Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. Today, I’m talking with Ally Fekaiki, founder and CEO of Juno. His platform allows employees to choose what benefits, rewards, and support they’ll get from their job. We’ll talk about benefits and how they’re changing, the impact COVID had on Juno’s business, and more on this edition of PeopleTech. Hey, Ally. It’s nice to see you. And let me start by asking you to tell me what Juno’s trying to do.
Our mission is to inspire healthier, happier workplaces by connecting employees to better choices. I mean, I worked my entire career in tech prior to founding Juno and always kind of loved the “work hard, play hard” approach. But I always felt as though the support on offer was a little bit un-tailored. And being that kind of mental health and wellbeing is so personal, it didn’t make much sense for companies to be so prescriptive. And I think what our mission is is to give the power in the hands of employees to make their own decisions.
For parents, that might be to get childcare when they need it. For young grads, it might be connecting with other people in a city, in a new city, perhaps, feeling a sense of community. And for older folks, it might be financial planning. I mean, there’s so many things that are under the umbrella of wellbeing that we decided to build a marketplace that houses everything and give everyone an allowance that they can use to make their own decisions. So our mission is really to democratize what we would term as employee wellbeing.
And can you tell me about the platform, the technology, and how that all works?
Yeah, absolutely. So the way that Juno works is fairly simple. An employer will come to us, and they’ll say, “We really want to keep everyone happy, and we find it very difficult. There are so many vendors out there. There are so many different types of wellbeing, from financial to mental to physical.” And so, what they do is they set an allowance every month for all of their staff. And that allowance is then converted into Juno points. And each employee has three ways to use the Juno points. So they can access our global marketplace platform. And, in that way, they’re able to pick and choose from over 14 categories. They can donate their points to charity. They can buy house cleaning services. They can buy a workout class in their local gym.
But then, there’s another way of using their points. They can also use it on a virtual Visa card, which could be used to pay for a gym subscription or Peloton or even a Kindle premium subscription, which I know that a lot of people find very, very useful.
And then, the third one is an expensing feature. So, say you already have a therapist that you like and you’ve been working with, or, say, you have a childcare provider that you trust. We don’t want to force you to move and use one of ours. And so, you can upload a receipt and get reimbursed to pretty much any currency that TransferWise will accept.
Now, when did you start the company? Was it 2019?
Yes. Yeah, I started it in 2019.
Okay. So your timing was really exquisite because, in 2019, COVID was just starting to show up, I think, toward the end of the year. So how has the market changed over the last couple of years? What assumptions did you have to go through and revise because of everything that was going on?
Yeah, it’s a great question. So we obviously had no idea that there would be a global pandemic. When I was thinking about Juno, I think my passion was in the societal effects of these outdated benefits. And I could sense that a new generation was at play, but I think what the pandemic did is… I don’t think it invented anything, per se. I think it just made us face up to a lot of trends that were slowly moving and accelerated them. It was really the catalyst. So, if you take other phenomena such as flexible working and flexible hours and remote work and global talent and hiring remotely, I think those are definitely tides that were moving slightly slower because, as you can imagine, executives and leadership teams were risk averse. It was an unknown quantity, and there were some risks at play there. But the pandemic definitely forced everybody to confront these.
And what we found, lo and behold, is that actually, wow, these aren’t such bad ideas. Not only are they good for people, but it’s great for the bottom line. But what that meant for us as a business was a couple of things. The first and foremost is that it really renewed the sense that our humanity was very important and that empathy and looking after one another was something that we needed to do more of, because I think, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were reminded again that we don’t necessarily live in a very human-first system. And I think, for a lot of businesses, they knew that the right thing to do was to renew a focus on their people.
But moreover, they had money that they’d saved. They thought, “Well, we got rid of the office,” or “We changed something up, and we have a little bit of spare budget. And we really want to reinvest that in our people, not only because they’ve gone through a lot and we value them, but also because we now are competing with a global workforce, with a global talent pool. We are competing with people that have seen, maybe, what it’s like to live in the suburbs or live in the countryside during the pandemic. And they don’t want to come back to a city.”
So, all told, for us, it meant that businesses came to us wanting to show that they value their staff, that they were different to any other employer. “Therefore, you should come and work for us.” But also that they can retain their people. So on those three themes, that was kind of transformative for us as a business.
Did the pandemic and all that was going on around it change your roadmap at all? Or were you able to just keep going with the same roadmap?
