The support you wish you’d had — Peppy

The support you wish you’d had — Peppy

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Mridula, CEO of Peppy Health* and we spoke about the real cost of lost human capital at work and beyond, the future of insurance that employers provide their teams and everything in between.

*For some background about what Peppy does, it gives employers a totally new range of employee benefits that have a huge impact on staff attraction, productivity and loyalty — benefits that people actually want. Their first products support new parents and women dealing with the challenges of menopause, with more in the pipeline.

We often forget that throughout someone’s life, there can be massive changes in their home circumstances that impact their happiness, well-being and career prospects. From their employer’s point of view, this can radically change that person’s productivity and engagement at work, as well as driving attrition and the gender pay gap.

Peppy was born out of the desire to support people during these challenging times and Mridula, during our chat, shared her views with me during our conversation, which we’ve transcribed below:

Mridula, CEO of Peppy Health

Carlos:

When I first met you, and before we invested in Peppy, I remember you telling me that there are two or three major points in someone’s life that can fundamentally change their outlook, the economic opportunities open to them, and their wellbeing.

For our readers, what are those points?

Mridula:

Three obvious ones are going through fertility treatment, becoming a parent and going through the menopause. Anything that causes somebody to sit back and re-evaluate their working life — hours, location, the kind of career or career track they want. There are more than you might think, and they’re typically less to do with what’s happening at work and more about what’s happening in your personal life. In their own ways, each of these events changes you and often you need extra support.

The question is what happens at these inflection points? You might be lucky enough to get the right support at the right time. But the reality is that all too often you’re left on your own and your physical, mental and emotional health can spiral downwards, affecting your decisions about work.

Carlos:

So what’s interesting is that, to date, a lot of that was dealt with privately, right? Why are employers starting to care now?

Mridula:

Historically, yes, these were considered ‘private’ matters for the individual to deal with. But we now have an ageing population, smaller families and all forms of public healthcare are stretched to the max. The result is that people feel isolated and unsupported when they go through these transitions, while still working in demanding jobs. Supporting them just makes good business sense.

The bulk of the life transitions we are talking about are not covered by either private medical insurance, employee assistance programmes or occupational health. There’s a gaping void — which we conservatively value at £6b in the UK alone — and women are penalised disproportionately, resulting in absence, attrition and ultimately the gender pay gap.

Carlos:

So if the government and existing benefits providers don’t provide much support, what do employees do now?

Mridula:

This might sound shocking but our users tell us that they relied on Google and Facebook before finding Peppy. That’s probably the worst solution in the history of healthcare!

Carlos:

Wow, that’s not good.

Mridula:

It really isn’t. And on top of this we’re all working for longer, so as you said earlier, it all comes down to the cost of human capital for employers. Take the menopause as an example, in 1900 a woman would typically go through it at 45 and yet back then life expectancy was only 50 or 60. Whereas today a British woman typically goes through the menopause at 51, and lives until 88 on average. She can expect to be working for at least another decade, maybe two. Suddenly this becomes a workplace issue and we need support like never before.

We have a war for talent right now, across a whole range of skills. This is true whether employees are data scientists or nurses. If you’re not able to support and retain them, then you lose access to a huge chunk of your critical workforce capacity. Or consider housekeeping staff at a hotel chain. We’re in a particular situation right now in the UK, where employers cannot attract and retain that workforce from the EU, leaving a big gap.

Even losing one person can be hugely disruptive and costly. You can easily incur costs up to 12 months of salary by the time that person’s had time off, made the decision to leave, you advertise and fill the position, and train the next person up.

Carlos:

… and you lose obviously the technical expertise and the relational expertise these people bring, which is tricky, right? Ultimately it comes down to managing people and when key people leave you, your organisation ends up in flux.

Now when it comes to the services specifically, maybe you can walk us through what are the services that are required? If now’s the time for employers to engage, what are the services that are actually necessary to engage?

Mridula:

Before becoming a parent for the first time, or going through menopause, most people don’t think too much about the realities of life on the other side of that transition. There are a lot of taboos around these topics (for example, postnatal depression in dads), so first of all, there is a need for trusted information. Secondly, people want reassurance on what is and isn’t normal. Should I be worried that my newborn baby only sleeps 2 hours at a stretch? Will this eventually pass? You don’t feel like yourself, there’s something not quite right, but you don’t know what it is. Thirdly, there’s a huge need for signposting you towards your options, so “What you’re describing is X and therefore you can try Y or speak to your GP about Z.”

