ON THIS EPISODE OF HIGH GROWTH MATTERS
At its core, the issues of reducing pay gaps in the workplace and ensuring compensation transparency boils down to one question: How do we democratize information about salary, equity, and benefits, so employees and employers are on the same page?
We dive into these nuts and bolt with Amy Spurling, who is currently the Founder & CEO of Compt and previously led finance and HR teams at six high-growth companies - five of which had a successful exit.
Join us as we discuss:
- How focusing on employee benefits benefit companies in the long run
- What transparency means for salary, equity, and benefits
- How to evaluate compensation data
- Tips for HR leaders to empower employees to talk about compensation and equity
LISTEN TO THE EPISODE
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
CAITLIN ALLEN: Welcome to High Growth matters, an open comp podcast for influential players in the pre IPO ecosystem. This show shares insider knowledge about building a badass business and the expert conversation you're about to hear. We'll cover everything you need to know about hiring and retention, fundraising, leadership, diversity, and more. Let's get to it. Welcome, everybody, at its core, the issues of something that we all care about reducing pay gaps in the workplace, and ensuring compensation transparency really boils down if you think about it to one question, which is how do we democratize information about things like salary and benefits and equity, so that employers and employees are on the same page? We're going to dive into the answer to that question with Amy Sperling today, who is currently the founder and CEO of comped and previously led finance and HR teams at six high growth companies, five of which had a successful exit. Amy, welcome. Thanks for having me. We're gonna have a great conversation today. So Amy, let's look start for those who may not be as familiar with your career, could you give us maybe a SparkNotes version of your background?
AMY SPURLING: Sure. So I spent, I've spent the last 20 years in technology based companies, I you know, CFO, COO type seats. I, you know, as you mentioned, six different companies, managing finance, and HR and each of those organizations. So, you know, in those roles, you have the keys to the castle, you know, what every one makes, you know, everything that is going on, and you get to see a lot of the movement of how things how trends change over time, across teams, as well. And that led me to, you know, wanting to build comps to try and help with this pay equity piece. But there was just there was so much compensation data and information that I had access to over the past 20 years,
CAITLIN ALLEN: I can only imagine and I can't wait to dig into the X. It sounds like there's some good stories. Before we do. Maybe we ask every guest this question one or one or two things that most of your coworkers don't know about you,
AMY SPURLING: who I am very much an open book with our team. So it's gonna that's a tough one. I think one of the things that a lot of them may not know, I was actually homeschooled up until fourth grade, lived in the country in Northern California. So a bunch of them may not know yet that I grew up and was is was homeschooled, how unique.
CAITLIN ALLEN: I love that. Well, cool. Let's get to the meat of the conversation then which is compensation, clearly an area of passion for you. And you. You signaled it just a moment ago talking about having the keys to the castle, so to speak. But let's ask the obvious question first, why is comp so important to you? And what? Before you started comped? What was so broken about it, that was motivating?
AMY SPURLING: There's a few different things. So one, when you do know what everyone, I mean, there's very few people in an organization that I would every single person makes. And that is powerful information, but also very disheartening information when you see what's happening across teams, because you don't necessarily have the power to exact change. And you can see very clearly, especially in technology based organizations, a lot of times engineers are paid, you know, much closer to market salaries than say, marketers or even HR people who have access. And so that gets frustrating, especially you see how it hits along gender lines, you see how it happens, you know, as people are interviewing, and so wanting to build a platform that would help with kind of the full spectrum of compensation was part of what we wanted to do hear, and be able to make it to where more people had access to the full range of their compensation, we specifically focus on employee perks.
CAITLIN ALLEN: Uh huh. Uh huh. And let's maybe let's dive into that part of the the equation, the piece of that pie. If you you told me I think in our prep call that about 3% of employees utilized their benefits and that your client base now averages 90%, nine zero utilization across 60 countries. So in my opinion, that shows you're doing at least something right as it relates to benefits, why why benefits and perks? What what caused you to focus on that particular area?