No, it did. It did. We were very focused on London prior to the pandemic, partly because I was based there but also because we thought, “Let’s really dominate one city and show… in the same way that maybe a business like ClassPass did at the beginning.” But what’s funny is that we solved a very kind of mundane problem, which ended up leading to us becoming a global platform, which was that, during the pandemic, like many people, we had users that had been based in London who actually moved down to their parents’ place in the countryside and said, “Well, I’m in Gloucestershire,” which is like a suburb. It’s not even a suburb. It’s a county that’s outside of London. “What am I going to do? What can I access?”
And that’s when we got thinking about “Well, if we can provide some support to somebody and we can provide vendors and brands to somebody that’s accessible in Gloucestershire, then why not someone in Germany? Why not someone in Seoul, Korea?” Which actually changed our business overnight. We started thinking more about digital services on the platform. We started thinking a bit more about sort of national services. That’s when the advent of the card came about and the expensing feature came about. And that’s why we now have employees in 53 countries worldwide using Juno because of that one person in Gloucestershire.
Shifting gears a little bit, in April, you raised $4 million, 3.7 pounds. I assume you’re looking for more, just because of what you do. What kind of response have you been getting from investors?
Yeah. I think investors have been extremely curious because the future of work as a space is obviously something that is interesting. What we do is unique in the sense that remote teams, especially, don’t really have a solution. But we are very much at the crest of the wave. So I don’t blame investors for wanting to kind of sit it out and see how things evolve. You see a lot of employer-of-record businesses, such as Remote and Deal, and Oyster HR, really raising huge rounds of funding and rounds of funding that have valued them at unicorn status and beyond.
Those are obviously success stories in the HR fields. But what we see is that is very much focused on the sort of legal aspect, the things that you must do. And so, we would hope that we are next in line. We are the kind of piece of the puzzle that is also very ancillary to that. I wouldn’t say that raising money is ever easy, and it certainly wasn’t easy for us, but I think that, based on where we’re at in the market, if we continue to grow at an accelerated pace, I think that we’ll have no issue raising and raising from a good fund.
So, yeah. So I suppose what I’m saying is there is interest, but it is not a done deal. It is definitely something we have to prove, that we are a solid business, a revenue-generating one, one that can grow, and, of course, one with staying power because, for me, I think our focus as a team, as well, is on building a brand that really resonates with people, especially young people, because we think “employee benefits,” as a term, is kind of outdated. And if you see a lot of brands in the market prior to us, they’re very legacy. They’re very corporate. They’re very focused on selling into the end user, which they think is HR. And so we are very much playing the long game on that. And so we’re kind of biding our time.
And my last question is what’s really got your attention right now? Could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. But what in the market is sort of keeping you up at night?
Keeping me up at night? I mean, I’m very excited, I think, for the future of work. I think work/life balance is definitely… Even in the ’70s, work/life balance was derided as something that was totally mythical, the idea that we have these two separate worlds and that we’re going to be perfecting both and that they’re equal. I think what we’re seeing and what excites me and what has got me thinking is definitely this idea that we’re moving… Well, we have moved into work/life blend. We are fully integrated with our working lives. We kind of have to embrace the idea that we’re very much fully integrated with our jobs.
And if we also consider that, in the next 20 years, the 10-year-olds of today are going to be in management positions in 20 years’ time, you have to ask yourself what kind of working environment these folks are going to be expecting. For me, it’s foolish to predict the future, but if we can be foolish for a moment, I believe that these young people will expect to be working for mission-driven businesses, for businesses that have purpose, for businesses that have great cultures, great benefits, more than just a paycheck. But moreover, maybe societally, we won’t be seeing people staying in jobs for more than a year.
We’re already seeing that, actually. Average tenures are way down on what our parents and parents before that generation kind of were experiencing. And so, all that is kind of worrying for employers because the question is, if you’re Microsoft, what do you do to get a 20-year-old excited to come and work for you? How do you ensure that a business such as yours, that’s maybe been around for decades or even just a decade… How are you fresh? How are you exciting? And even the sexy, hot, cool startups… take Discord, for example… They’re not going to be sexy and cool forever. So the question is, always, how do you position your employment? How do you stand out? How do you amend yourselves to the new generation? And that’s what excites me. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night. I sleep very well. But it is something that I want to be a part of. And I think Juno definitely has a little piece to play, a little part to play, in that phenomenon.
Ally, thanks again for coming in.
Thank you so much.
My guest today has been Ally Fekaiki, founder and CEO of Juno. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcast. To see all their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.