From the top · 23 April 2018

Perkbox co-founder Chieu Cao urges SMEs to put employees first

Perkbox co-founder Chieu Cao

The employee benefit and perks business with a wellness mission to match, Perkbox is leading the way in staff motivation.

Nearly eight years in, Perkbox co-founder, Chieu Cao, is continuing to spread the message that employee happiness is the key to success.

Business Advice caught up with Cao to discover how it all started, how to put your employees first and what future hopes he has for his own business.

What inspired you to start Perkbox?

I had just taken a voluntary redundancy package from Microsoft, so I used that as an incentive to start my own business. At the time, Groupon was popular, so Saurav Chopra the other co-founder and I came together, and we thought we should make a Groupon for businesses. So that’s how Huddlebuy started as a daily deals site for SMEs. We have always been focused on helping businesses. Which is why we then pivoted and realised that the biggest asset to a business is its employees. So, we wanted to help them out, so that’s where we are now with Perkbox.

We are one of the fastest growing employee engagement businesses in the country, earning tens of millions in revenue a year, with over 200 employees. We could have been happy with that, but I thought we could do more, I felt that we could really push forward with workplace wellbeing and happiness side of the business.

Otherwise, we are just pushing perks, anyone can do that. I’m not just here to make money. Of course, you need to keep the lights on but life is about purpose and meaning, and that purpose is so valuable.

Why is that so important to you?

Employee engagement is at the heart of Perkbox

The way I look at life is life is too short. I need a meaning or purpose in my life if not I’m wasting my time I’d rather do something else. You also want to attract people with similar views. Perkbox is a very distinct place to work at, if you are here just for the money and don’t want to get involved with purpose and meaning then you won’t feel comfortable.

“We thought we should make a Groupon for businesses”

It’s a culture we have built around it. I have past experiences where I have worked at big companies, good places to work but it felt shallow. For millennials, which is 95 per cent of our staff, it’s not just a paycheck, its paycheck which matches your view of the world. If you get a good selection of people who see the same thing then ultimately you get that mission. Perkbox culture isn’t a culture everyone should have its what works for us.

What makes Perkbox a unique platform?

Obviously, we are not the only employee benefits provider, let’s not kid ourselves. But we don’t just tackle enterprise corporate vendors lets go for the opposite. Let’s go for a prop that talks about a consumer-facing brand. We are selling happens we are selling happy when they think about Perkbox they should think about fun.

Let’s go straight to the employee, connect the brand to the employee not just to the HR and to the admin or business owner. And make that brand prominent and deliver on the promises and have amazing perks, £6 cinema products – yeah, I’ll take one.

What can employers do to put their people first?

Recognise the value of the people first and realise that individuals need to be treated differently. Self-recognition is very important. That’s step one. Step two is to create communication channels that work, leaning on HR, getting HR more prominent position in the organisation and creating a culture where HR has more of an influence and can help bridge that communications. The third is action – have HR tell you what the problems are.

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Our people director at Perkbox acted like a mirror for our management, he showed me this is what you look like and act like to the rest of the company and this is how you are being interpreted is that what you want? Just by doing that forced me to reconsider and think about what I’ve said and from there I have learned to improve and be a better manager.

Where do you see Perkbox in five years?

Hopefully being known for a good cause, we are already going global extending to places like France and a few other countries across Europe. But to be known in the marketplace for doing something you believe in and own this category. If you need to fix employee engagement, talk to the Perkbox guys. To be part of that conversation every time.

What has been your proudest business moment?

I think when we had our last Christmas party, you look around and talk to people and tell you how they really feel after a few drinks. And I tell them how I really feel, it’s genuine its true. And I think that’s something really special, we have something here, people really care.

What challenges have you faced?

We were three months before going under, it was tough. I had plugged in a lot of my savings and burnt through everything I had and the wife was like what are you doing are you sure? For me had to keep going and persevere. In cases like that, it’s important to hold back your emotions back, you have a team around you must lead. You have to reassure them their paycheck is sorted and to get them to keep working hard.

What advice do you have for other business owners?

It’s not about how intelligent you are or how much you know. Our biggest secret is to be resourceful, meaning if you get stuck find another way to get past. Ask someone who knows better than you do, figure out what you don’t know and find ways around it.

Don’t try to know everything, but try to connect with people and use resources, having that discipline and that perseverance is really important as well. You can’t stop – you have to keep plugging through.

Chieu Cao was speaking to Business Advice at Perkbox Live: “Whoever said HR doesn’t deserve a seat at the top table?”. Take a look at our other coverage from the event:

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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