AMY SPURLING: Sure. So a lot of companies, it candidates Google what their salary range should be. So if you're trying to compete for talent, a candidate walking in the door, if you don't pay them within a range, they're gonna go somewhere else. Same with health insurance, it's a yes or a no kind of situation. So where companies compete is employee perks. So it's not the biggest ticket item as far as the compensation stack, but it is the one that is the most powerful for attracting and retaining talent. So that is one where when you don't have something that is democratized and reaching an entire inclusive group of people, you naturally exclude people so things you know, example of that would be you know, you can have an amazing program that has an employee perk for pet insurance. I'll use that as an example. involve, well, if people don't have pets, what are they supposed to do? Like, that's not a great perk. So that's part of their compensation. It's money that's being spent. But it's not relevant for typically about, you know, a huge portion of your population. So each individual person you bring into your company, typically, utilization is somewhere between three and 5%. So you need to be able to have something that reaches across and really allows for that personalization for employees,
CAITLIN ALLEN: understandably, and when when you start a comp a few years ago, what was the moment or was there one where that was? That was it for you? And that was why you committed?
AMY SPURLING: There were two moments for me one, I turned 40. And I said, What the heck am I even waiting for? Like, I know how to build a company. I've raised money, I've done the things. So what like, what am I waiting until I'm 50? Like, let's just do this. The other piece was I had been doing research on this exact problem, and waiting for somebody to build a platform for me for about three years. And I've been talking to other HR leaders and other CFOs I'm like, Are you seeing what I'm seeing, and they were all had the same challenges. And we just assumed somebody would build it. And nobody was building the platform. And that was really frustrating. And the things that were being built, were not being built by HR and finance people, which meant they weren't tax compliant, and they weren't complying with labor law and all the things that we have to do in HR. And so it was like, alright, well, we're gonna go build the platform that we need, because I don't know how to build another scalable company, if we don't have this key component to compensation.
CAITLIN ALLEN: Gotta love those life life moments. And that's so well said that key component, it's, I think, particularly right now, as companies and leaders are extra tuned in to retention. You know, if you lose an employee today, you don't necessarily even get that headcount back. It's something that is a really, I'm glad we're diving into it is maybe the better way to say that. So let's start with benefits, and then we can expand it it out farther, but what are the steps to making sure that employees understand that benefit information? Or understand what they need to know about what benefits are available to them? And then on the flip side, how do employers need to think about it because of the implication for their both retention but also their bottom line? Right?
AMY SPURLING: I mean, communication is one of the biggest issues for HR teams. And it's really an unfair, you know, mandate that's been given to them, they're supposed to read everyone's mind, come up with something amazing, that's going to make every single person happy, and then figure out how to communicate to each individual employee like this is an untenable situation. So that's where, you know, I took a look at what was happening in the market and said, Alright, none of this works. And then none of these things are working, doesn't work for employees doesn't work for HR doesn't work for finance, how do we make this work in a way that is so much easier, and where you get to a much easier place is when you really increase personalization. So you allow employees, like you allow HR teams, you know, companies to create sandboxes, where you say, Hey, we're going to support wellness, but we're not going to dictate what wellness means. Because wellness for you probably means something very different than what wellness means. For me, that doesn't mean that it can't be wellness for both, we're both grownups we both have whatever string of professionals that we work with, that are not part of our company, let's empower that. Because every single person working in our companies should be an adult. And so by allowing for that type of use case, employees can use whatever vendor they want. There are no vendors on this platform. And you really create a situation where employees can do what they need to do. But administrators are not sitting there trying to manage all this communication of here's 18 different types of programs running this month, and nobody's listening to any of it.
CAITLIN ALLEN: And that makes a lot of sense to is is personalization, the answer for salary and equity as well meaning giving people a choice, because of the difference that both of those factors mean for them from a compensation perspective throughout different seasons of their lives.
