We started Benefitfocus with a big idea to change how benefits are communicated and managed. We are still pushing hard every day to improve this massive industry so that people can get the crucial insurance and programs that they need for themselves and their families. It is our mission to build the best technology and provide the best service in the benefits industry.
Along the journey we have had some incredible growth phases. During our startup year, we grew to about 30 associates. Midway through that year we had outgrown our one-room office and taken the bold step to lease a 32,000 square-foot retail space that had been an old Wal-Mart. We moved 18 people into that massive cavern. As I look back now, I think we must have been nuts, but I give us credit for being bold.
The space needed a lot of improvement, but we did not have much money. We were one of the rare "dot coms" that did not have venture capital. We bootstrapped our way to profitability within two years. So at this point we had to decide which few things we could fix up in the new space. The first need was new restrooms. The old restrooms were outdated and just needed to be redone completely. We expanded the restrooms and made them very nice. I remember interviewing people and taking time to show them the restrooms, explaining how our core values and culture placed a high premium on respect. How funny that seems now, but it was our way of putting people first.
The second improvement was carpet. The place had old grey carpet, and I wanted it to pop a bit when people came in the front door. We could not afford to re-carpet the entire space, so we purchased about 1,500 square feet of blue carpet and cut into the existing flooring all around the front door. We placed live plants at the corners of the "reception area" so that people would feel special when they came in. That was the extent of our budget.
A few days ago I stopped by one of our new campuses and had a moment that brought tears to my eyes.
We are expanding our customer service teams and need a new space for about 250 people. We are building a new Customer Success Center on our Daniel Island Campus, but we need more space this summer while it is under construction. We found a former retail location that was recently updated by a national company and converted into a customer support operation center. However, it had been closed due to a merger. As we reviewed the potential space, we immediately saw several changes that we could implement to make it our own.
The first improvement was the restrooms. Sound familiar? We are also completely replacing the café area so that it has a lot of natural light, free Starbucks coffee and social space for our associates. The most dramatic change we are making is removing the line of private offices that run along the front of the building where the main windows are. We are removing all of these walls so that the entire space has natural light. We are installing more social and open style workstations and our managers have the same space as all of our associates. To me that makes for a better team environment.
What brought tears to my eyes were the large rolls of carpet being installed. As I walked in to see the updates in progress the old walls had been removed, the place was flooded with natural light, the bathrooms were being redone and the old grey carpet was being replaced! I stood there and my breath was taken away. I cried. What I saw was a culture of respect and care for individuals. I saw a strong management team implementing "the Benefitfocus Way" without me being involved. I also realized that we could afford to carpet the entire building. That may not sound like much, but when you have built something on a bootstrapped cash-flow plan and now it is growing on its own, that is one heck of a feeling.
To my associates at Benefitfocus I would say, "Thank You!" You all are building an amazing company and incredible technology that is transforming a massive industry. Your passion and dedication have resulted in incredible growth. I am proud to be a part of your team and I am so thankful that the core values and culture of respect are thriving with our growth. It is so fun to see that startup passion in all that we are doing.