Founder and CEO of Compt
While workplaces have evolved, Amy says worker benefits have not evolved to meet the needs of all employees.
After some time teaching English in Italy, Amy returned to the US to pursue marketing. She soon realized her passion was numbers and analytics.
Through her work managing HR in various companies she learned the vital importance of People Ops, and the need for companies to manage people better.
Amy sees opportunities for companies to embrace new work and social dynamics to strengthen teams and tap the vast potential of employees.
IVAN STEGIC: Hi there! You’re listening to ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us! I’m your host, Ivan Stegic. This podcast is supported by TEN7, a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter. Online at ten7.com.
We all have a story, don’t we? We’ve all had successes and failures, joy and disappointment, love and sadness. And yet, we’ve all made it to here… to right now! Our stories are one amongst eight billion others… eight billion other stories, each of them unique, each of them grand in their own way, and each of them a window into the humanity that connects us all. ONE OF 8 BILLION tells the life stories of people from around the world!
Our story today is about Amy Spurling, the CEO of Compt, a company focused on helping companies reimagine the way they take care of their employees.
Amy works with businesses around the world, redefining People Ops to create a more inclusive, more productive and happier workplace.
IVAN: Welcome to ONE OF 8 BILLION, would you please introduce yourself.
AMY SPURLING: My name is Amy Spurling. I'm the founder and CEO at Compt. I'm currently based just across the river from Boston sitting in Cambridge.
IVAN STEGIC: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Are you a Boston Red Sox fan by any chance?
AMY: I grew up in California, and I watched the Red Sox, but honestly, the older I get, the less I can pay attention to that long of a game. I'm more of a hockey girl. It's more time efficient. So, I watch a lot more hockey and basketball than I do baseball anymore.
IVAN: Before I go back to where and ask about where you're from, and where life started for you, I'd love to hear a little bit about your here and now. So, what's keeping your mind going these days? What does your now look like? Who are you around? What does that look like?
AMY: So top of mind for me there's obviously a lot going on in the world right now. I was a CFO in 2008, and so I'm having a little bit of PTSD right now as I watch changes happening in the market. And so, watching how companies react to that, and seeing how we can support them is obviously something that I focus on. And then just working, I spend all of my time pretty much with my team and my wife, because life in a startup is all encompassing. So, spending a lot of time with the folks around me in that space.
IVAN: Are you a fully remote company? Or do you have an office? What does that look like?
AMY: We are fully remote now. We went fully remote like everyone else with the pandemic and have committed to staying fully remote, which allows us to hire amazing talent across the country. I didn't originally want to be remote at all. And so that was an adjustment for me. But it's been a really good one for the team, so we've committed to it because it's worked out really nicely.
IVAN: It makes sense, doesn't it? We were so much against remote as well. And when we tried it back in 2017, it just felt so good and so natural and so many more pros to it than we didn't expect. And one of them, like you said, was being able to hire, not just nationally, but globally, too.
AMY: We're focused on folks in the U.S. just because of tax laws and compliance and all that good stuff. I just want to make it as easy for myself as possible. But they can be located anywhere in the U.S. that they would like. And if they're working remote, we don't like people working on vacation, but if they're taking an extended period of time and being elsewhere, that's totally fine, too.
IVAN: Yeah, that sounds like the best of both worlds, honestly. Now, you mentioned California earlier. Where were you born? What did the beginning of Amy Spurling’s life look like?
AMY: Oh, it was very different from my life now. I grew up in Northern California, about five and a half hours north of San Francisco. So the middle of nowhere. Lots of redwood trees, beautiful coastline. Not a lot else. The claim to fame where I'm from is that before it became legal everywhere was growing about 60% of the weed for the entire U.S.. That was pretty much fueling our economy up there. So a very unique place to grow up, where it's kind of land lost in time, feels like the 60s at all times. But I left right after high school and moved to the East Coast and went to school in upstate New York. And it's just a much better fit for me out here.
