On the eleventh installment of our See It to Be It podcast series, Amy C. Waninger speaks with Bobbie Shrivastav, co-founder and CPO of Benekiva, about her personal journey that led to the insurtech industry, and Bobbie graciously shares where she goes for support among other women and people of color in the insurtech space.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, for those of y’all who are new here, the purpose of Living Corporate is to create a space that affirms black and brown experiences in the workplace, right? There are certain things that only we can really understand, and when I say we I mean the collective non-white professional [laughs] in corporate America. And when we look around–if you, like, Google being black and brown in corporate America, you may see, like, a post in Huffington Post or something that kind of communicates from a position of lack, but I don’t know if we necessarily see a lot of content that empowers and affirms our identity and our experience, and that’s really the whole purpose of Living Corporate. It’s with that that I’m really excited to talk to y’all about the See It to Be It series. Amy C. Waninger, who has been a guest on the show, who’s a writer for Living Corporate, and who’s also the author of Network Beyond Bias, she’s actually partnered with Living Corporate to actually have an interviewing series where she actually sits down with black and brown professionals so that we can learn about what they actually do and see ourselves in these roles, right? So it’s a variety of industries that she’s–she’s talking to a lot of different types of folks. You’re gonna be able to see what they do, and at the same time you’re gonna hopefully be able to envision yourself in that role, hence the title See It to Be It, okay? So check this out. The next thing you’re gonna hear is this interview with Amy C. Waninger. Y’all hang tight. Catch y’all next time. Peace.
Amy: Bobbie, thank you so much for joining me. How are you today?
Bobbie: I’m doing good, Amy. How are you?
Amy: I’m doing great. I was hoping you could tell me just a little bit about your company so that we can sort of level set on what the heck is insurtech anyway.
Bobbie: So a little bit about my company. I’m co-founder and chief product officer of Benekiva, and our entire mission for our company is to bridge the gap between the carrier, the policy holder and the beneficiary, and we do that by offering carriers–right now we’re focused on life and annuity–organizations with claims automation, asset retention and data management.
Amy: And so for the people who aren’t in the insurance industry or don’t know a whole lot about life insurance, let’s break that into plain English. So you’re trying to solve the problem–I’m gonna put words in your mouth and you correct me if I’m wrong–you’re trying to solve the problem where someone dies and they have a policy and their beneficiaries maybe don’t know that that policy exists or how to get to it, and you’re trying to help people get the money that they deserve based on those policies being in effect, right?
Bobbie: So yes, so–it’s actually six-fold, ’cause our–we have six different modules that we’ve created, but before I go into the six different modules, success for our company is when a beneficiary has just received a check that they had no idea was coming. For us, that is what we are striving towards. Our foot in the door is through claims, and what we’ve learned by just interviewing and just statistics alone is that the claims process is simply outdated, so we have a 100% digital claims solution that also includes moving the money if the carrier wants to. So that’s our first module, then we have modules that allow carriers to track their unclaimed property in the shipment [logs?], Bene Retention is taking the claims process and giving the ability for the carriers to serve the beneficiaries by using their sales [force?]. The module that you talked about, which is Bene Update and Bene Notify. So what we want to do is Bene Notify is when a triggering event happens–and unfortunately in life it is a death, death is a triggering event, that’s when we want to notify the beneficiary. But on the update side, what we want to encourage carriers is how do you create that engagement with the policy holder so that we’re getting that Bene information ahead of time? So you’re not–right now if you look at carriers and how they’re trying to find beneficiaries, Google is their best friend. How do we make Google not their best friend? ‘Cause they can’t find these benes, so they’re looking online, they’re look at obituaries. It’s just a manual process to just find a beneficiary.
Amy: Yeah, you would think they would’ve had that under control years and years ago, but good for you for putting all those pieces together.
Bobbie: Oh yeah, and we’ve heard horror stories, even on the carrier side, where their bene information is still in file folders. So it’s not–they’ve not even done the transformation to get some of the information online. So yeah, it’s a huge problem, and we are very excited to solve it. So that’s what, you know, drives us every day.
Amy: That’s fantastic. So can you tell me–how did you get into this space? Because obviously you’re solving a problem that’s never been solved before, and something led you here, so what was it?
