Excerpted article was written by Susan Price | Forbes
Anyone who has shopped for health insurance knows how confusing, frustrating and time-consuming it can be. Individuals and small businesses often turn to brokers to guide them, but brokers are faced with the same complex process and aging technology.
The health insurance industry is past due for disruption. One of the startups that is doing so, Wellthie, has landed $5 million in financing to help it continue to scale. Through its e-commerce and analytics platform, Wellthie helps brokers and insurance carriers serve small business customers. The Series A funding was led by IA Capital Group, with additional investors including the Aflac Corporate Venture Fund.
“The insurance industry is ripe for change, and for technology to change the old ways of doing things,” says Sally Poblete, Wellthie’s founder and CEO. “With small businesses driving 55% of employment in the American economy, employers need an array of insurance products for their employees.” The platform makes it easier for brokers to compare plans and advise their clients.
Before launching the New York company in 2013, Poblete spent 20 years in the health care industry, including a decade in insurance. “It sounds strange to most people, but I fell in love with the industry, and it is so crucial to people’s physical and financial well being,” she says. “But it is just so complicated for people. I had wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid, and I saw this as the right moment and the right industry to do so.”
Having deep industry experience and a robust network were key to getting Wellthie quickly up and running. Poblete formed a team of experts in tech, product and data, and built the first product by the end of 2013. Through her network, she was able to reach and land her first large customer, Emblem Health. The New York-based company, which previously raised a seed round, now has 20 employees.
From the introduction of health care exchanges with the ACA in 2013 to the recent failure of President Trump’s proposed repeal, the insurance industry is one complicated by regulatory changes. That might seem a daunting obstacle, but Poblete has another take.
“I think there is opportunity for us is to shed light on and help people through regulatory changes,” she says. “Ongoing changes, whether big or small, underscore the need for a tech platform that can help businesses and consumers know what plans are best and affordable for them.” Changing on a dime, of course, is what entrepreneurs do best. “As a nimble startup we are so much more agile than a big insurance company in keeping up with changes,” she says. “They call us.”
Despite being in a hot niche, with a tech product that solves an industry problem, raising money remains “a grueling process,” says Poblete. “You have to be prepared for the numbers game, and to do a lot of pitching to yield a few home runs. Like it or not, an entrepreneur is always fundraising.”
Poblete, who was introduced to her future lead investors at a conference, admits that even entrepreneurs like her—experienced, and with a product in a hot niche—need resilience. “Only 6% of investment in digital health goes to women CEOs, and I feel both honored to have succeeded,” she says. “I felt it was really important that I persevered. I have a lot of desire to increase that number, and having women run successful venture-backed companies.”
Women entrepreneurs tend to focus on substance, and as important as it is to have a great product, it is not enough to win over investors. “The advice I give women is to do the right things and have a great product first, but what I have learned is that it is crucial that in addition to the substance you have to add that swaggerkYou have to sell a bold vision for the future, not just talk about the product you have now,” she says. “It is about confidence in delivering a bigger message. Investors, and customers, want to get excited about a bigger future.”
“I love being an entrepreneur in my forties,” she says. “I have experience with the ins and outs of managing people, and experience with the product and the industry.” But her advice to younger entrepreneurs, especially women who may feel they are not ready to take the plunge, is not to hold back. “You don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect and you don’t have to master everything in your field.” The learning, after all, “is never going to end.”