Put simply, Peppy is like having an expert best friend on hand to answer any questions you might have, to direct you to trustworthy sources of information and to connect you to the specialist practitioners you might need access to — a lactation consultant, a menopause nurse, a fertility specialist, etc, etc….

Chat is the backbone of our services: direct access to a certified expert who understands what you are going through. Our users are busy and they love the convenience it offers. It’s how they communicate with their friends.

Our experts also understand what issues might be coming up and can help people prepare for them. Right now our weekly average user rate is 80%. This compares to <1% for conventional products.

Carlos:

Connecting with experts is always great but it sounds like it would get expensive very quickly? How do you make that work?

Mridula:

This is another reason why chat works so well. Somebody will have a question, maybe five or six interactions back and forth and then maybe nothing for the next 5 days.

So basically, a small team of experts can service a large number of people. We allow for a certain level of support that we know the typical person needs. Some people need more, some people need less, but the result is that we can offer incredibly generous employer benefits packages for very reasonable fees.

We also have an incredible potential to improve the productivity of our experts by leveraging the chat data to drive smart content. The journeys that users go through are remarkably similar. There are outliers of course but we can already see how we deliver a personalised care with incredible efficiency.

Carlos:

Insurance is evolving and InsureTech players are offering new products and services. Is this ultimately something that insurance providers will do, or is this a new category of insurance that employers will engage with, in addition to any existing insurance products or to their detriment?

Evan (co-founder) and Mridula (co-founder) from Peppy Health

Mridula:

Peppy is effectively a new category of insurance. Current medical insurance is about diagnostics and medical treatment for a serious injury or disease. These are low probability, very high intensity/cost events. We’re dealing with higher probability events, but with lower cost interventions that have a big impact when it matters the most for employers, employees and their families.

Insurance providers also provide services such as mental health support but it’s totally general. A 21 year old with suicidal thoughts will be given the same therapist as a 38 year old mum with postnatal depression or a 51 year old woman who is anxious while going through menopause — and that last example is likely to be a misdiagnosis! We offer highly specialised mental health support with deep experience in the transitions that our users are going through. We expect this to be a huge source of growth in the future.

Carlos:

What do you think will be the biggest HR challenges for organisations in the next 5 years?

Mridula:

Fortunately for us the answer to that is 100% clear: get ‘inclusion’ right in its broadest sense. We’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people professionals and everyone is struggling to work out how to attract and retain the best employees as the expectations of the workforce shift dramatically. Talent of all ages, different backgrounds, gender and abilities is more valuable to employers than ever before.

Increasingly, all employees have different needs at different stages of their lives — whether it’s someone who’s trying to conceive, a dad or a mum with small kids who wants to be more involved in child-rearing, a midlife woman who is experiencing menopause, or anyone who is caring for an elderly or sick relative. Today, women take a disproportionate hit on all these fronts. As we live and work for longer, both men and women are realising that our working lives are a marathon, not a sprint. They want to bring their whole selves to work and are less and less willing to tolerate workplaces that don’t support them at the right points in their life.

The role of HR and managers is to create an environment where people can thrive and feel supported to do their best work. The successful companies of the future will be the ones that get this right and Peppy enables them to do that.

Carlos:

Thanks Mridula. You’ve certainly given me lots to think about. All of this ties in to big investment themes like the future of work and women’s health. Considering the size of the opportunity it’s still an untapped space. I’m really excited to see Peppy continue to grow.

Mridula:

Thanks Carlos. It’s been great talking to you.

If you’d like to learn more about Peppy, feel free to get in touch with them here — hello@peppy.health or via their website.

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Further Thoughts on Culture from UIPath’s founder, Daniel Dines.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, I shared 5 golden rules to consider when building a community-based platform. One of the rules was around Culture and how important it was to factor it in when building out your community. I wanted to explore this rule further and recently had the chance to get further insight on the topic from none other than UIPath founder, Daniel Dines.

