Amy Spurling is the Founder and CEO of Compt, helping companies build and scale flexible perks, stipends that delight teams. She explains how Compt's approach to benefits aligns with an employee's life stages, and shares insights from data that revealed the vast diversity of vendors utilized by employees.
Amy talks about fundraising for Compt, highlighting the gender investment gap and the difficulties faced by female founders. She also shares her personal experiences as a lesbian founder and emphasizes the importance of a diverse workforce. She outlines Compt's mission to provide equitable compensation and foster a broader perspective within companies, the economic miss of not investing in female-founded companies, and the complexities of transitioning into different roles within a startup.
Amy's leadership values of balance and belonging are explored, and she shares insights about navigating hurdles like SOC 2 and GDPR compliance. Additionally, they talk about trends in the tech industry, such as AI's use in healthcare and the potential for bias in software, along with data privacy issues.
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VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido.
WILL: And I'm your other host, Will Larry. And with us today is Amy Spurling, Founder and CEO of Compt, helping companies build and scale flexible perks, stipends that delight teams. Amy, thank you for joining.
AMY: Thanks so much for having me.
VICTORIA: Amy, I saw in your LinkedIn background that you have a picture of someone hiking in what looks like a very remote area. So, just to start us off today, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about that. And what's your hobby there?
AMY: Sure. I do spend a lot of time backpacking. That picture, I believe, was actually taken in Mongolia a couple of years ago. We spent ten days kind of hiking around in, I mean, everything is backcountry basically in Mongolia. So, spending a lot of time walking around, looking at mountains, is kind of my pastime.
WILL: I have a question around backpacking itself. When you say backpacking, what does that mean? Does it mean you only have a backpack, and you're out in the mountains, and you're just enjoying life?
AMY: It depends. So, in Mongolia, there were a couple of folks with camels, so carrying the heavy gear for us but still living in tents. My wife and I just did a backpacking trip in the Accursed Mountains in Albania, though, and everything was on our backpack. So, you're carrying a 35-pound pack. It has all your food, your water, your camping gear, and you just go. And you're just kind of living off the land kind of. I mean, you're taking food, so it's not like I'm foraging or hunting but living in the outback.
WILL: Wow. What does that do for you just internally, just getting off the grid, enjoying nature? Because I know with tech and everything now, it's kind of hard to do that. But you've done that, I think you said, for ten days. Like, walk us through that experience a little bit.
AMY: Some people use yoga, things like that, to go to a zen place, be calm, you know, help quiet their mind. For me, I need to do something active, and that's what I use this for. So getting off away from my phone, away from my laptop—those are not available to me when I'm in the mountains—and just focusing on being very present and listening to the birds, smelling the flowers. You know, pushing myself to where I'm, you know, exerting a lot of energy hiking and just kind of being is just...it's pretty fantastic.
VICTORIA: And I'm curious, what brought you to decide to go to Albania to get to that experience? Because that's not a top destination for many people. But --
AMY: It is not. So, we travel a fair amount, and we backpack a fair amount. And the mountains there are honestly some of the most beautiful I've seen anywhere in the world. And so, we're always looking for, where can you get off the grid pretty quickly? Where can you be in the mountains pretty quickly in a way that still has a path so that you're not putting yourself in danger? Unless...I mean, we've done that too.
But you want to make sure you have a guide, obviously, if you're going completely no path, no trail kind of camping, too. But it just looked really beautiful. We planned it actually for three years ago and had to cancel because it was May of 2020. And so, we've had this trip kind of on the books and planned for it for a while.
VICTORIA: That's awesome. Yeah, I know of Albania because I had a friend who worked there for a few years. And she said the rock climbing there is amazing. And it actually has one of the last wild rivers in Europe. So, it's just a very remote, very interesting place. So, it's funny that you went there [laughs]. I was like, wait, other people also go to Albania. That's awesome. I love the outdoor space.
Well, what a great perk or benefit to working to be able to take those vacations and take that time off and spend it in a way that makes you feel refreshed. Tell me more about Compt and your background. What led you to found this company?
AMY: Sure. I've been in tech companies for, you know, over 20 years. I've been a CFO, a COO building other people's dreams, so coming in as a primary executive, you know, first funding round type of person, help scale the team, manage finance and HR. And I loved doing that, but I got really frustrated with the lack of tools that I needed to be able to hire people and to retain people. Because the way we compensate people has changed for the last 10, 15 years.
