Episode 109

A Silicon Alley Success Story

with Sina Chehrazi

April 20, 2023

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Sina Chehrazi
Founder & CEO, Nayya

Sina Chehrazi is an entrepreneur and business executive with experience across the various stages of the entrepreneurial process. Sina serves as the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nayya, a platform that uses AI and data science to personalize the way people choose and use their benefits.


Best case scenario is you're in a room where you're the best at nothing. That’s the goal.



Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Good morning, Sina, and welcome.

Sina Chehrazi: Good morning. How are you Gary? It’s wonderful to be.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’re glad to have you at this microphone. I think we both agree that leadership is fundamental to a successful venture. Let’s drop back in your life. What did young Sina think about leadership?

Sina Chehrazi: Sure. So candidly growing up and being able to watch different leaders in my life, whether they were sports leaders or business leaders or anything else I had such a different, impression than I do today. They were infallible and perfect and knew everything. They were different if you will. And being able to lead Nayya on this journey and grow up with the company I, you start to realize that leaders. Just like the rest of us with their own flaws and oversights and challenges and abilities. And I can say that growing up I was always enchanted by leadership. And now being an adult it’s one of the greatest gifts one can be given, but it comes with a lot of responsibility as well.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Looking at it today versus. Or a younger person. What are the main skills to a successful leader, do you think?

Sina Chehrazi: In, in my view and in my experience, the most important quality of a leader is to be genuine. To be genuine in your approach, genuine in working with others, genuine in sharing your thoughts and your answers. There are so many different ways to be a leader and to succeed. But for me, really the common denominator is how genuine are you being with yourself, with your customers, with your team, and everyone around you.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well said. NY is in the healthcare business, generally speaking. We’ll get into that in more depth in a moment, but I know your father was a surgeon. Did that kind of set the seeds here for your interest in healthcare?

Sina Chehrazi: Yeah. Yeah absolutely. Even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I grew up, my, my father was, and actually still is a very passionate neurosurgeon who just can’t quite let brain surgery go. And I I thought it was normal as a kid, coming down in my pajamas or whatever it might be. And there’d be note cards on the kitchen counter that would say, Dr. Chehrazi, thank you for saving my life for or thank you for caring. And as I got a little older, I started to realize that was not just like normal life and I was shocked. I remember sitting in this sort of swivel chairs at the nurses station waiting for him while he’d do rounds and or sitting shotgun when we were driving back home from the hospital or around town and he was on calls. It really affected me. Just how painful healthcare is and it’s painful when you’re sick or when something unexpected has happened to you. It’s also really painful when you’re healthy and it’s painful for patients. It’s also really painful for providers. I can still remember calls of about moving a patient from one location to the other, or their records or whatever it might be, and. That stuck with me. I ended up interning at the hospital, my first internship as a freshman in high school. And of course I couldn’t quite survive in the emergency room, unfortunately. So they moved me to the welcome desk, which was a very gracious thing to do. And, all of these experiences around healthcare as like a, an innocent bystander. If you would really just. They impacted me in a big way, and even though it wasn’t some master plan to end up in healthcare it’s funny how these things go,

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: yeah, it sure is. But at any rate, I think it’s a great background that you’ve got and we’re thankful you are in healthcare. By the way, so in terms of education, got your mba, you pursued a law degree, why did you pursue the law degree?

Sina Chehrazi: The real story is because I couldn’t become a doctor and I had to do second best in, in Persian culture. But the longer version is, I was always so intrigued about. How many different ways there are to think about a problem, how many different arguments can be made around what is the truth and what is accurate? And I went into law school not entirely sure whether it was something that I wanted to, law was something I wanted to practice. But I knew that in this world that’s turning faster and faster than ever before with bigger and more complex challenges than ever before, I felt that getting my law degree would give me the training to be able to see both sides of an issue and also think critically about how we can improve in this case healthcare, in, in the.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah. I know as an entrepreneur there were many times that I wished I was a lawyer in terms of reading contracts and structuring deals and so on. Have you found your background in law to be helpful as you’ve grown Nayya?

Sina Chehrazi: Absolutely. Every day. And increasingly so as time goes on and it’s little things. I’ll be very genuine about it. As a startup, as an innovator you are growing, you are challenging the status quo. And as a lawyer, your role is to mitigate risk. Through documentation and the like. And so I think some of the ways, especially early on as much as I’ve got like the best legal team ever, but Hey guys we’re gonna, we’re gonna be cool with that. We’re gonna, we’re gonna accept this risk, we’re gonna push forward. We’re working with a counterparty who’s about a 50 billion company. We’re still starting out. And so like that sort of intuition helps you a little bit and. As time goes on it’s funny, as the company gets bigger and bigger there is just a lot of administrative work and reading that has to happen. And it’s not just, filings like it might be as a lawyer, but how do you actually read something at pace and get to the core of it? And and they make sure you learn how to do that when they kill you with torts and contracts and property law textbooks. And so I’m so grateful that I was able to have that opportunity and. Look, education has gotten so expensive in this country. I think that’s a conversation for a different I think I feel very lucky that, if anybody could have that opportunity it’s an incredible gift.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’ll be knocking on your door next time we review a contract here your advice and counsel. Sina. We’ve referred to Nayya several times. Let’s dig in. Can you describe Nayya for us please?