AMY SPURLING: Maybe, I don't know, like this is something that I think is still in the early stages of like the the pendulum between equity and salary. Because there's just that's still a black box companies are not transparent about equity. And there's less of a formula around equity as well, you know, this is now my seventh company, to seventh way that I've managed equity, it just it changes with each round, it changes with the risk in the company, it changes with the type of company and the types of investors and you have investors that also direct the way equity is going to be given out. So you just don't have as much control over that as you do with salary and you do with employee perks. And so that trade off isn't necessarily one that employees can entirely decide on you could have you know, plenty of my companies had high salary, low equity, low set, lower salary, higher equity options, but what I found was that you get to year two and year three with that employee and you're sitting there going geez, their salary looks really low and then what do you do like are you moving them up to market but then they have all this equity but the markets like it's just kind of a cuz a mess, honestly. And so I don't know that it's a fair trade off, when you're in a private company that doesn't have you know, restricted stock units, like if you're a publicly traded company, it's more tied to cash. That to me is a different scenario. If you're private, it's a fancy lottery ticket at in reality, and so how you manage that I think is a little bit different.
CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, that's, that's well said, I would imagine, but I'm not sure that I know for sure. on the benefits side, playing off of what you just said about how salary tends to be more composed of cash and is larger generally, when you work at a public company versus an early stage startup. Now, for some roles, that's different. But for the most part, it is, is there a corollary with benefits? Like, for instance, no. 401k is something that doesn't offer it doesn't often get offered until later on in a company lifecycle? How do benefits follow that company trajectory? And if it's important to our, our listeners, what should HR leaders know to highlight?
AMY SPURLING: Sure, I don't think salaries necessarily go up. As you get into later stage companies, for instance, we hired an engineer out of Oracle, and he got a pay raise. And so I don't think that it's necessarily correlated to size and stage accompany what you get paid. It could be industry related. I think as you look at overall breadth of benefit packages, that definitely changes because as a later stage company, if you are an Oracle, the number of health insurance plans you have access to is far greater than what we have access to. I'm taking whatever BlueCross BlueShield gives me every year, I have no choice. And so I think you get a broader plan there. As you start thinking about the various offerings and what is relevant, I think some of it is industry related. If you have like short term Long Term Disability more relevant if you have people who could be in a position where they could get injured, if you're a fully remote distributed tech company, are you really worried about short term and long term disability, probably not as much as then if you are, if you have a production room floor, and people if something happened to them, they can't physically go to work. 401 K, I think is an interesting one. I've been asked about that, by candidates I've been asked, you know, I know, by just people in general, I haven't had one in a company in probably 15 years. And that's companies that you know, got to be a little bit later stage, you know, closer to, you know, north of 50 million in revenue and you know, 3500 people. And a lot of it comes down to the demographic of the team as well, if you have a younger demographic, 401k is a lot less interesting. Typically, I, because they just aren't as interested, they're paying off student loans, not trying to save for retirement. And then you get this interesting tipping point, where if you have highly compensated individuals, they're also less interested in a 401k, unless there's a match, because they're probably going to have a better investment strategy on their own a lot of times company 401 ks unless there's a match, not the best investment strategy. And so that gets very interesting to you may have other places that you want to put your capital. So those to me are not the, you know, one of those key benefits that we're looking to put in here, and I don't see a lot of keep companies doing that, because I just think there's, there's alternatives that empower employees to do things on their own in more interesting ways. Unless you're doing a match, if you're willing to do an employer, okay, match. I mean, employees should absolutely take advantage of that, that's free cash,
CAITLIN ALLEN: it is free money. What would you say are some of the stories or a story from your client base that really underscores the value for you of what you're doing for companies, or maybe better set empowering HR leaders to do for their companies through the lens of perks and
AMY SPURLING: benefits. I mean, I have a few that there's, you know, we see what's happening within our customers and what's happening with their teams, and just the real time struggles people are having and the the ways that HR is able to really support the team. So one of the challenges for HR is, you know, an employee approaches you with a personal issue. And of course, you want to help, but then your word, okay, am I setting a precedent? If I help this one person with this one problem? Do I need to help all these other people with the same problem? And do we have budget for that it's a constant struggle with HR. So one of the things that's the benefit of moving with more of a stipend base is that you don't set that precedent. So one of the examples I can give is that one of our customers the very beginning of the pandemic in San Francisco, had just sent all their employees home because everyone had to everybody was on lockdown. They had a family stipend in place so if people needed support you know, some people were using it, you know, to have meals delivered if they could, some were using it to try and keep the children entertained because the kids were also home. One of the employees that we saw, had his hot water heater blow So we had two kids at home running around, no school, no hot water locked down, can't leave the house like complete chaos, but he was able to use his stipend to go and help offset the cost of that hot water heater. Now, that is a moment where that employee is never going to forget that, you know, they, that is a moment of support for exactly what that employee needed for his family. And that's the type of thing where when you empower HR with tools that can also be compliant, they can have that moment of Yes, rather than having to worry about all the 1000s of reasons, they have to say now,
CAITLIN ALLEN: it's almost as if you are able to anticipate things you couldn't anticipate with that kind of approach, there's no way any company would have been able to think of a hot water heater bursting.