And so, ultimately, decided to build a platform to solve my own problem and my own team's problems, and started that getting close to six years ago now. But wanted to build a tech company in a very different way as well. So, in the same way, I take time off, I want my team to take time off. So, we operate on a basis of everyone should be taking their time off. Don't check in while you're out. We'll make sure we're covered. You know, let's build a sustainable business here. And everybody should be working 40 to 45 hours a week, which is definitely not a startup culture or norm.
WILL: Yeah. I love that. I was doing some research on Compt. And so, in your words, can you explain to everyone exactly what your company does?
AMY: Sure. So, we build lifestyle benefit accounts for companies. And what that means...and the terminology keeps changing, so some people may call them stipends or allowances. But it's really looking at how you pull together employee perks, benefits that will help compete for talent. And right now, retention is kind of the key driver for most companies. How do I keep the people I have really happy?
Competitive salaries are obviously table stakes. Health insurance for most industries is table stakes. So, it's, what else are you offering them? You can offer a grab bag of stuff, which a lot of companies try and do, but you get very low utilization. Or you can do something like a stipend or a lifestyle spending account, which is what we build, which allows for complete flexibility so that every employee can do something different. So that even if you're offering wellness, you know, what the three of us think about as wellness is likely very different.
I spend a lot of money at REI, like, they are basically, like, as big as my mortgage. I spend so much money there because I want backpacking gear. Wellness for you folks may be a little bit different. And so, allowing for that personalization so everybody can do something that matters to them.
VICTORIA: Right. And I love that it comes from a problem you found in your own experience of working with early-stage startups and being on the executive level and finance and building teams from the ground up. So, I'm curious, what lessons did you find in your previous roles that were maybe ten times more important when you started your own company?
AMY: I learned so much through all of my prior companies and pulled in the lessons of the things that worked really well but then also the things that it was, like, wow, I would definitely do that different. DEI is very important to us. I knew building a diverse team was going to be a competitive advantage for us. And none of my prior teams really met that mark. You know, most of them were Boston-based, the usual kind of profile of a tech company: 85%-95% White guys, mostly from MIT, you know, very, very talented, but also coached and trained by the same professors for the last 20 years.
So, I knew I wanted different perspectives around the table, and that was going to be really key. So, looking at non-traditional backgrounds, especially as we were looking at hiring engineers, for instance, that was really interesting to me because I knew that would be part of our competitive advantage as we started building up this platform that is employee engagement but very much a tax compliance and budgeting tool as well.
VICTORIA: I love hearing that. And it's something I've heard from actually thoughtbot's founder, Chad. That is something he wished he invested more in when he first started it. So, I'm curious as to how that's played out from when you started to where you are now. You said, I think, it's been six years, right?
AMY: January will be six years, so five and a half-ish, I guess, right now. I mean, it was a stated part of what we were going to do from day one. All of my prior companies wanted that as well. I don't think anybody starts out and says, "Hey, I'd really love a one-note company." No one says that. Everybody thinks that they're doing the right things and hiring the best talent. But what you do is you end up hiring from your network, which usually looks just like you.
And when you get to be, you know, 100, 150 people and you're looking around going, wow, we have some gaps here, it's really hard to fill them because who wants to be the first and the only of whatever? You know, I've been the only woman on most management teams.
So, for us, it was day one, make it part of the focus and make sure we're really looking for the best talent and casting a very wide net. So, right now, we're sitting at 56% female and 36% people of color, and somewhere around 18%-19% LGBTQIA. So, we're trying to make sure that we're attracting all those amazing perspectives.
And they're from people from around the country, which I also think is really important when you're building a tech company. Don't just build in areas where you're in your little tech bubble. If you want to build a product that actually services everyone, you need to have other kind of cultural and country perspectives as well.
VICTORIA: Yeah. And that makes perfect sense for what you described earlier for Compt, that it is supposed to be flexible to provide health benefits or wellness benefits to anyone. And there can be a lot of different definitions of that. So, it makes sense that your team reflects the people that you're building for.
WILL: Yeah. How does that work? How does Compt accomplish that? Because I know early on I was doing nonprofits and I was a decent leader. But I struggle to get outside of myself, my own bubble if that makes sense. So, like, that was before I had kids. I had no idea what it meant to have kids and just the struggles and everything if you have kids. So, there's so many different things that I've learned over the years that, like, just people have their own struggles. So, how does Compt accomplish the diversity of a company?
