Kinside wants families to make the most of their dependent care flexible spending accounts

The cost of childcare is one of the biggest financial burdens American families face. Even dependent care flexible spending accounts, pre-tax benefit accounts meant to reduce caregiving costs, can be an extra stressor because they involve filling out many forms. Kinside, a startup in Y Combinator’s current batch, wants to help by automating the claims process. […]

Kinside founders Rob Bircher, Shadiah Sigala and Abe Han

The cost of childcare is one of the biggest financial burdens American families face. Even dependent care flexible spending accounts, pre-tax benefit accounts meant to reduce caregiving costs, can be an extra stressor because they involve filling out many forms. Kinside, a startup in Y Combinator’s current batch, wants to help by automating the claims process. It also serves as a childcare management tool, letting parents pay their care providers with a Venmo-like feature while making it simpler for companies to offer childcare benefits, like matching costs, that can help attract talented employees. Kinside is still in beta, but it’s already been adopted by several tech companies, including Le Tote.

Kinside’s three founders—CEO Shadiah Sigala, COO Rob Bircher and CTO Abe Han—were motivated to launch the startup after realizing that dependent care FSAs (which can also be used for other caregiving-related costs, like elder care) are vastly underutilized.

“Even though upwards of 70% of companies offer this FSA, we found in our conversations with numerous companies that maybe 10% of eligible parents are using this benefit,” Sigala says. “From an employee experience perspective, we are really taking on a very onerous, traditional FSA product and streamlining the payments process, not only for employers to offer this benefit very seamlessly, but also streamlining the process for parents to take advantage of this benefit.”

One reason eligible employees forgo their dependent care FSA benefits is the claims process, which can take weeks to process and involves collecting receipts and uploading them onto a website (snail mail and fax are other options). As parents, Kinside’s founders have experienced firsthand the headache of dealing with dependent care FSA forms at previous jobs.

“Some of the products we’ve seen already look a decade old, with multiple screens of input. They are really clumsy, so from a modern Web app and UX experience, Kinside brings it up to speed,” says Han.

Kinside also takes advantage of the trio’s past experience in the payments and benefits space. Before launching Kinside, Sigala co-founded HoneyBook, a CRM for entrepreneurs in creative fields. Han also worked at HoneyBook as lead software engineer, while Bircher was senior vice president of sales and marketing at healthcare benefits tech company Picwell.

The team’s goal is to not only encourage use of dependent care FSAs, but also relieve the mental load for harried parents. To sign up for Kinside, they enter their childcare provider’s information on its Web app and connect a bank account. Kinside then makes automated childcare payments with funds from their FSAs and bank accounts or sends payment reminders. It keeps receipts and at the end of the year provides parents with a tax form.

“This couldn’t be done five years ago because there wasn’t a modern payroll. There weren’t modern payments services that existed and we didn’t have APIs for payment and payroll services,” says Sigala. “A lot of employers offer dependent care FSAs already, but they are very receptive to our service because they are looking for products that will improve the experience.”

Kinside is targeting other tech companies first, since many are at the forefront of building family-friendly policies. Several, including Netflix, Facebook and Etsy, have made headlines for offering parental benefits that are considered very generous by American standards, like longer paid leave, flex time and childcare subsidies. This doesn’t just help parents. It also helps companies build diverse workforces by attracting more millennials and women (the high cost of childcare is a big reason why many new mothers leave the workforce, even if they don’t want to. They simply can’t afford to work).

“They know that you have to offer more than a trivial benefit like free lunch or a foosball table,” says Sigala. “Childcare is more expensive than healthcare, or as expensive as rent. Healthcare is eating up to 20% of a Bay Area family’s income.”

One of Kinside’s selling points is enabling small to mid-sized businesses to offer competitive benefits, too. “You see solutions that cater to larger employers, like on-site daycare centers, that are very inaccessible to smaller to mid-sized companies,” says Bircher. “We want to fill a void that we thought existed for SMBs and this was one way to do it.”

As more companies turn to better family benefits to boost recruitment and retention, it’s conceivable that other startups will also look at ways to make using Dependent Care FSAs easier. Sigala says one advantage Kinside has is the founding team’s prior experience, which means they know the right distribution channels. The startup is looking at ways to help parents get more use out of the money they put in their FSAs by partnering with eligible childcare-related services. It also wants to work with companies that pre-screen providers, so Kinside can potentially address all steps of the childcare process, from finding a trustworthy carer and paying them on time to preparing year-end tax forms.

“Parents are going to pay an arm and a leg for childcare already,” says Sigala. “If we can help them get tax-free dollars toward childcare, that’s what we want to do.”

League raises $62M Series B to fix corporate health care benefits

League, an online platform that wants to reduce the strain of managing health benefits for companies and employees alike, announced today that it has raised a $62 million Series B. The round was led by TELUS Ventures, with participation from Wittington Ventures and returning investors OMERS, Infinite Potential Group, RBC Ventures and BDC Ventures. The […]

League founder and CEO Michael Serbinis

League, an online platform that wants to reduce the strain of managing health benefits for companies and employees alike, announced today that it has raised a $62 million Series B. The round was led by TELUS Ventures, with participation from Wittington Ventures and returning investors OMERS, Infinite Potential Group, RBC Ventures and BDC Ventures.

