The economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 is unlike anything the startup sector and broader business community experienced before.
While governments and central banks come to grips with the macro challenges, we want to talk to people on the frontline of business to see how they’re faring and share their advice on how they tackled it. We’re sharing the stories of founders and executives as From The Frontline.
Today we hear from Ben Leeds, Country Manager at Perkbox Australia. Originally from the UK, Perkbox launched in Australia last year and Leeds has been with the business since 2014. The platform gives employers the chance to reward employees with discounts and free products and services across 17 categories covering their financial, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
If you have questions you want to ask of founders, or want to share your own story, please drop us an email at startupdaily[at]pinstripemedia.com.au
And a big thanks to Ben and the others sharing their experiences with us.
What’s happened to Perkbox?
We launched Perkbox in Australia in January 2019 to help businesses improve their culture and motivate their team through our employee engagement software. The need for our product remains as high as ever but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly changed the way we operate.
It’s been a real test for our Customer Success team. They’ve had to learn how each of our customers and their industries have been uniquely affected, and work to formulate ways of supporting each and every customer based on their individual needs. We’re really lucky to have the Customer Success team that we do, they’re the heroes of the business right now.
How have you tackled the downturn?
It’s been a real exercise in adapting. What we’ve noticed from talking to customers is that most have a desire to do something positive to support their team and their business, but they don’t have the budget or bandwidth to roll out anything heavy-weight or complex.
In response to that, we built out a lightweight version of our offering that boasts a curated selection of the parts of our product that are absolutely essential during the current situation. So far we’ve seen great traction, and customers are really appreciating the simple nature of the new offering.
We’ve also restructured the team to better manage the changing needs of the market. We’ve reallocated lots of our people to different roles based on our team’s skills, and not their job titles – everyone has pitched in wherever they can add value. Our team has a lot to offer beyond their day to day roles and the challenges we’re facing now means that we get to see the different sides of each other, work more closely with team members we wouldn’t normally work with, and at the end of it we’re a stronger team for it.
Have you had to let go of staff?
Thankfully we haven’t had to let go of any staff, and we’re thankful for the government stimulus packages which we’re hoping we’re eligible for. They’ll go a long way to support businesses.
How are you communicating with your team at home and maintaining culture?
Our business is all about company culture, and we already had flexible working arrangements so staff could work from home. Being a tech startup, we were already working from the cloud, using Slack, and Zoom, and so from that perspective there weren’t too many challenges.
But keeping the team together is really important and even for strong company cultures, if you weren’t already a 100% remote team, then transitioning to not seeing everyone is difficult.
We hold Zoom calls at the end of each day and we try to have something special within them. It started with fancy dress, and we’ve progressed to trying to play Mary had a little lamb using glasses of water, poetry slams, and all sorts of other things.
We also hold twice daily fitness challenges – push ups in the morning and planks in the afternoon where people can jump on if they feel like it and have a little break.
Other than that, we are of course also using our own product to stay connected – using our perks, sending each other recognition, and gathering feedback.
Have you begun planning for the next 6 months and what’s some of the best advice you’ve had?
We are planning, but we’re also acknowledging that no one really knows how this is going to play out. We’ve done a lot of work creating plans for various scenarios and ensuring we’ve got a response for as many as possible.
In the midst of uncertainty we’re doing our best to remain agile, and adapt quickly to the market and our customers.
The best advice is to look after your customers. Protect them, and protect your team. Work out how you can generate value with every single member of your team, every single day. Whether it’s obvious and immediate value or deferred value, it will be beneficial.
How are you going being paid on any outstanding invoices and any tips?
For any business, having strong contracts in place with your customers and protecting yourself is important, but you also need to have empathy with your customers. For any of ours that are struggling, we’re working with them to find something that works for both of us. For some that might mean coming to new agreements for a month and then checking in to see where they’re at, or finding something else that keeps the relationship sustainable in the long term.
How have you approached sharing your partner/family about the issues the business faces?
Of course – we met at work. She’s an ex-colleague so knows the dynamics of the business well. She’s no longer with the business, so she’s not ‘too close’ to it and can see things that I can’t. She’s a useful sound board.
How can a spouse/partner support someone under this stress?
It’s really about empathy and being supportive. If you notice something’s wrong, perhaps the stress is getting too high, then flagging it with your partner and looking for ways to reduce and manage that together. When you’re locked in together, you’ve got to make sure you’re communicating as best as possible.
What’s your advice to others for not giving up hope?
Remembering that the situation is temporary, and we’re all in the same boat. Find the opportunities that are hidden in the situation and work on those, rather than focusing on the losses.