Make your product design a competitive advantage — by Jean-Charles Samuelian, Co-founder and CEO at Alan
“What I feel is that project design is really, really important to every SaaS company to build a delightful and very differentiated experience.
You should first focus on the problem. For us, it was a problem that takes us to the gut, which is healthcare, so health, managing your health. You need to focus on something very simple to solve at the beginning. At least small compared to the size of your huge market (i.e. Living happier and healthier). But we decided to start with a health insurance company, which for us was quite a small subset of our market.
At the end of the day, it’s quite already very big. It’s a 50 billion market in France. Very regulated. There was no new insurance before us since 1986. So, we were the first new insurance company in France for 30 years.
Product Design is a way to differentiate in the market
We were in the market where project design was just not a thing. I think — when you are in a B to B business, which we are as an insurance company, — it’s interesting to spend time on how you’re going to differentiate. I think that design, like user experience, is a great way to bring a lot of value.
Users’ expectations always go up. The user expects the best experience for everything they use. I think it has been a big switch also in the B to B approach, where we were used to having like lower quality projects in terms of design and user experience. Now people expect the same level of quality as on Instagram or Facebook in the way they interact with their B to B project.
Our competition was like very old insurance companies that never focus on the end user. It’s very hard to compare what should be the best user experience because you don’t have a comparison. It means taking something that people thought was natural to have a very shitty experience and making them go to what is the new world and what is the future.
For example, we believe that transparency is key to taking a great decision in healthcare, that people need to understand how much they are going to be reimbursed, how they can choose the best doctor. We spend a lot of time in this kind of details to make it very easy to understand your coverage table, to make it searchable on mobile, to really think of how people are going to use your project and not just solving the problem for yourself. Just try to think what the end user needs.
“Making something very simple will trigger a lot of complexity inside in terms of technology. You have to make that technology transparent to the user.”
In our first four years, we had software engineers, insurance people and designers and project people. We really believe that you need to spend a lot of time on resources and making the design as sleek and simple as simple possible and use all the technology you can in order to make it transparent to the users while solving their problems.
Treat your users like 5-stars hotels clients
You want users to love you. Your users are going to be your ambassadors. And, if you want them to be your ambassador, you need to focus on the small delighting things that will make them speak about you. It doesn’t have to be costly. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s just the kind of details that make you feel very special as a user.
I love to take the comparison with like five-star hotels. When you enter a five-star hotel, you have this kind of small “– Hello, Mr. Samuelian. How are you?” They know the last time you came in and what you enjoyed. They do that with every consumer. But when you enter, you feel special and you are going to recommend this kind of experience.
You can do that with B to B projects. For example, we have done a very different like welcome card and health insurance card. We have a welcome pack that is presented on this video (click in the link). It was not even made by us. One of our users did it and posted it on Twitter. It drove a lot of traffic and a lot of value to our user.
I think even B to B companies should have this B to C approach in the way they bid their project in order to bring this kind of growth.
Customer Service is key in your user journey
One other big investment we have made and that really differentiates us, is customer service.
We are in a very complex market, so health insurance for companies. So, we have tons of customers, SMBs, and like it’s a complex topic. Nobody knows what they are talking about. It’s also a touchy topic. When your health is at stake, it’s important to get a great answer.
We overinvested on customer service. We answer within less than one minute on median time. This kind of overinvestment in customer care helps us because you are going to learn a lot in terms of projects. How you build your project, so you get less and less customer-service requests.
Keep delivering really high-quality service in terms of human touch — and I think the human touch only on what really counts — and it is going to give a lot of value, delight your customers and they are going to love your brand.
Listen to the stakeholders and deliver the value they are asking
To build the project you should always spend time on every stakeholder. We have the end users (like you and me) that are playing with the health insurance. But you have also for us the HR person, the CFO, the CEO, etc.
We spent a lot of time interviewing those people. The company was not even created, that we already met with more than 100 people that were managing health insurance for their company in order to understand the problem we are solving for them and what they were valuing.
In France we like to speak about features, we love to build features. We are an engineering country. But we need to move from feature to the value we are generating to the end user and how to translate this value in terms of offering at the end.
What is a value for an HR person? They want to save time. So, we focused on that. And we save them up to two days per month on administrative tasks for a company of 200 persons.
How to go the extra mile in providing value to your users?
The last point in terms of project and project design I guess is how you go to the next stage. For us, we started with a health insurance company. But our mission as a company is far more than being a health insurance. It’s like to solve healthcare and to make it simple to access healthcare.
As a project guy, it always the following questions: what your core offering is and what are the new features you are adding progressively to your project, to keep the differentiation ongoing. Which features should we develop? How do we prioritize it? Is it a core project or is it a new feature?
Recently, we launched the Alan Map. Alan Map is a tool to help you choose the doctor around you, like located. But you have information like price, availability and this kind of stuff. And knowing how much you are going to get reimbursed before going to the doctor in France is something that just didn’t exist.
It’s not a core insurance experience for us! Like it’s kind of outside of it. But we felt that it would generate a lot of value to our users and you can use that in very different ways. It keeps us more and more differentiated. But we also use it as a growth tool. So, we open it to everybody. We have tons of users, not Alan users, that came to Alan Map and then switched to Alan.
From user-experience to intense growth
I think that also as engineering and tech companies, it’s interesting to think about engineering for growth. What project can I build in order to drive more volume, to drive more differentiation? And then go to my core project.
As a result, you generate growth with very low-cost investment. The company is 2.5 years old. We got our license less than two years ago. We are now at 10 million euros of annual recurring revenue. We cover more than 10,000 people, in more than 1300 companies.
These figures are interesting because we achieved that without spending money on online marketing. We didn’t spend one euro until like a few weeks ago. We didn’t have a sales team until like two months ago. All our growth came through word of mouth and communication.
It happened because our projects were really differentiated. It happened because our users loved our project and we gave them the tools to speak about it.
The biggest challenge for SaaS companies like us that are addressing markets such as the SMB market is how you track the distribution through product differentiation. This investment is quite atypical or counterintuitive for SaaS companies.
Your VC and most investors will push you to build a sales team very quickly to have this very tailored and specific acquisition strategy (with like SDRs, account executives, customer success). We really feel that you need to have that at some point to fuel the growth.
But if you invest deeply in what your users love, and you spend tons of time on that, you will reduce all your costs, customer acquisition costs, customer service costs, etc. This is going to generate unit economics that is so different from all the players in your industry. You will be able to raise more equity at a better valuation, attract more talents, …
If you do that, you’re not going to do incremental change. You are going to do transformative change in your company and the way your project is seen. That’s how you win global industries and it’s what is going to differentiate the best B to B players in the future and we try to be one of those.