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Building a new model of proactive and accessible healthcare | Interview with Jean-Charles Samuelian, CEO of Alan

Taking care of our physical and mental health should be a key priority. Whether it’s making sure to check in with your doctor when you’re not feeling 100%, or, maintaining regular preventative check-ups, healthcare is vitally important. After all, your health affects everything – personally, professionally and otherwise. It impacts how you interact with people, your wellbeing, quality of life, and, it also impacts your professional life.

However, far too many of us put our healthcare on the back burner. How often have you put off going to the doctor because you don’t have time? Have you ever gone to the office feeling like you should be resting in bed? The fact is, many of us neglect our healthcare – and the reasons for it are numerous. From struggling to find time in our busy lives (priority problems), and financial concerns, to simply being able to access care when health systems are overwhelmed, there are numerous obstacles to overcome.

Founded in 2016, inspired by the belief that “health is not a commodity, health cannot be ignored”,  Alan is a health insurtech company with a vision to radically rethink healthcare.

Recognising both the level of burnout experienced by doctors and the stress on healthcare systems as well as the challenges for people to access healthcare in their everyday lives, Alan aims to make personal, proactive, and holistic health part of people’s daily life. The French scaleup built a 360 health partner that addresses the full range of health matters for companies to increase their performances measurably and sustainably, giving their employees access to the healthcare they need.

Alan has since landed over €490 million, covers more than 315k members and is partnering with 20k companies for the health of their employees. It’s currently operational in France, Spain and Belgium. Further, the company itself has forged a strong reputation for its company culture, and for its feel-good approach to work – mental wellbeing is an intrinsic part of the company’s approach, both to its team members and within its insurtech solution.

We sat down with Founder and CEO, Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve, to learn more Alan, the journey so far, and what’s to come.

What is Alan’s mission?

At Alan, we believe we can do something before our health system breaks.

We believe in a future where being in good health is more intuitive than scrolling on Tiktok. Our mission is to make personal, proactive, and holistic health part of people’s daily life, striving to be the world’s most member-centric healthcare company.

We are building a one-stop health partner for the body and the mind. We want to help all Europeans in their journey to make health & well-being more intuitive and proactive. 

Concretely, we are bundling the best health insurance and an integrated ecosystem of health services for prevention, access to care, mental health… As more than 18.000 companies selected us for their employees, we work hard to be their best HR investment, increasing attractivity, retention, and performance.

What inspired you to launch the company?

Both my parents are doctors and I grew up spending a lot of time thinking about our healthcare and hospital system. 

We can all agree that health is not a commodity, health cannot be ignored. 

When we are healthy, we are able to work, learn, and enjoy life to the fullest. When we are not, it has serious consequences on our happiness and ability to be ourselves. And meanwhile, healthcare is a very big investment for our society (more than 10% of GDP). It is reactive. We spend less than 3% on prevention. It is impossible to navigate, 60% of the French population is unable to find an affordable or available health professional.

In parallel, it is burning out our doctors. And it is only going to get worse.

That is why I wanted to change things. When my grandfather got diagnosed with cancer, it became a problem I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I decided to focus on building the future of healthcare. Charles, a very close friend, and Alan’s co-founder was a successful lead data scientist at Facebook and Twitter but ended up suffering burnout. He realized how little support he had, even in the most innovative companies of the time.

We decided to transform healthcare together.

Alan helps companies to look after their team’s health. Can you tell us more about how that works?

For a large share of the population, taking care of oneself is no longer a no-brainer, it is downright challenging.

For example, 60% of French people no longer manage to access a practitioner for lack of availability or affordability. Giving up on care became normal.

Going to the doctor increasingly looks like an uphill battle. Think about young working parents. Getting an appointment with a paediatrician means waiting over the phone for long minutes to get a slot in the middle of the day at crazy hours. This requires taking half a day off to drive their child without knowing how long it will take and how much they will have to pay from their own pocket.

This saturation of the healthcare system hinders effective preventive policies: many of us postpone routine checkups that would preempt problems. One makes it to the doctor once diseases become chronic, thus more expensive to treat.

  • 30% of French people above 15 suffer from physical pain.
  • 49% of workers are currently suffering from psychological difficulties.