AMY: So, it's so interesting you mentioned that. I was on a podcast the other day with somebody who was, like, "You know, we didn't really think about our benefits and how important they were." And then, the founder who was the person on the podcast, and he was like, "But then I had kids. And suddenly, I realized, and we had this amazing aha moment." I'm like, well, it's great you had the aha moment. But let's back it up and do this before the founder has children. Sometimes you need to recognize the entire team needs something different and try and support them.
My frustration with the tools out there are there are tools that are like, hey, we're a DE&I platform. We will help you with that. You know, we've got a benefit for fertility. We've got a benefit for, you know, elder care. There's all kinds of benefits. These are great benefits, but they're also very, very specific in how they support an employee. And it's very small moment in time, usually.
Whereas with something like Compt, where we say, "Hey, we support family," your version of family, having children is very different from my version of family, where I don't have children, but we both have families. And we can both use that stipend in a way that is meaningful for us. What puts the employee back in charge, what matters in their lives, instead of the company trying to read everyone's mind, which is honestly a no-win situation for anyone. So, it just makes it very, very broad.
VICTORIA: Yes. And I've been on both sides, obviously, as an employee, but also previously role of VP of Operations. And trying to design benefits packages that are appealing, and competitive, and fair is a challenging task. So --
AMY: It's impossible. It's impossible. [laughs]
VICTORIA: Very hard. And I'm curious what you found in the early stages of Compt that was surprising to you in the discovery process building the product.
AMY: So, for me, I mean, discovery was I am the buyer for this product. So, I wanted this about five years before I decided to go and build it. And I was talking to other finance and HR professionals going around going, "All right, are you feeling this exact same pain that I'm feeling? Because it is getting completely insurmountable."
We were all being pitched all these different platforms and products. Everybody had something they wanted to sell through HR to help attract, and engage and retain talent and all the things, right? But there's no tracking. It's not taxed correctly. And ultimately, no matter what you bring in, maybe 2% to 3% of your team would use it. So, you're spending all this time and energy in putting all this love into wanting to support your team, and then nobody uses the stuff that you bring in because it just doesn't apply to them.
And so, I realized, like, my pivotal moment was, all right, none of this is working. I've been waiting five years for somebody to build it. Let's go build something that is completely vendor-agnostic. There's no vendors on this platform by design because everyone ultimately wants something different.
And, you know, through that process, we were, of course, pushed by many VCs who said, "Hey, build your marketplace, build your marketplace, you know, that's going to be your moat and your special sauce." And I said, "No, no, no, that's not what we're going to do here because that doesn't solve that problem." And we finally had the data to prove it, which is fantastic.
You know, we actually did a sample of 8,700 people on our platform, and we watched them for a year. And said, "How many different vendors are these 8,700 people going to use?" Because that's the marketplace we'd have to build because we have 91% employee engagement. Nobody can beat us in the industry. We've got the highest employee engagement of any platform in our category. So, how many different vendors could 8,700 people use in that time period? Do you guys have any guesses how many they used in that time period to get to that engagement?
VICTORIA: Out of 8,700 vendors?
AMY: No, 8,700 employees. So, how many different vendors they used in that time period.
VICTORIA: Hmm, like, per employee, I could see maybe, like, 10? I don't know. Two?
AMY: We saw 27,000 different vendors used across all the employees, so 27,000 different unique vendors. So, on average, every employee wants three unique vendors that no one else is using.
VICTORIA: Oh wow.
VICTORIA: Yeah, okay. [laughter] Right.
AMY: So, it's just you can't build that, I mean, you could build that marketplace, but nobody's going to visit that marketplace because nobody wants to scroll through 27,000 things. And so, it just keeps changing.
You know, and I saw that even with the woman who started the company with me, you know, when she...we, of course, use Compt internally. And she started using her wellness stipend. You know, at first, she was doing 5Ks. So, she'd register for the race. She'd go train. She'd do all the things. Then she got pregnant and had a baby and started shifting over to prenatal vitamins, to Lamaze classes, to, you know, mommy yoga, things like that. Then once she had the baby, it shifted again.
