Ep. 247 - Adriana Cisneros Basulto, Founder of Maxwell, an Employee Benefit and Work-life Management Platform on the Changing World of Work

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By Brian Ardinger, Founder of Inside Outside Innovation podcast, and The Inside Outside Innovation Summit. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Adriana Cisneros Basulto, Founder of Maxwell. Maxwell was the winner of the IO 2020 Get Started Showcase competition and maker of the employee benefit and work-life management software platform. Adriana and I talk about the changing world of work from flexible benefit options, to diversity and inclusion, as well as the impact COVID has had on accelerating these changes.

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Interview Transcript with Adriana Cisneros Basulto, Founder of Maxwell

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today with me is Adriana Cisneros Basulto, founder of Maxwell. Welcome to the show.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Brian Ardinger: Adriana I'm excited to have you. Maxwell, you were the winner of the IO2020 Get Started Showcase competition that we had back in October. It seems like a lifetime ago, but we've been trying to figure out a time to get you on the show, to talk about what you're doing, what you're building, and really have a heart to heart with some of the things that you're seeing when it comes to the future of work. So, let's start by telling the Maxwell story. How did you conceive of this company and how did it get started?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah, well, first and foremost, I'm still pinching myself from the win and yeah, I cannot believe that that was October, but I suppose in COVID time, everything just kind of flows at its own rate. I'm not going to say it was, you know, like a Eureka moment or something that all of a sudden just came to mind that this is what's going to be. It's really been an evolution.

And it has taken several years from sort of an idea into actually becoming what it is today. And it's probably going to continue to market. A lot of it was just, many founders, personal experience. As my life got just more complex, on the personal side, and by complex, I mean, just a very traditional path and the personal side, you know, like you, you get married, you decide to get a dog, you have a mortgage, that sort of thing. In terms of complexity, kids. At the same time, my career, and that of my spouse was also progressing and getting more complex and had more accountabilities.

And then we happened to both be very similar in terms of wanting to do a really good job in both fronts. So, we were always feeling spread thinly. So that was one aspect. And then the other aspect was the type of work that I did. So, my last corporate job was leading the efforts of inclusion and diversity for the largest private bank in the U S.

And one of the things that I remember vividly sitting down and listening to the results of Gallup, on one of their studies about women at work. And I mean, this is years ago, but the trend was that women were leaving the workplace. And one of the number one competitors was this aspect of how hard it was to manage work and life and keep it all together.

And that, that was the biggest competitor. And I was just like, oh my goodness, we're not coming up with better solutions is the same solutions that we had five years ago or before, like lots of things go through my mind. That was one moment there was like, there's got to be something better. So that was sort of the genesis of it, both from the personal side. And then also from a professional standpoint, me wanting to see more women stay in leadership positions because that's the work that I was doing.

Brian Ardinger: So, talk a little bit about what Maxwell is and how are you tackling that problem?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yes. What I'd like to say is we make it easy for employers to support their teams. And to support them with benefits it's slash, support services that make it easy to manage work and life. Sometimes it's easier to understand when using an example. So, I'll try to do that.

Let's say it's company, ABC company, ABC. They choose which of the services that we have on Maxwell already embedded in our mobile app to offer their employees and to fund. And then we do also something that we're testing right now. I'm curious to see how that evolves, but one of the things we're testing is the ability for employers to also integrate into Maxwell, other things that they're offering today, that don't require an additional subsidy from them.

So maybe they already paid for an EPA program from an employee assistance program, so they can also show it on Maxwell. And then the employee now decides how much money they want to provide their employees to use on the services of Maxwell.

Brian Ardinger: Got it.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: So then fast forward to now, you know, employees are onboarding into Maxwell. They can use their funds on those benefits, those support services that are going to be the most valuable for them. Maybe Tom, really what he struggles with is spending his weekends doing laundry. Yeah. He could use his, you know, the money that he got from his employer, on tackling laundry. So, he doesn't have to be doing that over the weekends.

And maybe, you know, you have Kate, which laundry's not really an issue for her, or maybe that's, you know, she doesn't care for other people touching her laundry. She can use her funds on things that matter to her, like maybe healthy meals and getting support that way. So that's in a nutshell how it works.

Brian Ardinger: I like the idea, and this and this movement that we're seeing towards how do you make things very customized for the employee. You know, it used to be where employee benefits, were you get your health care and, and maybe you get a couple of things else, but for the most part, it was here's your cookie cutter things that were available. But by services like Maxwell that allow the employer and the employee to find that right balance. What are you seeing when it comes to that?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yes. No, you're absolutely right. It's been, it's been, talked about for a long time on the HR space. How to really put the employee at the center of that. So providing employee centric experiences. But it really hadn't taken off. And I think we are at a moment in which this is actually going to happen, because now, well, a multitude of things are happening, but one of them is as HR teams are honestly trying to help their employees. One of the barriers that they're facing to do that, is that there is so much variety of needs.

Like the example I gave was simple. Right. But like, how do you provide enough variety of support that is really going to meet the need of all of your employees? And actually, that is sometimes paralyzing them because they're like, well, you know, I could get this particular solution in house and use it here, but that's going to serve only my, you know, my working parents.

