SMBs have traditionally lacked the resources to build out robust benefits department forcing them to outsource benefit decisions to traditional brokers and bear an increasingly disproportionate burden in rising healthcare costs. Nava, an employee benefits brokerage founded by the founders of Hightower and Kareem Zaki of Thrive Capital, brings affordable healthcare to the 160M Americans who rely on employers for health insurance. With Nava, small-to-midsized businesses are equipped with the resources, tools, and expertise to deliver valuable yet accessible benefits to their employees, while driving down overall plan costs for the employer.
AlleyWatch caught up with CEO, Cofounder, and repeat entrepreneur Brandon Weber to learn more about the genesis for Nava, the company’s mission to make healthcare more transparent, and the company’s recent funding round.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We just closed our Series A round, which brought our initial funding to $20M, led by Thrive Capital.
It’s important to frame what we do with why we do it: Nava is on a mission to bring high-quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans. And we’re starting our journey focused on the 160M Americans who rely on an employer for their healthcare.
Now, about what we do – Nava is a new kind of employee benefits brokerage that delivers high-performing plans that employees love and that save employers money.
Nava equips small-to-midsized companies with the advocacy, tools, change management, and expertise needed to deliver more valuable benefits outcomes for their employees while lowering overall plan cost. For the benefit brokers who work with us, Nava supports them with a best-in-class lead generation, account management, and employee advocacy platform so they can do their best work.
What inspired the start of Nava?
After six years at Hightower going from a whiteboard idea to a billion-dollar business powering over half of all the office buildings in the US, we both knew that our next chapter would focus on solving a pressing societal problem. Kareem Zaki from Thrive backed us at Hightower, and the three of us were discussing ways to collaborate together on a new venture.
And then I tore my ACL. I was uninsured at the time, and as I shopped around for the best cash rates for imaging and surgeries, I saw striking differences in price – even when controlling for quality and skill. We couldn’t get a logical explanation for how these massive price variations could exist for something as essential as healthcare. So, we set out to find the reason behind the opacity and inconsistency of healthcare costs and spent the next year talking with doctors, hospital executives, insurance companies, digital health entrepreneurs, employers, and everyday working Americans.
We saw first-hand that the country is filled with incredibly innovative healthcare providers — there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them offering solutions capable of changing the lives of their customers. But, what was missing was a company to bring this innovation to scale, to amplify the positive outcomes delivered by these benefits solutions to employers on a widespread basis. So, we started Nava.
How is Nava different?
The last decade has produced an explosion in healthcare complexity and with it, rising costs that are being disproportionately absorbed by small-to-midsized companies. Without the resources available to build out a sophisticated benefits department, these companies have outsourced key benefits decisions to traditional brokers who often lack the talent, technology, and best practices to deploy a modern benefits stack that levels up the employee experience. And, it’s hard to keep the broker accountable and aligned with the employer’s goals throughout the year.
Nava believes small-to-midsized businesses should be able to offer world-class benefits without the additional hassle or exorbitant costs. We’re deploying integrated benefits plans that combine modern healthcare tools, year-round employee advocacy, and ongoing measurement and accountability to deliver outsized benefits for HR leaders and their employees.
What’s your business model?
Benefits brokers are paid directly through insurance carriers as part of mandated commission structures and/or on a consulting basis directly with an employer.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
As a young company, we are fortunate to be in a position where we are still building our team, product, and playbooks, which means we can be flexible and responsive to the environment around us.
We’ve spent a lot of time interviewing employers of all sizes, forming a deep understanding of the strain COVID-19 has placed on not only them and their businesses, but also their employees. We’ve spent time with the leading healthcare and benefits experts to understand and design for the seismic shifts that COVID-19 may bring to Americans going forward. And internally, we’ve doubled-down on finding great talent across the country by building a remote-friendly culture; we’ve invested in tools and playbooks that help drive and improve documentation, project management, and communication; and we’ve been thoughtful about how we scale recruiting, onboarding, and product development.
What was the funding process like?
We’re fortunate to have a relationship with Thrive Capital that goes back almost a decade, and that went through the highs and lows of building a successful company. As a result, there is a lot of mutual trust that streamlined the fundraising process and allowed us to focus on solving for the big picture, what’s best for the business, and the long-term mission.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Given that in this case, we were working with a partner we knew well, the biggest challenge was managing the deal process while also running and scaling the business.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Market opportunity: There is a significant amount of innovation happening in healthcare, but there are systemic obstacles that prevent that innovation from reaching employers – and more importantly, employees – at scale. In recognizing the benefits consultant’s role as a trusted advisor for the HR leader, Nava can serve as a distribution layer for these solutions that, when deployed correctly, can yield significant savings for the employer as well as positive outcomes for the employee.
In recognizing the benefits consultant’s role as a trusted advisor for the HR leader, Nava can serve as a distribution layer for these solutions that, when deployed correctly, can yield significant savings for the employer as well as positive outcomes for the employee.
Existing relationship – the Thrive team believed in us as founder operators who can leverage our deep experience modernizing brokerage models and apply it to healthcare.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re focused on bringing together the people, offering, tools, and best practices that deliver great outcomes to employers and their employees. This means continuing to hire a cross-functional team of experts, launching our first integrated offering for small-to-midsized businesses, and designing ways to keep our brokers transparent and accountable for their success throughout the lifecycle of a benefit plan.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Focus on making something your customer wants and good things will follow.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Looking forward, we’re going to be relentlessly focused on fulfilling our promise to employers and their employees around the country that they should be able to offer world-class benefits without the additional hassle or exorbitant costs.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC
Café Gitane in Vinegar Hill is an absolute gem of a restaurant.
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