Health insurance isn’t just a difficult topic to approach, but it’s also boring. It’s one of those things that people need to do, and they just want to be able to ultimately trust that the company they’re working with is going to take care of them like they promised in the future. Because people also need insurance, it’s pretty horrible when we hear the stories of when something goes wrong, like an organ transplant or life-saving treatments. That’s where Feather comes in!
Thankfully, stories like these mostly happen in the US, whereas in Germany, the insurance industry is regulated by the government, which means that most plans that you decide to go with are almost identical with only minor differences like how the TK offers the best English service, Barmer covers travel vaccines, or how most private insurance plans will include vision and dental.
Feather was founded in 2018 by our CEO, Rob Schumacher, and CTO, Vincent Audoire. Rob originally completed his Ph.D. in mathematics before deciding to move into the business world, where he worked as a consultant for McKinsey for two years. Vincent, on the other hand, joined as one of the first employees at N26.
Rob came up with the idea for Feather after working with insurance math during his time in academia. McKinsey also used his knowledge when he was placed in multiple consulting positions in the insurance industry. It was there that Rob realized that something needed to change.
“The insurance industry as a whole”, as he describes it, “is really really broken.”
Why do we want to change insurance?
While, as Rob puts it, insurance is inherently “not sexy,” it’s something people still need and depend on. There are tons of problems throughout the system, from registering non-Western names in a system that can’t handle large character counts to documents only being available in German when a majority of people coming to Germany learn German after arrival (which seems quite obvious).
People depend on insurance and need to be able to make claims and ask questions in a language they understand. Because of the intimate nature of insurance and how it touches multiple, deeply personal aspects of our lives, it’s not just enough to provide accessible information in English but also good customer service.
The value of having the possibility to email, chat or call someone to ask questions at a time when you’re deeply confused is invaluable. While some insurance companies do offer good support, it’s often guided by problematic incentive structures.
Rethinking incentive structures
We’ve mentioned this before, but we think it’s important enough to mention it a second time. Insurance companies are incentivized to get more people plans. This means when someone comes and has specific questions or doesn’t understand something, there is no incentive for helping them, only for getting them to sign up for a plan.
When Vincent and Rob met at a program called Entrepreneur First that pairs co-founders together based on their backgrounds, this is what Vincent thought of the insurance industry. No incentive for people, only for more plans without individuals behind them.
Rob got Vincent onboard by saying Feather would change this. Our company mission and what we stand for are to make people feel comfortable with their insurance plans and to give them the best advice. We’re incentivized by reviews on Google and Trustpilot and judge our performance on the happiness of our customers.
But, aren’t we an insurance broker?
Yeah, we’re an insurance broker. Our plans aren’t actually from us; they’re from our partners like Hallesche for private health insurance and TK, Barmer, AOK, and DAK for public insurance (and we’re planning to onboard even more).
The difference is that we see a fundamental issue with Germany’s insurance industry. We see a lack of accessible information, a lack of customer service, and a lack of incentive to care about the individuals behind the plans.
Our goal is to create processes to solve problems in already existing insurance plans. For example, let’s say you need to file a claim, but you don’t speak German, and online blogs are all outdated. We’ve made it possible to submit the claim in English directly in your account and get reimbursed within days. This reimbursement is from Feather while we wait and deal with your insurance to get your reimbursement. That means we speed up the process, you get reimbursed sooner, and we get paid back by the insurance company.
Another thing we’ve solved is applying for insurance. You can apply from abroad or from the comfort of your home. We’ve even made a feature where you can upload your insurance ID photo with your phone.
So, yeah, technically, we’re an insurance broker, but our goal is to change the mentality of the insurance industry, not just sell plans. So, you’ll only ever need to speak with us. Although, if you need other plans like dental or legal insurance, we can hook you up.
We’re a product-driven company
We like to call ourselves a startup because we’re pretty much your standard version of young hipsters in Berlin trying to change the world, but we’re already profitable, so maybe we’re just a small product-focused company.
We set goals for ourselves like onboarding a new life insurance partner and rolling out this service to our customers. We don’t like to estimate how long this will take because unexpected things tend to happen, and you never really know how long something will take until after it’s done.
It’s a bit harder to imagine with technology, so let’s take Rob’s favorite example of construction. We have a good idea of what the final structure will be like. Still, sometimes unpredictable things happen like someone only ordered half the concrete that was needed because of a mistake in their calculation, or you find an old World War II bomb when digging the foundation. You need to wait for the authorities to evacuate the neighborhood and the specialists to come and defuse it before going back to work.
Especially in Berlin, construction takes a lot more time, effort, and money than originally planned. Ähm…. BER airport. Thankfully, at Feather, our processes are all digital, and our software engineers are pretty talented, so it means even if there is a small bug, we can fix it in a day or two.
What it’s like working at a product-driven company
We’re incentivized by reviews from customers meaning that we do things well the first time, even if that means taking a few days to make the final touches. Small improvements and good user research mean our products are solid when they are launched and ready for customers since our incentive is to make sure people get a good product and good service, not selling more plans.
We also believe that honesty extends from our customer service, where we almost always recommend public health insurance to our company values. Another element is greenwashing. Both Vincent and Rob have seen companies donate small percentages of their profits to green organizations in order to call themselves “green,” but the way they run their companies is damaging the environment (we are 100% digital and remote, and we also only have our retreats in Berlin, which helps us reduce our impact on the planet). Also, pushing values that aren’t directly lived at Feather is something we cannot stand and cannot, at its core, be called honesty.
Products that matter
We create products based on actual needs and not what Rob or Vincent think the customers need. We developed this value through bootstrapping since we didn’t have investors for the majority of Feather’s existence, and the ones we have now have to agree to the decisions we make. This meant that we had to create products people actually needed to be able to survive. For example, a lot people on expat insurance need to switch to public or private before they renew their visa, so we created a button for it in their account that will transfer them to their new plan without a coverage lapse as well as a reminder email if their plan is about to expire.
We may not be the next meditation or yoga app, everyone on Tiktok is talking about, but what we’re doing is pretty useful for our customers. Plus, who doesn’t like free customer support (even if you’re not a customer).
You’re right if you think that Feather sounds like a pretty cool place to work. Just remember that we’re a peculiar bunch, so we look for people who have two qualities: you’re excited to solve your own problems, and you’re excited to work with people who want to solve problems.
We’re growing quickly, but our idea of quick is a lot slower than some of these scaleups that onboard over 100 employees each year. Right now, we are currently onboarding about 2 to 3 people per month, which we think is a perfect tempo for teams to bond and develop good working relationships.
We have a culture of trust, directness, and honesty where we know all opinions will be heard, and we won’t hire unless we see that person shares these values. In the end, it’s better to wait for someone we know will fit into our team structure and be happy working at Feather than to just hire the person we find most qualified (and who might not fit into our current company culture).
If you’re getting excited reading about this, send us a cover letter and your CV, and let us know a bit more about you!