Investing in Your Employees for Rapid Growth with Ed Buckley at Peerfit

Investing in your employees is not just smart business. It is essential. When you have the right strategies for employee growth, the whole company benefits – including the bottom line. Discover how investing in employees can create more growth for your company. Today’s guest is Ed Buckley, Chairman and CEO at Peerfit. Inc Magazine ranked his company #140 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Peerfit is the market leader in connecting employers and carriers with innovative fitness experiences. Ed and I talk about investing in your employees. We share what is working and what isn’t. Ed has created a fantastic team. He knows investing in your employees has been a massive factor in growth.

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Ed Buckley: The Transcript

About: Having a strong passion for creating amazing solutions guided Ed Buckley to multiple opportunities working with some of the most talented teams innovating the health & wellness space. As a fitness lover, digital health behavioral researcher, and entrepreneur, his skills of in-depth research to understand populations, and lead teams to build innovative new products improved health outcomes across multiple marketplaces. Ed Buckley has a successful track record of raising funds, building and developing technology start-ups, securing national partnerships, and conducting digital health behavior research at an academic institution. Leveraging advanced qualitative/quantitative methods, business development, identifying new market solutions, and building/launching effective solutions are areas he have proven to be able to add instant value to any team.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Ed Buckley: Every company has a product or service, right? I mean, that’s, that’s why you’re in business. But at the end of the day, the ones that make the great companies are the people who empower and in invest in their team because they’re their teams. And then the culture that they build around them are what’s going to keep you competitive. That’s what’s gonna keep you innovating. And if our philosophy is that if innovation only happens at the very, very top and when some executive thinks that they found the next great pivot or next great product, well, you know, you’re only as good as that, that person, the best ideas come from the front line.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: You’re not alone on that island in your company. What I mean by that is you’ve got people that are on this journey with you and you’ve got to invest in them today. We look at investing in your employees. What does that really mean to invest in your employees? It’s not just about, the benefits behind this, or it’s about giving them, training classes. There are many elements that go into investing in your employees. I want you to understand today’s special guest is the co-founder of Peerfit. Ed Buckley talks about his perspective on leadership and how investing in employees has paid off in the long run, how they create a team structures that are cross-functional, how they actually put select channels together to make sure that people are aligned, and how they do this all naturally doing work from home. All of this in today’s episode will help you be an extraordinary leader. My job is to help you become the leader that your team craves. If you know that you could be a better leader, if you know that leadership is something that you want to continue to work on, you may be good, but you want to be great, or you want to be extraordinary that I want to help you figure out what that is.

There’s a path that you’ve got to follow. There are some things that you have to understand. There may be things you have to unlearn, identify your blindspot. This is my specialty. I want to help you do that inside of a conversation. If you want to have a coaching call with me that there’s no pressure, no obligation to purchase anything whatsoever, but it will really truly pay off for you. Just go to and schedule your call. I’d love to help you be the leader that your team deserves. Just go to and schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Ed. Ed, how are you?

Ed Buckley: I am great. How are you doing?

Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast to talk about culture leadership and the things that make companies grow fast. Tell us a little bit about Peerfit.

Ed Buckley: At Peerfit, really simply we help employers and health plans get their members to integrate fitness experiences. So think of gyms, studios, and now with COVID the world of streaming and working out at home. We’re, we’re the mechanism that allows the Aetna’s and Cigna’s of the world to sit in their members there. So that’s, that’s really what we’re all about. And yeah. What was a great mission before COVID, but became really important, you know, during COVID, when we’re all trapped at home and people are trying to find ways and outlets to stay active and keep their mental health as sane as possible.

Gene Hammett: I want to go a little bit deeper on what have you found as it relates to employees and their ability to want to get healthy and fit.