IVAN: And when I think about the title of our podcast, which is ONE OF 8 BILLION, it gives me so many different mixed emotions. Sometimes I feel small about it, sometimes large, connected to everybody, not connected, disconnected from people. How does being one of 8 billion humans on this planet make you feel? What thoughts come to mind?
AMY: I echo what you just said. It’s all of the things all at once where sometimes it feels like you're just one of so many and how could you possibly make a difference? And how could you possibly have an impact? And that can be really frustrating. But then I try and take it into the Okay, but what difference can I make? And what difference can my team make? And trying to make a difference at least in the lives that we can touch and surrounding us and then that makes it feel much bigger, and much less alone and hopeless. Because you can have a really big impact, probably not to 8 billion people, but you're going to have an impact somewhere in your life. And you can see the impact that individuals have had. There are people who have an impact across lots and lots of people and so trying to focus on the positive there is really important, I think.
IVAN: What is the impact that you're trying to make right now?
AMY: We're really focused on trying to make sure that there is more inclusivity when it comes to people's compensation. So, 80% of our compensation in the U.S., especially in technology, financial services, desk jobs, is a lot of times our salary and our health insurance. But it's the last 20% of your compensation, where companies compete against each other for talent, and where they also give you all the things that can set you up for an amazing career or not.
And that's where there's been so much grab bag of stuff that companies offer that so few people actually have access to. So a classic example is student loan repayment or childcare or maybe it's tuition reimbursement. Those are all phenomenal employee perks, but if you don't have a child at the right age for child care, or it's not in the right geography, the childcare is in Chicago, but you're located in Fargo, not so helpful. If you don't have student loans, but your partner has student loans, not so helpful.
Tuition reimbursement, what if you're in your 40s, or 50s and don't want to go get an advanced degree? Or the same if you're in your 20s. What if that's not on your roadmap, but you still want to be learning and advancing your career. So, we want to make sure that companies can have a much more consistent approach for their team and make sure that everyone has access, which can help empower their teams to do better overall.
IVAN: Do you hope to have an impact outside of the U.S. at some point as well?
AMY: We're actually supporting employees in over 60 countries right now. So, we found that very early on even smaller companies like yourself, actually, not that you're smaller, but earlier in their lifecycle. Not meaning that you're smaller, meaning that we found that companies that are in an earlier life cycle started adding international much earlier than we anticipated, not waiting till they're 10,000 people kind of thing.
And so, we started seeing that when companies were as small as 25 people, where they'd start having international employees, but wanted a consistent program across everyone. So, trying to have that global, cultural support, where it's like, hey, we support family or wellness. But allowing for that to happen in a way that can be localized as well. You've got different currencies and time zones, and all kinds of things. So trying to make sure that there is a global approach to how you support your team.
IVAN: I love it. I thought you were U.S. based. I didn't realize you had so many other countries that you are responsible for.
AMY: We are U.S. based. The companies all have to have a legal U.S. entity, but they can have employees anywhere in the world.
IVAN: You talked about how you moved out to New York, and how that was a better fit for you. Before you did that, what's the earliest childhood memory you have before going out to the East Coast?
AMY: It's hard to know what's a memory. And what's - I think it's a memory, but it's just a picture that I saw as a child. My mother was amazing at taking lots and lots of pictures. And I have a flipbook of my childhood so it feels like those are memories. But the one that kind of jumps out to me and sticks in my brain is I I think I remember. I was around three, three and a half years old, and my brother was about a year younger than me.
I would play the boss basically with him. And I was the head of the restaurant. We were very much into like, he was my little worker sometimes, and sometimes he would be the patron of my restaurant and I would use my little Tinker Toys and make little spatulas and feed him raisins. So, I remember doing that as a child.
IVAN: So, not a far stretch to imagine that you'd be a founder and a CEO?
AMY: No, not a far stretch at all. My brother has always called me the bossy one. So it is what it is.
IVAN: Do you think you knew back then that that's what you wanted to do? Or did you have some other desires on a potential career or potential vocation?
