Ennie Lim, along with co-founders Benny Yiu and Max Zschoch, founded HoneyBee to help employees, regardless of credit history, access an extra week’s pay anytime to help manage unplanned expenses and build credit. The employee’s salary, employment tenure, and accrued paid time off (PTO) is the credit–securing loans with unused PTO is a differentiator in the market. Lim spoke with the Financial Health Network about why she became a fintech founder focused on workplace financial health.
What was the problem in the world that inspired you to start your company?
Seven out of 10 people are living paycheck to paycheck. The most recent government shutdown highlighted this issue even more. Federal workers were lining up at food banks because they couldn’t cover their basic needs. Payday lenders saw an uptick in business.
HoneyBee takes a holistic approach when it comes to solutions to address this societal challenge. We partner with mid-market employers to provide their employees with the tools and resources they need to become financially healthy. Last year, we rolled out the first of these products calling it Extra Week’s Pay. The intent of Extra Week’s Pay is to provide a financial safety net for employees during financial emergencies. This year, we are in the midst of rolling out two additional tools: Bee Financial Coach, customized and continuous one-on-one financial counseling for employees subsidized by their companies, and Early Pay, a pay advance program to cover small cash shortfalls.
What’s been the biggest business challenge you faced while starting up?
The biggest challenge we face as a startup and as we continue to grow is hiring and attracting the right talent. We are looking for people that want to be part of a mission-based company that is constantly solving problems. Since we’re at an early stage, every team member needs to be ready to wear lots of hats and needs to take on new tasks; it’s a bit of a frenzy. Finding a person with the right skills who gets our culture will always be a challenge we will face.
What was an early win or success that made you think you could be a successful startup?
Given the size of the market, I knew that deploying experienced sales people by sales territories could get us to a certain point quickly but long-term was an expensive, difficult to scale proposition. A multi-pronged approach was necessary. Parallel to the sales approach, I focused on building a brand and a story that focused on storytelling to get press and media attention through empathy, authenticity and transparency. We needed people to talk about us–employers sharing their experiences and grateful employees spreading the word.
To further fuel growth, we also focused on nonprofits within industries with high virality; such as hospitality, healthcare, food production, etc. (i.e food banks). We are on a path to building our own trusted network within these industries. We want nonprofits spreading the word to other nonprofits. Food banks emailing other food banks about us. Nurses at one clinic talking about us to colleagues at other clinics. The brand, the story, our salespeople–are all part of a narrative to create community, buzz, and support that will get us from the first 80 clients we signed our first year to the next 1,000.
What in fintech are you most excited about now?
I call other fintechs friendly competitors as I love seeing fellow fintech founders also trying to disrupt the $90 billion payday industry. It’s a fundamental problem we can’t ignore and the more innovators we have trying to solve this problem, the better it will be for the 70% of Americans who are struggling financially. I’m even more excited that we’re using data and technology to bring down the predatory and usurious rates the traditional payday industry has profited from for far too long at the expense of struggling consumers.
Is there a piece of advice that you wish you would have known that other founders might find helpful? Why?
I wish I knew earlier how to practice conscious and empathetic leadership. I have learned that by recognizing my emotions and becoming more self-aware, I can start to shift my energy towards curiosity and creativity, which allows me to become a better leader for my team. Talking about people living paycheck to paycheck is not a fun subject, and being curious helps us focus on innovating for people that need it most.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received, and how has it impacted your company or career?
I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk about the “Power of Vulnerability” years ago where she talks about embracing vulnerability. As a female founder in the fintech industry, I sometimes wonder if I belong here. A while back, dealing with my finances was a huge fear of mine. The reason employers and the HR community started embracing our mission is because I opened up about my financial setback. Talking openly about my personal financial experience after a divorce and by letting myself become vulnerable, our sales team was able to remove the stigma around debt and opened up employers to understand the value of HoneyBee’s financial safety net to their employees. Brene Brown’s advice has allowed me to lead with authenticity.
Would you recommend an accelerator program to others, and if so why?
I would absolutely recommend the Financial Solutions Lab to other founders! Fintech and financial services in general is a complex industry–knowing that we could reach out to resource partners at the Financial Solutions Lab for domain and regulatory expertise definitely afforded us peace of mind as we continue to execute on our mission.