AMY SPURLING: One, if you had one, you'd have that one employee out of the I think that company at the time was about 750 employees. So you have one employee out of 750 has this one problem, you bring that perk in, you have one employee out of 750 uses that one perk, that is not a good plan. And so this way, you don't have to have the perk for this person, it's a family benefit. That you know, is not traditional family benefits are usually tied to fertility or childcare. Whereas this was something that was different still exactly what his family needed at that moment in time. But it's definitely a different take on it.
CAITLIN ALLEN: Compensation, when you're talking about it more through the lens of cash and sometimes equity, it's often treated, at least if not regarded as a dirty secret. Is that the case with benefits?
AMY SPURLING: It can be? We've certainly seen where benefits can be used as a way to you know, some people get access to more tuition reimbursement than others or you know, there can be some of that I see less of that than with salary, honestly. But I have seen scenarios where that's also the case where it's like, oh, you know, the big one I've seen is commuter benefits back in the day, oh, well, this one person gets, you know, the big expensive, you know, compute commuter paths, it's like $1,500 a month, whereas everybody else is getting 50. You know, that was just something special he negotiated on the way in, or it's something like, oh, well, we normally don't reimburse for cell phone. But this is the one person we do that for. So there's there will be those inequities. And so I've certainly seen that when you move to stipend, you remove some of that. And so by removing some of those inequities, you also get to be a much more inclusive plan and approach, which also just take some of the pressure off on the team and release that pressure about people, if they feel like they're not being compensated fairly, or that something is happening in a behind a closed door, or that there's something happening, that they're not sure what's happening. As soon as you lose trust with your team, it's game over. Because they're, it's almost impossible to get that back. So you have to maintain that transparency, if you're going to maintain a culture where people are going to want to stay
CAITLIN ALLEN: very much. So on the compensation side, Amy, any tips for HR leaders as to how they can make a compensation from a cash and equity perspective and easy to easier maybe to topic to talk about,
AMY SPURLING: I mean, just remove the stigma. I mean, my team knows what I make as a salary and what I didn't make when I wasn't making a salary here. And they you know, I encourage them to talk about money, it's okay to talk about money, money is not a dirty topic. You know, it's, you know, share with each other that you know, you're in the process of buying a house, or that you're saving for whatever it is that you're saving on people can spend on whatever they want to spend on. But by removing the stigma of what your salary is, you open the door to a lot more productive conversations where you actually learn from each other to have, you know, people are willing to share what their investment strategies are, you know, that's also a dirty little secret here. Yes, we have pay gaps. But there's also generational wealth, that's a big challenge in this country. And part of that is access to information for how to invest. And if we just keep salaries and you know, compensation data, so quiet. And it's, you know, the keys to how you just keep, you know, making money on top of money are kept within a few, that's not going to change the situation. So I think just being a lot more transparent about it, especially at the leadership level is really important.
