The Entrepreneur: James Herbert, Hastee

Hastee goes against the payroll status quo, offering your employees access to a portion of their earned wages when they really need it – promoting healthy financial wellbeing.

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Startups was founded over 20 years ago by a serial entrepreneur. Today, our expert team of writers, researchers, and editors work to provide our 4 million readers with useful tips and information, as well as running award-winning campaigns. We interview successful entrepreneurs from all over the UK, celebrating their achievements, hard work, and determination to get to where they are today. This article was authored by:

Founder: James Herbert
Company: Hastee
Website: hastee.com

The Hastee app enables your employees to access a portion of their earned pay when they need it, on-demand. The fintech company also provides a suite of financial education and management tools, including savings, to help your people make better financial decisions to make their money go further.

James Herbert, founder and CEO of Hastee, talks to Startups about business aspirations, supporting NHS workers, and how his app is helping teams combat personal finance-related stress.

The Business

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

Hastee is a financial health platform that helps employees to take charge of their finances. That includes providing access to a portion of their earned pay, on-demand, whenever they need it most. We also provide financial education and management tools, including savings, rewards, and cashbacks, along with budgeting tools that can help workers to better understand their finances. This can help them to make the decisions that will ultimately make their money go further.

Hastee can also make a big difference when it comes to the financial health of UK workers. With financial support that increases personal liquidity and promotes positive financial habits, employees are more likely to be engaged, happier and less financially stressed, leading to an increase in productivity.

One of the biggest factors that make Hastee unique is the fact we’re completely free to businesses, although employers can contribute if they wish. Our service integrates seamlessly into company payrolls and has no impact on company cash flow. Our platform is safe and secure, and because workers can only withdraw up to 50% of the amount they’ve earned in a particular month, both businesses and individuals are protected. Free financial management tools from nudge also help to distinguish Hastee, providing financial advice to employees were necessary, and helping them to take control of their finances.

Check out the video below to see how Hastee works:

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

I’m really proud of the fact that we’re empowering businesses to help people who are suffering from personal finance-related stress. According to our Workplace Wellbeing Study, as many as two-thirds of workers (66%) are affected by personal finance-related stress, with 28% noting that finance-related stress impacts their sleep, yet fewer than one in five workplaces currently provide financial wellbeing advice. Empowering teams to reach better financial health should be a priority for every business going forward, and Hastee can help organisations to do just that, offering access to financial management support, saving, education and budgeting tools, as well as early access to earned salary.

How did you fund your business?

We’ve built Hastee into the business it is today using a variety of different funding sources. I invested some savings that I had myself to get Hastee up and running initially, and then we also turned to external, private investors. Due to the nature of financial services, we weren’t eligible for SEIS and EIS investments, but that actually helped us in the long run, as it meant that any investors we did manage to get onboard weren’t purely in it for the money, but because they believed in what we were trying to achieve.

Since then, we’ve also received £208 million investment from Umbra Capital, IDC Ventures and others, in 2019. This has helped us to grow the business, supporting an increasing number of organisations, and helping them to reduce financial stress and increase the wellbeing of their employees.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Like most SAS model businesses, it’s important for us to look at the engagement on our platform. Are we creating a product that users and businesses alike are engaging with, are they finding it useful and what parts of the app are they most interested in. Ensuring we are listening to what users and businesses want is critical to our success. One such example was, from the beginning we knew that financial education couldn’t just be generic content, it needed to be personalised to the user. We partnered with the best in the market, nudge, to offer that to our users free of charge. As you’d expect, MAU (monthly active users) and DAU (daily active users) are critical to learn and develop the product.

To what extent does your business trade internationally?

Across Europe we are giving access to Hastee to over 300,000 employees in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal with many more international markets coming on to the Hastee platform by the end of 2021.

Where would you like your business to be in five years?

Well, we won’t be giving our complete product roadmap away! Suffice to say we see Hastee as the future of pay wrapped up in a best-in-class, holistic financial health platform which will be the epicentre of an individual's finances.

What software or technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Our proprietary technology, which Hastee is built on, has been one of the overarching successes of our first few years. Managing integrations with payroll, HR and Time and Attendance systems is critical for our development and the API based systems we have produced have made that incredibly simple for our clients and for us. Although, as you can imagine, there was a LOT of work that went into getting the technology to the place it is now.

