For the Record with Kevin Kickhaefer, President and Chief Growth Officer, Gravie

February 27  

Kevin Kickhaefer is the president and chief growth officer at Gravie, where he is responsible for steering Gravie’s incredible growth trajectory as Gravie continues to be one of the most innovative companies in the health benefits industry. Kickhaefer has extensive healthcare leadership experience, including as CEO of ConsumerMedical, where he was instrumental in the company’s six-fold market value growth and 2021 sale to Alight, a multi-billion dollar publicly traded HR services company. Before joining ConsumerMedical, he was the head of sales and market development at Bloom Health, where he worked closely with Gravie’s co-founders and co-CEOs, Abir Sen and Marek Ciolko, and helped lead the company to a successful acquisition in 2011. Prior to Bloom Health, he was a top-five sales performer in the U.S. for both Cigna and Aetna with over 16 years selling in the large self-insured marketplace – witnessing firsthand the need for a model like Gravie’s.

Give us Gravie’s elevator pitch.

Gravie is an innovative health benefits company offering health plans that put members first and offer greater value and increased savings for employers. Gravie’s flagship health benefits plan, Comfort®, provides complete coverage on the most common healthcare services – benefits that are meant to be used, not avoided because of hidden costs and complicated deductibles or co-pays. Gravie benefits embrace members’ whole health needs including through digital and virtual tools that meet members where they’re at, concierge support that help them navigate the healthcare maze, and even zero-interest payment solutions for any out-of-pocket expenses that do arise.

What is one thing the Medical Alley community might be unaware of about Gravie that you think would be good to know?

Gravie has evolved from only offering ICHRA when we first began to now being a full health benefits company that is using straight-forward and innovative ways to offer health benefits that include advantages for both the employer and the member. Focusing on the small-to-medium-sized business market, we provide complete coverage for the most common healthcare services. Both employers and brokers love this full coverage with no deductible and no co-insurance. It’s easier for everyone to understand and the medical community also likes this concept. Most medical professionals I know are in the profession to help people and keep them from getting really sick through preventive care. Our healthcare coverage removes financial barriers for people and allows them access to preventive and necessary care on their own time – not based on the date on the calendar or the status of their deductible. As an example, virtual and in-person mental health visits are fully covered under the Comfort plan. This is huge because there is a big need in mental health services right now. The isolation of the pandemic put a lot of stress on people, causing added depression and anxiety. That won’t just go away. We want people to get the healthcare they need, and Gravie will help by covering mental health visits at 100%.

How have the last few years changed Gravie for the long term?

Gravie started because our founders realized the reformative change needed in the health benefits industry. They wanted to smash the status-quo, and that really resonated with people. As more people learned about this new and innovative way to accommodate healthcare, the more excitement built for a health benefits option people could love. Gravie quickly gained a lot of momentum. We have evolved into a company that provides more innovation and options for consumers.

What are the big milestones to come in the next few years for Gravie?

Because of this momentum, the growth trajectory of Gravie the last few years has been explosive, and it will only continue in the years to come. We doubled from 2022 to 2023, and I can see that level of growth continuing in the upcoming years.

When a business is smaller, everyone is doing everything; when it’s growing, you need to bring more structure to organization but still want to keep that innovative spirit of what brought people together. The leadership team is focused on exactly that while empowering people and giving them more tools, such as investments in technology and automation.

Our biggest growth opportunity is the Comfort plan, and that’s been really exciting for me. I love the fact that we’re focused on the small and midsize businesses. They’ve been the underserved population for so long by payers, and I can say that because I worked for the payers for so long. There are 32 million employers who fit that niche and don’t have the resources that the large employer market does – and Comfort helps bridge that gap.

What does leadership look like to you?

I have always been a big proponent in servant leadership. I think good leaders listen to those they support and try to remove barriers for them. I try to do this using five key actions: transparency, empowerment, accountability, trust and rewarding a job well done.

I think empowerment is what people hunger for, but with empowerment, people need to be held accountable. When people achieve a goal, I reward them appropriately. That builds high level of trust. Trust is really important to me.

Because people are so busy day to day, we need to stop and work with people we support on their career path. For example, I’ve built strong relationships where we didn’t have right fit for an individual on our team, but I told them “Let’s get you to another department or potentially even leave the organization in order to find the right fit for you and your career path.” That has served me well over my career, and people have come back and said, “That was so nice of you. You have always put me first vs. the company.” When you put the individual first and you want to make sure they’re focused on the mission and the culture – and if they’re not, you help them see that and find a good fit elsewhere – that works well.

What is the best advice you have received in your career? What is the worst?

The best piece of advice I have been given is to focus on what’s important. There are so many meetings and other day-to-day tasks that need to get done that sometimes people lose sight of the main objective of their company. Focusing on what’s important brings clarity. It helps everyone remember the big-picture reason for their work and helps them get behind what the company is doing. Gravie does such a good job of that, especially when it comes to company culture. Every Gravie employee is working towards the larger goal of giving people health benefits they can love. That’s a great feeling.

As for the worst piece of advice – I tend to forget the worst stuff. I don’t like to dwell too much on it. But one helpful reminder is don’t always think you’re the smartest person in the room and don’t try to tell people how to run their businesses. This fits hand-in-hand with advice I like to live by: the room is always smarter than the individual. In a meeting, throw your titles out the door. Everyone brings good, valuable content to the table. Encourage others to participate and speak up, listen to each other and don’t be afraid to challenge someone else’s thought.

What have been the most rewarding moments in your career?

Over the years I have received a number of notes from colleagues, and I have kept a file of them for when I’m having a bad day. It has been very rewarding to look back on these relationships over the years. Another rewarding moment is when I was at my previous company, ConsumerMedical, we hosted a party when we sold the organization; COVID had been around, so we hadn’t gotten to see each other in awhile so that was very rewarding to see everyone. On top of that, we gave those who didn’t have equity in the company a $10,000 bonus for every year they worked there. It was a like an Oprah meeting. Even people who had worked there for only 3 months got $10,000. The biggest bonus was $260,000 for one person. We had people hugging and crying – it was so fun. Rather than keeping all that for ourselves, we wanted to give it to the people who had really helped the company grow. That was pretty amazing. 

What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?

I set a goal to work out a minimum of four times each week. I also have a goal to read more books. It can be hard for me to fit in each of these, but they are things that are done both as a necessity and for enjoyment. I just picked up the biography written by Walter Isaacson about Leonardo da Vinci. I’m looking forward to reading it!

How do you relax/decompress?

Reading is a nice way to decompress before bed. I usually read business or personal development books. Minnesota summers are also always something I look forward to. We have a boat and are out on the lake quite a bit as a family or with friends. I also golf during the summer when I can. In the winter, my family and I like to escape the cold for spring break. We like the travel. My favorite place to travel so far has been New Zealand for my 50th birthday. It was amazing. I bungee jumped for the first time at the site where bungee jumping originally started.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

I love Medical Alley’s commitment to the startup community and encouraging more startups in the Minnesota market. Medical Alley has so many connections to investors and ways of sharing their story with their community. There’s a lot of innovation in Minnesota and I appreciate that Medical Alley shines a light on businesses and organizations to help them get funded and going.

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