Sebastian Gruber is the co- founder and CEO of hi.health, a personal digital concierge that turns private health insurance into a smart service. He started his career working for McKinsey&Company. His co-founder Fredrik Debong is one of the co-founders of mySugr, which was sold to Roche. Calm/Storm is among the first investors inhi.health.
Sebastian Gruber, co-founder and CEO of hi.health, on how his startup is fixing a lack of customer focus in the health insurance industry and what led him to team up with one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Austria.
Sebastian, why did you choose to target the health insurance market?
In Germany alone, there are more than 30 million people with full or complementary private health insurance. In terms of digitalization, however, the health insurance industry is ten years behind –similar to the banking industry five years ago. At the same time, it is very difficult and expensive for innovative companies in the health tech space to access their target group and find the right users. We came up with the idea to provide a seamless user experience to people who are privately insured and then build a marketplace on top of that. We can solve the pain for end users and provide access to new technology, products and services that are relevant to their health individually.
“We want to democratize health services and provide smooth access to healthcare”
What is your ultimate vision for hi.health?
We want to democratize health services and provide smooth access to healthcare for everyone. If you suffer from a certain condition, you are recommended helpful products as well as complimentary services, suited to your individual needs, and are informed how much of the cost is covered by your insurance. People have different levels of interest regarding their own health, and we need products that reflect that. In today‘s world, you have a one-size-fits-all approach. There is a lot of inefficiency in healthcare, so by providing a more targeted and customized approach that is easy and convenient for end users, you can improve the entire system tremendously.
How do you contribute to that vision with your startup?
People with private health insurance currently face a complicated and bureaucratic payment workflow. You go to the doctor, pay, get a prescription, and submit it to the insurance. Then, it can take up to four weeks until you get your money back. This is a very cumbersome and painful process, especially for people with chronic conditions. With the hi.health app, our aim is to make it as easy as possible for users to submit claims to their insurance company. Our service gives you quick insight into the financial side of your healthcare, but also allows you to instantly get reimbursed when filing an expense. With time, the health expense account will enable more and more convenient financial services for your health needs – eliminating out of pocket expenses completely.
How is it to work with an experienced founder like Fredrik Debong?
I have known my co-founder Fredrik for many years; we shared a flat together during university. He has the track record of having started a successful company, and that is tremendously valuable. He is the visionary who pulled off this large exit with mySugr. I am rather execution-focussed, and have a very different mindset. This combination is very powerful. The most important thing is that we have a very strong foundation of trust.
“Without the storm, it seems like you are doing something wrong”
Have you experienced storms on the journey with hi.health already?
There are elements of storms all the time. But from time to time, you also need to have a bit of calm. The combination is important. Without the storm, it seems like you are doing something wrong. Friction is good. Most of the time, you know that a storm is approaching. You can already see it on the horizon. When you think it will pass, it will certainly hit you. Thus, phases of calm are so important to get prepared.
And what was the severest storm in your career so far?
We started out with this great vision from day one and were trying to sell it to insurance companies. This was the hardest part. Maybe not a big storm but a very rough sea. When we did not manage to close a single deal, we realized the idea needed some refinement. This is the kind of weather that you need to be prepared to overcome so that you do not stick to one idea but evolve and learn from your setbacks.