Pets, technology, and insurance – a trifecta of elements that converge to form the very essence of Oyen’s inception. Led by the visionary duo of Michelle Chin and Kevin Hoong, Oyen stands tall at the forefront of the insurtech industry, daring to redefine conventional practices in the realm of pet insurance. FLY Malaysia had the privilege to engage in an exclusive interview with Michelle Chin, the tenacious co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Oyen Pet Insurance. In this interview, Michelle unveils the remarkable journey of building a startup and fearlessly challenging the deep-rooted norms that govern the insurance industry in Malaysia.
The Rising Trend of Pet Insurance
Breaking away from orthodox practices, Oyen launched its digital insurance platform in 2021. “We also launched our first human travel insurance product enriched with pet benefits about three months ago,” says Michelle as the company recently ventured beyond just pet insurance with new offerings.
Pet owners who purchase Oyen’s insurance enjoy annual coverage of up to RM8,000 for their pets’ veterinary medical expenses. This innovative approach to insurance marks a significant departure from the rigid and conventional practices prevalent in the industry. Some insurance policies have low annual or lifetime coverage limits, which might not be sufficient to cover extensive treatments or surgeries.
When asked about her motivation to establish and lead Oyen, Michelle explains, “Kevin and I share a common belief in disrupting the traditional insurance industry, which tends to become increasingly inflexible as companies grow. Often, businesses lose sight of their primary purpose—to serve their customers. Instead, they erect barriers and complicate the process of purchasing their products, especially in the case of insurance.”
With Kevin’s family background – 40 years of experience in the insurance sector and Michelle’s entrepreneurial drive, the duo seized an opportunity when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in pet ownership. It was a close friend’s unfortunate experience that led to their venture into pet insurance. Shortly after bringing home a new cat, their friend faced hefty veterinary bills totaling a staggering RM2,000, due to the feline’s chronic kidney disease. This incident raised questions about the limited awareness and availability of pet insurance in Malaysia.
Recognising the untapped potential of pet insurance and armed with their own personal encounters, Kevin and Michelle combined their consumer insights and technological expertise to establish Oyen—an insurtech start-up dedicated to providing comprehensive coverage for pets. Their mission is not only to disrupt the industry but also to redefine the relationship between insurers and stakeholders, emphasising convenience and accessibility.
Unravelling the Pawsitive Dreams
Startups have varied goals, and for Oyen, a digital platform providing pet insurance, success is measured by the number of pets insured. Oyen’s focus remains on expanding their customer base and ensuring broad coverage.They also track the number of trips insured for their travel insurance product. This approach directs their efforts towards reaching as many customers as possible with their insurance offerings.
Oyen plans for growth up to three years ahead, determining financial needs and resource allocation. They advise startups to start fundraising when they have around 12 months of capital remaining, never falling below six months. This proactive approach ensures stability and fuels sustained growth.
Oyen’s pet-centric growth strategy exemplifies their dedication to the insurance industry. By prioritising the number of insured pets, Oyen aligns goals with their core mission. Through diligent forecasting and fundraising, they secure resources to meet growth targets, setting an example for success in the competitive startup landscape.
From Kibble to Capital
Michelle, sheds light on the strategic decisions and considerations made while launching the startup. As an entrepreneur, she highlights the two general options available when starting a business, each with its own implications for growth and control.
The first option involves investing personal funds or partnering with a few individuals to fund the business gradually. This approach allows for greater control over the company but might limit its growth due to the lack of substantial capital for rapid expansion. “Growth won’t be exponential because you will need a large amount of capital to grow really fast, or else you won’t have enough money to hire good talent,” she explained.
Oyen, being a technology startup with ambitions for rapid growth, chose the second approach. “Startups and technology companies need to grow fast, they need to hire great people, and hence they need external investment,” she stated, justifying their decision. From the inception of Oyen, the founders had their sights set on attracting investors to fuel the company’s growth.
In the early stages of the startup, the founders proactively sought investment opportunities. By June, there were already news reports about Oyen’s launch, and around the same time, they announced a successful fundraising round, securing approximately 1.7 million ringgit in funding. This intentional step allowed Oyen to acquire the necessary financial resources to propel the business forward.
Drawing from their previous experience in managing profit and loss (P&L) for other companies, the founders skillfully strategised their spending to ensure prudent financial management. They have been cautious with spending, recognizsing the importance of sustainable growth.
The approach to spending was critical to Oyen’s ability to reach significant milestones, enabling them to secure subsequent rounds of funding. “You can decide to grow your business enough to not need the next round of funding, which means that you only need to dilute a little bit of your ownership, allowing you more control over your business” she elucidated, underscoring the long-term vision for the company’s growth and ownership.
