlating with the likelihood of their success as a business.

So look at walk me through if you would be kind of like to know who you are. So as I understand that you’re a French man in Shanghai, right? So there you’ve got a story, I’m sure already. But life as a entrepreneur, how did you get to CareVoice, but also like life as a French man, a French entrepreneur in China, and the kind of opportunities that must bring on the global stage for you – actually also difficulties it must bring on the kind of local stage at the beginning as well. So can you walk me through a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey?

Sebastien Gaudin  

Yeah, so as you say, I’m French. I mean, in my early 40s, I actually I’ve been working more than 20 years in healthcare, I’m going through my training, I spend a decent amount of time working pharmaceutical industries, and always driven by bringing innovation. So in my early career was more about partnering with biotech companies take that drugs, you know, early stage in a big pharma to put them to bring them to the market. Later on was more to drive marketing and sales and launching new products to the market. You know, launching initiative to shape how patients are treated and so on. And so it mean that I’ve always been driven by improving people’s health, right? And first loss for drugs and drugs, instead of services. And now, you know, for the past five pitchers through some software and different resources that are offline.

So I think my background in healthcare and working with different stakeholders helped me also to look at solutions where you need to tap into an ecosystem to make impact on people. The entrepreneur side of me, I think, started quite early. I think at 13 years old, I was already running a shop for the summer, where I took some shoes from the previous season and sell it in a small shop that I managed to get from a friend of my dad. Then later on, I was student I launched a website in the biggest pharma conference in France and people were thinking, Okay, who is his new startup, it was the beginning of internet 2000 but it were just a student led initiative. So I think that was always inside me. Then I decided my first join my first corporate, where obviously you can learn lot and still healthcare back in 2004, 2005, except biotech, but there is still very little entrepreneurship. Right?

So yeah, I went toward the pharma and big company and a lot and then being in China. When I arrived, working for big pharma company, and leading diabetes here and working across stackholders launching apps exploring the product healthcare and private insurance for that gave me a good exposure and the excitement of the local market entrepreneurship was okay, let’s go for it. Obviously, I underestimated the challenge as an entrepreneur in China and a foreigner to do so. But I think if you pass the first milestones, and you manage to really figure out potential unfair advantage versus focal players, and build a first viable offering, then it’s been amazing because the market is very, very moving fast and lots of advantage. And then you can bring this oversea, which is always been something, you know, I was keen to I was not keen to create a Chinese company for Chinese market, but more a global company.

Matt Connolly  

Yeah, no, I can absolutely see that. And I’m incredibly jealous. I’ve always loved what’s been going on in the Chinese market. And, you know, I guess that’s why we, you know, headed out there a few years back to really immerse ourselves and then, yeah, as an entrepreneur, I’ve never had the courage to set up even an office out there. And whilst we have had clients in Asia, we’ve got kind of, we’ve always been such a global business. But yes, I’ve never taken that sort of step into putting a business down there or putting an office out there. But I’d loved it. I think it’s fascinating. I remember when I’m, in fact, on the trip that we, where we met you guys. You know, we were taking one of the leading European insurance companies out there.

And they were talking in a very proudly about their EBITDA and their customer numbers and all of this stuff. We’re meeting with startups that have been around for two, three years who had comparable if not greater numbers, because the market out there is just so enormous. And you know, that the scale and at the time, the money, and I’m interested to see whether it’s still there, but the ability to scale these businesses was just phenomenal. I think you’ve done I think you’ve done a great thing out there. And I’m really can’t wait to see where this takes you on a global stage as well. So maybe we come back to the this kind of, I guess I’m calling it Open Healt – maybe that’s not the right term, but the API infrastructure gonna play that you guys are up to so.

So I’m fascinated by that. I’ve got a lot of sort of reasoning in my mind why that’s going to be a very successful play. Tell me what’s the kind of motivation? What’s the driver behind this third wave for you guys? So what was the, what is it that you see in the markets, you’ve talked about, you know, clients wanting to make use of their own apps, as opposed to make, you know, use a third party app. But beyond that, I see the market changing too. And there’s a lot talk about kind of open insurance, there’s a lot of talk about embedded insurance, there’s a lot of opportunity going forward where the API play seems very obvious, as long as you’re able to see what the future holds. So tell me, what are the kind of motivators for you guys? And where do you see that market going, and your role within that.

Sebastien Gaudin  

I think the key is allowing an insurer to operate like a digital insurer, and in health or live space, it means a number of things. But I mean, definitely, you need to have an open platform that can allow you to tap into an eco system of wellbeing and health services that allow you to not have, you know, separate services and so on, but really bring integrated customer experience that allow you to easily deploy for population specific different and relevant offering and ultimately also pool the data coming from the ecosystem and solution you bring to your customers that you really drastically improve your ability to service them but also profile and assess their risk. Right?