And so, it allows for a company to flow with an employee's lifecycle without having to get into an employee's life stage and, "Hey, what do you need at this moment in time?" Employees can self-direct that, so it makes it easier for employees and a lot easier for companies who are not trying to...we don't want to map out every single moment of our employee's personal life. We shouldn't be involved in that. And so, this is a way to support them but also give them a little space too.
WILL: I absolutely love that because that is, yes, that is a flow. Like, before you have kids, it's, like, yes, I can go run these 5Ks; I can do this. When you have kids, it totally changes. Like, okay, what can I do with my kids? So, workout, or that's my away time. So, I love that it's an ebb and flow with the person. And they can pick their own thing, like --
AMY: Right. We're all adults.
WILL: Yes. [laughs]
AMY: I think I sat there going; why am I dictating someone's health and wellness regimen? I am not qualified for this on any stretch. Like, why am I dictating what somebody's mental health strategy should be? That's terrifying. You're adults. You work with your professionals. We'll support it.
WILL: Yes. I remember at one company I worked for; they had this gym that they had, you know, got a deal with. And I was so frustrated because I was like, that's, like, 45 minutes away from my house.
AMY: [laughs] Right.
WILL: It's a perk, but it means absolutely nothing to me. I can't use it. So yes, yeah. [laughs]
AMY: Well, and, like, not everybody wants to work, say...there was, you know, we see a lot of that is there's been a transition over time. COVID really changed that as people couldn't go to gyms, and companies shifted to stipends. But you may not want to work out with your co-workers, and that's okay, too. Like, it's okay to want to do your own thing and be in your own space, which is where we see this kind of decline of the, you know, on-site company gym, which, you know, some people just don't want to do that.
VICTORIA: Yeah. So, I love that you stayed true to this problem that you found and you backed it up with data. So, you're like, here's clear data on, say, why those VCs' advice was bad [laughs] about the marketplace.
AMY: Ill-informed. They needed data to see otherwise. [laughs]
VICTORIA: Yeah. Well, I'm curious about your experience going through fundraising and starting up for Compt with your background as a CFO and how that was for you.
AMY: It was...I naively thought it would be easier for me, and maybe it was because I had all this experience raising money as a CFO in all these prior companies. But the reality is that women receive less than 2% of all funding, even though we start 50% of the businesses. And if you look at, you know, Black female founders, they're receiving, like, 0.3, 0.5% of funding. Like, it's just...it's not nice out there.
You know, on average, a lot of VCs are looking at 3,000, 4,000, or 5000 different companies a year and investing in 10. And so, the odds of getting funded are very, very low, which means that you're just going to experience a whole lot of unique situations as a female founder. I saw that you folks work with LOLA, which is fantastic. I'm a huge fan of LOLA and kind of what their founders put together. And I've heard some amazing things about the pitches that she's done for VCs and that she's just not shy about what she's building. And I really appreciate that.
It's never a fun situation. And it gets easier the later stages because you have more metrics, and data, and all of that. And we ultimately found phenomenal investors that I'm very, very happy to have as part of our journey. But it's definitely...it's not pretty out there is the reality.
VICTORIA: Right. And I saw that you either attended or put on an event about the gender investment gap, which I think is what you just referred to there as well. So, I'm curious how that conversation went and if there were any insights about what the industry can do to promote more investment in women and people of color founders.
AMY: So, that's actually coming up August 10th, and so that's coming up in a few weeks that we're going to be hosting that. I'm actually part of a small group that is spearheading some legislation in Massachusetts to help change this funding dynamic for female founders, which I'm pretty excited about. And California also has some legislation they're looking at right now.
In Mass, we're looking at how fair lending laws can apply to venture capital. There are laws on the books on how capital gets distributed when you look at the banking system. But there's virtually no regulation when you look at venture funding, and there's no accountability, and there's no metrics that anybody is being held to.
I don't believe that you know, just because I pitched a VC that they should be funding me, you know, it needs to be part of their thesis and all of those things. But when you see so much disparity in what is happening out there, bias is coming into play. And there needs to be something that helps level that playing field. And so, that's where legislation comes into play and helps change that dynamic. So, pretty excited about the legislation that's before both the Senate and the Mass State House, likely going to be heard this November. So, we're pretty excited about that.
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WILL: So, Amy, you're talking a lot about diversity, inclusion, and just biases, and things like that. You're doing a great job with it. Your product is perfect for that because it reaches so many different levels. And I just want to ask you, why are you so passionate about it? Why is this so important to you?