Bobbie: So it’s an interesting story. So in 2016 I was working on a startup with Soven, who’s one of the co-founders of my original startup and Benekiva, and he’s also my husband. So both of us had this startup around digital–it was a digital documentation and e-signature platform, and he has roots in Iowa, so we–his parents were coming from Nepal, so we decided to go visit them, and my key was, “Hey, we’re beta testing this product.” And the product is Docsmore. I’m not sitting there and hanging out with family. That’s great, but I also want to do some business development and just see what the Des Moines area looks like–’cause we live in North Carolina. So that’s what led us to meet Brent, ’cause we had reached out to several people, and there was one person in particular we met, and she was Brent’s client, and Brent Williams was a financial advisor, a very successful financial advisor–250 million assets under management–so he met with us, and he initially thought–when his client heard about what we were trying to do she’s like, “This is interesting. You should talk to Brent, and let me do the introduction,” so it was once again that networking. It was so cool. So we met up with Brent, and Brent thought he was telling us about financial advisory ’cause of our corporate backgrounds. He was like, “Okay, they look like good couples. I can help serve them,” and the entire conversation–this is when Soven’s like, “We’re more interested in learning about your startup. What is it?” You should have see Brent’s eyes. He just, like, “Oh, my gosh. I gotta share about this insurtech startup” that he was starting, and it was–as a financial adviser, he has gone through the claims process with this policy holder’s loved ones, and he’s seen the breakdown from the insurance–like, from an advisory angle, and that’s when we fell in love with the problem. He was looking for innovation and tech folks to jion the team, and Soven and I had just bought life insurance policy because we–my child right now is 4, but at the time she was 1 and we just bought a life insurance policy. I’m like, “Are you telling me there’s, like, a two-thirds chance that policies don’t get claimed?” And she may be one of them. So we’re gonna go–we’re gonna go solve this problem. So that’s how we connected back in 2016. That’s when Benekiva was born.
Amy: That’s awesome. So you actually have a tech background, not an insurance background?
Bobbie: I have a tech and financial services background.
Amy: Okay. Also–
Bobbie: Insurance is brand new, and I kind of immersed myself when I met Brent.
Amy: That’s neat. Yeah, a lot of people in insurance don’t get there on purpose, right? They kind fall into it, and that’s okay. We’ll keep you.
Bobbie: I love it so far. It’s been amazing to find people like you and Tony and others that–it’s been a great community of people, so I feel so welcomed.
Amy: Good, I’m so glad. So what’s been the biggest surprise to you about starting this venture in the insurtech space?
Bobbie: So initially the town that I live in and our startup community, I’m the first insurtech startup in our area, in Winston-Salem. There’s not many, and if there are they’re hiding ’cause I’ve not seen anybody.
Amy: Startups that hide are usually not very successful, by the way.
Bobbie: So when I talk to folks about Benekiva in our local community, they were like “Yeah, that’s not a problem. That’s not a problem that needed to be solved,” and I was like, “How can you say that?” And it’s because they don’t work in insurance. They’ve never been in the insurance–they don’t understand the value chain. So I came in with the bias that yes, we are solving this problem, how will the market react when we launch? And we literally thought it was going to be this short, steady ride, we’ll have this, like, really, really [?]. It’s just gonna be just new. It’s gonna be a long several years before we can get some good traction, and we have been blown away, and that’s been the biggest surprise. So we know now, like, that kind of is confirmation. Like, we did so much research so we knew that there was a problem, but the fact that the market and the carriers and the supporters that we had gives us such good confidence that yes. So all of those other folks in my community who said “You don’t have a problem,” I do. I’m solving a problem. So that’s been–but what’s funny though is the same people that, when Brent talks to them, they’re just enamored by the problem we’re solving, but when I pitch it’s kind of like, “Yeah, you don’t have a problem.” So I get some type of a bias sometimes, and I’m wondering what it could be, but… oh, I know what it is. Never mind.
Amy: Imagine that. So yeah, I know people who will hire–I have talked to a couple women entrepreneurs who have hired men to go in and say that they’re the boss to get money, to get clients, to close deals, and because for some reason when it comes from a man it’s a great idea, so they just make that work for them. So I guess it’s good that you have a partnership with someone who–
Bobbie: Yeah, and we work so well as a team, and honestly from a Benekiva perspective, our entire team, we’re just one big family. But he even recognizes, you know, that we do a lot of partnering when it comes to–’cause he’s done sales all of his career, right, and I’ve been in tech, so I’ve learned a lot, and we’ve just been jointly doing selling, and what we’ve found is super powerful is when you have a male dynamic and when you have a female dynamic in the room trying to work with problems, right? I come at it from a different angle. He comes it at from a different angle. And we have just made that work so good, and it’s actually what makes our company unique, because we do, we have that–we embrace diversity, and we do things together.
Amy: That’s awesome.
Bobbie: Yeah, and he’s a big supporter. He’s like–he’s the first one to say, “Okay, Bobbie, there’s a woman in tech event and you’re gonna go and present that.” So I have a very supportive founding team. They push me to do stuff, so it’s great.