Oyen’s founders strategically chose a path of rapid growth by seeking investment from the outset. Their approach allowed the company to secure substantial funding early on, fostering sustainable growth and providing opportunities for more extensive control over the business. Oyen’s journey serves as an inspiring example of how startups can navigate the complexities of funding, investment, and business control to achieve their vision successfully.
Michelle shared insights into the journey of building her startup and the challenges faced along the way. Oyen, a relatively niche and innovative company, has overcome scepticism and misconceptions to achieve a significant milestone of RM100 million in coverage.
“It requires a lot of planning for every entrepreneur and it may be a similar journey, but it’s never easy – in the media we always read about the successes, but I think for every success story there’s probably a 100 failures,” she reflected, highlighting the common struggle of startups.
The entrepreneur emphasised the universality of challenges, stating, “I think regardless of where you are, you constantly have different challenges and obstacles, and it’s about how you tackle them that helps you move forward.”
Throughout their journey, Oyen encountered moments of learning that shaped their growth. “I don’t see them as failures/challenges but I see them as moments of learning. Because when you try something, it doesn’t work, you learn, then you figure out how to change it to make it work or do something else,” she explained, encapsulating the adaptive spirit required in the startup world.
As with many startups, Oyen faced early scepticism from the public. “One of the things that was really tough in the early days was that people thought it was a scam. I guess it’s understandable because it’s new; when something is never heard of before, people tend to get sceptical,” she admitted, drawing parallels with other successful startups like Airbnb and Grab, which had to overcome similar initial doubts. To establish credibility, Oyen worked on media exposure and validation from customers. “We felt that the news we produced with the media was important because reputable publications wouldn’t share a scam,” she pointed out, emphasising the importance of combating negative perceptions.
Achieving RM150 million in pet care coverage is a significant milestone for Oyen. “Getting your first customer who’s not your friend or family is not easy. Hence, advertising or word-of-mouth to get your first few customers are the first and the most crucial steps to begin her business,” she explained, highlighting the challenges faced during the initial stages. Reflecting on the journey, she expressed, “You can have a lot of friends, lots of connections, and support, but it’s not a real success until you get customers who don’t know who you are, paying you money for your product/service.” The validation from customers was a magical moment for her and a mark of true success.
As Oyen celebrates this milestone, the founder believes it is just the beginning. “There are lots of things we want to achieve and more obstacles to face in the upcoming years,” she shared, signifying the company’s determination to continue growing and innovating in the future. Oyen’s journey serves as an inspiring tale of perseverance, overcoming scepticism, and achieving success through learning and adaptation. The achievement of RM150 million in coverage marks a turning point for the startup, setting the stage for further growth and accomplishments in the years ahead.
Keeping up with the industry
“We actually hired a veterinarian, so we are committed to being on top of things and building good relationships with all the vets and vet clinics in Malaysia,” shared the founder of Oyen, underscoring their dedication to staying informed in the field.
“Our in-house vet runs regular sessions with our team to share about common illnesses and updates about the vet space,” Michelle revealed, highlighting the company’s proactive efforts in knowledge-sharing.
“Oyen actively participates in vet-related activities and events. In July, we were invited to participate in the National Scientific Conference (NSC) for small animal vets by the Malaysia Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA),” said Michelle, emphasising their involvement in staying updated with international research and practices.
“We maintain close relationships with local vets in Malaysia to keep abreast of the ever-changing landscape of veterinary medicine,” she also stated, emphasising the importance of building strong connections within the local veterinary community.
By adopting these strategies, Oyen ensures that their products and services remain effective and aligned with the evolving needs of pet owners and veterinary practices, solidifying their position as a leading player in the pet health technology space.
Pawsitive Alliances of Partnerships
According to Michelle, there are several ways to view partnerships. The first one being marketing and sales, where your company works with another to increase the customer base of your product. Another take in partnerships would be where different perspectives are shared. Different perspectives of partnership means an alliance will be formed from a wide range of fields, which includes partnership with veterinary practitioners.
Pet owners are habitually afraid of treating their pets due to heavy costs, as drugs and equipment from the vet themselves are imported from abroad.
“Most people have insufficient knowledge on the importance of pet care and have overestimated a vet’s costs, which results in an abundance of veterinary care.” Fortunately, as Michelle continues her explanation, this is where Oyen plays an important role in helping consumers to save costs and treating our little companions. In Michelle’s perspective,viruses are more commonly found within pets nowadays, making pet insurance a vital coverage to ensure the dwindling infection prospect. “Pet insurance is dedicated to ease consumer’s lives, for example, insurance assists decision making, helping consumers to agree on a RM200 blood test as we will reimburse that money*.”
