Meet The Founder Bridging The Workplace Wellness Gap

The occupational wellness gap affects billions of workers, founder Stella Smith is on a mission to change that and AWS is helping along the way

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By Isobel Van Dyke

14 March 2023

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f you haven't heard of the company pirkx yet you should get to know it sooner rather than later. Not only is this a company helmed by a woman at the forefront of leadership in the tech space, but this is also a company working tirelessly to improve workplace well being.

Back in 2019 Stella Smith founded pirkx - driven by the desire to provide everyone with workplace wellbeing benefits — within one month of its launch, pirkx's made more money than it had cost to build the MVP (minimum viable product).

What Smith identified was a growing workplace wellness gulf, and through the power of tech, she sought to begin closing that gap. The supporting data doesn’t lie, with 22 million people in the UK alone without access to workplace wellbeing benefits, the presence of pirkx has never been more important than it is today.

Now with the help of AWS (Amazon Web Services) as part of their ongoing work with startup's, such as the CTO fellowship program, which was designed to give MVP-stage technical founders and CTOs expert insights into initial challenges they may face — pirkx continues to move from strength to strength.

Here we caught up with Stella Smith and discussed her part in the CTO program, what it means to be a founder in the tech space and what the future has in store for pirkx…

What’s your mission?

Our mission is to positively impact a million people by 2025 but I think since we’ve started, our mission has grown even bigger (I’ll stick with that for now though). What pirkx does is gather together the benefits and services that you’d usually get if you work for a large organisation and it delivers it to people who work in small companies like SMEs or self-employed workers.

"We raised 1.1 million in under 12 weeks and closed 1.6 million at seed."

Can you tell us a bit more about what pirkx is?

I suppose that doesn’t sound that important until you understand what ‘well being’ actually is. If you think about covid, what we all came to understand is that if we’re not well then we’re nothing at all. What pirkx brings together is things like 24/7 access to a private doctor, 365 days a year, 24/7 access to counselling, low level legal advice, virtual gym classes, nutrition, access to financial wellbeing and discounts on your shopping (well, cashback) which is so important right now especially.

There’s about 40 benefits and services that make up pirkx UK. And it costs just £3.75 per month plus VAT. You can cancel at any time, because it’s mine and I believe that we should be good enough that you choose to stay rather than me forcing you to.

There are 3.2 billion workers in the world, of which only 9% have access to workplace wellness. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that 91% is a hell of a big number. What we’ve done at pirkx is created a piece of technology - which is where AWS comes in - and the way in which we’ve built it with the help of AWS is that we’ve essentially built an enterprise engine from scratch so that we can get it to as many people across the world as possible.

How did pirkx start?

I was looking at building a massage company. I wanted to take 64 massage therapists to GoApe (you know the thing in Battersea Park?) but 64 therapists plus the cost of entrance would leave me with no money. I went to some of the big players on the market and asked if I could have some resources - gym memberships and things like that - for 64 massage therapists, and they basically said no.

So I built my company, turned it on on the 2nd of January 2019 (launched it) and by the end of that same month it had made more money than it had cost to build the MVP. That’s when we worked out that there were 22 million people without access to workplace wellness. And we’ve had the most amazing journey ever since. We raised 1.1 million in under 12 weeks and closed 1.6 million at the seed.

Question for Craig Caveney (CTO), can you tell us about the CTO fellowship program?

The benefit of the program is that we receive a series of invitations to different seminars that are run by AWS to help CTOs plan out their future technology strategy, they either bring in experts to present at each seminar or to sit in with smaller groups who have similar interests or challenges. It’s been incredibly helpful in prompting us to think about different elements of the technology.

How has it helped you personally as a CTO?

The program certainly helped to alleviate the pressures of being a CTO, when you have so many work streams running at the same time. It helped me to prioritise and manage.

(Back to Stella) When you’re raising investment what do you think are the biggest challenges?

Time. Ultimately there will be somebody who will invest somewhere in the world - but you’ve got to find them. My background is helpful because I’ve raised capital before. But the biggest challenges are getting the timing right and corralling all those people in the right space at the right time so everyone’s talking about you, and then the other thing is network. The biggest learning by far is diligence and organisation.

The biggest challenge of being a startup?

As a team, the biggest challenge is time and money. You want to go as fast as possible, we’re mission-driven and there’s no reason why I can’t positively impact a million people today. The thing that stops me is the number of practical actions that have to take place to get there.

The Short Stack

The occupational wellness gap affects billions of workers, founder Stella Smith is on a mission to change that.

By Isobel Van Dyke

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