How delivering a great candidate experience enabled Reliance Health to complete six executive hires in five months.
The pandemic has accelerated the development of health tech globally over the past three years and has driven innovation in areas such as telemedicine, virtual care and drug delivery. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of individual health and has proven to be a boon for wellness brands such as Peloton and fitness apps like Zwift and Strava. This growth is reflected in the VC landscape, with heightened levels of investor interest in the sector. 2021 was a record year for VC investment in health tech and bio tech, with $63B and $41B raised globally by start-ups respectively (Source: Dealroom.co). We also saw a number of ‘unicorn’ health tech exits occur in 2021: wearables business Fitbit was acquired by Google at a value of $2.1B and online health insurance provider Oscar IPO’d on the NYSE in March of 2021 at a valuation of $7.9B.
At Renaissance Leadership we have delivered an increasing number of searches in the growing health tech sector and we have also been expanding our practice into emerging markets outside of EMEA. Recently we partnered with Nigerian health tech business Reliance Health, to deliver a highly successful executive leadership build-out over Q1 and Q2 of this year.
Founded in 2016 by Femi Kuti, Opeyemi Olumekun and Matthew Mayaki, Reliance Health is on a mission to make quality healthcare delightful, accessible and affordable in countries where the dominant path to healthcare has been to pay at the point of access. Reliance Health uses technology and data science to build an integrated health system that includes affordable health insurance, telemedicine and a combination of partner and proprietary healthcare facilities. This allows them to offer innovative healthcare solutions that meet the needs of customers in emerging markets.
Reliance received an early injection of funding from Partech Partners, Y Combinator and Tencent. The business announced a subsequent $40M Series B round, led by General Atlantic in February of this year. This round is the largest of its kind in African health tech. It is also ground-breaking as it represents the first technology investment made by General Atlantic in Africa. It seems that the African tech ecosystem has reached something of an inflection point. Global VC players looking to diversify their portfolios have channelled growth capital into the region, with over $4B raised by African tech start-ups in 2021 (more than 2019 and 2020 combined).
This recent funding round is a testament to Reliance’s strong revenue growth, which has averaged at 3.5x year-on-year since 2016. The business plans to use this funding to expand into new markets. Reliance now has a presence in Egypt and will launch in two or three countries by the end of 2023. Headcount at Reliance has grown steadily, from 80 FTE’s in 2019 to now over 300. While today the majority of employees are based in Reliance’s home market of Nigeria, the company now has a number of employees outside of Africa. The context for this leadership build-out was of an international business undergoing rapid expansion and workforce distribution.
Renaissance Leadership partnered with Reliance Health over the course of six months to deliver this project. We made six placements during this time, spanning our GTM, Technology Leadership and People & Culture Practices. This leadership build-out is an embodiment of our ‘global reach and local execution’ philosophy.
An interview with Femi Kuti
CEO, Reliance Health
Femi Kuti is CEO of Reliance Health and has a huge wealth of experience in the healthcare sector. After completing his degree in Medicine and Surgery from Obafemi Awolowo University, Femi worked as a healthcare investment banker at Goldman Sachs before co-founding Reliance Health with business partners Opeyemi Olumekun and Matthew Mayaki in 2016.
Managing Partner, Renaissance Leadership
Malcolm Kemp, Managing Partner at Renaissance Leadership, who led the search process with Reliance Health, recently caught up with Femi Kuti to reflect on these key hires.
So, Femi, you’ve made six additions to your Executive Team in less than six months. What advice would you give to a Founder/ CEO who is about to embark on their first leadership build-out?
There is a lot to say on this, but if I were to distil my advice down into three points, they would be:
Be open-minded – when assessing a candidate's potential, I like to look for reasons why it might work, rather than the reasons it won’t. This gives us more options to consider.
Be decisive - we created a small, focussed assessment team made up of myself and my co-founder, a key operative from one of our investors (depending on the skillset) and relevant members of the functional team at Reliance Health. Having a small assessment group meant we reached alignment quickly and made fast decisions.
Always be selling - it’s a goal of mine to ensure that every candidate comes out of the first meeting wanting to go further in the process, which means we’re selling to them as much as we want them to sell to us!
I also have to say that partnering with the team at Renaissance has been an outstanding experience and one of the best decisions we made this year. You really took the time to understand our business in order to maximise the success of each search and you consistently delivered shortlists of high calibre candidates, which made life much easier!
The candidates that we introduced to Reliance throughout this process had a great candidate experience – everyone we introduced to Reliance wanted to go further in the process and felt very positively about the engagement with the business. Can you talk us through your approach to candidate experience and engagement?
This is a candidate driven market, especially at the executive level and that is why it is so important to provide a great candidate experience. I think this work begins before the search starts and before you even approach people to discuss the role. Do you have a clearly defined specification for the role, including mission and high-level responsibilities, and is this articulated through a succinct and compelling briefing document? Have you thought about what the process will look like, who the key players will be and how to ensure good cadence from a candidate's perspective?
I also feel that a personal touch is important and goes a long way towards keeping a candidate engaged. I like to reach out to every candidate I speak to before our first meeting to introduce myself and provide some context for our discussion. I want that initial meeting to feel like a conversation, as opposed to a grilling.
You were very flexible when it came to location throughout this build-out and were keen to assemble a truly international Executive Team. Can you elaborate on your rationale behind this and how you will make a truly global leadership team operate smoothly?
At Reliance Health we have one simple mission: using technology to make healthcare in emerging markets as delightful, accessible and affordable as possible. We started to deliver on this mission in our home market of Nigeria and have since expanded into Egypt. We plan to enter several more markets in the very near future.
We’re a global business and we want our Executive Team to reflect this. Even though we were initially local, we had clear plans to be international, and so we needed to almost force ourselves to build the muscle and practices to operate as a multinational entity from an early stage.
When it came to this build-out we were keen to prioritise skills and experience over any one specific location – to ‘follow the talent’, in a sense. I’m incredibly proud of the team that we’ve assembled, we’ve made hires in the US, the UK, Sweden, Spain and the UAE. I think an international location strategy is also really important from a diversity standpoint. Research shows that diverse teams with differing experiences and perspectives are more creative, innovative, and make better decisions.
In terms of how we make this work smoothly - a key consideration for us was time zones, to ensure that we have a core set of hours where we can all work together. I believe strongly in autonomy and personal accountability, so we don’t expect people to get up at 4am in order to align with their colleagues. Rather, we plan to work asynchronously, in keeping with this new world of distributed work that we find ourselves in. Over time it will probably make sense to try to build centres of mass in some of these locations going forward, to help camaraderie, knowledge sharing and team building.
Finally, what does the future hold for Reliance Health, what’s next?
In short, product growth and international expansion. We have a bold mission to improve access to quality, affordable healthcare across the world – positively enhancing the lives of millions of consumers in emerging markets – and we are relentlessly focused on executing our roadmap.
Renaissance Leadership wishes Reliance Health every success for the future and will continue to partner with the company at every opportunity. Here is the team of recently hired executives:
Chief Product Officer
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, US
SVP Customer Success
Renaissance is a leading Executive Search and Leadership firm based in London and Silicon Valley, specialising in the Digital and Enterprise Technology sectors.
For nearly 20 years we have been building Board and Leadership teams for some of the most exciting start-ups and fast growth companies, mostly VC or Private Equity backed. We also work with leading corporate organisations in the technology sector, and those undergoing rapid technology or digital transformation.