Scale-ups in the spotlight

Finding yourself excluded from the services you need to stay healthy and happy? In a world where millions of workers lack access to employee wellness benefits, you’re not alone. So time for change, time for affordable perks for everybody, as pirkx founder Stella Smith explains.
Posted on September 27, 2021

Could you tell us a little about pirkx and how you came up with the idea?

It all started a couple of years ago. Outside my corporate day job I had some small businesses. A number of the workers in those businesses were self-employed or contracted, and I wanted to give them wellness benefits much like the benefits I’d received while working for large organisations. I looked to the marketplace and went to some large accounting firms, but I could not access them – either because I had self-employed or contract workers or because those providers were inflexible or incredibly expensive. So we had a problem.

We built pirkx to answer that need. Pirkx is a platform that aggregates wellbeing services and benefits and it brings them together in a format using technology so that you can access them no matter who you are.

You can sign up either as an individual or as a company to offer these services to your contractors on a paid-for or self-paid basis. To put it into context: in the UK (we’ve also launched in Australia), pirkx gives you 24/7 access to a doctor for you and your entire family 365 days a year. There’s 24/7 access to a counsellor, and you can have as many issues that you want to address and up to six structured telephone counselling sessions for each issue. We have discounts for gyms and cash-backs at 2,500 retailers to make your money go farther. There’s also a nutritionist. You name it, there’s something in there. And we make it available for £4.50 a month. That’s for everything. If you want to switch from telephone to in-person counselling sessions, you pay only £1.50 a month extra.

It’s simple: pirkx makes wellbeing accessible to all.

Wow, how do you make it so affordable?

First, we use technology to onboard people. It’s self-service. You click on what you want to do, enter your name and some details. The cost of hosting and running the technology is less than a human sales force, That’s a big saving for us.

The second reason is that it operates on a gym model. If everyone decided to go to the gym at 10 o’clock tomorrow, the gym would have a problem because they wouldn’t fit everybody in. In the same manner, not everyone on pirkx is going to have an issue that they need counselling for tomorrow at 10 am.

And the last – cheeky – reason is that I managed to persuade some large providers that we’ll capture the market and achieve the size and scale to prove our value. We use pirkx as an intermediary to aggregate people and achieve preferred pricing for our members.

So how do you measure your impact?

One thing we look at is the increase in a provider’s customer engagement since working with pirkx. We’ve had an engagement rate of 75%+ since the beginning. To put that into context: in the UK employee benefit industry, it’s far more common to be between 2% and 10% for the kinds of services that pirkx provides.

Any particular challenges down the road?

Our short-term goal is to positively impact four million people by 2025 and then drive this global. We’re working on our architecture now, so we can export at speed.

But the biggest challenge is reaching out to the right audience in compliance with privacy regulations. Our budget does not support us going out on television just yet. So we’re talking here about the rules around sending emails to people to let them know about our services. Standing on the right side of those rules where there’s been a lot of change in privacy and engaging in social media is paramount.

What would absolutely thrill you as you continue to develop pirkx?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if whenever someone – let’s say a small accounting firm – became a member of pirkx, that they’d offer their services to other members at a discount? Of course they can do that even now by contacting us. But I’d love a kind of more automated mechanism to be able to do that. It’s a small thing in our roadmap, but I think it could make a difference, especially to generate engagement for SMEs who’ve been impacted by covid. We’re hoping for that by the middle of next year.

What’s been the hardest lesson for you personally?

The level of effort required on a consistent basis. It’s very hard wearing, but with the speed that pirkx is going at, it does not allow us to slow down.

TFI has been a huge help in that respect. It gives you what you need, the practical stuff. Access to that technology is market-leading. After just 18 months, pirkx has the same infrastructure that some small providers have taken 20 years to develop. That allows us to reach more people and have more positive impact.

If there’s one thing COVID has taught us, it’s that wellbeing is no luxury. Having a healthy and happy workforce is a requirement. So the more people we can help, the better. I think it would be a lovely, lovely story if we can actually make this happen.