AMY: For me, personally, I am a lesbian founder. I am the only, you know, LGBTQ in many of my companies. And I'm always the, I mean, very frequently, the only woman in the boardroom, the only woman on the leadership team. That's not super comfortable, honestly. When you are having to fight for your place at the table, and you see things that could be done differently because you're bringing a different perspective, that, to me, is a missed opportunity for companies and for employees as well who, you know, there's amazing talent out there. If you're only looking at one flavor of talent, you're missing the opportunity to really build a world-class organization.
And so, to me, it's both the personal side where I want to work with the best people. I want to work with a lot of different perspectives. I want to work with people who are bringing things to the table that I haven't thought about. But also, making sure that we're creating an environment where those people can feel comfortable as well, and so people don't feel marginalized or tokenized and have the ability to really bring their best selves to work. That's really important to me.
It's a reflection of the world around us. It's bringing out the best in all of us. And so, for me, that's the environment I want to create in my own company. And it's also what I want to help companies be able to foster within their companies because I think a lot of companies really do want that. They just don't know how to go about it. They don't have actual tools to support a diverse team. You pay for things for the people you have, and then you hire more people like the people you have. We want to be a tool to help them expand that very organically and make it a lot easier to support a broader perspective of people.
VICTORIA: I appreciate that. And it speaks to something you said earlier about 50% of the businesses are started by women. And so, if you're not investing in them, there's a huge market and huge potential and opportunity there that's just not --
AMY: The economic miss is in the trillions, is what's been estimated. Like, it's an absolute economic miss. I mean, you also have the statistics of what female-founded companies do. We tend to be more profitable. We tend to be more capital efficient. We tend to, you know, have better outcomes. It's just so the economics of it are there. It's just trying to get folks to understand where their biases are coming into play and funding things that may be a little outside their comfort zone.
VICTORIA: Right. That's going to be a big project to undo all of that. So, each piece that works towards it to break it down, I think, is really important. And it seems like Compt is a great tool for companies to start working towards that, at least in the equity of their benefits, which is -- [laughs]
AMY: Exactly. Because, I mean, if people can't use a perk, then it's inequitable compensation. And if you have inequitable compensation, you're already going down that path. You end up with wage gaps, and then you end up with promotion gaps. And all these things feed into each other. So, we're just trying to chip away at one piece of the problem. There's lots of places that this needs to be adjusted and changed over time. But we want to at least chip away at that one piece where this piece of compensation can be equitable and support everyone.
WILL: Yeah, I love that. I was looking at your LinkedIn. And it looks like you've been almost, later this year, maybe six years of Compt. What was some of the early traction? Like, how was it in the early days for you?
AMY: It was an interesting transition for me, going from CFO and COO over to the CEO role. That was easier in some ways than I thought it was going to be and harder in other ways. You know, on the easy side, I've already done fundraising. I understand how to write a business model, and look at financial plans, and make sure the concept is viable and all the things. But I also am not an engineer. I'm not a product designer.
And so needed to make sure we immediately surrounded ourselves with the right talent and the right help to make sure that we could build the right product, pull the things out of my brain that are conceptual but definitely not product design. No one wants me touching product design. I've been barred from all codebases in this company. They don't want me touching anything, with good reason. And so, making sure that we have those right people to build and design the software in a way that functionally makes sense.
VICTORIA: I think that is great that...I laughed when you said that you are barred from touching any of the code. [laughs] It's like, you're able to...I think a strong leader recognizes when other people have the expertise and makes space for them to do their best work. I also see that, at the same time, you've been a mentor with the MassChallenge group. And I'm curious if you have a most frequent piece of advice that you give to founders and people starting out building great products.
AMY: The biggest piece of advice, I think, is to make sure you're taking care of yourself through this process. It's an exhausting process to build a company. And there's always way more that you should be doing every day than you can possibly get done. And if you just completely absorb yourself in it, you're going to end up burning out. So, making sure that you rest, that you still make time to exercise and to move, and that you spend time with family. All of those things, I think, are really, really important. That's been part of our core tenets.
From day one, I said, "No more than 40 to 45 hours a week." It doesn't mean I'm not thinking about this business far more than 45 hours a week, but I'm not going to sit behind a computer that many hours in a week because I will burn out. And if I'm out and I'm reading something, or I'm, you know, going for a walk, I'm going to have moments of inspiration because I can actually have those creative thoughts firing when I'm not just putting out fires.
