Dear Sebastien, could you briefly introduce yourself?
I have spent all of my professional career in the healthcare sector. What can I say? That’s what drives me. After studying pharmacy in France, I joined ESSEC business school general program and soon after, I was recruited by Sanofi, where I worked as a business development and marketing executive on multiple therapeutic and geographic markets for twelve years.
In 2011, I took a management position within China as part of management team focusing on diabetes portfolio. It was a great experience. I met many knowledgeable and committed people (Chinese Ministry of health representatives, hospital leaders, etc.) and well, I got the sense of all that could be done in this dynamic country, where many healthcare-related needs remain unmet. When I got the initial concept of a digital health startup that could address the mistrust from consumers for medical services, a kind of TripAdvisor for healthcare, I left Sanofi and founded The CareVoice in early 2014.
Could you briefly introduce your company?
The CareVoice is a health insurtech platform bringing better healthcare experience to its communities, especially insurance members and employees.
We focus on the fast-growing segment of mid-to-high end private healthcare services in China and put the consumer at the center of this ecosystem: helping hospitals become more patient-centric and providing insurance incumbents with a health and wellness SaaS solution for their members covered by medical insurance.
Our SaaS VIP membership empowers insurees to make the best healthcare decisions considering their insurance policy; it helps them search for top-quality healthcare services, drives them towards the most cost-efficient yet high-quality medical centers and eases the usage of insurance benefits by digitalizing claims and benefits balance checking.
My wife and I met in Mexico in 2002, where we were both on a student program, working as interns. We enjoyed this first expatriate experience. A few years later, at our wedding, I promised her that we would live abroad together again. China was on the top of our list of countries for obvious reasons (economy, history, cultural differences, etc.) and for a more personal reason. In 2006, before getting married my wife made a trip in Shanghai and she loved it so much that she wrote me a card in Chinese characters (despite having never studied any Chinese!) telling me that one day we may live here together.
In your opinion, what France should bring to China? And what China should bring to France?
What France should bring to China? I would say our international standards in terms of healthcare, enabling patient to enjoy a good care experience in every medical centers and our French habit of challenging the status quo, asking why all the time. It has its pros and cons but in China, authority figures are not challenged enough, even when their positions aren’t well-argued.
On the other hand, what we lack in France is our ability to foster change and innovation. In China, people are optimistic, they believe change can be positive and they pursue it with enthusiasm.
Generally speaking, I think western media are biased regarding China. Either they only focus on the issues or they tend to adopt the same perspectives when looking at the Chinese society, missing the big picture and creating misconceptions. France and China have a lot to give to each other. From a business perspective for example, Chinese companies and investors are looking to invest in promising French startups. They could help answer the lack of local funding and be strong partners when looking towards the East. From a cultural perspective, The French and The Chinese have a lot in common, starting with the world’s best gastronomy!
Would you rather go to your workplace wearing a Chinese tunic or go dressed like a typical Frenchman (beret and striped jersey)? Why?
I don’t particularly have an acute fashion sense but both options seem a bit too much. People come dressed as they want at The CareVoice, so either way would be okay but well… I am going to use my trump card on this question and say that I would wear a nice pair of jeans with a Mao-cut shirt.
Would you rather know how to code like a boss or be able to talk decently in Chinese? Why?
I want to say both, starting with Chinese. I studied Mandarin quite intensively while working for Sanofi, but since I have been living the founder’s life, it has been a bit on and off. The investment round we just closed with The Carevoice - not yet officially announced - is a key milestone in the pursuit of our growth objective. So hopefully, I will be able to resume my learning next year. Regarding coding, I know nothing. But it is on my own development plan to at least know the basics. There is a cool part-time program from The Wagon for Senior management. I am thinking of enrolling.
Which Chinese startup do you think is inspiring? Why?
Mobike, the bike-sharing company because of its plans to expand to reach 200 cities before the end of the year, many of which are expected to be outside of China. If it is difficult for foreign entrepreneurs to succeed in China, the reverse is also true. Mobike will need to adapt when expanding in the West and I am rooting for its success. Bringing innovation from China to outside markets is something that resonates with me at the moment, since we will soon launch The CareVoice in a first market in Southeast Asia.
If you were a Chinese dish which one would you be? Why?
I would be a nice plate of Xiaolong Bao, also known as “soup dumplings”. It’s simple yet very flavorful and fun to eat, drinking the soup out of the dumplings. Everybody loves it in my family, especially my daughters.
Any advice in 3 words to give to those who would like to try their luck in entrepreneurship in Shanghai?
Being an entrepreneur is challenging, being one in China even more. And well, being a foreign entrepreneur in China is like fighting the final boss in a video game. You need to:
- Assemble a kick-ass team - Find early on at least 2 complementary senior co-founders and a group of advisors who went through what you are going to face
- Be perseverant - Know where you want to go and keep your vision but be ready to adapt and navigate grey areas. The Chinese market is a tough one to crack
- Choose the right strategy - Go for business models that generate revenues quickly. If you are a digital company, don’t try and build a community first. Local Chinese companies will always beat you at this game.