The Toronto-based startup’s last round of funding was a $25 million Series A two years ago. With clients like Uber, Shopify and Unilever, League is currently one of the bigger players in the “employee wellness space,” which encompasses a roster of startups dedicated to boosting retention and productivity rates by improving health benefits. The growth of the sector is fueled by competition for top talent, the rising cost of healthcare and increasing awareness of mental health issues.

League was launched in 2014 by serial entrepreneur Michael Serbinis, who was previously founder and CEO of Kobo, the Kindle competitor acquired by Rakuten in 2011. Serbinis tells TechCrunch that his interest in health technology was sparked by a conversation about healthcare inefficiencies with Patrick Soon-Shiong, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur and NantHealth founder probably better known outside of biotech circles as the newest owner of the Los Angeles Times. Serbinis says Soon-Shiong told him that the healthcare system needed to be fixed by someone outside of the industry, who was able to take a fresh, consumer-driven approach.

“I got into it naively not being a healthcare person, with not even a biology class anywhere in my past, and I very quickly realized that most people think about healthcare through the lens of health insurance, i.e. can I do it, can I afford it?” Serbinis, League’s CEO, says. “The more I learned about it, the more I realized how broken it is. In the U.S. and Canada and Western European nations, healthcare gets more expensive, but you get less and less, and no one loves the experience.”

He notes that health benefits “are a top three requirement for anyone seeking a new job in the U.S. today and for millennials it’s the top one or two, depending on the survey.” At the same time, healthcare is also one of the top three expenses for companies.

While there is a growing roster of startups, including Spring Health, Lyra Health and Lumity, tackling different corporate healthcare issues, Serbinis felt the space was still missing “an end-to-end platform that fits on top of health insurance providers and underwriters, to give employers a way to offer a competitive solution in the war for talent and saving money.”

League’s mission is to let employees take more control over their health plans, while reducing costs for companies by providing a HIPAA-compliant platform that connects all benefits. This enables employees to manage their health plan and benefits with League’s chat-based online assistant and a digital wallet. They also gain more transparency into things like health insurance pricing and flexible spending accounts. League partners with other companies to offer perks like ClassPass or Headspace discounts, prescription delivery services or access fertility treatments that aren’t covered by traditional insurance plans.

On the other end, companies get analytics to help them design healthcare plans and see if the benefits they offer are actually improving employee morale.

Serbinis says League’s ease of use is proven by its high engagement rate. The company claims three-quarters of users log onto the platform each month, and of that number, many access it five to 20 times a month.

One interesting aspect of League’s story is that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan are currently making headlines for a new joint health care initiative. While the venture will start by overhauling health benefits at those three organizations, it is being closely watched because of its potential influence on the health care industry. Thanks to Kobo, which was once Kindle’s top competitor, Serbinis already has experience going head-to-head with Amazon.

After learning about the triumvirate’s plans, Serbinis says he emailed Bezos. “I said I love the initiative and would love to help out, because for the most part, what people expect in the short-term is really aggregate purchasing power and driving costs down there. But ultimately, I expect a lot more from them, and the idea of bringing strategic assets and capability, a big pool of employees and technology together is the right strategy,” he says. “I can see Amazon looking for a partner like League.”

He adds that the joint initiative will light a fire in the sector. “I see new entrants into this market accelerate because of Amazon. It really has opened people’s eyes to the idea that this is a massive problem,” Serbinis says. “I see a lot of people getting into the game because of Amazon leading the way, and what I’ve seen already is incumbent players trying to speed up and accelerate their innovation programs.”

In a media statement, TELUS Ventures managing partner Rich Osborn said “We believe that innovative companies like League–which deliver compelling, consumer-centric experiences–will not only drive high employee and employer engagement, but will also deliver fundamental improvements in health outcomes for Canadians through their carrier-friendly open platform.”

The company’s Series B will be used to open offices in San Francisco, New York and London. League launched in the United States in 2017, starting with an office in Chicago, and is now licensed to operate in all 50 states. Serbinis says one of the markets that will help its American expansion are employers with less than 50 “full-time equivalent” employees who aren’t mandated to provide coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but still need to offer health benefits in order to attract talent. Another new opening is the recent Department of Labor ruling on “association health plans” that makes it easier for small businesses in the same sector to team up and buy employee health insurance together.

League also plans to begin operating in the United Kingdom and European Union next year, which will make it easier to attract multinational clients who want to use the same platform to manage health benefits in different countries.

“When you think about the future of health insurance, it’s easy to think about more of the same, but with a better website or app,” says Serbinis. “But the fact is that the future of health insurance is not just about insurance, but health and there is the idea of focusing on consumers and delivering personalized experiences, a digital experience that is data driven and helps them every day, instead of waiting to the point where they are sick and have to go to a website under duress to find out what to do.”