And that's going to inevitably cost these feeling of the haves and have nots because the ones that are not parents of course, are happy for their fellow working parents, and, but at the same time, it's a little bit of like, what about us? I need help too. That's happening there.

The other thing that I believe is accelerating us in that direction is we become just a little bit more aware of providing things that don't, that in an effort to become more equitable, don't actually create more inequality or a feeling of inequality. Right. In providing that. So that's also happening. And the third one is just this whole concept around virtual first work, or really having that mix of being able to be at home sometimes, sometimes to the office.

So, a hybrid model potentially. And how do you support all of those employees? The ones that came in the office, the ones that work from the home office, and the ones that are doing any, both places.

Brian Ardinger: So, yeah, it strikes me like the employer would get a big benefit if they didn't have to manage multiple different platforms and people and different types of benefits out there for their employees. But by going to a sole source, like a Maxwell and you kind of do that on their behalf, and it's also a win for the employee because they get more options to choose from. From that perspective, what's the biggest challenge of building out that kind of marketplace model?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is that, you know, Maxwell is not the provider of services. All of our services are provided by our partners. So, in that sense, we're having to grow both sides at the same time. We're having to grow our partnerships, which it's a little bit of a catch 20 money in the sense that employers that are, you know, they have national or global operations, they're looking for services that can be offered on a national or global level.

Well, the partners that offer their services on a national global level, they're looking for Maxwell to have employers that are the same. So, it's a little bit of that. It just takes a lot of calls, a lot of meetings, a lot of finding those people that are willing to partner and that see the vision and that they're like, you know what? It's okay, that you're not in a, if it's a partner that they're like, it's okay. If you don't have all the national employers that we would like to see, we're willing to give it a go. And the other way around to. Finding those employer partners that are willing to be a partner that are willing to be there on the early stages.

Brian Ardinger: Talk a little bit about maybe some of the early adopters or some of the success or case studies that you've had and how it's working.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: You know, where we have found some success is on the professional services side. It's a little bit counteractive in the sense that my professional services, I mean, your attorneys, accountants, they're not typically known for being the most progressive industries and certainly not the most progressive, I mean, in terms of benefits and offering perks. That's not where you typically hear you get snacks or things of that sort. But they are the ones that are very familiar with the pain of having to manage high loads of work. And it's very much in many ways out of their control.

I'll give you an example. Let's use attorney. So, they are famous for working really long hours. And there's been lots of efforts to try to reduce that to how do you change the model? Well, the problem is that the industry as a whole is like that. So, if you are the law firm that changes, and that starts feeling less, and that your attorneys only work eight to five. And you're not meeting your customer's needs immediately, your customers are probably not going to stay with you. They're going to go with your competitor. There needs to be a change at a massive scale for that to happen.

So, this is another way to provide a better ability for attorneys to focus while they're in the office or where they're working and to recharge and on rest and be ready to crush it the next day, when they're not.

Brian Ardinger: You mentioned that there's a number of different services that are available. Are there particular ones that are standing out as far as ones that seem to be resonating in the marketplace? You mentioned childcare or laundry or, or food services. What are you seeing as far as what employees are actually asking for?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah. You know, what? It gets very much down to the basics. Meals is one where, you know, especially those that we're already providing to a certain degree, the snacks, or in some cases, events where they would provide meals.

That's something that it's brought up. Things that save your time in the car. That's another one. Even with people that are working more from home. I'll tell you one of our partners is Leash, which is a local startup here in Omaha. And you know, there's a ton of people that got puppy. There's a lot more dogs than there used to be in families.

So now I mean all those dogs required to go to the vet and to go, to get groomed. All those times that you're spending in the car, taking them and then bringing them back. That's another one that it's a really good time saver, saving time on in traffic.

Brian Ardinger: So, then you go out and find those startups, like a Leash that can provide that particular service and you onboard them onto the platform. And then that becomes a benefit that's all automatically available. So, as you add new partners and that employees have different ways to spend their money on the platform. Is that the way it works?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah, absolutely. That's how it works, Brian. And it actually, there's a little bit more flexibility than that. So, the employers are the ones that decide what is it that they want to fund. If for some reason I do not want to fund. I don't want my employees to be using their money on laundry. They can choose that. This service, the benefits still going to show for Tom and Tom is still able to use it, by using his personal funds.

And all the other ones that the employer has said, yes, use the money. He can either use that money or he can do a mixer and mix and match. So, if for some reason he's running out of funds, And there's still something that he wants to use, he can use a combination of funds.

Brian Ardinger: It's an interesting angle too, because again, you're giving the power to the employee to use their capital in other ways, maybe it's partially funded by the employer or not, but it gives them the peace of mind and the ease being able to go to one place to have those other services kind of fulfilled to help, help them be better employees and more productive.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Oh, absolutely. And then it has, you know, one of the things I didn't talk about, because there's just so many angles to it is, we provide the employer with an HR dashboard where they can see aggregate data. So, when the aggregate data that they can see its usage. They can see, okay, these are the benefits that you're funding. These are the benefits that you're not funding, but this is how much they're getting used.