Ed Buckley: Y we’ve had this theory on day one. When we set up the company hits the name of the company is Peerfit, right? Which is, they are always going to be a group of people who will never exercise. There’s always a group of people who will exercise, even if there’s a hurricane outside, they’re going to go run their morning five gate. But what about the 60% in the middle? And what we found out, it was that positive peer pressure. And so everything we did in setting up this company was about how can we make it easier for the people in the middle, how can we make everybody have the same access to lots of locations? How can we eliminate payments and reimbursements as the headache of, you know, , a worksite, wellness solution for people? So, you know, that’s the number one lever that we’re always trying to belong, which makes it easy and make sure that you’ve got your peers, your friends, coworkers, , able to go with you.

Gene Hammett: I love to work out. I have a little bit of a plan here, myself. I’m doing a lot of martial arts, been doing Brazilian jujitsu for about 14 years.

Ed Buckley: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. It’s quite a taxing sport.

Gene Hammett: Yeah. Especially at my age being 50 and pushing jujitsu is not easy. I think I’ve gone the last two nights in a row and it’s, it’s hard.

Ed Buckley: Yeah. I bet

Gene Hammett: I want to dive into the reason why we came here today is to talk about the leadership and kind of the principal that drives your company. Our research tells us that, you really believe in investing in employees, but, but you have a little bit of a different spin on it. So why is investing in employees such an important thing?

Ed Buckley: Every company has a product or service, right? I mean, that’s, that’s why you’re in business, but at the end of the day, the ones that make the great companies are the people who empower and in invest in their team because they’re their teams. And then the culture that they build around them are what’s going to keep you competitive. It’s what’s going to keep you innovating. And if our, our philosophy is that if innovation only happens at the very, very top and when some executive thinks that they found the next great pivot or next great product, well, you know, you’re only as good as that, that person, the best ideas come from the frontline. And so you’ve got to make it really easy for the front lines to talk to the top line. You know to use the org chart as the example, but, you know, that’s what we try to make happen. The best ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. And they come from people being able to collaborate cross-departmentally and not having a hierarchy, stop them from, you know, walking down the hall, even though we’re completely remote, right. To talk to another person and just to on ideas. So, you know, we’ve been remote forever so long before COVID we were remote. And so we had to be very intentional about setting up a culture that was a great culture, but completely remote.

Commentary: Now hold on Ed, just says the best ideas come from the frontline. What does that really mean? Well, it means that they may not come from the top. And in fact, if all of the good ideas in your company are coming from you or your executive team, then you’re, you’ve got to break down inside of the company. You want to make sure that people feel open to share these ideas. They’re empowered in a sense, they share the innovations, they share the crazy things. The weird. It will create movement or a new way of doing things that is real leadership, because when you embrace that the best ideas should win. Then it’s not just you and your ideas or your team or executive leadership team to be specific. It’s you want to make sure that the best ideas win and create that kind of culture means you have to be intentional. That’s what today’s episode is about, but I want to put a spotlight on this moment so that you understand that it’s very important if you invest in your employees.

Gene Hammett: I love everything about what you just talked about, but I want to go deeper with this. I’m intentional. I just got from the call with a client who we looked at, what an intentional leader looks like, but what does intentional culture to you?

Ed Buckley: So let’s use us from a remote stance, right? Which is we had to go through what would normally happen in an office, both work and non-work things. And how do you replicate them? Cause they’re all equally as important. It isn’t just, are we replicating the ability for, you know, Ed and Susan to talk and share. You know, feedback on a report, but what about all that time? That person, A, and person B have been walking to meetings and just collaborating informally on things, or if you want to share pictures of their kids and their pets. So we literally had to set up these mechanisms. You know, slack was one of those mediums. We used the most popular channel in our slack. , for, for PeerFit is Peerfit pet it’s people sharing, not, oh, I’m working at home. Look at what my crazy cat doing today. So that’s what we tried to be is to be thoughtful about everything that happens in a normal work experience, which means it’s not all about the work it’s about the people and the human interactions that go on.

