There are few managers who aren’t keen to boost their workforce’s ‘engagement’ levels. A team that’s committed to their company and feels valued in return is almost inevitably going to perform better than one that does not.
Of course the basic elements of that are meaningful work and respectful treatment, and a big pay packet doesn’t hurt either. But on top (if not instead of) those, many companies offer perks ranging from Christmas parties to free food and employee discounts. One way a lot of large companies do this is by negotiating big bulk discounts on products or services their workers are likely to want, but until recently it’s been difficult for small firms to do the same.
Enter Perkbox, an ‘employee engagement platform’ that effectively allows small companies to club together to offer similar perks – like special rates on cinema tickets, free food and drink and savings on dental insurance. The firm was created by entrepreneurs Saurav Chopra and Chieu Cao and began its life as ‘Huddlebuy’, a deals site that helped small companies get discounts on things like business services, technology and travel. ‘The basic premise was that - if the man on the street is able to get a great bargain on a product or service via the web, then the same could be applied to small businesses only this time, the deals would be catered towards products that help small businesses grow,’ says Chopra.
It got some good early traction and secured the financial backing of Zoopla founder Alex Chesterman, among others, but eventually ran into financial difficulty. ‘Admittedly, we had been chasing ‘vanity metrics’ and spending carelessly just as the market was growing fatigued by ‘deals’ and consumers fell out of love with the ubiquity of offers’ he confesses. Cutbacks were made and the business tinkered with its model before deciding to launch Perkbox, applying the same approach as Huddlebuy to employee benefits.
Two years on and the company employs more than 115 staff, a figure Chopra expects to grow to 200 by the end of this year. It turned over £14m last year and just completed a bumper funding round, including £2.5m from the VC firm Draper Esprit and £4.3m through the crowdfunding platform Seedrs, valuing the company at a whopping £75.4m. MT had a chat with Chopra to find out a little more about Perkbox and his plans for the future.
Tell me about your career before Huddlebuy
‘I come from an entrepreneurial family, my dad was an entrepreneur. I studied and graduated in electrical engineering. After working for big companies like Deloitte in four different countries, at one point I realised consulting is really not for me. I did an MBA at London Business School. At the time a lot of things were happening in the technology and I decided to join Yahoo!, which was making a lot of headway. After a couple of years there I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.’
It’s not easy getting investors to open their wallets – how did you convince Zoopla’s founder Alex Chesterman to get behind Huddlebuy?
‘For anyone who's trying to raise capital from people like Alex it all really boils down to the proposition, the bigger picture, what is the mission of the company. Because we were focused on a neglected part of the market, that sat very well with him. The second thing is the composition of the team. With us Alex found the right combination of entrepreneurs to really launch this business, the right amount of experience to make it a success.’
How hard has it been maintaining the company’s culture when growing so quickly?
‘In the last couple of years we've grown maybe 5x or 6x. It has been a challenge, but it's been a lot of fun. We are very lucky that we have a great culture inside the business and some great managers, and we work really hard to preserve this culture. We give people a lot of autonomy.
‘Our culture helps us attract great, great people. We have our company values. One of them is that it’s a family. A big chunk of our team has their best friend at work. It's demanding from a performance standpoint, you do have to perform, but it's a very collegial and collaborative environment.’
Has your role changed a lot since you started the business?
‘Absolutely. When you start you're doing everything. And then you learn how to delegate, you learn how to grow people, how to let them get on with it. I've learned a lot about how to manage people and get the best out of them, how to really scale a growing team successfully while ensuring you have the right motivation, training and workplace culture while delivering strong growth.’
What do you do on a typical day?
‘There is no typical day, of course, but on a weekly basis, 40% of my time is focused on external activities - meeting potential customers, managing existing customers, ensuring we deliver the best possible service for them. I'd say about 20% of my time is spent reviewing our product performance and planning for our future products. Another 15% is spent on the overall strategy of the business and another 10% on managing investors and other stakeholders. The remaining 15% is managing the actual business, looking at the numbers, making sure we're on track.’
What's your long-term vision for the company?
‘We want to be at least a £1bn business. I think there's a real opportunity to really scale and grow this. I think our product has great global appeal. In the UK we've got a lot to do, but globally there is a massive opportunity for us. Employee engagement is something that can completely change a business's fortunes and this is a really fast-growing space right now.’
Do you have an exit strategy?
‘We don't really think in terms of exit strategies - I think most entrepreneurs do not, unless they're building to sell. Our goal is to build a great business that adds a lot of value to all our key stakeholders - our customers, our employees, our shareholders.’