So I think as soon as you want to really play full speed, the combination of health services and insurance it’s not a one company solution, you need to tap into an ecosystem but then as an insurer, it’s very hard to do so you know, someone has to do it and it was us, right? We started to do it because it was obvious as soon as we were willing to help insurance in that field. We needed to bring pieces here and there. And then you start to realise okay, I think insurers are definitely responders for that and if you look at from an insurance perspective is so on to just partner with one else tech. It may you know, different cultures, the ability to understand how to you know how to work together, how to structure deals, may take just 6 to 12 months to come to deal.

And as an insurer, if you want to integrate, it can may take you another six months, and most of the time the insurer don’t have the technical infrastructure to easily integrate with those players and more probably, to avoid delivering in silos. Most of the time insurers that are going to patrner with healthechs are going to deliver in silos. So then it’s a loss of opportunity. Because first you have a low utilisation rate, you don’t have an impact on the insurance product itself. And it doesn’t create the finally the value for customer and the insurance, right? So then obviously, we started to have these but it was within delivery of the CareVoice app. But he really wanted to be able to scale because by launching a new product is great, it’s creat your use case, you see you know the value you can create but you have a dependency on how fast you can grow and  can scale those new products.

And our play was more on nailing from a tech interest. Right? So that’s I think that’s really we have to evolve and be able to offer this API based infrastructure and ecosystem. And we had, we started to design the concept, pitch a few closed insurers or that they may have similar kind of vision. And one of them were Prudential financial, the US one. And as you may know, they’ve been working on a total wellness initiative for some time, which was very aligned with where we wanted to go. And the first initiative they had was to launch Vitality or to partner with Vitality and launch Vitality in Brazil and Argentina, but then to start to expand beyond Vitality to bring all the type of health services really in an integrated way and can be different for different customers, segment different channels. For sure, they had to find a technology partner for that, and was one of the first insurer who partnered and that allows us also to go across markets. Because then you can, because you’re more enabling also any front end solution, you can also enable also developer work on our platform to create finance solutions. It’s much more scalable ultimately.

Matt Connolly  

So let’s talk about scalability. So where are you guys now? So you talked about, you know, phase one, when you guys launched your app, which was, I guess, no more than, maybe, excuse me, maybe it was a little bit more than a directory, but you know, those early days, and you had five health insurers. So you know, so I think I know the numbers for this, because that we you know, we track and monitor everything you guys get up to but just give us an update on where the business is at today. Because you’re not just a local tech business anymore. Right?

Sebastien Gaudin  

So yeah, we have now over 30 insurance company we have been work across Asia, we’ve started based on a strong base in mainland China and Hong Kong already, you know, for the past 18 months, in big insurers in Hong Kong, like AIA, Cigna, Generali. And naturally, then we started to expand in south asia. It was late last year, we earlier this year, we got our first insurer contract in Malaysia, in Thailand. And within the next month before the end of the year, we should be in Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia. And at the same time through those, we put some effort into expansion in Europe, where we are about to announce new insurer clients and through some multi-country deal we also now covering Latin America. So overall, over 30 insurers covering now those three regions, we have 4 million serviceable members and roughly a bit more than 200,000 paid members which are kind of recurring and growing recurring population for each insurer pay the access to the platform.

Matt Connolly 

Okay, lovely. Well done. That’s great success. You pleased?

Sebastien Gaudin 

Yeah, sure. I would love to go faster.

Matt Connolly 

That’s always the entrepreneur’s answer, right?

Sebastien Gaudin 

Yeah, I would love to go faster. But I think it’s also an industry where it takes time, right? To partner with an insurer, to be intimate with an insurer, we’ve been able to shorten those cycle quite well. But we have also made a variation in our product offerings. So if you look at those two as those two dimensions, it takes time, but I think these are important foundation on which we’ve been, you know, keeping a grade in creating more value, and more volunteer I think now we see even more our ability to scale faster and much more at a higher with, you know, less limits on the sky.

Matt Connolly  

Yeah, but I think that’s always away, right? So you’re, I don’t what whatever the analogy is the snowball sort of rolling down the mountain side or, you know, you now have a wonderful set of clients, you’ve a great product, the market is aware of you and becoming more so on a global basis, and you have evidence or being able to deliver value for your clients. So in theory, the door should be easier to push to mix my metaphors a little as the days go on, right? So in theory, it should accelerate more.

And I also think the be interested in your view, I think the willingness and desire for the big incumbents to partner with healthtech, with Insurtechs, is becoming greater. So I think that the very fact that they recognise the need to change their business model in fundamentally they’re moving from how they’ve always done business into this new sort of caring for their members type role. And it’d be much less about the kind of the protection side, I think it’s, I think businesses like yours will become more relevant. But also, I think I’m sorry, I asked for your view. But did you see that kind of new open innovation? So this kind of desire to partner with innovators out there is becoming more prevalent? Are you sensing that in the conversations that you have, rather than them go down the route of building it or acquiring? That kind of partnering to accelerate their own innovation?