Therefore, Alan built the 360 health partner that addresses the full range of health matters for companies to increase their performances measurably and sustainably.

We built this partnership over 3 pillars: 

  • A simple and transparent health insurance at cost, is the cornerstone of our offer.
  • Health services that bring concrete solutions to the system’s failures to decrease absenteeism in the long run while defending purchasing power.
  • A holistic solution to improve mental well-being at work, Alan Mind, built on the methodology “detect, prevent, support.”

As a health partner, Alan provides a wide range of services that truly reflect our members’ diversity: all yield tangible benefits from using Alan’s integrated solutions.

Can you tell us about the growth journey of Alan?

At Alan, we started our mission by clearly defining the big vision, the ultimate goal of our mission. We envision a future where your health partner provides a seamless and integrated experience that supports you in every aspect of your health journey. 

To become a reality, big visions must be broken down into well-defined chapters, so that each stone of the foundation can fit perfectly together. Our focus is on creating a delightful, and user-centric experience at every step along the way. By working backwards from our end goal, we build a foundation that will allow us to achieve our vision in the most effective possible way.

The first chapter (2016-2018) was about building a new kind of health insurance.
We started by building a differentiated brand around simplicity and transparency which stood out in a very complex industry. People were mostly choosing us because of the simplicity and great user experience both for admins and employees, a strength that we always strive to maintain. Since the beginning, we decided to build a B2C brand, even if our distribution was B2B. It allowed us to grow in our first segments, mostly on B2B start-ups.

In the second chapter (2019-2020), we scaled our health insurance, launched international development in Europe, and created the first health services. We went from “startups” to new segments and larger companies. We expanded to Spain and Belgium, two markets where health insurance’s role and function differ from France’s. We managed to sign, onboard, and serve several hundred members in both countries in less than a year. In parallel, we kept developing more health services such as a Medical Chat, a Health Journal, or Communities (thematic health-related group chats).

In our third chapter, we transitioned to the one-stop health partner. We managed to keep growing fast thanks to the differentiation of our product for our members and companies (simplicity of use, health & well-being services), our tech-led offering, and the solidity of our business model. We accelerated the transition to the one-stop health partner for the body and mind.

We now entered the fourth chapter of our growth, which we could call ‘Profitable in 2025, delightful always’.

In 2022, we had again a strong performance with a 62% revenue growth, reaching close to 400k members. Few companies delivered such results in such economic conditions. This proves our anti-fragile nature and the strength of our model. We find ourselves in a very favourable position where we don’t need to raise money anymore before reaching profitability.

Why should businesses consider their employee’s healthcare?

Firstly because of its significant impact on retention and attractivity. 

We are going through a phase of “Great Resignation” and tension in the labour market. Employees’ expectations in terms of health and well-being at work are increasing, even more than their salary requirements.

Secondly, it massively impacts the productivity and the absenteeism of employees. 

The absenteeism rate for the under-35s increased by 11.6% between 2019 and 2021.  And absenteeism for medical reasons increased by 17% since 2019.

Mental wellbeing is proven to have a deep impact on productivity. 

In France, 1 out of 2 employees is currently experiencing psychological difficulties and 1 out of two say they have lost motivation. Businesses should consider their employees’ healthcare because they have an amazing return on investment doing it with the proper partner.

Many employees (more than 60%) still aren’t willing to share their mental issues with their managers because they are afraid to be put in a difficult situation.

But by not talking about it, things fastly get worse, leading to burnout and finally releasing all the pressure on the rest of the team. Our mission is to prevent this vicious circle effect and provide access to the most appropriate care.

Managers need to be able to identify the problem and dedicate some time to it because consideration can’t be delegated. 

What have been the biggest challenges along the way?

At Alan, we love challenges because it is how you make a difference. 

We always look for opportunities where it’s easy for others to stop, where it gets tedious. Usually, most people haven’t gotten deeper before. That is why we like regulatorily complex domains because once you establish an advantage, there are higher barriers to entry. The complexity is a reason that people don’t tend to try it.

With Alan, we became the first new independent insurance company in 30 years when we launched. Most people told us it would be impossible to get such a license. 

