Meet the Nava Team: Veronique Valcu
Each week, Nava will introduce you to a different member of our team who'll share their thoughts on Nava, the industry, and the mission ahead. Read on to learn more about what brought Véronique to Nava:
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I'm a first-generation American who was born in NYC, and enjoyed a unique childhood moving around internationally for most of my life. Living in five countries by the time you go to college forces you to be flexible, resilient, and quick to acclimate to new surroundings and situations. After high school, I moved back to the US to attend the University of Pennsylvania. The most formative part of my college experience was being thrust into an environment that valued leadership and taking initiative. I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent and determined people in the world who wanted to channel their energy into making progress happen, which inspired me on my own journey. I was a "joiner" — member of a number of student groups, an RA, and worked in my dorm's student-run cafe. It was also the first time I was immersed into a tightly-knit community of ambitious women, which gave me a chance to consider what it meant to be a female leader (because let's be honest: it's not a level playing field... yet) — the obstacles, the double-standards, and the minefields ahead.
I wanted my first "real" job to teach me a lot of different skills that could be applied in a variety of settings, so I jumped into management consulting at Deloitte. I worked for clients across manufacturing, retail, government, and pharma. Around 2010, I was fascinated by how social media could be used as a marketing tool for businesses — a real-time focus group, at your fingertips. After pitching and piloting a few analyses for clients, I made the jump to a specialized consultancy and then a digital research start-up, slowly getting closer to the marketing world. After a certain point, I wanted to eat my own dog food deploying the marketing strategies I long spoke about with clients, and joined a fast-growing start-up called AppNexus, an advertising technology company based in NYC. It was an incredible career experience to see rapid growth and industry transformation first-hand. I often say that I grew up at AppNexus — I became a marketer, a manager, a wife, a leader, an AT&T employee (following our acquisition in 2018) and then a mom all during my eight years there. After seeing our story through to its next chapter, I was ready to build something from the ground-up and joined Nava as employee #7.
Outside of work, you'll see me chasing my 18-month old son around our house, going on hikes, sampling the area's best Mexican food, and enjoying bike rides in our new hometown of Scottsdale, AZ.
Why healthcare? And why Nava?
This has become a controversial statement in today's climate, but I believe healthcare is a fundamental human right. Not a choice, not a privilege, not luck based on the genetic or geographic lottery, but a basic right. I spent 17 years of my life never once worrying about healthcare — access to it, the cost of it. And then I moved back to the US and increasingly, it became a major factor in how I made decisions: which employer I would choose, what plan I should go on, and even what neighborhood I should live in. Never thinking about healthcare gives you mental space to think about other things. It removes noise that shouldn't be part of the decision-making process in the first place. I often talk to my family aboard about healthcare and the differences are so stark. We've discussed that it's cheaper for me to fly to Europe, pay out of pocket to get some tests or procedures done, and fly back than it is to do those same things here — even with insurance. Even at the biggest companies with the most resources to offer employees, healthcare is still really expensive. I recently had to take my son to the ER and the out-of-pocket costs are coming in at $5k. I'm lucky to afford it, but many, many in this country aren't. And a lot of households — especially now — are making consequential decisions based on financial fear, which could lead to bad long-term outcomes.
My introduction to Nava was a cold email that pitched a big mission of changing healthcare that hit my inbox at the right time. AppNexus showed me the power of a compelling mission and I wanted to experience that again, but from the ground-up, to be part of something really audacious, promising, and that could drive positive change in our society. Nava offered a sense of ownership that's rare for a marketer. I was impressed that the team was even looking to build out the marketing function so early in the company's story; many start-ups consider marketing an afterthought or a tactical dependency versus a strategic asset to the company. And lastly — and even more importantly — it was a great team. They're thoughtful yet ambitious; humble yet determined to make healthcare change happen.
What do you find so interesting about the benefits brokerage space specifically?
Before speaking to the team, I had no idea that this industry existed. And yet, it's a $20B industry where benefits consultants have the power to influence one of the most broken parts of our society. In a nutshell: due a variety of factors — healthcare complexity, state-level regulations, a lack of resources and expertise — most employers outsource their healthcare buying decisions to benefits brokers. They in turn decide the health coverage of almost 160M Americans. No, really: about half of the country's healthcare plans are in some way determined by a benefits consultant. That's massive. Now, compare that to the stories you read about healthcare innovation, including some coming from former coworkers and classmates — solutions that deal with postpartum care, diabetes-related amputations, on-demand telemedicine, and virtual reality physical therapy sessions. There's so much goodness happening... but why aren't we benefitting from it as consumers? Once that idea of "a benefits brokerage as a distribution layer" clicked for me — that they can serve as gatekeepers of innovation — I thought it was a compelling way to change healthcare from the inside.
What's one aspect of employer benefits that you are most excited to reinvent?
Aligning actions and outcomes to incentives. I'm over-simplifying the idea, but I think that most bad outcomes in life are not the result of malicious intentions but rather, the result of short-sighted incentive structures. If we conclude that the healthcare system is broken (which many do), it's important to analyze the factors that motivate the key players to maintain the status quo. A lot of that has to do with money and a lot of that has to do with resources to make change happen. And, since we're a company with a big, audacious mission, the only way this will work is if we're in it for the long-haul. We're not here to make a quick buck but instead, we're using the benefits space as a key lever to build a better healthcare experience for 160M Americans. That's a lot of people we can impact.
Before working at Nava, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
I was a barista at the cafe in my dorm during all four years of college, but I didn't (and still don't) drink coffee.
What do you hope to accomplish with Nava over the next year? The next five years?
Over the next year, I want Nava to attract, nurture, and retain a great team of early employees who aren't intimidated by the greatness of our mission, who are thoughtful in their vision and plans for execution. From a functional perspective, I want to continue learning from our clients and advisors, and build a thought leadership and lead-gen engine that reflects what HR leaders actually need (versus what we'd like them to need). And from a business perspective, I want to see Nava connect with like-minded, small-to-midsized companies who seek a world-class benefits experience for their employees.
Over the next five years, I want Nava to be known in the market as the change agent that represents the best of healthcare. I want us to get at the heart of designing better incentives, which will start to drive tangible progress in our mission to deliver high-quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans.