Podcast: BerniePortal’s Alex Tolbert on HR Tech, SMBs and their Future


Mark Feffer: I’m Mark Feffer and this is PeopleTech. News and now conversation from the world of HR technology from the HCM Technology Report. Today I’m happy to welcome Alex Tolbert, founder and CEO of BerniePortal. BerniePortal’s known mostly for its benefits tools, but last year introduced an ATS package called BerniePortal Jobs, which signaled an intention to move beyond benefits management and insurance. Alex Tolbert, thanks very much for joining us.

Alex Tolbert: Thank you, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Last year BerniePortal began expanding services. You started to add features that went beyond just your traditional benefits services. How’s that going?

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Alex Tolbert: Well it’s going really great. We’re seeing fantastic response from our customers. You’re spot on that the core feature of BerniePortal is the benefits feature. That was the very first part of the system. We probably began adding HR features around 2015 or 16, so that point, you know the benefits feature was already seven years or so in development. More recently we’ve added I think probably the favorite feature for HR is applicant tracking. And announced recently our integration with Indeed to help round out that features capabilities.

Mark Feffer: What other features are coming? Is there anything you can talk about? Other areas you’re planning to go into?

Alex Tolbert: Yes, I mean so the add-on features in addition to the benefit are applicant tracking, onboarding, paid time off, time and attendance, compliance, performance, 1095-C. You know I think that another feature that we get requests for is help with tracking employee training. So a training feature would be something that would probably be the next one that we would tackle.

Mark Feffer: Do you have a time frame for that or is that something you’re still talking about?

BerniePortal's Alex Tolbert
BerniePortal’s Alex Tolbert

Alex Tolbert: We do not have a time frame for right now. Right now while we’re [inaudible 00:02:03] like what I just went through in general regards with [inaudible 00:02:06] picture of employee life cycle. And so right now we’re mainly focused on continuing to grow the capabilities of those, each individual feature.

Mark Feffer: You mentioned before that you listen carefully to your current customers. Could you give me a view of who those customers are, what kind of companies are they?

Alex Tolbert: Sure, so I think the number one characteristic of our [inaudible 00:02:33] is that they are under 100 employees, on average. I mean we have some employers that have more than 1,000 employees, but the average size is 63 employees. And when we make product and development decisions, as well as service model decisions, we think about that under 100 employer client. That 63 employee group is who we develop for and its who we build our service model for. Which I would equate our mind set with that of QuickBooks. You know QuickBooks has never tried to go up market in the accounting software space. They make their product and development decisions or their service model decisions thinking about that small employer. We’re doing the same thing with HR software.

Mark Feffer: And do you think that that segment of the market, companies with under 100 employees, how well are they being served by the HR tech business?

Alex Tolbert: I think that from an effort stand point I think that they are being served and I think that there are a lot of people really trying really hard. From a product stand point I think BerniePortals got a product leadership in this category. I think we’ve got some areas where we can improve. Part of the challenge is that its very difficult to build an all in one HR platform. You see a lot of point solutions out there. Point solutions might be great for the thousand employee group but for that small employer point solutions can cause a lot of frustration, because of the integration issues. And so building that all in one system is important for that small employer and also really challenging. Now I think there are a lot of companies like us that have got a lot of years in this. We expect to have a lot more years in it trying to get that product just right for that size.

Mark Feffer: But in terms of products, technology products or services, what do you think these companies need that their not getting?

Alex Tolbert: Well, I mean I think what these companies need is they need the right [inaudible] of a product that addresses all of these spots in the employee life cycle, coupled with the right support model for them. And to further complicate it, but at a price point that isn’t too high. Because a lot of these small employers really don’t have much of a budget for HR. And so its got to be great product, perfect service model, low price.

Mark Feffer: What’s that service model look like?

Alex Tolbert: To me the default service provider in my experience from small employer when it comes to HR is a health insurance broker. Health insurance brokers get asked questions by HR far beyond the scope of healthcare strategy. Some of them have HR consultants on staff where they pay third party services to help provide HR consultants to these small employers. And so to me your given that the broker really is their default service provider for all things HR getting the support of their HR software platform via their broker makes more sense.

Mark Feffer: I’ve noticed that a lot of the larger vendors are starting to look down market. They’re starting to look at smaller businesses even though they may not be going to the hundred employee level, they’re sort of creeping down into that range. How do you see the whole landscape of HR technology for truly small businesses developing over the next several years?

Alex Tolbert: I think that the companies that currently serve the large employer segment, over a thousand employees, will struggle if they even attempt to go too far down market will struggle mightily to do so. I think that the revenue levels their accustomed to in that thousand employee size segment are going to make it very hard for them to find the small employer segment attractive. I also think they’re going to have significant product problems.

Alex Tolbert: The thousand employee group their product is a little bit clunky but it satisfies some things that are particular to that thousand lot group you know they’ll deal with it. In that small employer market those products need to be just about perfectly streamlined. And so if you made exceptions for, cause you had a big huge client that wanted you to take your product road map in a certain direction cause of something kind of strange they do that has reasons that date back 20 years trying to explain that to the small group market, why’d you do that? It’s going to be tough. So, now I think that the that small employer market is going to end up being dominated by companies that were born with a mission to serve the small employer market.

Mark Feffer: And my last question is how do you see BerniePortal being positioned for all of this in being positioned for all of the changes that are going on in the work place how are you feeling about your place in the new world?

Alex Tolbert: Well, Mark, I think you’re spot on and I’ve never felt better about where we are. I think we’ve got the changing work force you also have the changing regulatory landscape, changing healthcare landscape. I think ultimately the software companies that get the balance right between serving the small employer and offering that right support model are going to win. And I think that so far we are managing that balance more effectively than any of our competitors.

Mark Feffer: Okay, well Alex, thank you very much.

Alex Tolbert: Thank you, Mark, I appreciate it.

Mark Feffer: Alex Tolbert is the founder and CEO of BerniePortal an HCM technology platform provider based in Nashville, Tennessee. He joined us here on PeopleTech from the HCM Technology Report. To keep up with the most important developments in HR technology visit the HCM Technology Report everyday. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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