Down the line, I think our biggest challenge is to convince customers to try something different, in a market that has disappointed a lot in the past. Why should it be better at those times? Will they overpromise and underdeliver like all other actors? 

You can only win because of a 10x better product, solving acute pain points of your customers and members, and letting word of mouth support your growth over time. When people experience Alan, the NPS is above 65. We made some radical decisions like only distributing “direct” in a market with a lot of intermediation, to create a deeper relationship with our customers. 

As our company grows quickly, we want to ensure that our unique culture stays intact, without compromising our long-term vision. Scaling fast can put pressure on us to make changes that dilute our culture. We are committed to preserving our core values as we expand. We always try to make our decisions based on their impact on the company in 10 years. It requires support for failure and iteration and generates better conditions for innovation.

Lastly, our internationalization is a major challenge for a health insurance company due to the complexity of operating in multiple countries, each with its own unique healthcare systems, regulations, and cultural differences. Adapting to these differences while maintaining the high quality of our services was a major challenge. However, we managed to build a very unique shared global platform to serve all our countries. 

Alan is also well renowned for its company culture. How would you describe the work culture of your organization?

At Alan, we try to make high-growth culture compatible with ownership, freedom, and autonomy. 

Alan is a competitive sports team that attracts and grooms the best talent. We want to be the world champion in our category and it requires excellence.

Our living culture is based on actions, not words. To ensure that our values dictate every interaction, we have written leadership principles to give meaning to our actions. 

We have five top leadership principles: Radical Transparency, Distributed Ownership, Fearless Ambition, Member-First, and Personal & Community Growth. These principles embody our common language, they are illustrated with examples of good practice or boundaries where we feel it is useful to clarify some unintended reversals.

We use our principles every day, to discuss new ideas or decide how best to solve a problem faced by a member.

We believe that excellence comes with ownership and autonomy, excellence requires working collectively on one common goal while caring about each other.

How have you gone about creating this? 

Creating a strong company culture has been a priority for us from the very beginning. Our project is to apply to business the maxim “anima sana in corpore sano” (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”).

To achieve this, we first established the important core values we shared with Charles, Alan’s co-founder. We took lessons from our past experiences and applied them to our current efforts, keeping what worked and changing what didn’t. We approached this process with a systematic and analytical mindset, building a system that would allow us to create and empower the best talent.

We have always been intentional about who we hire and how we set them up for success. We believe that a healthy and supportive work environment is key to attracting and retaining top talent, and so we strive to provide that for all of our employees.

Individual growth is also a key component of our company culture. We look for employees that are self-improving and we help them grow.

Finally, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to improve our company culture. When we see something that works well elsewhere and aligns with our values and vision, we explore how we can adapt it for our own use. This approach has helped us to continually evolve and improve over time and is key to our ongoing success.

Why is it important to create a strong work culture?

I wrote an entire book to answer this question, Healthy Business.

Culture is the collection of norms, values and rules that define “how people do things within a company”. It is about enabling the mission with the behaviours and values that serve that purpose.

High-growth companies are not easy places to live. The pressure is relentless. Competition is very aggressive. They push for performance and excellence. There is no let-up.

My conviction is that by creating an environment and a culture that allows each employee to feel ambitious, autonomous, and empowered, the company’s performance will go through the roof.

Anything you wish you had known before embarking on the adventure?

A piece of advice I would give young entrepreneurs (I am not that old) is that opportunities are where people stop.

Always look for those opportunities where it’s easy to stop, where it gets tedious. 

That typically signals that somebody or a bunch of people haven’t reached deeper yet. When working within complex domains and you manage to establish a beachhead, you realize that there are higher barriers to entry. 

That complexity is a reason that people tend to avoid trying it.

It’s crucial to be bold and go to whatever depth necessary to get an answer that you really understand.

Build this company, build it because it requires deep work because it’s ‘too complex.’ This daunting barrier to entry should be seen as a signal that there is something to be done, and you have to figure it out.

Patricia Allen
Patricia Allen
is the Head of Content at EU-Startups. With a background in politics, Patricia has a real passion for how shared ideas across communities and cultures can bring new initiatives and innovations for the future. She spends her time bringing you the latest news and updates of startups across Europe, and curating our social media.

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