AMY: I never really planned on starting my own company. That was not something in the front of my brain. I’ve been a CFO a bunch of times, a COO a bunch of times. I enjoy building companies, but I didn't necessarily need to sit in the CEO seat or the founder seat. Where it became something that I had to do was when, the platform that we're building really solves a problem that hits both finance and HR, which was my field, and nobody was building this tool that I absolutely needed to be able to scale teams.
And that's when I was like, alright, this thing has to exist. No one else is building it, which is very frustrating to me. So, I'm just going to go build it myself. So, it's not like I'm the serial entrepreneur who wants to, after this go build another company and another company. I wanted to build this company. And I wanted to do that in a way that was a reflection of my values and of the type of technology and technology company that I think should exist in the world.
IVAN: That's awesome. I love that you're solving a problem that you're passionate about, and that you want to be able to scale these benefits and this platform that you've started and created. That's amazing. I am also curious about what you did after high school. You said you moved to the East Coast. Tell me why that was something that was important for you to do.
AMY: I was paying for college myself, as many people do. And I hadn't planned on moving to the East Coast. I was back before the internet. So, I'd written away for view books. I do a lot of planning in my life. I started writing away to colleges when I was in eighth grade, trying to get all their view books. I knew I was going to college. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere, but I didn't know where. So, I had these bags and bags of college view books. I ended up going to school at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. They gave me the biggest scholarship. and so it made financial sense for me to go there.
I showed up sight unseen. I had never lived in snow. I did not own boots. I did not own a coat. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But I knew that they were going to pay me a lot of money to go to school. And that seemed like a really good plan to me. So that's what I did.
And it was definitely culture shock. My frame of reference for college was Berkeley, which is a lot of kids with home sewn clothes very much like where I grew up. And I got to Rochester, and it was a bunch of Manhattan kids in khakis and button downs, and I had no idea what to do with myself.
IVAN: Wow, that sounds like quite a culture shock. It sounds like sort of what happened to me as well, growing up in South Africa and then seeing snow for the first time moving to Minnesota. Also site unseen, also without boots.
AMY: Oh, yes. Yeah, I think that's probably a bigger culture shock than I had. But yes, South Africa to Minnesota would definitely be culture shock.
IVAN: Oh, my gosh, so I could identify with that. What did you study? What did you enroll for?
AMY: I originally enrolled for Biomolecular Engineering. And I don't know how I landed in that. I loved science in high school. But again, I went to a small Catholic high school, my senior class was 30 kids. And so, I was the smartest kid in my school. But you get to an upstate New York school where everyone's been going to these amazing prep schools, and you realize you're not the smartest person in the school. And I realized I was definitely a fish out of water, and that was not going to be my field of interest. So, I shifted over to political science, which is a much better fit for me, and ended up graduating with a political science and international relations degree.
IVAN: And as soon as you are a graduate did you find yourself a job? Or did you start a company? What was the first step out of college?
AMY: I finished college a semester early and took the last semester to study abroad in Italy. I bought the Italian language book and the art history book and then conveniently forgot to buy the rest of the books because that's all I really wanted to learn and I was already done with school. And then instead of coming back to graduate, I got a job in Italy, so I was an English teacher.
After that I moved up to Milan and was an English teacher for a while teaching business people in Italy how to speak American English because all they’d ever learned was British English, but they wanted to do more work with Americans, so wanted to speak like an American. So basically, I taught them how to unlearn grammar. And that was my claim to fame. And so I did some English teaching before coming back to the U.S.
IVAN: What part of Italy before Milan, were you in?
AMY: I was in Arezzo, right outside of Florence.
IVAN: My daughter wants to take some painting lessons in Florence, and it just seems such a beautiful part of the world where of course you would want to go and paint.
AMY: Absolutely. How can you not paint? There's just fields of sunflowers and the light is amazing, and the architecture is amazing. It was definitely an amazing experience.
IVAN: Do you still speak Italian?
AMY: Oh, I can be very dangerous ordering food and buying clothes, and that's about it. So, it's a lot of first person at this point but enough to get by.
