One of Canada's most successful tech entrepreneurs, Mike Serbinis, is scaling back plans to raise US$100-million in venture financing this year for his latest startup, League Inc. He says the reason is the company, which is aiming to shake up the employee benefits market, is doing much better than expected.
"We actually think that is a little too much," said Mr. Serbinis, who set out the US$100-million target during an interview with The Globe and Mail last June and aims to raise League's next venture round in the next four months. "Our unit economics are a lot better than we thought. We don't need that much," he said, adding that what the company does raise will depend on market demand. "I think raising too much is a trap a lot of Canadian companies are falling into right now. That said, we'll raise what we need and it will be less than we thought."
Mr. Serbinis's moves have been closely watched by the Canadian tech community since the high-profile Toronto serial entrepreneur sold his last company, e-reader maker Kobo Inc., in 2012 for US$315-million and started League in late 2014. He recruited former Sun Life Financial executive Lori Casselman as chief health officer and raised US$25-million in 2016 from OMERS Ventures and several strategic institutional investors including Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife Financial Corp. and Power Financial Corp., one of the largest early stage venture financings in Canada.
League, based in Toronto, offers a novel way for medium-sized enterprises to offer a competitive benefits package to employees in an era in which millennials are expecting more personalized, user-friendly and digitally convenient experiences in all facets of their lives.
The company partners with conventional underwriters – 12 have signed up so far, including RBC Insurance, MetLife Inc., Aetna Life and Casualty Co. and United Healthcare Corp. – to provide flexible, customized plans that allow employees to allot their coverage spending as they choose beyond traditional medical and dental options. League plans also allow employees to be reimbursed, within predetermined amounts set out in their benefit plans, for such non-traditional wellness and lifestyle services as osteopathy, gym memberships, yoga or pilates classes and even art therapy and food delivery. Employees can claim reimbursements over League's user-friendly online platform and even purchase shoes, gym classes or vitamins from select vendors such as GoodLife and Well.ca by tapping into their allotted benefits accounts. "We are redefining the insurance experience and providing a new channel to market to deliver it," Mr. Serbinis said.
League customers include Facebook, Unilever, Shopify, Etsy and Loblaw's digital division; it earns a monthly fee per employee depending on the coverage purchased.
The company claims employees and employers alike far prefer League to dealing with traditional insurers, boasting a "net promoter score" – which measures the likelihood people will refer others to its services – of 74, compared with eight for industry incumbents. The company's main rivals are traditional insurance brokers as well as fellow U.S.-based benefits insurance startup Collective Health, though that company – which has raised more than US$100-million from several top U.S. venture capital funds and has 30 enterprise clients and 120,000 end users across the United States – is geared more to self-insuring large enterprises.
League had a big 2017, recruiting U.S. insurance industry executive Brian Ancell to lead its expansion south of the border – League is now licensed to operate in 10 U.S. states and Mr. Serbinis expects to be in all 50 by the end of March – and increasing revenues 20-fold compared with the previous year. Mr. Serbinis wouldn't disclose the company's net revenues but said he anticipates League will earn as much this quarter as the "millions" of dollars it took in during all of 2017. He forecast League would increase revenues this year by 10 times over last year's undisclosed level. "It was hard to get here but we're now in a great spot," he said.