What does a “Twitter” and “People” Chrome Extension have to do with "expats", "personal assistance" and "international health insurance"? On first sight nothing. And maybe there is no connection all all except for the fact that my brain desperately wants to see them.
Before starting mon.ki I was happily working “non profit” rebuilding First Tuesday in Latin America. It was the best job I ever had. Go to some country in Central America, surf a few days, do a key note, have a few cold Coronas with smart entrepreneurs and top it off with an interesting lunch with some big wig minister of some screwed up economy. Yes, there was always the nagging itch to get back into the ring but the cold water of Punta de Lobos would soothe that just fine.
Soothing big time in Punta de Lobos
Then the itch met the pain.
We have been experimenting with different business models, how we package our service into apps and how we best present them to the end user. Some of that history I shared here. In short, we are talking about the famous "product-market fit":)
Over the last few weeks I have also tested FancyHands.com as well as Zirtual.com. I learned a lot, but the service - from a perspective of a "digital nomad" - has to many limitations: language (e.g: research reantal options in Mexico on Spanish sites), local knowledge (e.g: The best Kindergardens in Playa del Carmen) domain expertise (Fligthfox.com obviously beats all of them when it comes to researching flight options!). Its not that they are "bad" its just a better fit for busy business beez in the USA.
It was only last night that I remembered that a lot of my friends - curiously even some without a car - have international/travel health insurance over the German Automobile Club (ADAC). When reviewing the site an idea started consolidating...
Awesome roadside assistance. Made in Germany?
Deus X. Machina (Käpt'n Blaubär)
When you say the word "Expat" this is what usually comes into people´s minds: A forty something year old VP in a multinational that is promoted to take over the CEO position of a subsidiary in some third world country for a couple of years. Usually that person brings along his wife and two kids, lives in a safe condominium in the outskirts of the destination capital and has everything from gardener to health insurance taken care of. This is also clearly how HSBC (you need to show U$ 200.000 of annual income to become a customer) and companies like Devere (ideally the same U$ 200.000 in savings:) define their market. Or as Wikipedia puts it: "professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies"
On the other side there are the trendy "digital nomads". A group defined on the same site as "individuals that leverage wireless digital technologies to perform their work duties, and more generally conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner". When I browse on the Internet to find them I usually discover singles in their mid twenties traveling the world and writing tips on how finance that same lifestyle.
That leaves me the question of "Who am I?"
While I am still in my 30's I "missed" my opportunity to join the corporate workforce many years ago and it´s unlikely that anybody but myself will ever send me abroad. So, I am not an "Expat".
Last weekend we launched a new approach to solve "expat challenges". I had stumbed over Hackerhealth.org and what caught my attention was the idea of "Group Buying Discounts". I felt that this idea could make a big difference for us. Expats.
I have to renew my wife´s health insurance and I figured why not get together with more Expats to get some discounts? And why not extend this discounts to local health services (e.g: dental treatments usually not covered by many insurance policies)? In the same process we could collect recommendations on doctors and clinics at our current location (Riviera Maya) and share them?
We launched a Facebook Group called "One Hundred Expats" and within a few hours we passed 100 members. I got a LOT of positive feedback and fellow expats sharing with their families, friends and expat groups in the region. I have to admit I am taken back by how fast this went.
I also spent a considerable amount of time talking to a buddy that has +20 years of experience in international health insurance. We bounced ideas around on how to make this work. While there are still a few question marks we believe we found a way.
As an Expat from Germany where everybody and everything is triple insured I am extremely allergic to insurance. Fact is I don´t have any. Except health. So I asked myself "Why care about health insurance?”
It might sound like an obvious question to you but it took me many years of living abroad to learn it from fellow expats and friends. You pop an eye out while surfing in Bali and pay for emergency medical evacuation, your kids suddenly get very heavy and very rare allergic reactions and need specialised diagnostics in the US, your wife needs surgery and the shitty local insurance denies coverage afterwards, a chronic diseases prevents you from ever getting an insurance again and the list goes on an on.
To avoid the financial atomic fallout the only option is health insurance. Most of the societies we expats are from have learned this and the fact that their loved citizens are irresponsible about it. So, today it´s either part of the social security and/or payed for by the employer and/or simply obligatory and unavoidable. Like taxes. Here comes the thing though for us expats: with the freedom of leaving our default country you also loose the default protection. While some expats with families realise this many other expats don´t. For us the adventurous, risk taking spirits its hard to see the absence of the usually invisible omni present safety net. It has happened to me.
Unlike in Spiderman where “power comes with responsibility” for expats our freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility for ourself and our family. And this means not only protecting our kid´s and soul mate. When I was a in my twenties, living abroad for the first time and totally broke my parents asked my how I was going to pay for my health insurance. My answer was that I did not need one. I have to admit I was as an idiot. Only years later it dawned on me that in the case of a medical emergency my parents would end up selling their house. Looking back I am happy they paid it for me anyway. No matter that I was a complete dick about it.