#FoundersFridays: Meet Tommie Koppens
Meet Tommie Koppens - founder of Fitsurance. Learn what makes him get out of bed in the morning, what capital-seeking university spinoffs really need to know, and why a good startup advisor is worth their weight in gold.
#FoundersFridays is a StartupAmsterdam interview series: for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. Each hero answers questions on their entrepreneurial journey, their learnings, milestones and bottlenecks, as well as on Amsterdam and the Dutch startup scene. It’s a platform for entrepreneurs to speak their minds freely and pass on their learnings to anyone who’s thinking about founding a startup as well.
This month we spoke with Tommie Koppens, founder of Fitsurance - a spinoff from Vrije Universiteit that offers individuals and organisations a solution in the form of measurements and data-driven lifestyle coaching, in a personalized, holistic and affordable way. Fitsurance’s customers are guided towards a healthier, happier and more active lifestyle, regardless of their age, health awareness, fitness level or wealth.
How did your career journey lead you to found Fitsurance?
My journey to founding Fitsurance has been deeply rooted in my identity as a human movement scientist, fueled by my lifelong affinity for sports and health. Growing up in a family where there were multiple chronic diseases, I’ve always had a passion for being healthy and helping others be healthy.
I went to Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit and got a Bachelor's and Masters's in Human Movement Science, where I learned all about how our bodies and minds work together. This knowledge helped me understand how to measure, coach and guide people towards a better lifestyle.
Soon after I met my co-founder Stef who also came from a family with some chronic health challenges. This shared experience created our drive and enthusiasm to found Fitsurance and combine our knowledge, skills and passions to help people take control of their health through lifestyle.
Last year, I also became a certified lifestyle coach. This was a big deal because it meant that Fitsurance could offer lifestyle interventions that are completely reimbursed by Dutch healthcare insurance, making us a healthcare supplier.
What makes Amsterdam a great city and a great ecosystem for a startup founder?
We have found additions to our team, partnerships, clients, funding and network thanks to our connections within the Amsterdam ecosystem. Specifically, the Demonstrator Lab at the VU has enabled the start of our entrepreneurial story. Furthermore, parties such as Amsterdam Venture Studios, ACE Incubator, 3xA and professors of VU and the University of Amsterdam have helped us get to the next stages.
Fitsurance has been granted a subsidy in June of 2023. Looking back at your fundraising efforts: what were your learnings? What was challenging about it? What would you want other spin-offs looking for capital to know?
Make sure you solve a real problem that people are willing to pay for. As for us, being in the world of prevention, it was quite hard to think of a business model that makes sense. Who pays? How much? And what for?
There are a lot of different stakeholders in the preventative healthcare sector, only over-complicating the matter. So sometimes, begin your journey with one stakeholder (i.e. health insurance or employer), and see how you can grow from there. If you have a product or service that is really changing the world, other stakeholders will come to you eventually. So, make sure you have a product or service that really solves the problem you are trying to fix, with an easy-to-understand business model. If it takes too long to explain, chances are it’s too complicated. This will increase the chances of raising the funds you seek as well.
Talk to us about “staring bankruptcy in the face” and the art of pivoting. How did you handle setbacks and what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this became a heavy topic for us. During that time, we quickly pivoted from an in-person/ offline business model to an online business model, to make sure we could continue our services, and therefore also our revenue sources. Now, we can profit from both online and in-person revenue streams, which also yields the best results in terms of lifestyle changes for our customers. So, try to stay focused on parts of the business that seem most viable at a certain time and limit non-essential spending, especially while in rough waters.
Apart from that, we realised that network is a very important factor in building a business, but also surviving tough times. In our initial years, we managed to establish a robust network, and now we're reaping the rewards as it continues to grow and amplify its impact over time.
At last, a good advisor is worth their weight in gold, if not more. So, even though it may cost some money, it is an important investment to consider. With a bit of luck, they might extend their guidance without upfront charges, or their contributions might yield returns even before the need to compensate them arises.
What are Fitsurance’s objectives for the next 6 months to a year? What is your most important ask right now?
We're planning to launch many new projects in the coming 6-12 months. Our focus right now is to improve the quality, speed and security of our services and products. We are preparing for a scale phase, which is really exciting.
By summer of 2024, we plan to launch our e-health lifestyle platform and help millions of people to stay healthy. With this platform, other healthcare professionals, coaches, trainers, dieticians and even GPs can also use our products and services. With 20+ coaches having expressed their interest in our platform, we are looking forward to a future where we can enable other professionals to do what we do: get people healthier with data-driven lifestyle interventions and advice.
BONUS. As a sports and health ambassador, what should others - and specifically founders - do to be in their best health to build and grow their businesses?
Well, working out, especially for us, is a big pillar. Every time we skip working out, we notice a decline in mental status. We as humans are built to move, in every way. So do it. It doesn’t HAVE to be the gym - there are hundreds of physical activity options, explore! Is walking, cycling or swimming more your thing? Do it!
Just as important: sleep. Have problems with cognition, focus, mood swings or feeling depressed? If you have never tried sleeping 8 hours per night for at least 3 weeks, try it. It is going to change your world. Having graduated from university only four years ago, I know how it is to operate on 4-6 hours of sleep a night. I thought I was at full capacity until I actually slept 7-8 hours a night. The increase in productivity and mood is immense.
If you’re an Amsterdam-based founder working on an innovative solution that solves an urban or social challenge, and you’d like to share your story with our audience, email Alexandra at email@example.com.