UIPath, a Seedcamp company, is known for its culture (which was recently recognised for Happiest Employees and Best Benefits), so recently, when I had the chance to hear Daniel walk us through how he saw his company culture as critical for the success of UIPath, I was keen to hear how he implemented what many feel is a nebulous concept and one that is difficult to roll out within a company with uniformity and with authenticity.

Before sharing Daniel’s thoughts on culture itself, it’s likely worth sharing a little bit about his rationale behind focusing so strongly on culture within UIPath. In his own words, he admits having committed so many mistakes early in his career, that in some ways, UIPath today is simply the manifestation and implementation of lessons learned over those years; mistakes he wishes to avoid for himself and his team in the future. He felt that in order to work somewhere where others could also feel like they could develop, and for him to enjoy working there for his career, he’d have to place his company’s culture front and centre.

His first insight on company culture was that you can’t have too many values/culture KPIs in a company; you have to boil it down to just a few. Whilst it might be tempting to have many, by not focusing on a few, you run the risk of not only confusing your team, but likely not providing enough clarity for them to anchor core decisions around.

At UIPath, for example, he anchors their culture around a core value that works for them: Humility. This Humility is authentic and born out of their roots as founders. They put humility at their core because not only did they see an industry fraught with competitors that didn’t approach customers with humility and consideration, but also because in his words, and from experience: “Engineers can tend towards being prideful in their work, so we needed to encourage them to listen to our customers, thus we evangelise it internally.”

However, UIPath‘s implementation of ‘humility’ as a core value of their culture isn’t limited to just the obvious benefits stated above, but also it helps them hire better and weed-out potentially toxic employees who are only driven by money or other variables that are not relevant. It also helps them make better decisions because no one is trying to save face in meetings… “if you are constantly trying to be the smartest guy in the room, you’re likely not to want to hear when you are wrong”, but by creating an environment anchored around humility, you effectively encourage people to speak up and share+receive feedback.

Lastly, as with everything that is a goal, Daniel shared that they measure the impact of adhering to this cultural value with soft KPIs like the perceived “psychological safety” of employees. In effect, this KPI represents how comfortable employees are in speaking their mind with you as manager.

In conclusion, a strong, clear, and simple culture centered around core values can be be a huge win in many more ways than simply making your company a place you want to work in (although that should be reason enough)!

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Ivan, thank you for reaching out, reading it, and providing feedback, always great to hear from a…

Ivan, thank you for reaching out, reading it, and providing feedback, always great to hear from a fellow alumni!

One risk of ‘going deeper’ on something that is more of a framework than ‘do this’ kind of advice, is that then it will border on the very thing I’m trying to avoid, which is being prescriptive. I’d rather the reader think of these rules as a framework upon which you can personalise a configuration that works for your community.

For example, you mention that a way to test this advice is to look at the opposites, but that doesn’t work when the advice is about nuanced permutations within a spectrum. It’s not about hiring a good vs bad team, rather, is it a relevant team vis-a-vis your stated culture. Also, it’s not about having a good or bad culture, rather what variant do you want for your community (eg. How is the Harley Davidson community different than say the GiffGaff community when it comes to attitudes, values, etc and how would you hire to address the community members genuinely?).

My hope is that these 5 rules, guidelines, or whatever you want to call it, allows you to engage in a conversation about not only how they are interrelated, but also how they ultimately face trade-offs.

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The 5 Golden Rules of building a Community-Based Platform

When Seedcamp started back in 2007, there was a lack of great support networks for founders across Europe, and as such, we embarked on a mission to help connect those founders with the best people from across a network of founders, investors, operators, and functional experts.

That became the foundation of what we now call our platform, but our community and how we engage with it has not remained static over the years. Rather, it has been in constant evolution, and as more and more investors seek to build out their own networks or platforms, we are constantly learning, taking inspiration from various sources, and iterating on how we can best serve the needs of our founders.

In the same spirit of how the broader community has shared with us over the years, I’d like to share some insights about how we think about our network and how we have evolved to serve its needs. Perhaps a good place to start is in defining the key terms, and then laying out what I now consider to be the 5 golden rules of a platform from my personal experience and observing how others have approached things.

