Founder Q&A: Naby Mariyam, Coverhero

Post by: Anna Johansson Kacey Canning
Published: 17 October 2022

Tell us about yourself and your company?

I am Naby Mariyam, Founder and CEO of Coverhero. My background is very complex, I have worked in heaps of different industries, but have been in tech for the last 10 years. I started at a very young age in academia, I quit my PhD and academia and I started in consulting and documentary production. Then I got into the startup space and worked in corporate innovation. About five years ago I founded Coverhero, which is designed to protect the income of self employed people. We built an embedded insurance platform and our product is called Hustle Cover and that protects anyone in Australia that has an income from $500 to $5000 a week. 

How did the idea for Coverhero come about? How did it evolve from the idea to actually launching your startup?

It all started with my own terrible experience, when someone really close to me got extremely sick, both of us were entrepreneurs and it really impacted our lives. We launched insurance claims that were all rejected, and it got me curious and a little bit angry about how difficult it all was to buy insurance and then lodge the claims. I wasn’t from the industry but I got started to try and make it simpler and more humanised, to ultimately make it easier to understand and as simple as booking a hotel room. Over the years as I have learnt more about the industry and understood the challenges of it, the product design has evolved.

It’s about constantly learning, gaining clarity and making fine iterations around the product. The product design never stops. Ideas are fluid and continually evolving. The way we start an idea is never really what it goes to market as, because it goes through so many different versions of finding that product market fit. 

Product design is a very difficult experience because you need to consider the user experience across all customers (in insurance there are about five different user groups). For us, the consistent theme across the board was that everyone loves simplicity – making things easy to use and intuitive. 

What are the first steps you have to take to get that first round of funding? I think a lot of people have self doubt in presenting and actually getting the funding. What advice would you give to them?

Fundraising is kind of like finding a partner on a dating site. It is a sales process which I have learnt over the many years of fundraising, is to treat it like a sales pipeline – totally dispassionate and with a very solid strategy around your story and metrics. My number one piece of advice and often the hardest thing to do is find the believers and eliminate the non-believers. Just because someone has a chequebook it doesn’t mean that you should take their money or that they are right for you. 

You need to be as clear as possible around what metrics you expect to hit in the next 12 and then 24 months and what money you need to get there. Fundraising is a full time job, as a founder you have to balance building a company, designing a product and gaining revenue whilst trying to fundraise. Founders aren’t fundraisers, it’s not what we do but it is a critical part to build the business. 

There are so many investors, you need to comb through and categorise the pre-seed investors, the seed investors etc. Then it’s all about understanding how your timelines and terms align. Remember that the decisions you make in fundraising today will affect your fundraising in the future, e.g. dilution and equitable term sheets, there are so many nuances to get across. I think you could look at the investors like hiring talent as it is a long term journey. A business runs on lots of different capital, their contribution is their capital and they are committed to the journey with you.  

I did Advanced Valuations at NYU in the pandemic, which I saw as one thing that could help me learn to be a better founder – learning the ins and outs of fundraising. It helped improve my confidence in raising capital, building financial models, structuring deals and the strategy. I think as a founder you always need to think about upskilling and professional development.

Is there anyone who you lean on for advice when you are going through that founding process? 

I will use the dating analogy – let’s say you’ve been on a date with about five guys from a dating app and you have had three dates with each of them. So how do you vet? You would go ask your friends, your single or married friends and for example you say to them, what do you think are the red flags? Every single one of them will have their own opinion based on their own lived experience. So asking for this advice can be pretty rubbish, but a therapist for example would probably be the right person to talk to in this situation. 

The right advisor for me is someone who has your best interest at heart and has done it before multiple times themselves. Opinions can derail you and take you in the wrong direction so it’s important to find the right advisor.

With so many different priorities to manage, how do you manage your time day to day?

Time is a construct, actually a lot of people ask me the same question like how do you find the time? I spend a lot of time thinking and then spend very productive chunks of hours really performing and getting shit done. I work like a high performance athlete – I train, I perform and then I rest and repeat it all. 

I integrate both work and life on my calendar – each colour is either face to face commitments, internal or external zoom calls, mediation, catch ups with friends, family time etc. 

Did you experience any bias or barriers as a female entrepreneur? If so, how did you break through them?

So many biases. When it comes to bias I find that it is implicit bias, so yes I have faced it many times. Since it is implicit it is very hard to point it out it is kind of like being gaslit. There is so much plausible deniability. It’s the mansplaining or the gentle avoidance – it’s all very subtle. I really have to trust my gut in these situations. 

To overcome this there are a few options, you could just ignore it and keep going. Or you could confront it and call people out on it. And the third way would be to be an advocate and a role model for it, which is the path I have chosen. Instead of wasting my time trying to fight with people I have changed my strategy to inspiring and educating people to check their own biases. 

Everyone has their own personal responsibility to check their own bias, you know it’s been all over the media for years. Everyone has their blindspots and there is only so much you can say until they build enough self awareness to bring the unconscious to the conscious mind by shedding light.

I’ve learnt that as women we have power. We have our power of feminine energy and we can lead from this rather than our masculine energy. One of my advisors in New York, he is super successful, and I asked him ‘how do you do this?’ And he said to me, ‘one secret about being successful is charm and disarm’. I think for women we have had to work so hard to be seen to be heard, we have gone all the other end to I would say lose our divine power. 

What have you been reading or watching lately?

A couple of recommendations from a business perspective, I would recommend everyone to read Think Bigger which is about category creation in marketing. I think all founders should read Principles by Ray Dalio and I am very interested in neuroscience so at the moment I am rereading Seat of the Soul (Gary Zukav).