CAITLIN ALLEN: And 100% agree, I think, just by the simple act of talking about something consistently and setting the expectation that something like compensation will be a consistent topic of conversation. Indirectly that puts pressure is not the right word, but some kind of pressure on HR leaders and business leaders to figure out you know, what is my philosophy behind the how behind how I pay. How do I explain this to my team, so very on the same page there, and this is not something you directly said. But another. Another thought that came to mind when you were speaking to me is the importance of what we do at home and how that will end it that will eventually impact the workplace. And the small anecdote about my life, I was not brought up to know anything about the stock market, and there was no ill will, there was just not something that I knew. And I went through this period of needing to learn about it, it was very scary. And I felt kind of over underwater over my head. And so one of the things that really matters to me now, once a week, I sit down with my two girls, or we do and we give them their allowance, they put some into savings, and then we show them their index fund, and we explain why it's going up and down. And the thought being that if we familiarize them with the topic, then it'll be infinitely less scary, and so on and so forth. But bringing it back to the word conversation, that's something that if you know, compensation is a familiar topic at our dinner tables as well, it eventually will become a familiar topic at our board tables, and our one on ones and so on. So just wanted to share that anecdote.
AMY SPURLING: I love that anecdote, because I think that the familiarity with that there's so much power in that people don't want that people assume that everyone in the room knows more than they do. And they don't want to look stupid. And I see this all the time on the finance side as as a CFO where, you know, people don't want to like, especially founders don't want to bring up financial conversations, because they assume that everyone in the room understands all these financial terms better than anyone else. No one understands 90% of this stuff. Most founders I've worked with didn't understand this stuff. But if you're not talking about these things, there's not a recognition that, hey, we're all kind of figuring this out together. And there's not some magic group of people that understand everything beautifully. And I don't understand anything. So just having a confidence that you understand the vernacular is really important. And I think that is there's so much power in that to just be like, oh, you know what, I've heard that word before. What does that mean? You know, or just being comfortable to ask that question, I think is really important. Yeah, I love that.
CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, I do, too. i There's, we haven't gotten this one scheduled yet. But I also want to do a deep dive with an expert on on equity at some point, because that itself is a just a cave of our glass box.
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AMY SPURLING: Oh, it is I do that talk with our team probably once or twice a year to try and talk them through it. And they, to their credit, they show up every time it's optional. But you know, halfway through everybody's eyes glaze over. Because it's a lot of words that nobody knows what they mean. And I'm just like, trying to make it real, but it's just it's deliberately complicated. And at the end of the day, I mean, there's 1000 things that could go into docks that they will never have access to. And they will never know if their equity is worth anything. So at the end of the day, they really have to trust me. And make sure that I'm doing the right things, because a founder can tell you whatever they want. And we can look at, you know, look at look at all the folks who had we work stock, they all thought they were holding golden tickets. One person got paid there, one, no one else. Like, it doesn't matter how amazing that rocket ship is. There are things happening on deal docks that I guarantee, the rank and file will never know. And the management team and all likelihood will never know until it comes time for liquidation. So it's it's a deliberately complicated blackbox unfortunately,
CAITLIN ALLEN: yeah, very well said. Well, I have had so much fun talking to you. I thank you again for being here. And we'll close out with with one last question, which is simple. If you could look our listeners in the eyes, and they're mostly HR executives, summer people, leaders, and ask them to remember one thing from this podcast, what would it be?
AMY SPURLING: The one thing to think about is to give themselves grace, they're figuring this out HR has been tasked with an impossible task of read everybody's minds, make everybody happy and do this in a way that's communicated and do it on a budget. This is not a tenable solution. And so give themselves some grace. You know, take a deep breath, they've gone through two and a half years of torture, quite frankly, and heading into a recession on top of it so you know, breathe and then gear up for what's next because I mean, they're on the right side of this fight and they are the frontline. They're the ones who are fighting for these teams for this pay equity. So we need we need rested warriors on this who will said
CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, Amy, thank you so much.
AMY SPURLING: Thank you.
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