October 20, 2006

Local firm has big goals

John P. McDermott  /  Post and Courier

Benefitfocus.com wants revenues of $1B in next decade

Benefitfocus.com Inc., having built it sleek new corporate headquarters at breakneck speed, is out to beat the clock again: The fast-growing technology firm plans to generate $1 billion in annual revenue within the next decade.

"This building is just a step in that direction," said Mason R. Holland Jr., co-founder and chairman of the company, which moved into its state-of-the-art offices on Daniel Island from a converted retail store over the weekend.

The firm makes Internet-based software that replaces the paper forms employers and workers traditionally have had to fill in to administer their worker-benefit plans, such as health coverage. Its online customers include insurance carriers and their business clients in 17 countries and all 50 states, including 17 BlueCross BlueShield plans.

It was less than six years ago that Holland, Shawn Jenkins and Doug Moreland - the latter two now chief executive officer and chief technology officer, respectively - formed the business as an offshoot of American Pensions Inc. in Mount Pleasant. They soon moved their 15 employees from API's offices into a renovated Wal-Mart in East Cooper Plaza. More recently, the company opened a Greenville office, partly because many of its software engineer hires are Clemson University graduates who want to stay in the Upstate.

The payroll at Benefitfocus now tops 300, a figure that officials expect will double within three years. Jenkins said the company turned its first profit in 2002 and hasn't looked back, reinvesting all its earnings into the business. Growth has been heady, averaging more than 200 percent a year, he said. The company's new 65,000-square-foot office complex also was on the fast track, taking less than 10 months from start to finish.

Jenkins said one of his goals as CEO is to capitalize on a change taking place in the $2.2 trillion a year U.S. health care market. Employers increasingly are shifting the administrative hassles of medical care and other benefits, such as retirement planning, to their workers, he said. "Up to this point, companies did it," he said. "That's all about to change."

Jenkins said another goal is to grow business overseas, especially in countries where frustrations with socialized medicine, such as long waits, are creating huge demand for private health insurance.

The firm's sales target of $1 billion in annual revenue by 2015 is "a big number" for a company that raked in about $30 million last year, said Ed Sellers, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. But Sellers is a believer. His company not only is a big client of Benefitfocus, it helped capitalize the software firm when it was being formed. Sellers said the $1.5 million cash infusion was made after one of his senior executives urged the Columbia-based health insurance giant "to invest early and large in this idea."

"They do something useful," he said. Sellers said he remains bullish on Benefitfocus because the company's products are relatively inexpensive, meaning even small businesses can afford them "without mortgaging the company."

On top of that, the firm is still a tiny player relative to the size of the market. And it helps that Benefitfocus has "a dandy suite of products that actually work," he said.