Gene Hammett: You know a lot of leaders probably disagree with what you just said. , it’s not all about the work it’s about the relationships and the personal side of this. And they like to draw a line, but you found a benefit behind, you know, in, in great integrating all of right.

Ed Buckley: It’s funny when we first started in the first iteration of our board, you had a lot of very old ghoul business people, and a lot of them had made their money on commercial real estate. So not only were they constantly harping on, get an office, get an office, get an office. And they didn’t understand this work-from-home thing we were doing. But the other thing, you know, that I always challenged them was to look, us being remote. And that’s having this intentional culture that we have. I guarantee you at any time, I can tell you more about our people, the project they’re working on and the status of those things, then you can at any time. Right. We made sure that it made life easier for everybody. And that was something, you know, we really had to push back. , it wasn’t like our board just rubber-stamped and said, great, cool. You’re remote working from home, you know, before COVID, when that was, I don’t want to use the word taboo, but it certainly wasn’t normal at that time.

Gene Hammett: So you’d share with me, you have over 50. You’ve made, you’ve said some changes over this as a business model has changed a little bit, but you’ve continued growth. And then you just said something that I think would blow a lot of people away, you know, more about what your employees are working on than most leaders. What will we see in your organization that allows you to tune in to people like that?

Ed Buckley: This is certainly talking about like the leadership of our team. This was not me. These is the leaders we’ve had during the last several years. Each of them have their thumbprint on making our processes better, right? Whether it’s that first day someone starts at Peerfit or the two weeks leading up to it. And the content that they’re able to consume to help come in on day one and feel they get our culture. They get kind of the social norms or their first two weeks where we kind of handhold them culturally to make sure they get exposure to different departments. That is the result of great leaders in this company. Over the last few years to make sure that the process is seamless from coming into the company, as well as our ability to manage them. Right. How can we observe without micromanaging? How can we see ultimate transparency, but still empower the people? So they don’t feel like they’re being watched over. That’s the balance that we struck. And I would say it’s a never-ending process. We continually look at that process and frankly take feedback from people, right? Hey, your job wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Well, what do you think we could have done to strike you having an easy job, but us being able to monitor and manage everything from a completely remote stamp, we really let people give us unabashed feedback.

I would say that. It has always been in my personal DNA. And so the company definitely has it, which is we love feedback. We love coaching, we love criticism and, you know, delivering that people deliver it different ways. And, you know, I think that’s something that’s always a work in progress, but I love getting feedback. Doesn’t bother me at all.

Commentary: Ed, just talked about unabashed feedback. Are you open to real feedback? I want to make sure that you understand the power of this. It’s not just because you’re curious, but you’re willing to change and evolve. If you’re open to feedback, you know, be candid about, you know, reaching out to them, ask them to really share with you. How could you improve? What can we improve here? You should be open to all of it. If they tell you that you’re not the best listener, then you should be able to take that in and not reflect negatively on the person, but really say, is this true? And I can give you some tools behind this, but the real fact is this. If you are closed down to feedback from the team, everyone else, it will be a signal that they can’t give you the feedback that you really need. If you want to be the leader that they deserve, you want to make sure. That you are open to that feedback, that unabashed feedback, as Ed said, now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: I want to ask you, cause there might’ve been a time where it did jar you a little bit. Maybe it doesn’t bother you, but you’re like, okay, that’s not really me. Did you ever get feedback from an employee that you had to shift your model of leadership from?

Ed Buckley: The company is 10 years old this year, right. We just hit our 10 year anniversary. I was a grad student when we started the company. So as a human in my own evolution, I was much more immature right in my professional skills then than now. And so there were certainly things that I heard from our investors, from our board, from our employees. As a leader, I can assure you. One of them was never, no one can give you feedback. I took feedback all the time. It was probably more about not being as intense. , and I’ve mellowed out my own version of mellowing out now versus, you know, five years ago and 10 years ago, for sure.