Sina Chehrazi: Absolutely. Nayya is a software and data company that works for employees for everyday people, and it helps them with choosing the right benefits for themselves, their families. It helps them with using the right benefit at the right time the rest of the year. And it does that as the world turns proactively, 365 days a year. We were started in 2019 and over the last four years we’ve been able to grow to serve about a hundred leading employers. And we are approaching this year a million lives that we will serve when it comes to helping people choose and use their different health and health related benefit.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Can you describe Sina, the evolution over the last four years of Nayya and its products and services?

Sina Chehrazi: Absolutely, and if I could do it in one sentence, it would be meet the market where it is today. Not where you think it should be. So really early on, NYA means renewal or a new approach. And we were designing the structure for the company and we said, why is this so painful for people? Why is picking all these different insurance plans? Why is using them? Why is this so painful for people? And everybody had a different answer, but my answer is and it’s somewhat nuanced, but all of the data that matters in healthcare, Lives together in exactly zero places today in 2023. Can you believe it? If we think about internet companies two have built just a, I’ll reveal my biases here, but an unconscionable amount of value. They built what I call closed consumer DA data loops, the cookie. Hey, you like this blue shirt? You may like this blue hat. You like this season of white lotus. You might like something else. You read this article on Google News. They’re tracking and they understand you across your entire digital world, and because of that, they can say, Hey, you’d be interested in this, or We, you should buy this or anything else. It’s proactive, it’s personalized, it’s easy when you, when it gets to the real world, healthcare, retirement, all the sort of stodgy industries that are desperately in need of innovation. As I said, that data lifts together in exactly zero places. And if you don’t understand someone across their health, Across their wealth life. How can you personalize? How can you consumerize? How can you engage? So in the early days, we spent all of our time just saying, let’s get all the data in the same place. Let’s connect people’s claims information, let’s connect their rx, let’s connect their financial accounts, and then we’re gonna let the world of developers build all these cool consumer applications that can consumerize healthcare. And that’s when we started developing software applications that could sit on top of our data and help people. And, hey, you and your family have spent $7,462 outta pocket on healthcare in the last year. Your mortgages as follows the prescriptions you take are trending in this cost. Okay? Pick this plan. Pick this plan. Pick this one. Don’t pick this one. Here’s the data to show you why. And then the rest of the year, let’s make sure we are following through the right way all the way until next year’s plan selection. Let’s learn from that.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: But what is the next steps if we were to come back a year from now? Where would Nayya be at that point?

Sina Chehrazi: Yeah, totally. As long as you won’t hold me to it, Gary, but we’re working on something. We’re working on something very innovative. It’s keeping me up at night in the best way. In my op, in my incredibly biased opinion, we’ve become the best at helping employees with picking the right selection of plans for themselves. We’ve also done incredible work with helping them navigate all of their different benefits that, that they offer. And it’s not perfect yet, but we have a foundation today in 2023. As the world turns we have now reached a new level of pain in this country. Starbucks is spending more money on health insurance than they are coffee beans. For every new vehicle that General Motors is manufac. There’s a higher cost of healthcare in that car than there is steel. ExxonMobil is gonna spend more on health benefits this year than global r and d. This, cost has been rising for a while. That’s an old story, but just, even 10 years ago we weren’t talking about this level. It’s anti-competitive for us businesses and analytics. Has not taken hold yet. And so if you think about an operating system for benefits for these companies, you would want to be able to influence and help employees and their behaviors in ways that are efficient in optimizing engagement, improving utilization, driving roi. You’d also wanna be able to see at the aerial level What is, what’s going on? Are people in the Northeast getting hit with out of network claims? How does, how’s the utilization of our new MSK solution? What are the gaps? What are the, and so because of the infrastructure we’ve built, we can connect so many incredible sources of data into one way and help CFOs, CHROs, heck, even CEOs understand bring a lot of this spent out of the cave and into the. So that these companies that are now all healthcare companies, whether they like it or not can actually drive change finally. And we couldn’t have done that with a lot of the, without a lot of the data innovation that’s happened already. Regulatory innovation, that’s happened already. And now’s the time.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: What about your go-to-market strategy? How do you think about.

