Listening to Sammy Rubin and it’s hard not to feel his infectious excitement about his firm YuLife. He’s takien the humdrum of life insurance and gamified it — YuLife’s app feels more like an exercise or meditation app than it does insurance. It’s that openness to reimagine financial services that colors his leadership, company, and products.
Sammy joins me on the podcast to discuss the genesis of YuLife, his previous entrepreneurship in the space, and his approach to life insurance. We talk about how early customers of his firm have responded to gamified insurance — how they’re using the app and how they’re making positive changes in their lives. We also look forward to see what else he’s gearing up to do.
YuLife founder and CEO Sammy Rubin is my guest today on the Tearsheet Podcast.
My name is Sammy Rubin. I’m the founder and CEO of YuLife, a new tech-driven life insurance company that aims to inspire people to live their best lives.
Insurance is a huge market. And one of the areas that hasn’t really been disrupted until now is life insurance. Life insurance hasn’t changed much for the last few 100 years — the only significant change was when smoker rates were introduced about 40 to 50 years ago. But essentially, life insurance is really death insurance — it just pays out when people die. I thought that life insurance could be something much more than that. Life insurance can be a vehicle to inspire people to live their best lives. And ultimately, it’s a win-win if we can help our members live longer, happier, healthier lives, then there will be less claims and happier customers. That’s our philosophy of life insurance: to really inspire people to live healthier lives every single day.
The entrepreneurial track
I started my first startup with my late father, back when I was at college, just as I was leaving university in London. We built a business very quickly. And I IPO’d that business within five years. At the time, I was the youngest director of a public financial company. And I was running that for about seven years. And then I realized that I was burnt out — physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had all the trappings. Externally, everything looked amazing, a lot of material success.
It was great to build that startup from scratch and to IPO it. But at the same time, it was at the compromise of my own personal well being. So I took a six month sabbatical. I spent different times at wellness centers around the world, in the US, and in Israel. I changed my diet; I learned yoga and meditation. And within a couple of months, I was feeling so much better. And really since then, I came back to the UK, sold that business, but I made it my ambition for my next startup, my next venture, to be around inspiring wellness and wellbeing.
The core offering
We cover the employees of companies. In the UK, most businesses over 250 people offer life insurance for their employees. That’s an employee benefit and seen as very standard. But up until now, it’s been a very vanilla offering. Most employees don’t even know that they have it or if they do, they certainly don’t know which company it’s with.
We provide the same protection as other insurance companies. So if an employee passes away, they’ll be paid out — there’s obviously solid protection in place. But in addition to that, we have access to different wellbeing services. For example, we have access to a virtual doctor that can make an appointment to see a doctor. We have access to counseling for those people who are struggling with their mental wellbeing.
We’ve created this currency of wellbeing, YuCoin. And we’ve created 3D gamified experiences where our members go through different worlds and level up. And they do quests, simple quests, like a 10 minute walk or a five minute meditation. And they can progress every day through these different levels, earning more YuCoin and accessing more well being benefits as a part of that. So it’s a whole, robust, integrated proposition for businesses, and especially now, post COVID. companies are looking to offer their employees something much more than just life insurance. They’re looking to create an ecosystem of wellbeing.
Expanding beyond the UK
We just raised $70 million as our Series B. Part of that raise is to internationalize our offering. We’re have global ambition. We believe our mission of inspiring people to live their best lives is something that can certainly travel across different countries. And therefore, we’ve been looking at different areas of the market, different locations around the world that we see have similar attributes to the UK, in that there is a demand for life insurance, but it’s a very standard vanilla offering. And that there is an aspiration for wellbeing. We’ve looked at Southeast Asia. We’re looking at Europe. We are excited about the prospects of North America. We’re not announcing anything yet, but we do have plans to launch our first country next year.
We have a hybrid strategy: most of the current market is traditionally sold through brokers, the very large brokers like Aon, Marsh, Mercer — these are the big brokers. Probably 80% to 90% of the group life insurance market is conducted through these types of brokers. We have excellent relationships with these top tier brokers. But at the same time, we also have a direct sales team. And that’s something that’s really important for us. We put on wellbeing events for heads of HR, managers, heads of people — we talk about mental wellbeing in the workplace. We have guest speakers and events, and we engage and we inspire the heads of HR within organizations. They then come to us and approach us about bringing YuLife to their businesses. And the final sell may be done through a broker, but it’s often initiated from within the organization through our direct sales team.