IVAN: Well, sort of food and clothes, that’s kind of important. So, I think you've got some of the bases covered. Right?
AMY: Yeah, exactly.
IVAN: That's great. I wonder when your interest in business and finance came? It sounds like you had this political science and I guess language and teaching background. How did the whole finance thing show up?
AMY: So, when I came back from Italy, because you can only stay on a visa for so long there, at that time they weren't allowing Americans to get permanent jobs, I moved to Boston. So, my college roommate lived out here and so I moved in with her and got a job in a marketing company, which is similar to what I was learning in political science. A lot of it is campaign management, and how do you reach people and things like that. I thought I wanted to be a marketer, what I realized was, it was the numbers that was really interesting to me.
So, looking at the marketing analytics, and that started leading me down this path of finance. So the company I was in was an educational travel company, it was great coming back from Italy. It felt very kind of homey to me, because we were working on travel, and then I started moving into other finance roles from there and started following that path.
IVAN: And as you're working down this path of finance, is there ever a mentor in your life? Is there someone that was a memorable leader? Or maybe before that, that you learned things from that really sticks out in your mind?
AMY: I think I've learned something from everyone that I've worked for. I wouldn't say I have one mentor kind of throughout. It's been different mentors have brought different things to me at different times, whether it was my first boss out of college in the U.S., was a woman who I thought she was old at the time, because I was 22 and she was 27. So, she was the sage, old wise woman.
But she taught me a lot about how to not be a kid in a business environment and to be a woman and to show up and to be able to get credibility and respect. And she was really instrumental in that, in helping me navigate that early on, because I hadn't really been in that environment before. And so, she had a pretty big impact on me.
And then later on I had a CFO that I was connected to through one of the VCs that was funding one of my companies, who was my kind of lifelong CFO mentor as I went through that journey, as well. So, I've had some pretty incredible people that I've had the opportunity to work with, or who have supported me throughout my career.
IVAN: And you've been the CFO of a number of companies that have been acquired. Backupify is a good example. Exos as well. How does one become a CFO, without a degree in accounting, or a CPA? I've always thought you'd have to be a numbers person, someone who's got that credential behind your name.
AMY: Well, there's two paths. There is the accounting path. There's also the finance path. And the finance path is a lot less accounting. Accounting is more kind of looking backwards, checking the books, doing the reconciliations. The finance path is the go forward piece, I was more on that side of things. So, a lot more of the planning and taking the numbers from, I had a woman who worked with me for most of my companies, it was our VP of Finance, or controller in some of the roles where she would do the reconciliation piece, make sure that the accounting books were being done correctly. And then I would take that and figure out, All right, where are we going to go next? What do these numbers mean? How do we translate this? What are we seeing in the market?
So doing a lot more of that financial planning piece. That's the angle that I came in at. And also managing human resources. So I managed human resources in all of my companies previously, and I really gravitated towards that. The people operations side of the business, in a technology company, that's 75 to 90% of your costs. And so, if you're not paying attention to that, you really need to pay attention to what's happening with your people. What's important to your people? What's driving your people? How you're retaining them. How you're upscaling your team. And so that doesn't happen with a lot of CFOs, which is where I started moving more into a COO role over time. But that's something that was fun for me and something that I really focused on.
IVAN: Can I just take a moment and just say thank you to every single controller out there. Even small companies like ours, we have a controller, she does all of the reconciliation and makes all of the books work. And I am so thankful that that is not something I have to do or be worried about. It is such important work.
AMY: It is a lot of work. It is a lot of work. And so yes, I think they're very much unsung heroes in a lot of companies, because when they do their job, it looks like it was done and it was easy. And there is so much work that goes into making sure that that is done correctly.
IVAN: And you absolutely have to get it done.
AMY: There's no two ways about it. Yeah. If you don't do it correctly, that's where if you ever want to have an exit, or if you want an IPO, you're going to find where you did things very, very wrong very quickly, if you aren't buttoned up in that area. It's a very critical function.
