Power Couple is a new series that focuses on Canada’s most enterprising couples. This edition, Cover co-founders, Natalie Eva Gray and Karn Saroya.
Launching a business is hard enough, but doing so with your life partner presents its own set of unique challenges and obstacles that can make or break a relationship.
Natalie Eva Gray and Karn Saroya have been taking on this challenge together for over 10 years. As co-founders of Cover, an InsurTech startup that aims to make the conversation and experience around insurance coverage easier, they’ve given their all to balance their professional and personal lives.
With a decade of experience and two successful businesses under their belt, the Cover co-founders discuss how they built their business, what works for them, and how they support each other.other.
How did you and your significant other meet? Where were you both in your career paths?
“We met at Queen’s University – Karn had just graduated, and I was wrapping up my third year of undergrad. He was working at a boutique consulting firm outside of Toronto and I had just landed a summer internship in NYC.” – Natalie
Why did you decide to build a company together?
“Starting a company was a goal of Karn’s for a long time. By the time I got back from New York, Karn and Anand [Dhillon] (Cover’s co-founder and CTO) already had the wheels turning for Stylekick. They were incorporated and had some prototypes going. I was trying to figure out my next step so I started helping out in a pretty noncommittal way at first. The more involved I got, the more excited I was about the idea. When I decided I wanted it to be a formal partnership, I spent a lot of one-on-one time with Anand, getting his buy-in, and making sure he was comfortable.” – Natalie
“To be honest, the relationship was a bit of an afterthought when it came to bringing Natalie on full-time. We needed someone with fashion industry experience to help us build the product, so that was the driving factor behind having her join Stylekick. When it came to Cover, it was much more natural. There was no question of whether or not she’d be starting the company with us.” – Karn
Many believe that you should never go into business with family or a partner. What is your case against this line of thinking? How has it worked in your favour?
“The truth is that it’s not for everyone. We found a way to work together that makes sense for our business but, like anything else, it’s not perfect. We have a combined level of ambition and intrinsic trust that we’ve built over 10+ years.”– Karn
“Another thing that helps is that we’re highly aware of the importance of investing in making our relationship better, personally and professionally. We’ve had (a lot) of disagreements over the years, but we’ve learned how to make them productive.” – Natalie
What have been the major challenges of working with your significant other?
“I think we can break it down into three major parts:
1. It can be really difficult not bringing work home. If Karn let me talk about work non-stop, I probably would. He’s definitely better at it than me. I value his opinion and know that he understands what I’m talking about, so it can be nice to vent but I also need to be conscious of what’s good for him. It’s so easy to allow the business to be our 24/7 so we need to make a concerted effort to bring more balance into our lives.
2. I’ve also noticed that my emotional responses are often stronger, in a professional setting, when Karn is the one giving me feedback. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at managing that internal reaction but it’s something I’m still working on.
3. Since we have two offices (one in San Francisco and one in Toronto), we’re not always in the same place. There have been times when we can’t seem to sync up for two or three months, but lately we’ve tried to see each other at least every two to three weeks. That distance can be pretty challenging.” – Natalie & Karn
Managing a work-life balance is hard enough as an entrepreneur or leader of a business. When your home life and work life intersect so thoroughly, how do you manage? Do you have a set routine where you define how your energy and time is allocated?
“It’s been helpful to live and work together (when we’re in the same city) since we can share in the responsibilities equally. The only ‘routine’ I’d say we have is that Saturdays are when we try our best to unplug completely. On [those days], we’ll try to get out of the house and do something fun together—no phones, no work.” – Natalie
How do you support each other as colleagues?
“We’re lucky to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities at Cover, so we play into our expertise to offer support. At the core, it’s all about communication—we’re there to listen and offer our perspectives. Sometimes it means playing devil’s advocate, and sometimes it means letting someone vent for a minute or two. We have each other’s best interests at heart, and we’re able to read each other better than most people so I think that helps. Honestly, we take a similar approach when it comes to any and all working relationships, whether it’s a co-founder, someone on our leadership team, or an individual contributor.” – Natalie
“I think it boils down to being responsive and making yourself available, and being attuned to the other person’s feelings—things that you’d typically expect from any supportive relationship, be it a friend, a colleague or a partner.” – Karn
Describe a moment when the business was going through a difficult time and how you worked together to pull through.
“Look, most businesses face multiple near-death experiences. You expect this as a founder. In those moments, it’s important to have each other’s back, to remind each other that most things are temporary, and it’s all part of a longer journey.” – Karn
What do you admire most about your partner as a colleague and a partner?
“In both aspects, I have a lot of respect for Karn. He’s extremely smart and ambitious. Whether it’s personal or professional, I trust that he’ll always do the absolute best that he can. For me, it’s motivating to be around someone who is continually wanting to improve on their best, someone who’s serious about constantly learning and becoming a better, more well-rounded person.” – Natalie
“Her resilience, ability to adapt to new and difficult situations, and her empathy and kindness.” – Karn