When asked about the significant role of pet insurance in raising awareness on animal health, Michelle explained that it does encourage regular veterinary visits and promote more responsible pet ownership. Countries like the United Kingdom have a steady increase of pet owners opting for policies that cover routine healthcare. If this idea is properly implemented in Malaysia, it will greatly improve overall pet health in the country. It is also understood that financial incentives provided by pet insurance can help alleviate financial barriers, as pet owners are then more likely to seek prompt medical attention for their pets when health issues arise, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.
This higher-overarching partnership aids veterinary practitioners, as more people acknowledge the importance of veterinary care. Realising the bridge between pet insurance and vets, Oyen has started off with covering for vet bills. The pet-focused company covers up to 90% claims from vet bills, with insurance as low as RM30 per month. This idea of partnership is riveting as it allows the pet industry to amplify, benefiting different lines of business and allowing a new formation of alliance between them.
The Insurtech Revolution: Navigating the Rapid Rise of the Insurance Landscape
There is one ultimate difference between traditional insurance and insurtech, which is greater accessibility and convenience provided by insurtech companies. Michelle realises that conventional practices often use legacy systems and manual workflows for various aspects of their operations, including underwriting, claims processing, and customer interactions. On top of that, traditional insurers generally have a more traditional and bureaucratic approach to customer interactions, where the application process and claims handling can sometimes be lengthy and involve substantial paperwork. Determined to alter the standard rule played in traditional insurance, Michelle believed it was necessary to up their game by smoothing the amenities of their company.
Michelle understands that leveraging cutting-edge technology and digital innovation to disrupt and modernise the insurance industry is increasingly necessary, as this tech-driven approach allows for quicker policy issuance, claims processing, and customer service. With this idea in mind, Michelle and Kevin focus on using advanced algorithms and data analytics to improve efficiency, customer experience, and risk management. This has led them to where they are today, with Oyen prioritising enhancing customer experience through digital channels.
When asked about her ultimate goal for establishing Oyen, Michelle explains, “The purpose of insurance is to help people, it’s like a formal charity pool but the contributors of the charity are the people’s interest – in our case, their pets. By leveraging technology to revolutionise traditional insurance processes, we could enhance customer experiences, and provide more tailored insurance solutions to people.”
Embarking on the Entrepreneurial Journey
In a world brimming with innovation and opportunity, today’s youths are embracing their entrepreneurial spirit, ready to carve their paths and make their mark on the business landscape. Starting up their own businesses can be a thrilling yet fulfilling endeavour. However, success in the entrepreneurial realm requires careful navigation through the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead. With that being said, Michelle has offered a few pieces of advice for those who are driven by passion and ambition in achieving their goals.
Principally, it is vital to follow your passion and build a business around it. Passion will serve as the driving force during difficult times and keep you focused on your long-term goals. “Running a business means that work is constantly on your mind. If you’re determined to achieve your goal and work is on your mind around 75% of the time, you won’t suffer from burnout.” To boot, Michelle also explained that networking and seeking mentorship serves as a force in pushing your entrepreneurial journey forward. Building a support system of like-minded individuals and seeking guidance from experienced mentors in your passionate industry is essential, “I’ve been to lots of startup events in Malaysia, although I was working under another company at the same time. I got to talk to different people from various fields and learn from them, eventhough I knew very little.” Michelle further explains that networking can open doors to partnerships, investment opportunities, and valuable insights, while mentors can offer invaluable advice especially at the early stage of building a business.
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to become consumed by your venture into a new realm. Michelle then stresses how maintaining a healthy work-life balance is also important although it is different for different people. Having a successful business means that you have to prioritise three aspects, which includes your physical health, mental health and financial health. Having a good ratio between these three angles is important as it displays a good work-life balance.
Lastly, Michelle emphasised how budding entrepreneurs should never forget about their customers, even after reaching a milestone. Catering customers with business products according to their needs is a cornerstone of building a thriving and sustainable enterprise. This is how we get to win our customer’s hearts as satisfied customers will ultimately become loyal customers to us.
“We tend to forget our initial goals, which is to help our customers after reaching a milestone. It is crucial to always go back to the basics, which is putting our customers as our number one priority. Without our customers, our business couldn’t have grown.”
Starting a business is a daring pursuit that requires passion, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. As young entrepreneurs embark on this thrilling journey, we have to remember that success often stems from the passion to create a positive impact, the courage to face challenges head-on, and the ability to learn and adapt to fit into the new norm.
Journalists: Elina Yong, Hana Zahra
Reviewer: Emeline Yong
Editor: Maryam Nazir Chaudhary