I see these terms (network, community, platform) used interchangeably, but to help provide some clarity, this is how I define them: a community is a group of people that has access to each other and can reach out to each other without necessarily needing much assistance from a node, a network is very similar to a community, but typically requires the assistance of relational nodes that can connect people together that don’t know each other in the community, and a platform is the structure upon which a community and a network can build, flourish, and interact.

Now, as the platform is the structure that ties a community and network together, I believe it can be a constructive structure if it follows 5 simple rules. Those rules are:

1) Know your customer — It’s hard to build a community & network for an abstract person or for too broad a group. Although you will naturally have outliers above and below, it’s good to get some conviction around what kind of person you’d like to focus on, what their skills are, what their needs are, and most importantly, what their time pressures are. Btw, ‘customers’ aren’t just limited to founders, they also include those that will contribute time to help founders, be they lawyers, bankers, investors, and friends.

Seedcamp’s role in the ecosystem has naturally changed over the years, from the early days we helped spread best practices with the help of our community that would share their learnings and thoughts via events we hosted (some of you might remember our mini-seedcamps!), to current day, where the ecosystem has matured so much that there is no lack of specialised events catering to every type of founder in most geographies. As such, our ‘customer’, both from our investor base, functional experts, and founders, has evolved along with that and what they want to get out of what we can bring together has changed as well.

For us, though, what’s not changed, is our focus on early-stage founders and founding teams. Yes, we are open to pre-product ideas, but our main focus is around teams that have come together and built something, no matter how crude, that serves a clear customer, even if there is limited-to-no traction & revenue. It might not seem like much of a distinction, but it is, by focusing on founding teams + early product at the earliest and seed-stage, pre-series A founders at the latest, we can build a community of people around them that can best help and assist them on their journeys.

2) Define a culture for your platform- This seems like a funny one to add as typically ‘companies’ have a culture, not ‘platforms’ as such, but as sometimes funds or programmes have different teams for investment vs. support, it is critical to get the culture right across both. To help create some measure for platform culture, I’ve found that platform cultures can range from educational to peer-based on one axis, and from formal to hyper-informal/ad-hoc on another. The permutations within these axii are almost limitless, but what matters most is that they address the needs of your customer, otherwise the platform will have a poor connection with those it serves. The outcome of how you define your platform’s culture can have a massive impact on decisions such as: how often you communicate, what tone you use, what channels you use, whom you partner with, and are offerings unlimited or with restrictions based on certain attributes.

During Seedcamp’s evolution to date, we’ve migrated slightly on these two axii. When we started, we were likely heavily on the educational and hyper-informal end of the spectrum, but today we sit on a different intersection point. Rather than focusing on what founders need to learn to avoid mistakes, we are now more about helping founders better understand how other excellent founders have tackled similar issues, and the knock on effect of this has been that we’ve had to shift away from being hyper-informal to something more structured, but without losing our Seedcamp culture. In the end, we feel it is a right mix for where we are right now in our journey with our community.

3) Hire the right team — Hire a team that represents your culture so the experience feels genuine. There’s nothing worse than hiring one type of character (I won’t go into job stereotypes here about the previous roles of those you hire) to interface with your community if they won’t be able to represent your tone, personality, values, and spirit well. It will end in disaster. The great thing if you do hire the right team, is that they will be able to add value to the platform with their creative inputs as it will be clear what should be within it and what should not.

We’ve been very lucky with our hires within Seedcamp. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest people I know, and no matter where they were in their careers when we first met, they all had attributes that resonated with our culture and how we communicated with our community.

4) Put Elbow Grease In — Running a platform, particularly one that is based on a community, is not a set-and-forget type thing. You can’t just hire a team, put a structure based on a hypothesis of what the platform should offer and then let it run. Rather you need to be putting some serious effort into expanding it, refreshing it, and catalysing it. Iterate it as often as you can afford to without being disruptive of the very value you’ve promised in advance.