And so, I think that's really, really important for founders to make sure they take that time and allow their brains to clear a little bit so that they can build more efficiently, build faster, and have really good critical reasoning skills.
WILL: I love that you not only have the product to, you know, help taking time off, but you also are preaching it per se, like, take time off. Don't work more than 40-45 hours. Like, take care of yourself. So, I love that advice that you're giving is right in the message with your product. So, I love it.
AMY: Thank you. I do hammer home with this team. What we build is obviously very, very important to me, but how we build this company is equally important. We spend just as much time thinking about how we're building and designing this company internally as we do about our product because they need to be a virtuous cycle between the two, quite frankly. And so, if they aren't aligned, we're going to fail.
WILL: Definitely. Wow. Awesome. What does success look like for you and Compt in the next, you know, six months to a year?
AMY: For us, it's really about reaching as many people as possible. So, how do we have an impact on as many lives as possible and help people be able to access this piece of their compensation? What is interesting right now is we're in a really interesting moment. The tech industry is going through...shall we call it an awakening? Where money is tighter. There's been some layoffs. You know, it's just a very different world in tech right now. And everybody's in a little bit of a holding pattern to figure out, okay, what's next?
What we're seeing across our portfolio of companies is that there's a lot of industries that are, for the first time, really thinking about how do we retain folks? How do we think about hiring in a new way? So, industries like construction and manufacturing. Industries that never had employee kind of lifestyle benefits or perks they're taking a look at that because unemployment is so, so low.
And so, for the first time ever, we have the ability to have an impact on groups that never had access to professional development, to wellness, to things like that. And that's really exciting because you can have such a huge, impactful moment where people have just been without for so long. And so, that's pretty exciting for us.
VICTORIA: You're touching upon a topic that I've thought about before, where in the tech industry, we're used to having a lot of benefits and perks and that not every industry is the same way. So, I'm curious; you mentioned construction and some other groups that are looking to adopt more of these benefits because unemployment is so low. I'm curious, like, if there are any patterns or things that you see, like, specific industries that are more interested than others, or what's going on there?
AMY: Our portfolio of tech companies are only about...they're less than 40% of our customers, actually. So, a relatively low percentage of our customers come from the tech industry. What we find is that healthcare systems this is really important. As you're thinking about how you're going to retain nursing staff, it is incredibly difficult. And so, we see a lot of movement in the healthcare space. We see a lot of movement, again, across manufacturing and construction, you know, financial services.
Pretty much anybody who is struggling to hire and is worried about retaining is trying to figure out what's my strategy? How do I do this in the least expensive way possible but reach everyone? Because those employee engagement metrics are so consistently important to look at. And most platforms and things that you could be doing out there are going to give you a 2% to 3% utilization. So, it's very, very low.
You know, wellness is by far the most common use case we see companies putting in place. It's good for employees. It's good for the employer. That's by far the most important or the most common. But we also see things like family, and just more of a whole well-being kind of concept as well, so beyond wellness, so allowing for that broader reach.
We're also seeing industries where people are starting to age out. So, we've got five generations at work right now. There's industries where folks have historically stayed forever. You know, you've got the people who have been there 20-30 years. Well, those same industries are now sitting there going, all right, how do I get the next two generations to come in here? Because it's such an old-guard and old approach. We've got to change things up. And so, we're seeing a pretty big cultural shift happen within a lot of these more nascent industries.
WILL: Yeah. I can definitely see how that would be tough going from, you know, you said five generations are currently in the workforce?
WILL: I didn't even think about that. Wow.
AMY: Yeah, you got a lot of different parts of the life cycle. You know, think about professional development. Professional development for a 22-year-old is very different from professional development for a 65-year-old. But both are in the workplace, and both want to keep learning. It's just what your needs are and what you need to learn. And how you want to learn is going to be very, very different.
WILL: Wow. So true. I love how you're talking about your leadership and just the way you lead. I can just hear it in what you're saying. What are some of your core values that drive you every day?
AMY: One of the big ones, and it probably goes back to, you know, I'm sure, birth placement, whatever. I'm an oldest child, all the things that come with being an oldest child. But fairness is a really big one for me. And so, it's thinking about how we apply that as a company, so equitable compensation falls under that. Making sure that we've got a team that is balanced and diverse is really important to me.