Gene Hammett: Love that, you know, we came here to talk about investing in employees. And I know that your platform Peerfit is about investing in your clients, investing in their employees. Through these physical experiences, but how are you investing in your employees? The growth of those employees specifically?

Ed Buckley: So I want to give a shout out to Alison who runs our HR team here. We just did this innovation offsite, where we asked the whole company, you know, is there a new product or service line we should go into? And we had everybody, you know, just think about how to improve the company and our growth opportunities. And she pulled me aside and said, I did this exercise, but I looked at it from purely HR and culture. So while everyone else is loose sky opportunities where Hey, build this product. Hey, build this service. She was, you know, two years ago, three years ago, we were winning national awards in culture. We were one of the premier companies doing it remotely. Everybody’s running. Everybody’s you know, doing what we do today, how do we innovate offering the most competitive benefit and just our attitudes towards our employees now that everyone, you know, we’re kind of neutral. We went from, let’s say the best to good. And I just, I, I loved it that she had that conversation and had done some great brainstorming. So that’s one thing that we’re doing now is to say, you know, what we were doing was once novel. So how do we take it to the next level? So the short answer is how do we invest in people? You know, we give them things like remote from homework, everyone’s got unlimited PTO.

We have peer fit for all of our employees so that they can do classes. But, but then, you know, we’re starting to look at, you know, how, how to do, how does this. The 2020 versus the 20 teens, right? What is the best for people and what it’s going to make their life better? And thus, also us a more competitive company. So I don’t want to spoil anything for our team, but we do have some new ways we’re investing. And then the last thing that I’ll say not to go on a soapbox is every innovation, every pivot we’ve ever made, we’ve made them equal participants in fostering ideas, managing those ideas and, you know, pushing out into the market. Whether you’ve been here for one month or you’ve been here for five years,

Gene Hammett: You mentioned unlimited PTO. I think a lot of people have heard of this. It was new at one point in time and a lot of companies do it, but then there’s some, some stigma there’s a black cloud that comes with this because people are afraid to take it. People are not really sure what happens when they do take too much. What is too much? How have you guys addressed that?

Ed Buckley: Oh, such a good question. So I was reading a book about Netflix’s culture and they were really, I think one of the premier named brands that went unlimited PTO and got a lot of attention to it. And in the book they talk about, they actually had people taking less time off when they did unlimited PTO. And so from talking to their employees, they said, well, what we figured out was if managers didn’t lead by example, and then publicly say, look at my trip. I just took, look at these postcards that I, you know, brought back from my trip, then people wouldn’t feel comfortable. So sealing that idea, we created a slack channel called Peerfit postcard. And the idea was you are to brag as much as possible on any time you take time off or you’re going on a fun trip, whether it’s a one day trip for a long weekend, or you’re going on a 10 day trip to Tahiti, like a brag, as much as you want to on the time you take off. And, you know, that was one of the things we tried to do to show people it’s okay to take time off. And so I try to participate as much as possible in that. Leading by example, and showing people, look, if the CEO is taking time off and bragging about it, you’re not going to get in trouble. If you do too.

Gene Hammett: Many episodes ago, I had Mark Randolph, one of the co-founders at Netflix and the show, and he talked about the real importance of culture. And so definitely something that you want to make sure you go back to if you’re looking at culture and I say this to you and maybe to the listeners as well, , it starts early. It’s not something that you kind of figure out down the road, ,

Ed Buckley: Absolutely. I’ve read Mark’s book. Great.

Gene Hammett: Well, I want to keep pushing with this because investing in employees is more than just, you know, giving them the right benefits. What would we see in your organization? You truly invest in people as they want to grow, get more skills. And, and I don’t mean like the training programs, but are you guys coaching people? What is it you’re doing exactly?