We’re not looking to replace the broker. But at the same time, having that direct proposition, direct relationship with the organizations themselves, just excites the people in the organization from the word ‘go’, rather than hearing it secondhand. We have a very strong presence on social media. We have strong presence on LinkedIn. There’s nothing like this on the market.
The underlying product
We have worked with several insurers that provide the insurance within the YuLife proposition. That’s given us a basic product, and that’s something that we’ve negotiated with those carriers independently. In addition, we’ve designed the game and the whole gamified experience around that, including all these wellness services. Within that we’ve also partnered with wellbeing services, like with Fitbit and Garmin, so our members are able to access Garmin at a 40% discount, or buy Fitbit for over 20% off, or Calm, the leading mindfulness app, which they’re able to get for three months for free or half price after that.
Users get rewarded through YuCoin for engaging in these services. So the wellbeing feeds into YuCoin and that feeds into the gamification. It’s all underpinned by the insurance that we have working through our partnerships with our carriers. This will take time to build a whole new dynamic underwriting model, where we reimagine a new risk model for life insurance, based around lifestyle, around engagement. That’s the holy grail and will take a while.
We’re building a data science and AI team — we’re collecting so much data, so many pieces of data, around steps, data, mindfulness, at different times types of engagements. We’re looking at cohorts of businesses across the enterprise businesses, with cohorts in different locations. And through their activity, we’re able to get a really clear picture of the risk model, especially around groups of people and groups of people within a business, which is fascinating.
Maybe about 20% of our team is from the insurance industry. From the outset, I was very keen to make sure that a lot of the creative talent comes from outside the industry. So obviously we’ve got actuaries — the underwriters are in place and from traditional insurance backgrounds. Our head of distribution has 20 years experience at one of the leading insurers. Our CFO also spent many years in leading insurance companies. But then our chief technology officer is a huge gamer, obsessed with games, using a lot of gamification techniques. Our Chief Operating Officer has a fintech background, not an insurance background. And we’re recruiting people from all over, especially from the wellness industry — people who’ve forged a career in wellness but may have originally come from a corporate background and found a way to integrate both their passion for wellness, but also some of that corporate aspect as well.
The acquisition funnel
A lot of our sales process is exactly that. It’s going to conferences (when conferences were in person). We do some great webinars. And companies are thirsty for this — post COVID, they’re grappling with how to create a culture of wellbeing. When we started the business three, four years ago, we were talking about wellness and the companies that were coming to us were really outliers. It was becoming trendy, as people realized the importance of that. But post COVID, this has become essential now — companies realize how important it is to look after their staff, especially now that employees are working remotely. They’re looking to use technology to really engage their staff.
For example, we have leaderboards. Every company has a leaderboard, where employees can compete with one another. We’ve got duels where people can challenge their co worker for a duel to see how many steps they can walk in a particular day. There’s lots of ways that we’ve created social cohesion, especially for remote workforces, around wellbeing.
We found that through engagement, we’re building a personal relationship with those employees. Around 60% of our members download the app, and then over a third of them are engaging with our app every single day. We have, on average, 120 touch points with our members every year, which, compared to the insurance industry, is obviously hugely different. We’re realizing now that we can serve these employees with more products.
For example, next month, we’re rolling out our first personal life insurance product, where a company may offer full time salary to an employee, but that employee may need more insurance. They may be going through a life change, and they want to top up their life insurance. They’ll be able to do that directly with YuLife. Next quarter, we are rolling out dental insurance with a partner, BUPA. We’re going to be offering a best in class dental insurance, so that our individual members can top up their insurance and get extra dental insurance. Our members will be inspired to live a healthier life, to look after oral hygiene, and they’ll get rewards for doing so. And then next year, we’re looking at other protection products that are relevant to people’s lives.
Gamification in insurance
Our co founder, Josh Hart and I were riding the subway, and he said to me, look at everyone taking on their phones. Everyone’s playing Candy Crush. He said, let’s apply that to the world of insurance. And I thought, hey, that’s crazy.
We’ve experimented with it and it’s amazing how well it’s taken off — that the world of life insurance and the world of gamification seem such polar opposites, yet somehow, we’re managing to bridge those two worlds. And for me, it’s a huge surprise. It’s really gratifying to see the engagement we’re getting.