Capital Gains: Maple Co-Founder, Roxana Zaman, on Creating the Future of Healthcare
Healthcare systems exist at the bedrock of any society, and yet the way people gain access to that care can be grossly inefficient.
While Canada may have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, significant portions of our population continue to wait days to see a doctor — sometimes months, if you’re looking for a specialist. Such was the problem that Roxana Zaman and her co-founders identified when they came up with the idea for Maple, a virtual on-demand telemedicine company created to optimize the patient-doctor experience in Canada.
With over 400 doctors in Maple’s network and wait times of less than two minutes, the company is growing fast. By tackling a widespread problem in the market with a unique solution, Zaman and her team are carving out the future of healthcare in Canada, perhaps even the world.
What questions do you think all entrepreneurs should ask themselves before building a company?
The most important question you have to ask yourself is what problem are you looking to solve? It really has to start with the end user and understanding what their pain points are. A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you this, but it’s unbelievable how important it is.
You’ve just raised a $14.5M Series A for Maple, and previously $4M and $1.5M in a seed extension and seed round, respectively. What advice do you have to offer for those going into funding rounds?
Early on, it’s a lot more about the vision and the team, and finding individuals that believe in you. In the beginning, a lot of our investors were philanthropic and believed that [Maple] had the potential to change how healthcare works, not just in Canada but across the world.
I think we were one of the first companies to do [what we do]. Certainly, some competitors have emerged since, but that’s a very compelling value proposition to talk about. As the company grew and we started to meet with VCs, it became more about our metrics, which markets we were in, and what our customers were saying. It’s more about the viability of your business model later on, and it becomes easier to defend if you have the traction and metrics to prove it.
What has been your experience as a female founder in a male-dominated landscape?
I’m incredibly fortunate to have Brett [Belchetz] and Stuart [Starr] as my co-founders. They’ve been supportive from day one and I saw being a female [founder] as a bit of a competitive advantage. Because it is such a male-dominated landscape, there’s a big appetite at an industry level to see more women in tech. Things are going in the right direction and there are a lot of cool grants and programs that you can take advantage of if your team has a female founder. I think having a female founder creates a ripple effect in how we choose to recruit and hire throughout the organization to make sure there are no biases. Half of our senior leadership team is female, and I think we are an outlier to say that. That’s something that we are very proud of.
How do you divide and conquer the different responsibilities when it comes to meeting with an investor?
It has certainly evolved over time. Early on, the three of us were always at the table from start to finish, asking ourselves what our key message would be. We start very high-level and think through the compelling points that might get an investor interested. In the meetings, themselves, we always make sure that speaking is evenly distributed. That’s really important. On other teams, you might have one person that speaks up more than others, but for us, the division of labour is pretty well-distributed. Even in the way we run our company, we align ourselves to our strengths. When an investor comes in, we lean on experts in different areas of the business to spend time with them so that they can truly get to know our company. We want to encourage questions and make sure that our investors are picking us just as much as we are picking them. If you continue to grow and have a promising business model, you earn that luxury to be selective in who you want to bring on as an investor.
Do you customize or change your approach according to the type of investor that you’re speaking to?
Typically, when we decide that we want to go out and fundraise, we get together and talk about our story and the compelling key messages that we want to communicate as a great opportunity to invest in. Where I would say there is a differentiation is when you are talking to a strategic investor or a financial one. If you look at our latest round, SE Health is one of the strategic investors that we chose to partner with. There’s a ton of synergies with them being one of the leading providers of home health services here in Canada. When we’re talking to them, we’re also exploring business relationship opportunities to see how they can help us grow, and how Maple can help SE Health further differentiate itself in the market. If we’re talking to a VC, they might be purely interested in investing from a financial perspective. They’ll contribute the finances and may not be as involved in the day-to-day operations, but might also be there to introduce you to their networks.
How do you know if an investor is the right fit?
We’ve talked to a lot of investors. I think the key criteria that we look for is a belief in our vision and mission. If we don’t have that, we’re going to disagree on a lot of things and that philosophy also comes down to our hiring and recruitment because we’re a startup and building something from scratch. Believing in what we’re trying to accomplish is an absolute mandatory, so we gravitate towards an investor that can see the big picture with us and understands the market opportunity, as well as the challenges.
We like to believe that we’ve picked investors that will be with us when things are going great, but also when we come across unforeseen challenges, and that really comes down to trust, confidence, and respect. We do quite a bit of a gut check on these decisions and look at the other companies that investors have invested in. We may even go as far as asking if they can connect us with the founders of another company that they’ve invested in.
We’ve also tried to stay away from investors where you can tell pretty quickly that they are very metric oriented. There are some that will not even talk to you if your monthly recurring revenue is not at a certain point. We understand that they’re looking for a return on their money, but this is a big picture opportunity for us. We see ourselves in this for the long-term, not a quick way to exit or flip it.
"Believing in what we’re trying to accomplish is an absolute mandatory."
What advice do you have on negotiating for what you want?
My strongest advice would be simply to have the conversation. Early on in my career, I was very hesitant to even have a conversation about my compensation with my boss. Building that confidence to just have the talk is a big step, and it gets a lot easier from there. Trust yourself to have that conversation. And when you do, be prepared. Know what your sticking points are. What are the things that you’re looking to get and are you being clear and direct about it? I think what some people do when they are nervous is hint at what they want, which can confuse the person on the other side of the table. When I go into any kind of negotiation, I like to write things down, share it on a screen, or pass a paper around that outlines the three things that I want to talk about, or am looking to get out of the conversation.