When Seb was in his Expert in Residence role with us here at Seedcamp he identified an opportunity in the HR space. Founder of JustBook, he teamed up with David, previously at Mosaic Ventures & Soundcloud, who combines Fintech and enterprise sales experience to found Ben. Ben allows companies to offer their employees a flexible benefits package while alleviating the admin burden. In a world that is increasingly remote, Ben allows companies to cater to their increasingly diverse workplace needs. Managing Partner Reshma and Associate Kyran caught up with him to discuss his experience with the Seedcamp Nation, how Ben was founded and their plans for the future.
Reshma: So Kyran & I are super excited to be here, to speak with Seb, CEO of Ben. Seb was an Expert in Residence (EIR) with us at Seedcamp from 2019 onwards but before we get on to that – what does Ben do?
Seb: Thank you so much for having me! So yeah, what is Ben? Ben is an end to end platform for employee benefits and reward management. Why would anybody build a new platform for benefits? The truth is most benefit programs actually have very low engagement and the reason for that is not just UX and things like that. It’s literally that the things that are on offer are just not relevant for people and that’s hard to rectify. If you are a small or mid-size company, it’s actually not easy to offer something that’s right for everyone. If you think about it, in a diverse workforce, something that’s relevant for somebody in their forties might be totally useless with somebody in their twenties and vice versa. The explosion of remote working actually makes that even more so in the sense that all of a sudden somebody is working from a co-working space or from home not the office – they just need different things.
Ben takes a novel approach to this market, by using payment cards and financial infrastructure. We say companies should set their budget and then employees get to make the choices: they log on, select their health insurance, gym subscription and so on. We do this by, on the one hand incorporating core benefits and at the same time, we have the Ben payment card, which is a real MasterCard, can be used anywhere, but we are able to restrict where it can be used. That’s how we can enable any company to have amazingly impactful and cost effective benefits programs!
Kyran: We know you very well at Seedcamp from the time you spent with us as an Expert in Residence. Can you tell the audience a little bit more about your background prior to founding Ben?
Seb: Sure, I’m German, originally I started in physics and I was a scientist. I attended uni in the UK, even did a PhD in computational physics and wanted to be an academic, really enjoyed that journey but actually didn’t quite enjoy the career. I changed my mind as many academics do and went into management consulting spending over three years with Bain, but during the last financial crisis, left to start my first company in 2011 with a bunch of friends, which was based in Berlin. It was a last minute booking platform purely for mobile called JustBook founded in “the year of mobile”. In 2011, the app store had just properly launched. Everybody had an iPhone and everybody was installing apps. A year later, Instagram got sold to Facebook for a ridiculous amount. We all know how that ended. Uber was killing it. So there was real disruption catalyzed by the platform shift.
We were going to disrupt travel. We built the company for two years raising a bunch of capital from Index, DN and others before selling the company to Secret Escapes – which turned our company into their European operation. I ended up moving to London to run the UK market for Secret Escapes as their MD, which was a super cool opportunity and I stayed there for over four years. I joined when there were 200 and when I left, there were a thousand. I then took a bit of time out, spent a bit of time in the Valley, figuring out what the cool kids are up to and then wanted to find my next gig. While I was doing this I was an EIR at Seedcamp. While with Seedcamp, I identified a new opportunity and used the Seedcamp Nation as a sounding board to further discuss my thoughts on the space before founding Ben
Kyran: Yeah, and in terms of that sort of sounding board capacity, I remember some of the early conversations we were having as a team when you were looking at a few different verticals, some overlapping, some not. Can you talk us through what that process looked like and what was the sort of effective light bulb moment, which got you so excited about the opportunity here with employee benefits?
Seb. So, it was seeing these companies pitching, but also looking around at the Seedcamp portfolio and beyond. I think as an entrepreneur, you always look for real changes that open up opportunities. I believe the best companies sort of have been started on the cusp of a change, I mentioned the platform switch which occurred when JustBook started, then looking at your portfolio, in FinTech, for example, there’s so much change going on there, which is something I saw firsthand at Seedcamp. Things like PSD2 regulation, changing consumer trends, shifting to trusting new challenger banks with their money, the ability to just offer payment cards and things like that. And it was very much the intersection of FinTech and financial instruments with HR tech, which felt like it would be successful.