At Seedcamp after every event we reflect what went right or what went wrong, it’s not always a super formal process that’s time consuming, but it’s important to do nevertheless. Every year we reflect on what formats are working and which aren’t working, and every two years, we do a sense check of how we are engaging with the community on the two axii and how we can best serve the community. On a more micro-level, as of about a year and a half ago, we also started rolling out a new format to catch things on a tighter time-frame which we call Seedcamp Essentials and which I covered here — https://medium.com/@cee/seedcamp-essentials-97d589eb6758

5) And the most important rule — Don’t overdo it — Just because you offer a platform to add value to your community doesn’t mean it should be a distraction for founders or other members of your community. It should be genuinely useful and have the needs of your ‘customer’ at heart. At Seedcamp, we make sure we keep this in mind as we come up with modifications and additions, and we integrate their feedback into this process. It is very tempting to constantly want to promote it as a basis of differentiation (as more and more investors want to offer something) and add more and more to it, but keep the number one rule in mind — is this what my customer truly needs?

As you compare our decisions on the above to your own, one last comment I want to add is that I don’t think there is one ‘right’ platform, just optimal configurations of the 5 golden rules as they apply to a set of ‘customers’. Any one platform format that is espoused by any one group runs the risk of failing to deliver the right engagement for the new ‘customer’ the platform is trying to engage.

As a final point about us, Seedcamp’s platform today is optimised around building and supporting Europe’s strongest founder network. To that end, today, we are an evolution from where we started back in 2007, but we took many of the learnings of those early days and applied the 5 golden rules to create a platform that starts with building connections quickly between founders, highlighting key areas of company failure and success early, having a reasonable pace of updates and support cycles for newly invested founders, providing structured access to functional experts in our community at the right times, and organising thought-leadership events that are apropos to the needs of our community in any given year. I hope the above helps you with any projects you are considering!

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Seedcamp Essentials

Japanese Tea Gyokuro K Wabi Sabi — https://www.maxpixel.net/photo-2715038

Nothing is ever transformed overnight, rather, it’s an iterative process of constant improvement.

One experiment in this direction, which we implemented almost a year ago to date, is what we internally call “Seedcamp Essentials”.

Whilst we don’t have the format 100% down (as we are always iterating on it), the general premise is how do we improve what we do by 1% every week within the scope of our organisation’s goals/KPIs?

If it helps you in trying to implement something like this within your company, here are the core questions that make up the foundation for the exercise:

  • What is success for us? Alternatively, what is most critical for us? — these questions go to the core of what drives your value but also what can compromise that value.
  • What do we need to focus on more or less to make this happen? Alternatively, What will make the biggest impact to our bottom line? — these questions are about weeding out those niggles the team might have about things that aren’t going well or we could do more of.
  • What can we do about it this week to make Seedcamp better? — This question is about taking those niggles and doing something about them tangiably this week. Sometimes there are weeks where we can’t think of anything, but generally there is at least one thing that’s come up and it helps to identify it. We use Trello internally to create a Kanban board to help manage what we identify from start to closure by the following weeks.

Now in order to achieve the above, we set up a few rules:

  • This meeting cannot generate more meetings — The meeting itself is about 30min on average, sometimes shorter sometimes longer, but generally compact. Basically this time gives us space to brainstorm on tangible small actionable things we can do to improve how we operate internally.
  • We can’t talk about investment deals (eg. things that are discussed in other meetings)
  • The meeting has to have one action item for this week (and never more than 3) — The meeting shouldn’t generate more than 3 action items for the week, the goal isn’t to generate a massive to do list, but rather, just focus on the most immediately impactful things we can do to move things along towards the stated goal.
  • No action should be so hefty that you can’t do it alone or with the support of another team member, and no delegation of action outside of this group
  • If you’re not present, email something and others will incorporate and distribute a summary item if relevant.

Lastly, the meeting format is:

  1. Review progress from last week’s action items
  2. Review the questions (if necessary)
  3. Discuss the output of what comes up during the questions (if done)
  4. Define ideally one but no more than three actions for the week

If you are consider doing something similar in your organisation, hopefully the above framework helps you put some structure around your own version of Essentials. Just set the general goals of the organisation into play, have the key people you need to contribute involved, and then set the ‘rules’ of the meeting that work for you. In the words of one of my colleagues, Miguel Pinho: “one additional benefit of Essentials is that it also allows us to simply sync with other team members on things that might impact you, in effect, a micro-team meeting.” Hopefully the format can work for you.

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