Amy: That’s awesome. I’m so happy for you, because there are so many women, especially in tech, who would just, you know, yearn for an opportunity like that, to have an opportunity to contribute at their fullest, and I just think it’s wonderful that you’ve found that and that you’re doing it in a way that’s just gonna help so many people. I just think it’s awesome. I’m so excited for you.
Bobbie: Thank you, thank you. And I encourage other women too. Like, that’s–get out of that mental state of “We can’t do it,” you know? We have enough supporters that we’ll make it happen, and a lot of our supporters come from men. So it’s awesome.
Amy: They need too because they’re the ones with the seat at the table, right?
Bobbie: Yeah. I mean, just recently a Twitter post where they had published, like, a top 10 or top 20 or top 30 insurtech list, and Nigel was like, “Where are the women founders?” And he, like, blasted [a few?] women founders, and it’s people like that that make you feel so supported in our industry. ‘Cause our industry is tough.
Amy: It is, absolutely, and, you know, I’ve seen so many, like, future leaders, right, and almost without exception future leaders are young, white men, and it’s like, “No, future leaders are everybody, and if you can’t see that, then you’re perpetuating the problem.” So I’m so glad that you have those allies in place. So speaking of that, where do you go for support? And I know that you identify as a woman of color, being Indian-American. Where do you go for support among other women or other people of color in your industry?
Bobbie: So honestly, in our industry, it’s social media. I have a great group of core women that we support each other. Like, you’re one of them. We support each other by tweeting, sharing. If I have an issue–like, I was just texting with my friend Marie, and just, you know, [?] is another one. We just have a good support system, but there’s a group in LinkedIn for women in insurtech, and if you’re a woman in insurtech you need to join that LinkedIn group. Add me on LinkedIn and I can add you to that group, because it’s a good way to get that community growing and just encourage women entrepreneurs, especially in our industry. So I’ve done mainly–100% actually. It’s all social media.
Amy: I think social media is so under-recognized as a networking tool, and I did that myself early on. I was like, “I don’t want anything to do with Twitter. I don’t understand it. I want no part of it,” and someone told me “No, you really need to be on Twitter,” and the really needing to be on Twitter thing was like, “Okay, fine, whatever,” right? And I started a little bit and I started a little bit more, and then I started to figure out how to grow my following there, and my network has exploded because of Twitter. And it’s not superficial, ridiculous, like, trolling kinds of relationships, right? It’s real, honest to God human people who, you know, called me when my book launched to congratulate me. Called me on the phone to congratulate me. Not tweeted at me, right, but, like, actually made a human connection. It’s people who have invited me to speak at their companies. It’s people who have, you know, referred me for opportunities. There’s such a sense of community on social media, and I think a lot of people who don’t use it that way don’t recognize that that exists. When people say, “Well, how do I connect with people who are different from me?” My first thing is start on social media, because it’s a great way to listen to a conversation without inserting yourself into it, and that’s the first step in building trust.
Bobbie: I’m reading a book right now about how to create–I’m on the chapter about how to create, like, CHAMP networks. It’s–yeah, I mean, doing things on social media, I think people, there’s–you know, you often get so much spam, and I think that’s why people don’t engage it in much, but once you can filter those people out there are some–especially in insurance, in insurtech–there’s great conversations that are happening in pockets and bigger pockets, and it’s a great support network.
Amy: Absolutely, and, you know, as people connect with you and see you as one of their own, whatever that means, right, whether it’s in your discipline or in your industry or in your demographic group, right, when people connect with you and really feel that they start to open doors for you. And these are people you wouldn’t have access to you because they don’t live where you live or they don’t work at your same company or whatever. So I think it’s just so powerful to put yourself out there and kind of let the universe take over in a way.
Bobbie: Yeah, it’s been the best–I was always on LinkedIn, but I think I really truly started understanding the value of LinkedIn in the last two years, because I have not–I’ve not been one of those people who truly engaged. I had a good following, you know, but now if you look at the conversations I’m having they’re super meaningful and I’m building those relationships. Previously I was just at’ing co-workers and, you know, having the relationship and bonding at the workplace. Now, as an entrepreneur, you know, you don’t have that luxury, especially with me being in Winston-Salem, being the only insurtech company, it’s just it forces you to reach out.
Amy: Definitely. So if somebody’s not already in insurtech, where do you recommend they go to learn about this industry and what skills they might have that would transfer in or how they might get started, you know, in a career of their own here.