You know, thinking, you know, our core values are balance and belonging. That runs through absolutely everything that we do and is core and central to it. Because, again, how we build this company is just as important to me as what we're building. And so, making sure that we hold true to those values is critical because we have amazing people, and they need to feel supported as well.
VICTORIA: Well, that really comes through in everything that you say and that we've talked about so far today, and I really appreciate that. And I'm curious if you could go back in time to when you first started Compt and tell yourself any piece of advice or information; what would you say?
AMY: That piece of advice has changed over time; I will tell you that. The one that is most recent for me is really because we're an HR tech platform, and we service, you know, an entire organization, is really thinking about how you support different industries at different moments in time, the concept of product-market fit. When you're that type of a platform, which there aren't many, there's not many platforms that sit across an entire organization, but compensation is one of them. You need to be thinking about which industries are struggling to hire, which are struggling to retain at this moment in time.
And so, I don't think there's one place, like, hey, we have product-market fit, now we can scale. I think that's a misnomer for our part of the HR tech space. And so, it's constant experimentation on go-to-market strategy and constant kind of adjustment as markets ebb and flow over time.
WILL: What is some of your biggest hurdles right now or even in the future that you can see coming?
AMY: If I had a crystal ball, life would definitely be easier. I'd love to know when this economic cycle is going to shift and, you know when things get a little bit easier for companies. You know, HR leaders and finance leaders are not having the most fun at this moment in time. They're being tasked with making everybody happy but on very small budgets, and so they're really challenged with that. And they're really burnt out, and they're exhausted. So, I'm looking forward to a shift so when people can get back to feeling a little bit physically better. But also, it just helps navigate a market and be better able to support your employees.
VICTORIA: I've been thinking about that question recently, what I would tell my past self, and I think it's mostly, like, food related.
AMY: Ooh, interesting.
VICTORIA: Use better vinegars, like, invest in fancier olive oil. [laughs]
AMY: So, my new luxury pro-tip is you buy a $7 bunch of eucalyptus at the grocery store, and you tie it above your shower head. I'm not kidding; you will feel like you're at a spa. It costs $7. I learned it because I was at some fancy resort. One of my investors, you know, paid for us to go to a conference that I was not paying for. And I was like, that is genius. You suddenly feel like you are in someplace fancy, and it was seven bucks. It's amazing.
VICTORIA: That sounds incredible. I'm going to do that.
VICTORIA: [inaudible 34:35] buy some. No, it's so good. Do you have any questions for us, Amy?
AMY: Yeah. I mean, what trends are you seeing in the market right now? Like, what types of companies are being developed? Where do you see growth happening in the market?
VICTORIA: That's probably a better question for me. As a managing director, I spend more time networking and going to events. And it's interesting being in San Diego. There's a big biotech startup here. So, I went to an EvoNexus Demo Day and saw the things that people were using. And there seemed to be a trend of using AI and machine learning to create better health outcomes, whether that's for predictors for which people will respond better to anti-cancer drugs, or, you know, how do we monitor the release of drugs for someone's system who's, you know, going through methadone in therapy. So, it's really interesting.
I think that you know, you mentioned that there's not the same amount of money in the tech market, but I think there is still a lot of work being done to solve real problems that people have. So yeah, I'm really curious to see those types of projects and which ones are going to be successful, and how much the AI trend will really fade out. Like, clearly, in some use cases, you can see how beneficial it could be. And other times, it seems like it's kind of just like slapped on there for --
VICTORIA: Marketing purposes, so...
AMY: That's really just a database query. It's not AI. [laughs]
VICTORIA: Right. [laughs] It's interesting because, you know, I just had lunch with a bunch of other CTOs in San Diego, and we were talking about AI, and some of the inherent risks of it, and the damage it can cause. And I always like to bring it back to, like, there are some people who are already harmed by these trends. And we have to work around that. Like, there is some, you know, greater supposed existential threat with AI that I think is rather unlikely. But if we think about that too much and not focus on the current harm that's being done, then that's, you know, more dangerous than the other one.
AMY: Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, there's definitely, I mean, even just with facial recognition and how that's applied and what that's used for. I mean, any software that is built with people has bias. And so, whatever biases they're bringing into it is the bias that's going to exist in the software. And so, there's...we already are starting from, you know, going back to our earlier conversation, if companies are not diverse and not building for really diverse perspectives, they're inherently going to build bias software, whether or not, I mean, I don't think that's anybody's intention. But that's what's going to happen because you just didn't think about things you didn't know.
