Stella Smith, showing that nothing is impossible

Stella Smith discusses the highs and lows she’s faced as the Founder and CEO of pirkx, while sharing her words of wisdom and success secrets

We sat down with CEO and Founder Stella Smith to discuss how the revolutionary tech platform pirkx is changing people's lives for the better. 

Hi Stella, tell us about yourself and your journey with pirkx

I’m Stella Smith and first and foremost I’m a mum to my daughter. Secondly, I’m CEO and Founder of pirkx. 

pirkx is a technology platform on a mission to make wellbeing benefits affordable and accessible to all. There are 3.2bn workers globally and only 9% of them have access to any kind of corporate wellbeing benefits. We believe it is an injustice that wellbeing benefits should be reserved for a small minority working in large corporates with big pockets and our goal is to change this for good. Our service perfectly caters to SME business, the self-employed and contract workers but any individual, anywhere, can access pirkx.

Over 40 benefits span health, wealth and education and include on-demand GP services, discounted private health cover, counselling and mental health support, shopping discounts and skills training courses. This is all delivered via a uniquely flexible, configurable, self-service platform.

What makes pirkx unique?

What makes pirkx unique to me and what makes pirkx unique to our members are two different things that are interlinked. 

For me, it’s the people. For many years I worked for large organisations, and I didn’t have autonomy. A key value at pirkx is that everyone in our team is nice! It’s our mission to positively impact one million people by 2025, so with a goal of that scale, we want to stay true to our values, while doing what we think is right and fair – and still have fun along the way. I’ve worked for many wonderful organisations, but for the first time in my life, I get to control how we interact as a company. 

From a customer perspective, pirkx is unique because it’s accessible to everybody. It is my personal belief that access to wellbeing services should be a fundamental human right. We’ve built technology that enables that, whether it be 24/7 access to a private doctor, counselling services, or discounts on household essentials. 

I’ve previously founded several small businesses supported by a network of freelance and contract workers. I saw from first-hand experience that there were simply no wellbeing packages I could offer them that came close to what I received at large organisations. I decided to assemble what I thought was important to take care of my people and realised along the way how many others in similar positions were locked out of workplace benefits. That’s why we made pirkx – to make these benefits accessible to all.

pirkx is wellbeing on demand, custom-tailored to the needs of the individual. At minimum, we want to make you smile, but our end goal is to have a meaningful impact on improving your overall wellbeing from the moment you join.

How is pirkx using technology to streamline access to health, wellbeing, and financial benefits?

pirkx uses technology to streamline access to benefits for our customers. Historically, only large corporations with big budgets would be able to provide these, but we’ve created a platform that offers them all in one easily accessible place, around the clock, for anyone. 

You can speak to a counsellor or a GP at 2AM if you need to, avoiding long NHS waiting times and accessing convenient hours for workers who have busy schedules. You can sign up and start improving your wellbeing in minutes. You don’t even have to speak to anyone, although we absolutely are a human business and customers can easily talk to us using the number on our site. 

By using our platform to bring together all the SME workers, contract workers, and gig economy workers, we have a huge body of people to cater to. This allows us to attract preferred pricing as it’s not just one person, or a microbusiness looking for an insurance policy with high premiums, it’s thousands of people, so these premiums are lowered. Our technology gives us the ability to access services that an individual couldn’t access by themselves.

I love technology – we look at improving our use of it all the time. If you use certain services on pirkx, we’ll suggest and provide services that are more applicable to you. Now that we’ve closed our recent funding round, we have some exciting things to look forward to. pirkx is already being called a disruptor and is being noted in the market, and with some serious substance being us, my team has grown, and we’re looking forward to improving the product using technology going forward.

What advice would you give to young girls at the start of their career? 

Firstly, nothing is impossible. If you can dream it, and you can get halfway there, then you’ve probably done more than most other people. Dream big. 

Secondly, solve backwards. If you’re at the start of your career, and you could wave a magic wand and see yourself in five years’ time, where do you want to be? Relaxing on a beach? Working at a fulfilling job? Spending more time with friends and family? What does it look like and how much are you earning? Where do you live? If you articulate the end goal, you can take tactical steps to get there. 

Whether you end up there or not, or change your mind along the way, articulating your ambitions naturally pulls you toward success. It’s worked for me, so dream big and solve backwards. And then, of course, you need to work hard, put in the effort, and be kind. I believe that if we operate with kindness, good things come back to us.

What have your greatest career achievements been?

My greatest achievement ever is my kid. I’m very lucky to have her. 

As for career achievements, I don’t come from a background with a lot of money. I didn’t go to university; I didn’t do my A levels; I left school with GCSEs and worked in McDonald’s full time. Then my career pivoted, and I found myself working on the floor of a financial market in a pin-striped suit and killer heels. I’ve had so many amazing experiences that it’s hard to select just one! But I still get a buzz of excitement when I think about that. 

I also sit on some boards with amazing charitable organisations like Robert F Kennedy Human Rights UK, and The Awen Project, where I started to learn about the importance of human rights for everybody day to day. Growing personally from that has to be a highlight. 

Of course, it doesn’t get better than the chair I sit in now. I have the opportunity with pirkx to do something incredibly positive for society, with an amazing team to support me. I’ve been able to build and utilise all my corporate and commercial skills to do something I hope will be impressive and of note in the future, with a positive global impact. Maybe one day a legacy for my daughter.

Likewise, what have been your greatest challenges?

Time is always my greatest challenge. There are never enough hours in the day! I’m a busy woman, being a mum, being a CEO and Founder, sitting on all those boards, and obviously some extracurricular activities. 

My greatest challenge is to make sure that I take note of what pirkx stands for. If you’re not well, then you’re not at all, therefore your wellbeing is incredibly important. This includes making time for friends and family and doing things you love - I love to paint and draw, I love to swim. With a busy work schedule, it’s hard to make time for these things.

So, my greatest challenge is juggling this with my role at pirkx. You must keep a positive mindset when it’s full on. As a start-up, we have very long days, keeping my team inspired is important, so what a privilege to be able to provide a service that is making a difference to people. We’ve had amazing feedback and offer a commercial opportunity that is very investible, and we seem to be doing everything in record time.

I have continuous challenges, but they’re all challenges that result in a positive outcome. Life without challenges wouldn’t be fun. I think that it would be far too easy.

What would you say has been the secret to your success?

It always feels arrogant saying that I’m successful. My secret is that I care.

I was inspired by my parents and my Nan. Everybody’s childhoods are different, and we have good times, and we have bad times, but my parents told me I could do anything I believed in. There is nothing somebody else can do that I can’t, and that has stayed with me in life. I don’t feel fear or lack of confidence in attempting anything. My family gave me the ability to see uncapped opportunities and potential. 

My dad always said to remember the three Cs: cool, calm, and collected. Nothing is impossible. Stay this way, and you should be alright in life.

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