Bobbie: So the way I entered insurtech was through startups, right? Like, I had an initial–I was an entrepreneur and just landed myself here. So I saw a complementary need that what I was trying to do with Benekiva was doing. What I would recommend folks that want to get into insurtech is find those problems that you want to solve. I wouldn’t have gone into insurtech if I didn’t fall in love with the problem. That’s just not my personality. I don’t build companies just to say, “Oh, it’s gonna be profitable.” I’m very mission-focused, so it’s gotta touch my heart in order for me to even get involved. So I think if there’s a passion or an interest or, like, if you’re even curious about “Why does this happen in the insurance space?” Oh, my gosh, find a startup, and I would always encourage people to find a startup. Go to those startup weekends, right? Create something, like, an idea. You get resources for free. So much resources are available. Just maximize on that. And then if you’ve got enough momentum, build it. If not, then partner with somebody. You know, like, as a start, you know? So I always encourage entrepreneurs, like, if you’re passionate about something, just do a side hustle, do a whatever, but just figure out, and then once–you will feel it when you’ve got the momentum to say, you know, you can leave, you know? You can leave your full-time job and do your own entrepreneur journey.
Amy: It’s scary, isn’t it? ‘Cause you went through that when you were an employee–
Bobbie: Yes, that side hustling.
Amy: Yeah, so tell me about that thought process. How did you prepare for that departure?
Bobbie: I think I shared that story with you when we first met. So–it was so funny. So 2015 is when I was, like, you know, I jumped into entrepreneurship. And I had a full-time job. I had a very nice career. And when I dipped my toes in, the first thing I did was I told my boss, which there were–my employers, they were super supportive, and they were like, “We all have side hustles. You should have one too,” so they totally encouraged me [?].
Amy: That is so rare, by the way.
Bobbie: Very rare, but I worked for a fantastic organization. And then I literally had–there’s so many phases, and you’ve probably experienced it–imposter syndrome. “Am I gonna make it?” Oh, it’s so tough. I mean, there’s so much, like–it’s a hard road. So one of my friends–we became very good friends, and she does coaching. She’s a transformation coach. And she’s just like, “You know what, Bobbie? You’re so smart and you can do this,” and I’m like, “Yeah, she’s just saying that because she’s my friend,” but she’s like, “Let me do a coaching session with you,” and that went onto I wasn’t part of a group coaching on things that initially, before I did that, I thought it was all, like, voodoo stuff [?], but it really worked because it helped me declutter all of the biases that I had and gave me the confidence. So what I did was March of 2017, I won’t forget, I wrote a card and I said–I kind of planned my end-of-day–like, this is the date I’m gonna leave my work. I’m gonna have this grand party. I’m gonna say bye to everyone. And I wrote the date of September 29, 2017, and I looked at it every single day. Every single day I looked at it. So it gave me this kind of, like–I’m a project manager by trade–gave me, like, a timeline to get things done, get things planned out, and September 29th is when I left my full-time job.
Amy: That’s incredible. I love that story for so many reasons. Okay, so just one more question and then I’ll let you go today, but when do you feel included, Bobbie? Tell me about a time when you felt genuinely included.
Bobbie: You know, honestly–so the entrepreneurship journey has been difficult, and everybody has those stories, and I think I’ve literally felt included when–I’ve been on this journey in my local community since 2015. 2017 is when I really pushed, really organized an event where I really wanted local companies to meet startups, local startups. We talk about buying local, and I’m like, “It’s time that you buy local products from startups, tech products. Don’t go to Company ABC when another company is doing something similar. You should give them an opportunity. Give them a seat at the table.” So I worked with our co-working space to do an event, and I was told that “Bobbie’s legit,” and I think that’s–it kind of, like, pissed me off, but then it also gave me, like, this confirmation. Like, “Okay, now I think people are taking me serious,” you know? But it took two years, and that’s what my mission is, is it took me two years as a woman, right? And I know what the biases are. It’s because I’m a woman. That’s the issue, and I don’t want any other woman to ever feel like they’re not included earlier on in their journey. I felt included, and now I’m never gonna let anybody else not feel included until they’ve proven themselves. There’s no need. There’s no need.
Amy: That’s so beautiful, and I love that, that it took somebody else saying “You’re legit.” And how many of us struggle with that feeling of “I won’t be accepted. They won’t think I’m really supposed to be here,” right? You know, Amy Cuddy, who did the TED talk famously on, you know, power poses and, you know, she talks about, “Oh, well, I’m not supposed to be here” because she had been in an accident and lost some of her IQ, you know, even though she had been on this meteoric rise. Then that was kind of taken away from her, at least in her own mind, and I think so many of us feel like we’re just not supposed to be here, and when somebody else says, “No, no, no, you’re legit,” or, you know, someone that we really admire, you know, talks to us as an equal or, you know, or treats us that way. I just think that has such a profound impact. And you know what? It costs nothing.
Bobbie: Yeah, it costs nothing. It’s just you have to have an open mind and an open heart.
Amy: Exactly. Bobbie, thank you so much for being my guest today. I greatly appreciate your time and your talents and I look forward to so much more from you.
Bobbie: Thank you. Thank you so much.