So, they can see, wow, those laundry services, they're getting used a ton by our employees, even though we're not funding them. Maybe that is something that we should be funding because it would make a difference in their lives. So again, you're giving the power to the employee, the employee, just by using it, just by using their personal funds they're actually providing the business case to the employer as to why it would be valuable for them to fund them.

Brian Ardinger: The other topic I want to talk about, obviously it's, it's, it's everywhere in the headlines. It's COVID, it's the pandemic. It's the, how that has changed not only startups slides, but you know, the world of work in general. What are you seeing when it comes to the impacts of COVID and maybe what do you see more importantly, what do you see over the next 12 to 18 months of how that's going to affect things like going back to work and things like that?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah, no, it's a super interesting question. I think we're all waiting to see what's going to take place. I mean, having lots of you might imagine given what Maxwell does, I've had a lot of conversations with folks in HR and the number one thing I'm hearing from them that that's how they're spending their time is return to work. And this is audio, so otherwise you would see me as doing return to work with quotation marks because it's not like people haven't been working.

So, it's more like, you know, how is it going to look after this? Are people going to be back in the office or not? And what stays with us? What changes on the other is this big concern around maintaining productivity? Which is super interesting to me because on the one hand you have the way that I usually phrase that question to HR leaders is what is the primary concern of your leaders? And that is the one that rises to the top maintaining productivity.

And then I also asked them about what is one of their primary concerns with employees and what we're seeing on the employee side is that they're really tired. So, it's so interesting to have that duality of, you know, if leadership in companies being really worried, are we being productive enough? And then the employees being. Worry that they don't have time to rest. Like they're tired. So,

Brian Ardinger: I think we're getting a really interesting, going back into this hybrid is going to be actually, I think, more difficult than going into the original lockdown state or, or remote state, because at least then everybody kind of had a singular focal point of what was going to happen and maybe didn't know how long it was going to happen and that, but everybody was kind of resolved around that particular move to remote and what that meant.

But now going back into a hybrid model, I imagine each company is going to be slightly different and how that's going to play out will be almost more of a reverse culture shock than going into the pandemic in the first place.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Oh, my goodness. So, so true. That's one of my concerns I think I might have shared with you in the past. One of my concerns is what this is going to produce from a quality perspective, because right now, well, maybe I'm coming from a personal standpoint. So really all of my career I have worked from home or events abroad, at least a couple of days of the week. And so many times I was the only one that was working from home.

And I definitely felt like I would sometimes miss out on conversations or I was on, you know, I was on the phone and, you know, I knew that there had been a meeting before the meeting and a meeting after the meeting. So, I wasn't getting that face time. This whole situation, like a lockdown has put every one of the same, at the same level in the vast majority of terms, there's still a few of inequalities there, but at least no one is like having as much face time.

But yeah, going forward, if you're going to have people that are going to be in the office and people that are not, we are human and we like better than people that we see and we interact with in-person. So, yeah, that'll be really interesting to see how that plays out. And what sort of solutions do employers use, in order to, you know, make sure that doesn't take place, that doesn't create more inequality. And then also, how do they maintain company culture? That's the other one that I'm super interested in company culture and collaboration when you have that mix.

Brian Ardinger: And another reason why I wanted to have you on the show is to talk about you've formed a community to talk about some of these things, whether it's future of work, or remote working or, or whatever the case may be. You've got a new group called the forward collective. I don't know if you want to tell us a little bit more about that and what that is all about.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: That has been such an amazing group and it continues to grow. And we're trying to tackle the future of work from many angles. But really one of the things that we saw is that, I mean, this was a really a big opportunity.

Well, it has been really hard 12 months that have brought lots of hardship. Certainly, lots of sadness to many. It's also an opportunity to move forward into better workplaces. And that's why it’s called forward, forward work. You can find us at forwardwork.co. Because the intention is let's take this moment to not go back to work just the way it was, but to really create places that are like I talk about that are more equitable that take into consideration the whole employee that really challenged the status quo of how things have always been.

And so, we talked about companies that are piloting new spaces that they're like, okay, we don't think we're going to be using all this space. How can we use it now? Startups that are creating new platforms to tackle some of the things we just chatted about what you say, how do you continue to create collaboration in a virtual world. At the same time, experts that talk about how do you prepare your managers to really deliver the employee experience that you need in to the future? So really, all over the place and it's been fun to see a new idea.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: They've been great conversations. I've enjoyed going in and being a part of a couple of those and look forward to the ones that are coming in the future as well. Adrian, if people want to find out more about Maxwell or about yourself, what's the best way to do that?

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Yeah. The best way to do that is feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn. I might be one of the few Adriana Cisneros Basulto on LinkedIn at least that long. And obviously, yeah, feel free to visit Maxwell.app. You can find us there too.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I'm excited to see where you guys go and looking forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come. So, thanks again for being part of this.

Adriana Cisneros Basulto: Thank you so much for having me.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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