Incentivesmart has doubled its turnover twice in the last couple of years - from £1 million in 2018 to £4 million in 2020. As a scaling technology company, it didn’t want that growth trajectory to drop. So when the coronavirus hit, founder and CEO Richard White decided to apply for a loan from Starling Bank through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to ensure that his company could continue to develop.

“Our bank balance has been healthy but every day feels like a year during this crisis and things can change so quickly,” he says. “The growth we’ve experienced is both a blessing and a curse. We’re expected to continue on that growth trajectory and the CBILS money will help that. It’s not so much a survival loan, it’s more about making sure that we continue to thrive and employ new team members.”

Four people have joined in the last three months, interviewed just before lockdown and offered jobs and introduced to the company through video calls.

Incentives for clients and employees

Incentivesmart is a platform for companies to reward and engage both resellers and employees. For example, the kitchen appliance manufacturer company Miele uses Incentivesmart to increase sales through independent kitchen retailers. Kitchen designers and dealers are connected to the Miele newsletters so that they remain up to date with the products and culture of the company. And if they include a Miele product in their design or sell a product independently, they receive points to spend on a range of rewards through Incentivesmart. Miele can also reward their own employees with points if they hit sales or contribute ideas.

“Users can choose the reward that’s relevant to them,” he says. “There is a wide range of rewards ranging from digital gift cards to cinema tickets, Sonos speakers to iPads. At the top end, there’s a complete concierge service. For example, someone can say that they want to go on holiday for three weeks and stay in this hotel and we can organise all of that for them.” Clients can also add their own rewards. For example, Miele adds its ovens or coffee machines as reward options.

From startup to scaleup

Incentivesmart, founded in 2008, is now made up of 14 people. “My ethos as a business owner is that I’m always trying to hire people who are better than me or complement my skills. If you’re the best person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” says Richard, 41. “We have a really great family environment.”

Richard White, founder and CEO of Incentivesmart

The team started to work remotely two weeks before lockdown began. “Two of the team members are pregnant and we had others who needed to be shielded - we were already set up for remote working so asked everyone to work from home.” Five employees have been furloughed but the whole team will be back online next month, partly to compensate for the two team members going on maternity leave.

“We have a team catch-up every morning for half an hour. People who are furloughed have the option to join from a social perspective as we’re aware that there are people who live on their own,” he says. “We usually have a beer on a Friday and we’ve kept that tradition going by doing a tasting session and a team quiz over Zoom.”

The team at Incentivesmart

When it comes to scaling a business, his advice is to keep communicating. “There’s no silver bullet,” he says. “It’s all about finding new ways to keep the lines of communication open. Even when you can’t spend time face to face with everyone, people need to feel that they can come to you. Have open meetings where everyone feels involved - empower people, don’t micromanage.”

To promote transparency, the Incentivesmart team plays a daily numbers game that involves predicting the day’s rewards revenue. “Everyone has to guess and at the end of the week someone wins a prize. It’s a great way to engage people in the numbers. We continued the numbers predicting game throughout lockdown and it really helped the team to understand how the coronavirus has affected the business and which clients are more resilient to unforeseen circumstances like this," he says. “We also give our own employees rewards for going the extra mile, ideas and long service. Anyone can also nominate colleagues for rewards if they’ve helped out or performed really well on something.”

A collaborative business model

Part of Richard’s growth plan for Incentivesmart involves developing their clients’ businesses. “Taking a client and helping them to be successful means that they in turn give us more and more. For example, we have successfully helped Michelin Tyres drive independent dealer sales and they then referred us into other areas of their business.”

Communication and well-designed technology sit at the heart of its success. “Sometimes companies can only speak to the owner manager or person in charge of distribution. With Incentivesmart, the client can communicate directly to the salespeople. In helping them to understand the product better, they become natural ambassadors.”

Digital banking for a digital business

Richard applied for a Starling business account after a friend recommended it to him. “Signing up was so easy. I was relaxing on a Saturday morning and completed the whole process then and there,” he says. “The timing was great. A week or so later, the CBILS loans were announced. I applied on Wednesday, on Thursday someone from the lending team called and we talked through business. By Friday, I had an offer.”

Incentivesmart has borrowed £250,000. “The user experience is amazing,” he says. “Downloading statements is a lot less painful than some of the antiquated software you get from high street banks. And the link to Xero is seamless.” Richard is in the process of making a full switch to Starling.

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