Additionally, our partnership with nudge really made a big difference to the service that we offer our customers, as mentioned above. As the name hints, the technology uses nudge theory to prompt people to take positive actions around their finances, focusing on different areas of personal finance to help educate people on their overall financial skills and knowledge. As a result, it’s easier for our customers to take control of their money and their life – and that’s what Hastee is all about.


Growth Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in business?

I think the biggest challenge I’ve had at Hastee has been changing the perception that people have about the way they’re paid. In the early days it was particularly tough convincing people that Hastee is categorically not a payday loan company and in fact, we exist to help people to get through the month without having to resort to high-interest loans or credit. We solve some of the same problems in helping people who may find themselves financial trouble, through no fault of their own, like when a boiler breaks, to get through the month, but we do so responsibly, giving people the flexibility and choice that allows them to avoid that debt spiral associated with those other forms of ‘help’.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

Looking at my previous business, Brightsparks, the company grew a lot quicker than I expected. When I founded Brightsparks, I always had it in mind that it may just be a stopgap before I went and found a real job. I learned a lot from the experience, however, and with Hastee the whole process has been a lot more structured from the start.

What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started on your business journey?

Not necessarily something I wish someone told me, but something I WAS reminded of when starting Hastee. It’s the famous Henry Ford quote – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers can easily describe a problem they're having — in this case, wanting to get somewhere faster — but not the best solution. It has allowed me, and us all at Hastee, to be brave with our decisions and to challenge the status quo.

The pandemic has provided a catalyst for change, and we’ve welcomed a host of new customers, including the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, giving over 5,500 NHS workers early access to their pay. We’ve also waived the fees for NHS workers, helping to reduce financial stress at a time when many staff are facing increased pressures at work and home.

How has the pandemic affected the market you operate in?

COVID-19 has brought financial health to the fore, as workers re-evaluate their priorities. Monthly payroll is no longer fit for purpose, with 33% of 25-34 year olds relying on personal savings to manage extra expenditure between pay days. Our Workplace Wellbeing Study has also highlighted the fact that more and more people are looking for roles that provide flexible payment models, with 40% of respondents explaining that flexible payment options would help them to avoid relying on high-cost credit.

The pandemic has provided a catalyst for change, and we’ve welcomed a host of new customers, including the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, giving over 5,500 NHS workers early access to their pay. We’ve also waived the fees for NHS workers, helping to reduce financial stress at a time when many staff are facing increased pressures at work and home.


Personal Growth

Did you study business or learn on the job?

I actually studied Economics at Durham University, but it was my experience when studying that really made me want to set up my own business. As a student, I noticed it was particularly difficult to find suitable jobs. The majority of available roles lacked flexibility and were almost impossible to fit around studies, lectures and student life in general.

This led me to found Brightsparks in 2003, helping students to find temporary event work that’s exciting, flexible and can look great on a CV. I’ve been learning ever since, building on my experience at Brightsparks to eventually create Hastee in 2017, and even now I’m happy to report that every day remains very much a school day.

What would make you a better leader?

One thing I’ve always found challenging is the need to balance professional and personal life, juggling demands on time and resources across the business with a young family, and this continues to be an ongoing challenge.

As my family grows, I’ve realised the importance of having a team you can trust and rely on. Time and resource management is clearly a huge part of running a successful business, and I firmly believe that working more closely with the people around me, and handing more responsibilities to other team members at Hastee, can play a large part in helping me to become a better leader, along with helping Hastee and its employees to grow.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

Spotify – I have a very eclectic music taste (as I am told by all the team in the office!) and so without Spotify, I couldn’t share that with them all!

A business book or podcast that you think is great:

I enjoy listening to the ‘Searching for Mana’ podcast on a frequent basis and have previously been invited on to discuss Hastee with Lloyd. For those working in the finance/fintech industry, it has a bit of everything.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting a business?

It’s not just about working hard – if you want to be successful, you’ll need to work smart, too. Find something you’re passionate about, and you’ll find it far easier to put the hours in when it matters most.

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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