Sebastien Gaudin  

So I think differently the top of mine of insurance, you know, rise a lot to their own, you know, combining health services and insurance. That’s true across markets and COVID only accelerated this. And that’s great. That’s great for us, that’s great for consumers, that could be better service by insurance, I create more value. And ultimately, I think there is a closed loop, right? It’s turns out to be the way to do insurance. The question about build versus buy. I think, as an enterprise software has always existed, we often hear that insurers are less likely to adopt, you know, cloud based solution, enterprise software versus other industries, because insurers have always been fully close, right? They didn’t want to leak any data, you know, it’s about risk protection, right?

So, but I think this is also changing a lot through, you know, a number of players coming in to health insurance to transform their business, so I think it’s less unless an issue. But still, you have this potential discussion around build versus buy.

But is interesting is some insurance have been obviously putting a lot of money in building or trying to build, right? And also realise the limitation of this, right? How much cost it takes, time it takes and uncertainty on the output and then how much you can really maintain a grade and keep up with the technology advancement. And that’s particularly true in healthcare or wellbeing and health ecosystem where this is super, super dynamic, right? And you may need to iterate a lot on what you have to test, what you have to bring to customers, what works, what doesn’t work, right? And being able to orchestrate, a healthy and wellbeing ecosystem and bring it much more tailored and efficiently to your customers. That’s the bigger challenge.

So we see some of them tried and took their learnings. And definitely they see we may need to, it’s a better bet to partner. But most insurers aren’t there. Then it’s more about we need to have enough cases, examples, you know, proof points so that the insurers who won’t be the first one to do it, the one we’ve been doing it with us for the you know, for the last few years, we’ve leveraged the offering. I mean, most of it, the visionary one, the first ones willing to. So now it’s how you get a broader group of insurers adopting that and I think they have it on their mind. It just needs to now make it more and more obvious that  it works, that they can trust and we can deliver more and more value.

Matt Connolly

A lot of the insurers you speak with will already have a lot of relationships with healtechs or a partnership in place. But go back to your earlier point – they probably need to have an ecosystem and one healthtech won’t deliver what they require. So rather than build it themselves having you there and then plugging that through to the ecosystem is a great play. But if they have partners that they’re working with or have in mind, how does that work with you guys? Are you able to then bring that into your world and put through your OS?

Sebastien Gaudin 

Great question Matt. Actually the you know, we’re bringing an open platform and so ecosystem meaning that we have to created a number of third party technologies and services that are relevant in a health insurance scenario, and that we can right away bring to, you know, any insurers working with us, but we also keep adding new and some of them are the ones with who an insurer were. So when I gave the example of Prudential early on working with Vitality, right? Their intent here is to bring another set of services that could complete, you know, what the experience is built by that it. So then you can imagine that Vitality and the user will be part of the ecosystem so that we can empower customer front end solution for Prudential Financial in the given market.

But it could be in other markets, they may work with another kind of, or physical or cardio tracker, or they may not work great, but they wouldn’t get to tap into one physical cardio tracker that we have in our ecosystem that is relevant, where they can’t work for instance with Vitality.

So that gives you, you know, all the flex. Yeah, depending on the insurer, well, are they existing relationship, are they already in a given market working with telemedicine company, because usually it’s very localised service. There are a few that are across market, but most are very localised. So then you can bring them this inside the ecosystem and make sure that then the customer experience is delivered by pulling that telemedicine services with the other path, right? Whatever ahead in terms of symptom checker and triage or downline more towards the medical network where to guide ultimately the customer if they need to go offline.

Love it. So on the basis that we work with health insurance from New Zealand, Canada, and everyone in between, and of course, it won’t just be our customers, either reading or watching this, but a whole world of others I’m sure too. How do people get in touch with you? What’s the way to reach out to whether it’s you at CareVoice or it’s the wider team? What’s the best way to comes at the CareVoice?

To contact us myself on LinkedIn, I’m quite active and responder. And then you can have information about the company on our website or LinkedIn accounts. Yeah, you can get someone quickly, me or my co-founder who is more thriving to oversea.

Matt Connolly 

Sebastien. Look, thank you very much for chatting with me. Well, this morning, my time is afternoon yours. I feel like I need to go and walk my dog. We’ve got 15 minutes before you and I are on another call together with some others I believe. So in those 15 minutes, I’m going to go walk the dog, give him some breakfast. But thank you very much for today. A real pleasure to say hi. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet up in person again one of these days and enjoy a beer together. But for now thank you very much.

Sebastien Gaudin 

Thanks, Matt. It was great to reconnect.