IVAN: I'm going to want to change the tone just a little bit and ask you about the greatest struggle you've had in life, and in your experience thus far. What has that been?
AMY: I feel like I've had a pretty privileged life. I have everything I could need or want. I've had to work hard for a lot of the things that I've received. But I would say that I overall have a pretty privileged life. I'm healthy. I've got people around me, like, my family is pretty fantastic. My in-laws are fantastic. There's a lot that has lined up and been pretty awesome. When I think about things that have been harder, I don't know if I'd say it's my biggest struggle, but there's things you have to navigate if you're a female founder in particular, or just a woman in business in general.
There are things you have to navigate that if you're a man, you don't. And so, it's figuring out how to navigate those. How do you build a venture backed company, when 2% of funding goes to women annually? That's not much funding, and you're all vying for the same money. You figure out how to do that and find the right partners. And again, I feel like I've been really privileged in that we have found those amazing partners to help us build our vision. But it's figuring out how you navigate that, because it's not easy. But I wouldn't say it's my cross to bear. It’s much more of, Okay, this is the way the world works right now, for worse, not for better or worse, but for worse, let's figure out how we change that. Let's figure out how we change that game and make a difference to where maybe it's easier for the next person.
IVAN: What inspires you in what you see these days?
AMY: There's lots of things that are inspiring me. One thing that jumps to mind is the fact that I see so many non-birthing parents. Not the partner carrying a child, but the other parent, demanding their seat at the table and demanding their parental leave. I love that. I think that is phenomenal. It changes so many dynamics in our world to have both parents. When you have two parents, not every situation has two parents, but when you do have two parents, having both of them be active participants in a child's life is obviously great for the child.
But it also means that birth parent has the opportunity to continue their career because they've got an equal partner in having a child. So, it’s not that dad isn't mommy’s little helper, and mommy's in charge of knowing the schedule and the soccer practice and all that. It’s no, you're both equal partners in this, and both parents can know the schedule, and one parent can have parental leave at one time, and then maybe the next one has it after that. And so I see a generation of parents that both are requiring that and I love that. I think that's phenomenal.
IVAN: That is really inspiring. I agree. I think having a seat at the table is so important for all of the parents that are involved, especially in families that are blended as well. It isn't just two parents, there might be three or four in some cases from different families, right?
AMY: Yep, exactly. So it's recognizing that families come in all shapes and sizes and supporting that. Not every family has children either. For instance, my wife and I have chosen not to have kids. I love kids, I just don't want to personally have them. And that's okay too. So, families can come in all different types and varieties and recognizing that we can build an environment that can support all of those types of families, I think is really inspiring.
And I see more companies focusing on that. And I see a lot of people asking and requiring those rights and those seats at the table. And I love seeing that too, because I think that changes our workplace gender dynamics. That changes the way children are raised. That changes the way children see what their opportunities are, as they grow up. And I think that's really powerful.
IVAN: And I want to add, it not only changes it, it changes it for the better, it changes it for the positive. The diversity, and the difference in opinion makes us stronger, and it makes us better and it leaves a world where we are better and where these kids are growing up with better and more fundamentally sound opinions about the world around them. That's inspiring too.
IVAN: Tell us a little bit about your wife. What does she do?
AMY: She is the COO for a commercial real estate developer. So, right now they're building a really big 1000 key hotel in Atlanta, but she's got big buildings in D.C. and in the Boston area. So big, huge real estate projects.
IVAN: Do you guys talk shop ever?
AMY: All the time. I could probably sub in for her job. She could sub in for my job. We know everything about everybody. She’s a lawyer by training and she'll bring me a lot of the legal side of things. I bring her a lot of the HR and finance side of things. We talk shop all the time.
IVAN: That sounds amazing. That sounds so great.
AMY: It works for us.
IVAN: What are you reading and watching these days? What's keeping you interested? And you know, sometimes there's junk that we watch. I know I do.
AMY: Am I allowed to say what I'm watching? This is going to get embarrassing real fast.
IVAN: Of course.