VICTORIA: Right. And, of course, I'm here in Southern California. There's the strikes for the actors and writers' strike happening a few hours north of us. And they were actually, you know, for some actors, signing away their rights to their likeness.
VICTORIA: And then they could make an AI image and --
AMY: Wow. You could just create an entire movie with somebody's image and dub in a voice, and suddenly you don't need actors.
VICTORIA: Right. And it's, of course, more often non-White actors and models who are being replaced. And so, I think that's a very interesting trend that people may not have thought about yet.
VICTORIA: So yeah, I mean, having people on your leadership team who are thinking about these [laughs] different types of issues, like, yeah, I think it's really important. And then also, from, like, a data privacy perspective, all the laws that are coming out and that have come out. And I think that some founders and CTOs are really struggling with how to comply and protect everyone's data that way.
AMY: No. It's something we think about a lot because we have the potential to have access to a lot of employee data. We take a very minimalist approach stated, not a big data play. That's not what we're here for. That's not what we're trying to do, this mountain of data on people, and then we'll figure out how to monetize it. We want to build something a little bit different. And so using only data that needs to be used so that we can truly support people with what our actual goal and aim is, rather than having that be a secondary cause.
VICTORIA: Yeah. And I wanted to ask you about that actually because you have SOC 2 and GDPR compliance. And it's a topic that I think a lot of founders know that security is important, but it can be a significant investment. So, I'm curious your trade-offs and your timing for when you went for those compliance frameworks.
AMY: We went early for it. I mean, so our platform, I mean, we're integrated with payroll platforms. We're touching employee data. So, we went for it early because we knew that it was going to be important, and it's a lot easier to do it before you make a mess than it is after the fact. I've done SOC 2 compliance in two prior companies. It's not fun. It is not my most fun thing that I've ever done.
Fortunately, there are geniuses out there who built platforms to make this very, very easy now. We use a platform called Vanta that is absolutely incredible, made it super easy to get SOC 2 compliant, go through our audits, do all the things, so that, at least, is a lot easier. But it was something that we needed the funding to invest in. It's not inexpensive.
But we knew that it was going to be critical because people need to feel that their data is secure and that you know what you're doing, and that you're not just kind of flying by the seat of your pants. There's a lot of tech companies that operate on, we'll figure out the tax, or we'll figure out the law. We'll figure out the compliance later. And that's been a stated part of their mission. That's just not the way I'm going to operate. And that doesn't work very well when you're dealing with HR, quite frankly, or finance because we have to comply with laws. So, getting ahead of that early was part of our strategy.
VICTORIA: That makes sense. Your finance background making it clear what the legal implications are. [laughs]
AMY: Exactly. Like, I'm not messing around with the IRS. Nobody wants to get audited by the IRS. It's not fun. Let's just keep things tax compliant. Chances are you're not going to get audited by the IRS. But if you are a tech company, if you do want to go public, if you do want to be acquired likely from a public company, you have to have these things in order because otherwise, it's coming off your purchase price or your stock price because you've got disclosures you've got to put out there, so little hidden, nasty gotchas.
And it can be a six-year lookback period. So, you're like, oh, I'll worry about it later. Six years is a long time. And if you start messing around with that, it gets very, very expensive to clean up. So, just do it right from the beginning. You know, the same way you're doing payroll correctly now, invest a little bit, and it makes it a lot easier.
VICTORIA: Yeah, I agree. And I think the tooling that's out there makes it a little bit easier; at least then, you know you have the confidence that your data is protected. Especially if you're a non-technical founder, I can imagine that makes you feel better that things are the way they should be.
AMY: Exactly. Somebody has looked at this thing. Somebody is making sure that it's working the way it's supposed to. You know, that definitely helps when you're a non-technical founder, or just not a tax expert, or a legal expert, you know, around these things. It's not even the technical founders that have to worry about it. Data comes in all kinds of forms.
VICTORIA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
AMY: This has been a fantastic conversation. I've really enjoyed it.
VICTORIA: Well, thank you.
VICTORIA: I've enjoyed it as well. I really appreciate you taking the time.
You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.
WILL: And you can find me on Twitter @will23larry.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time.
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