A lot of early-stage startups don't have an extensive benefits package--if they have one at all. That's simply the nature of young startups. A new business is really just a few people in a room with an idea, and until you find product-market fit, spending heavily on benefits isn't the smartest move. 

As you grow and business begins to stabilize, you'll want to constantly reevaluate your benefits. For instance, when ThirdLove was still in its infancy, we didn't have a maternity policy in place. I was actually the first one in the company to have a baby, and I ended up going back to work a couple of weeks later.

Like a lot of new companies, we created an official parental leave policy when our first teammate (besides me) got pregnant. At that point, we were able to offer her eight weeks. But as we've grown, we've continued to increase the amount of leave to what it is today: four months maternity and eight weeks paternity, which we are proud to offer.

While you can make exceptions for yourself as a founder, it's important to consider which benefits your team needs. If you're trying to build your benefits package as a startup, start by asking yourself these three questions:

1. What does my team care about?

Benefits aren't "one-size-fits-all." Each company has its own culture, and your team will likely value different benefits than employees at another business. 

At ThirdLove, we've worked to extend our maternity and paternity leave because we believe ample time off for new families is crucial, and I've personally experienced the important bonding that occurs those first few months. We've also introduced a yearly stipend that employees can use for education and development because personal growth matters to us as a company and to our teammates. 

You may already have a good idea of what your team cares about. If you're not exactly sure, it never hurts to ask and listen carefully to their feedback. When we first got to the point where we could offer health insurance, for example, our plans didn't include vision. The team spoke up, and we added those benefits in response.

There are some benefits, like health insurance or a 401(k), that everyone is going to want. But for the rest, your best bet is to listen to your team.

2. What are comparable companies offering?

Most startups can't offer the type of benefits that a massive corporation or well-known tech company can. Your company isn't Google, and you can't bankrupt yourself trying to compete. 

That doesn't mean you should set a few benefits and forget about them. It's wise to regularly reevaluate what you're offering, and one of the best ways to do this is to talk to other founders. Learn more about what comparable-sized companies are offering their employees. For instance, we'd heard feedback from our team about the commute to our office in San Francisco. A lot of our team drives or take Ubers, and the commute is an expense. So we recently instituted subsidies for teammates who drive or use ridesharing--a benefit we first heard about from another founder. 

The more you can personalize the benefits you offer to your company, the better. But don't hesitate to take a page out of someone else's book if it makes sense for your team. 

3. How can we improve as we go?

The only way to find the right mix of benefits for a startup is to experiment, evaluate what's working, and make necessary improvements as you grow. 

So whenever you add a new perk or benefit, check in with the team to see what they think. Try to get a sense of whether it was well-received or if people are ambivalent about it. Maybe that money would be better spent on a different benefit or enhancing an existing one. 

For example, I've received positive feedback from the team about the learning and development opportunities we've been offering. We instituted this initiative at the beginning of the year, and based on the feedback, we'll continue to expand these programs. On the other hand, our team wasn't taking advantage of yoga classes at the office, so we're sunsetting that program. 

Your benefits package will definitely look different after several years (and a couple rounds of funding), but that's no reason to sit back and wait if you have the resources to try out different benefits. Even if you can't compete with a more established company, you can still work to personalize your benefits and get your team the perks they care about the most.

Published on: Nov 7, 2019
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