Technology Adviser of the Year builds suite of products to meet high-tech demands
One of the challenges for a startup business — even a new high-tech launch that is populated with smart programmers and engineers — is finding an adequate employee benefit provider. Entrepreneurs want their engineers designing the next Snapchat or Venmo and not messing around creating a payroll system. That’s where Sequoia Consulting Group’s Manish Kumar comes in. He started as the San Mateo benefit brokerage’s vice president of technology and its sole technologist with a mission to create cloud-based systems and apps that answer the employee benefit needs of ambitious tech-savvy firms.
Two years ago, Kumar and three engineers built a proprietary enrollment middleware architecture that is platform and carrier agnostic. This allowed data to move freely between different insurance carriers that often could not interact with one another.
“That was kind of mother of all Sequoia projects because unless you have the data, you can’t do anything, right?” he says.
After this initial project, Kumar’s Sequoia tech team grew to 20 engineers and they created a raft of benefit technology offerings. His projects include Sequoia One, an HR, 401(k) and payroll system aimed at tech startups that do not have an established HR division; Sequoia Tech, a benefits portal and online enrollment platform for larger, more established high-tech firms that offers benchmarked benefits plans, well-being programs and access to Sequoia Tech Global Services, for employees who work outside of the U.S.; and Sequoia Total, which brings all of the technology and benefits offers into one package with additional risk management, compliance, well-being and other offerings.
If one needs further proof of his leadership skills, he has accomplished an unheard of feat: There has been zero engineering staff turnover in the hypercompetitive and ever-changing job market of Silicon Valley.
“In the past two years, he not only matured an engineering team from scratch, but he also led the team to produce several industry-first products. Growing the team from a scrappy team of three to 20 people, bridging many disciplines, now spanning from Internal Technology to Operations to External Technology and Product Development,” according to Thomas Rasmussen, Sequoia Consulting Group’s director of business applications, who nominated Kumar for the award. “For a company located in the heart of the San Francisco bay area, a 0% attrition rate for a large technology team speaks volumes by itself,” adds Rasmussen.
Kumar and his team’s most recent project was building Sequoia Mobile, an app that houses an employee’s medical insurance ID, manages deductibles, reimbursements and coverage, as well as offers information on the employee’s HSA and 401(k) accounts. Employees and their dependents of Sequoia benefit plans can download the app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play and access their information on their smartphone or tablet.
In launching this project, Kumar spoke with the service teams of Sequoia’s employer clients to discover the typical employee’s “pain points.” Although Sequoia’s client base is made up of high-tech firms with tech savvy employees — clients include Dropbox, Cloudera, Five9, One Medical Group — employees had common concerns. One leading complaint was employees looking for their medical ID numbers.
“How can we make it easy for people to have this information available so that they have fewer calls to make?” he recalls.
Solving client’s nagging problems — benefit as well as IT-related — are a major mission of Kumar and his team. In short, they want to answer the questions before they are asked. “Basically, the idea was taken from the view of an employee, like how can we develop something that is a one-stop shop?”
So far, Sequoia Mobile has been a success. Introduced last December, an estimated 8,000 employees from Sequoia clients have downloaded the app. “The response is quite incredible and now our target bar is raised even further,” he says.
Kumar says his technology team follows the company’s three guidelines: service, guidance and technology. He says that guidance and service had been a cornerstone of Sequoia before Kumar signed on, but the technology was a slightly harder sell. One challenge was convincing clients that Sequoia’s software was on par with the longtime players in the benefits space.
“People have known Guardian, Blue Cross and Met Life. It takes a little while for them to understand the value we can bring,” he says.
Kumar also oversees the creation of applications that are used solely inside Sequoia Consulting. One notable achievement was the creation of a proprietary billing application that consolidated all of Sequoia’s carriers and simplified invoicing and payments for the firm’s employees.
Kumar and his team have “systematized and automated hundreds of internal processes within Sequoia, which is notable in the volume of transactions that Sequoia conducts for hundreds of its clients,” Rasmussen says.
Despite these achievements, Kumar still has plans for his technology team. First and foremost, he plans to double his tech team to 40 engineers and IT staffers.
“Manish is the definition of balancing a drive for innovation through positive leadership. He understands being a leader does not only mean pushing a team to complete projects within set milestones, but rather about encouraging your team members to strive for their highest potential while coming together for common goals,” Rasmussen says.