Ed Buckley: Yeah, we got to a point, year and a half ago where we realized everyone had gotten siloed. And as we were listening to people’s suggestions that they had felt that they didn’t have a voice or their voice only went to their department head. And because of that, we created these cross-departmental teams where they were given a big company goal and told to have at it right there. Your innovation behind it, your decision-making behind it, the execution it. Is owned by these cross-departmental teams. You know, I think that was one of the biggest shifts we had ever made. We called them Northstar teams right after our big north star goals. And, and these were people who were not just senior. In fact, we left the C-suite completely out of being on these teams and every team had kind of like a team lead and sometimes these team leads were middle of the orchard. Right. It was a great opportunity for them to take the reins, receive some constant feedback on how they’re running these teams. But, you know, I think this was a great opportunity to show them we’re here to develop people. And it’s not always about moving up an org chart or having a title change, but it is about being able to help spheres of influence.

Across the company. So I think, you know, I think that’s one of the biggest kind of actual results. If you were to go there and see is we’re constantly trying to push now this cross-departmental innovation, communication and collaboration, without it having to run through the people at the top.

Gene Hammett: I love the concepts of that, especially the part that the suites not involved or come from anywhere in the organization, goes back to what you said. The beginning is the best ideas come from the frontline, the real thing here. My curiosity is just going, I know you probably have a lots of big wins because of these north star teams. What’s one of those wins you could share with us that you feel like made a big impact on the company.

Ed Buckley: Sure. So the time we set up the Northstar team, it was right after COVID things were closing. Gyms are closing everywhere. Right? And so what we said was, Hey, one, week’s notice we’re going to do a hackathon. At the end of this week, you’re going to do a pitch competition of what you think the company can do. And you can, you can form your own team. So we had across departmental teams. And so what happened was everyone got to present these ideas. And so every north star team, right from the get-go already had a good soil, right. That they were working off of. And they didn’t have to just come up with ideas. What I want to call it as two things, one, it resulted in us building a product in 30 days and bringing it to market. Which was outstanding, right. That would’ve never happened. If I came out there and said, guess what team we’re going to build a new product and you’re going to go have to get out in 30 days, it would be feeling the pressure would be insurmountable, but they thought of the idea. They brought it forward and we were just the grease to the wheel to make it happen.

But the other thing that I want to call out here is it, wasn’t just about the ideas we received, right then. There, wasn’t an idea that at the time didn’t seem like a good fit. Given the environment of COVID that here we are a year and a half later, and one of us said, Hey, do you remember that idea that was presented? Let’s dust that off the shelf. And now it’s something that we’re going to be investing in going into 2022. So, you know, 18 months later, The I didn’t the idea didn’t make it then, but now it’s really relevant. We’re bringing it back and we’re able to give the both sunshine and the kudos to the team that presented it back then that your idea isn’t lost, just because we don’t pick it at that moment. So it, you know, the teams created a new product a year and a half ago, and it’s going to create a new service for us going into 2022.

Gene Hammett: Because the impact of, of a small idea of bringing in cross-functional teams is really making an impact on the business overall. So, and you’ve been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and, and everything you do here for the podcast.

Ed Buckley: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap this up because there was a lot of highlights inside of this conversation. Ed talked about the best ideas coming from the front. It really is important for you to include others in those ideas. He even said later, That you know, participation of big strategies we’re tapping into everyone, not just the C-suite. And then he adds to that, the fact that some of the best ideas to pivot the business, create new service lines all happened because people were gathered together. They share these ideas. This doesn’t happen in the absence of, you know, poor leadership. This has happened because of great leadership across the company. People feeling empowered and feeling like they really matter in what their work is doing. So just remember that as you continue to evolve as a leader.

But you are curious about what your next steps are. I have a lot of leaders. I talked to that they’re really hung up on something. Maybe it’s a big decision ahead of you. Maybe it’s a problem employee. I’d love to help you think through that. If you want to get on a call with me just go to and schedule your call. Anytime I love to serve you to be the best leader you can be actually be extraordinary. Just go to and schedule your call.

When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Will see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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