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  • Fikas - Interviews
  • 26 April 2023
  • 6 min read
  • Words: Northzone

A Fika with: Alban de Préville, Founder and CEO Of Dalma

Only two years old, the pet insurance superapp, Dalma is transforming what it means to have traditional ‘pet insurance’ and is on its way to disrupting the pet space. The Paris-based company offers personalised coverage, fast reimbursements, unlimited live vet chats and support and more for its pet parent users in France. With plans to soon expand to new markets and add new features, the sky’s the limit. 

Our partner Jessica Schultz had a Fika with Alban de Préville, to reflect back on his time so far as founder and CEO of the company, his view on the current market and how it impacts Dalma, and what lies ahead. 

Only a few months ago, Dalma closed a €15m Series A round. Tell us a little bit about the journey you’ve had so far in the company: how you started, the time leading up to the Series A round and what it’s been like since.

It’s been a great journey so far. Dalma launched just before the pandemic but the ideation behind it had been going on for years. Beforehand, I had other entrepreneurial projects that have led me to today – it wasn’t just the first sketch. After finishing my studies I spent time living in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, building category management departments from scratch for the leading e-commerce platform in Africa, Jumia. Building in a different environment and culture was extremely rewarding.

Two years later, I decided to move to Paris and joined Frichti, the food delivery company. That’s where I met Raphael [Sadaka], who today is my co-founder and COO. We spent nearly three years there. It didn’t take us long to realise we really enjoyed working together. We complement each other very well which I think is extremely important. I have a strong Sales mindset and so mainly focused on growth strategies, whereas Raphael has amazing product skills and worked a lot on efficiency challenges. We’d had the idea of founding a company together early on and finally, after a couple of years, we felt we had acquired the right skill sets and were ready to launch it.

The foundation for building our company was to start with a mission we truly felt connected to. Raphael and I share a strong love for pets. He is the proud dad of Elio, an adorable Dachshund dog, whereas I grew up in the French countryside surrounded by a big family of people and pets. We’ve both got ambitious spirits and so, the second layer in building Dalma’s foundation is a drive to build a category-leading company across Europe. We realised our average market competitors have incomplete offers, so soon after, we launched Dalma to offer a greater experience for pet parents as an all rounded package. Pet insurance was certainly a good entry point, and during the pandemic the market boomed and pet adoptions surged. 

That first year was really all about finding product market fit. We iterated a lot on the product and marketing to ensure cost-efficient customer acquisition while retaining good customer experience as we scaled operations and grew our customer base. 

In 2021, we met Harry [Belinga], who joined the two of us and became our late co-founder and CTO. Having had years of experience in insurance technology, Harry’s tech skills and insurtech playbook were the last pieces of the puzzle. From then onwards we’ve kept ramping up. I’m proud of how far we’ve come in a pretty short amount of time. Now, we’re a team of 60, we have more than 35000 pets covered by Dalma in France, we’re generating more than 12 million in premiums and the demand in Europe is only growing.

What an exciting journey! Dalma was born at a peak time, the pandemic-era surge in pet ownership went hand in hand with the need for good pet insurance – in Europe alone, there are more than 325m pets. As a young company about to experience the effects of a looming economic crisis, what is the company’s sentiment on the situation and how have you prepared for it?

In times of crisis, we feel it’s imperative to archive data and document your learnings to find opportunities. We’ve kept an eye on the markets, inflation obviously affects everything, including pet care and has remained steady over the last couple of years. Pet parents consider pet insurance an optimal solution to keep their pet expenses lower. As a consequence, the demand for Dalma is only going up – making our mission even more important: making sure pet parents can take care of their pets easily.

In times like this, it’s important to make sure we’re investing our time and resources into what brings our customers the most value add. The recent downturn has encouraged us to look back, reassess different parts of the business and create new, differentiated assets. For instance, our tech and product background has allowed us to automate processes our traditional competitors can’t. 

About a year ago, for example, everyone was focusing on growth at all costs and now that companies need to control costs it’s an opportunity to reorganise and rethink some of the ways you’re building and managing. Growth remains highly important when building a fast-growing company like Dalma, but it’s also about making sure you’re working towards the long-term goal of being efficient in becoming a profitable business. 

We feel very grateful to have been able to fundraise during this period especially, as our latest funding round was oversubscribed. It’s a difficult time to raise capital, what has really worked for us is being performance-driven.

Definitely. Something I love is how you genuinely help pet parents, in addition to your insurance product offering. Dalma is much more than just an insurance that reimburses vet visits. You’ve also built a massive community, content and several other products serving your customers. How did you come about building this full experience?

We’ve always seen insurance as ‘chapter one’, our entry point into the world of pet care. It’s a huge industry worth more than thirty billion euros in Europe. The focus on pet insurance was a decision based on several factors: the rapidly growing market, inflation, and the opportunity of offering a much higher value proposition for customers. Long term, the vision for Dalma is to become the ‘pet care app’ or ‘super app’ that enables any pet parent in Europe to take care of their pets easily. 

Currently, we have two main features. One is getting swiftly refunded for any vet fees. It’s as simple as taking a photo of your invoice, uploading it on the app and in 24 hours, you’ll be refunded. Our second is the unlimited, near-instant video call integration into our product. If you have any specific questions about your pet’s health, you’re able to jump straight into a direct conversation with a licensed vet in under two minutes, completely digitalising the experience. This often prevents pet parents from going to the clinic unnecessarily. 

More features will be launched in the near future. Product diversification is extremely important to us, as we want to keep growing engagement. We want to be an app our customers log into daily or weekly, which is why we’ve also launched educational content directly into our product. We’ve been producing very high-quality content, and useful videos with vets, nutritionists, and behaviour experts. We are building out what we call ‘education programmes’ that will be available for free directly in the app. Our customers can now get tips for free from experts within the pet care industry.

Amazing! And as a pet insurance company, you’ve naturally built your team up of animal lovers. We’ve heard everyone can bring their pets to work. Give us a little run-through of what a day at the Dalma office looks like, and insights on how to best work with pets in the office. 

To be fully transparent, it’s super chaotic and I love it. It can get messy, especially when you have puppies. But obviously, it’s a big thing for us. We have roughly around 60 employees at the moment and on average we have around six or seven dogs in the office every day. We believe it adds so much value to the team. It improves mental health, when it’s a stressful day, spending just a couple of minutes with the dogs makes a huge difference. 

As a company that has grown quite quickly, from around 20 employees to 60 employees in the last six months, having pets in the office has also generated more interactions between our employees which has improved our overall culture. And as we continue to grow, we think this is an important, big differentiator when retaining and attracting the best talent.

This sounds like the dream workplace! We’re excited about all of Dalma’s future prospects. Can you give us an insight on exciting ones we can expect soon, that are already in the making? 

Our biggest focus at the moment is our expansion to Germany, we’re extremely excited. From day one, this formed part of the objective, we wanted to build a big company across geographies. With our experience in France, we’re ready to continue growing while ensuring we keep delivering good customer experience and feel ready to expand into other countries. We’re currently building the right go-to-market strategy for Germany. 

The long-term vision is to keep expanding into other geographies! But in the short term, we are very excited to be opening chapter two, building a European player.

That’s great, it’s amazing to hear! Thank you so much for your time, I’m very excited to keep watching Dalma grow!