AMY: What I'm reading is different from what I'm watching right now. So I just finished Billion Dollar Whale. The story of Jho Low, the guy who masterminded the biggest heist and took all the money from the Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund, billions and billions of dollars. That's a fascinating book and how he navigated it. He was just doing this in his twenties. Figured out how to take billions of dollars globally, involving every major auditor, every major bank was involved.
An absolutely fascinating kind of takedown of our financial system, and then huge gaping holes in it. It's a really good book. But it was an interesting book. And I just started She Who Became the Sun. I'm just at the very early stages of it. But it's looking at the 1300s in China. And it's like an historical fiction account. That looks pretty interesting.
IVAN: Oh my gosh. So two not lighthearted books, shall we say?
AMY: I do a lot of nonfiction. I really like historical fiction and seeing what I can learn from that. Sometimes I have to force myself to read more fiction. So, I usually have a goal every year to make sure I read at least a couple of fiction works. But I gravitate more towards nonfiction.
IVAN: Yeah, I do too. I can't read fiction very much at all. And so, I kind of sub in TV and movies for that.
AMY: My fiction definitely comes from TV.
IVAN: Now you have to spill the beans. What are you watching right now?
AMY: So real answer Bling Empire. It’s so bad and I love it.
IVAN: What is that?
AMY: It's kind of like a Real Housewives concept, but it's a take-off from Crazy Rich Asians. So, it's following this group of Asians in L.A. that are all fabulously wealthy and have amazing clothes and it's supposedly not scripted, but it's 100% scripted and it's complete trash and I love it.
IVAN: Great. Now I have to check it out. It looks like it's on Netflix. Maybe?
AMY: Yeah, I think so. I watch a lot of the Bravo kind of, it'll rot your brain if you're not careful, but it's also soothing because I don't have to engage my brain. It's just fluff. I think it's important to see. Yes, I know, it's fake and all of that but I think I need to balance out my nonfiction and the realities of the world with some fluff too, because you can't take everything too seriously. So, I end up watching a little bit of everything.
IVAN: That's so great. As a parting question, what would be your recommendation or your advice to other women who are in leadership? Who are looking to be in leadership? Who are seeking to be inspired and empowered? What's the advice you have for them?
AMY: Just that? I don't know if this is necessarily inspiring, but I do think it's important that you take care of yourself, and that you make sure you get enough sleep. I saw somewhere, somebody said this, I am not the one who came up with it, but it was something like, the battle needs rested warriors. So, if you're burning yourself out and constantly fighting the battle and looking to try and get ahead, but you're not taking care of yourself, not getting that rest, it's really hard to continue doing that. So, making sure you take care of yourself is really important as part of this process.
IVAN: I think you're right. I think it all starts with you. If you're not getting that rest and you're not sleeping, then there's not going to be a whole lot you can do without it.
AMY: Yep, exactly.
IVAN: Amy, it's been so fun talking to you. I have just really enjoyed hearing about where you grew up. Where you landed, and all these important things like what you're watching as well. Your time has been so precious to me. I'm so grateful for it. And so, thank you very much for joining us and we hope to talk to you again soon.
AMY: Thanks so much. I appreciate it. It was great being here.
IVAN: I hope you’ll join us in the next episode of ONE OF 8 BILLION… when we hear from radio and television producer, host and writer, Lindsay Guentzel:
LINDSAY GUENTZEL: There's a lot of topics I wanna dive into, like why it's so hard for people with ADHD to develop close friendships, and why the brain and the way it functions, plays a role in that. And, you know, just taking it week by week and connecting with new people and, and telling stories that make all of us learn about ourselves a little bit more, but also question some things too.
IVAN: This has been ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us... online at 1of8b.com. Join us again next time as we listen to one of eight billion other stories!
This is episode 136 of ONE OF 8 BILLION. It was recorded on June 6, 2022 and first published on June 22, 2022. Audio length is 31 minutes. Transcription by Roxanne Chumucas. Summary, highlights and editing by Brian Lucas. Music by Lexfunk. Produced by Jonathan Freed.