Sina Chehrazi: So we have a dual go-to-market strategy for employers of 5,000 employees and above. We have what’s called like a direct. A direct sales motion. These employers are so complex. Their schemes are so complex. It requires a highly consultative approach to be able to help them start to understand where all the low hanging fruit is. And there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. The Chamber of Commerce came out with a report at the end of last year. The average large employers is getting a 53% return on investment on their benefit spend. So let’s just take a pause here. Let’s say you’re a 10,000 person company benchmark in, in the United States, you’re probably spending between 200 and 250 million a year. On benefits in these schemes. So almost a quarter of a billion dollars and now you’re getting a 53% roi. And what other parts of our business would we ever accept a 53% roi? I’m not sure. And that’s, there’s just a lot of low hanging fruit. And then for small, we do believe that, firmly that small businesses, small and medium size, have many of the same pain points. In that part, in that segment of the market, we do a lot of channel distribution through our really close partners like ADP as an example. Who have done such an incredible job building a system of record for the employer. And the same way we’ve seen this all over software the last 10 years. These systems of record get built and the ones that dominate, take a Salesforce, like a crm they integrate these systems of influence, they call it, within them. We’re gonna see that in, in HR technology the next 10 years, the same way. We’ve seen that in pretty much every fast based ecosystem over the last 10.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’ve talked about NA’s products and services and how that’s evolved. We’ve talked about your go-to-market strategy. What about Nayya in terms of its financing, how? Have the rounds financing rounds laid out over the last four years.

Sina Chehrazi: The, luckily there are a lot of people in Silicon Valley who are now aware of this challenge and and seeking to fund the future of healthcare in a way that. 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago was not happening. On our end we ended up raising a pre-seed, a c a series A, a series B, and a series C, all in about four months, which sounds like a lot, but we were just focused on the growth. And what I’ve learned with with with, the Silicon Valley is that if you focus on the growth, the capital will follow.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: What about the board of directors? How do you think Sina? At recruiting board members, what types of people do you want on the board?

Sina Chehrazi: As you’re building a venture you’re absolutely gonna have your venture capitalists who are gonna take board seats. In my personal view after the company gets to a certain point, you’re really gonna want to bring on X operators. People who have lived in the trenches, gotten the bloody noses, made the mistakes prevailed because they’re gonna understand not just your industry, not just what different businesses go through, but the idiosyncratic parts of a, of company building in totally different ways. I’m super fortunate, our independent director is Frank Williams, who formerly led. The advisory board in Evolent Health and a lot of different companies, and I can actually think of very few people in my professional life who have had an impact on me in that way. In terms of growing, in terms of learning, in terms of listening, in terms of understanding an incredible independent board member can, in my opinion, change the entire CEO trajectory.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah, he’s terrific. So you’re it’s. Great to have him. So first time, c e o I would imagine. Looking back at the last four years, what have you learned about being a C E O?

Sina Chehrazi: Best case scenario is you’re in a room where you’re pretty much the best at nothing. And that’s a goal because. You, the, and I imagine, even sometimes, maybe even me, like you start to feel insecure about that. Then what value am I adding? And as the ceo, the value you add is singular obsession over the company and its impact. And that itself is an incredibly difficult skill to look through, look at things objectively, consistently. I’d say find great people, empower them. And then also the other thing that I’ve learned over the years as well is that never never get too high, never get too low. It’s it’s yeah, it’s, you are 100% guaranteed on Monday morning at 9:00 AM before the week is over, but you’re gonna get bad news. And it’s, you’re gonna get it cuz it’s your job to get it. And usually you’re, it’s a hundred percent true. You’re gonna get good news too. And and take the wins in stride, knowing it’s part of the process. Take stock in them cause that’s important and accept the losses and more importantly, take the learnings from them. And that’s way easier said on a show than it is living in practice. And I don’t wanna think or share that I’ve mastered that. But it’s a muscle. Just like anything else,

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: This has been a great interview, Sina. Thank you for your time. One last question if I could, and you’ve really. This a little bit in our discussion, but let me ask directly. What advice would you give to a young person who came to you and said, see, I’m thinking about starting my own company. What advice would you give that person?

Sina Chehrazi: Obsess over the problem, the how might change. The who will change the why will titrate. If the problem is big enough and you feel like you understand it well enough, at least better than most others, everything else should work itself out. And don’t be afraid of failure. Courage comes in many forms. There are many more people who have done way more courageous things than I have. And go for it. It’s the first step that’s the hardest and most often with some exceptions, based on life and situations and where you. Most often the worst case scenario is you end up right back where you were right at the start. And the world needs you. That’s what I’d say.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Good advice, Sina. Thank you. We appreciate your time today.

Sina Chehrazi: Thank you so much for having me, and congratulations on everything. Thank you, Gary.

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