I remember from working at Secret Escapes that it’s a notoriously under-productised part in any company. In HR it feels like we are in the first inning and then talking to my now co-founder David, who brings a lot of experience in payments and financial services, we realized that it’s this combination of adding payments to HR that can create really cool solutions in this area of reward and benefits. This is because fundamentally, you’re transferring value and transferring a benefit is actually hard because you’re not transferring cash but a benefit in kind. To do this you need to get the benefit in kind and that’s what makes it complex for small companies, which is where payments infrastructure can help.
Reshma: At Seedcamp, founder market fit is very important to us. David was mentioned earlier but, how did you find each other and decide to work together?
Seb: David’s the perfect co-founder and we’ve known each other for years. We actually met through work at a meetup that I hosted at Secret Escapes while he was still working at SoundCloud and we’ve always found time to look at potential angel investments together and so on. David’s background is in startups as well; he was a previous founder, worked as a Product Manager with SoundCloud and as an investor at Mosaic investing into Series A startups, specifically marketplaces in FinTech. The last few years, he was focused on working with the large banks, such as HSBC and Barclays, on FinTech innovation so he has seen a lot of startups work with the big banks. He brings strong enterprise and FinTech payments experience to the table.
Reshma: On the employer-employee relationship, have you needed to tweak your offering based on the changing needs of your customers on the back of the year we just had?
Seb: It’s been a very interesting year, we closed the funding round in February and started hiring the team. Obviously COVID hit, for real in March and we spent the summer building the product. We ended up building a much more ambitious product than we initially set out to build, partly because of COVID. We had to do a lot more customer development to understand what companies would want. On the back of that, we believe this is a change, we’re going to look back at pre COVID and post COVID. Remote working is here to stay.
In the HR space we’re busy, initially getting everybody ready for the home office and then furloughing occured. It’s only really been from August where companies came back and said, “Hey, we actually really need this. We need health insurance, wellbeing and 50 other things that we didn’t think we would need for working from home support.” So, it’s been a year of two halves really. Building and figuring out where people want, then the last few months incredibly busy onboarding and getting them the right thing.
Kyran: We’re excited about getting our cards here at Seedcamp soon! 🙂
Can you tell us a bit more about the types of companies you’re working with to personalize their employee benefit programs and why they chose Ben as a solution for their problems?
Seb: On the one hand we have smaller companies between 20 to 150 people. These companies don’t usually have a fully fledged benefits program set up. So the Ben card specifically is a super great way of just saying, “Hey, I want to commit 50 pounds a month on health and wellbeing” and it immediately works. The other type of companies we are working with are mid-market companies. So, that’s literally starting at 150-200 going up to 500 people. Usually, they have existing programs that are becoming complex because people want different levels of cover in insurance for example. For these companies, it’s about on the one hand, delivering cost efficiency and higher impact on the program, but also just removing the admin burden.
Kyran: How do you think the HR world looks like in the next kind of three, four, five years, and how do you see Ben fitting into that landscape?
Seb: We believe rewards and compensation benefits are going to become more complex with people moving to other countries and working in very different circumstances. We’re seeing a lot of things happening on the pure rewards and compensation front with companies, enabling people to work from wherever they want and things like that. Where we fit in is we want to be the best solution for those 5-10% of staff costs that are currently being spent on benefits. We believe the future is flexible and want to be this platform where you as an employee can make choices giving this responsibility to employees in order to have the maximum impact. At the same time, we remove the admin burden for the company. So, it’s a win-win and we’re well on our way to building that.
Reshma: What are roles that you guys are recruiting for and how can people learn more about those roles?
Seb: Yes! Well in 2021, we’re going to be significantly growing the team, so lots of exciting roles to apply for in pretty much all areas. It’s a great time to be joining the company as we’ve got a product in the market and are accelerating rapidly. We’re building out all of Growth, Sales and Customer success and are currently looking for amazing people who have done this before in maybe a mid-level role and are looking to build from scratch. Founder sales are really important and David and I continue to do that, but we’re keen to build a very solid layer of future leaders to take Ben to the next level. There will also always be some Tech roles open – so if you’re a Python/Django rockstar or love React, do give us a shout.
If you’re looking to join a rapidly growing team empowering companies to best support their teams, check out Ben’s hiring opportunities here