Essex Bay Capital’s Strategic Investment Into HR Solutions

As the human capital management space gears up for growth, private equity firms are eager for a slice of the action. Franklin Foster of Essex Bay Capital discusses his firm’s recent investment with ExitUp editor-in-chief Caleb Edmundson.

In the last decade, human capital solutions have become a red-hot space for institutional investment. No one understands this better than Franklin Foster, founder of Essex Bay Capital. Essex Bay is a small to mid-market PE firm with an eye on human capital markets. 

Franklin has led direct investments into private companies for the last 17 years, and has been in the finance industry for over 20. Prior to founding Essex Bay, he was a managing director at Audax Private Equity, a leading middle market investment firm with over $9 billion of capital under management. At Audax, he led investments in the industrial, business services, healthcare and technology markets, among others, completing over 60 acquisitions. 

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At Essex Bay, Franklin brings his personal investment philosophy, based on years as a successful operator, to every deal. He has found through experience that operators with a round approach have a higher rate of success. He has concluded that while cumulative experience matters, a growth mindset is the most fundamentally important driver for operating partners.  


Franklin’s approach to strategic investments is centered around finding founders and leaders who can digest information and course-correct accordingly. To find operating partners of this class necessitates prioritizing humility over other attributes. Decisions can’t be made to accommodate anyone’s ego, he has determined. Rather, having the ability to accept that mistakes will probably be made and possessing the capacity to course-correct is foundational to his blueprint for success. 

Eighteen months ago, Essex Bay Capital made a growth investment in STRIVE, a leading employee experience solution software. Franklin says that STRIVE intends to expand through acquisitions of complementary businesses and become a full-service solution for a range of employee experience services, including wellness, recognition and rewards, and performance management, among others. The deal represents a growing trend among PE investors seeking a slice of the evolving HR solutions market.

This week, Caleb Edmundson, editor-in-chief of ExitUp, sat down with Essex Bay founder Franklin Foster to discuss his investment into STRIVE and his personal investment philosophy. In our conversation, Franklin unpacks how STRIVE represents a new opportunity to drive value and discusses the benefits early adopters have seen from utilizing the platform.

Franklin, what was it about STRIVE that piqued your interest?

The human capital management space is a growing market. There is so much technological evolution in the space right now that makes it attractive for investment. STRIVE started within the traditional benefits management market where we’ve seen a massive proliferation of tools and solutions. The potential for growth, therefore, certainly caught our eye. Building upon their initial service offerings they’ve really widened their foundation by bringing a number of solutions together into one seamless platform for employees. They’ve now been able to take that platform and expand it to create a fully-fledged employee experience solution. 

Especially since the start of the pandemic so many tools have been introduced into the HR suite. 

With their foundation in benefits management, where has STRIVE expanded from there?

Beyond benefits management, STRIVE has expanded to offer tools in performance management alongside a whole continuum of other functions. What STRIVE does well is bring all of a company’s HR tools together into one spot. Everything from community building in a remote work environment, peer-to-peer recognition, benefits management, wellness, etc. STRIVE has expanded way beyond a benefits management platform and it has really been their ability to expand the platform and incorporate more and more solutions that caught our eye.

“The human capital management space is a growing market. There is so much technological evolution in the space right now that makes it attractive for investment.”

How does this represent a new opportunity to drive value? 

STRIVE brings all the functions of your rendered HR manager to one platform. Their ideal client is a rapidly expanding company that has a peer-to-peer recognition tool, a performance management tool, and let’s say a separate internal communications platform. Already, you have functionality spread across multiple platforms and we haven’t even gotten to benefits which usually operates on an entirely separate platform. What STRIVE does well is bring all these functions to one place. As a mobile first solution it literally puts all of your HR functions in the palm of your hand. 

Does STRIVE develop all their HR tools or can you plug in external solutions?

STRIVE has native solutions and the capacity to integrate external ones. Adopting the STRIVE platform does not mean giving up any of the HR functions that your team may be used to overseeing. As companies grow, new HR functions are necessitated. Companies add new solutions but want to keep using the tools their team members are used to. This attempt to maintain tool consistency is one reason companies end up utilizing multiple platforms. STRIVE allows employees to access all the tools they’re used to under one consolidated platform and offers further solutions as the company continues to expand.  

That sounds incredibly customizable.

Exactly. This way companies are able to play with the widest variety of different tools over the years to find the best combination to fit their needs. This type of tailor-made approach is perfect for smaller companies with high growth that need to constantly adjust and readjust their HR capacity as their needs scale.

Have you seen the benefits of utilizing STRIVE firsthand?

The companies that we sell to love the product. The reviews have been increasingly positive as we’ve expanded the solution over the past year. Now that we’ve built STRIVE into a full HR suite and companies have started to embrace that full capability, we’re seeing high employee satisfaction. It’s awesome for creating community in companies that are remote or may just have a dispersed employee base. It is a mobile first solution. Not only is it a super easy way for employees to access essential benefits, but they can use this as a solution for core communication. It has the capacity to operate like a social media feed, enhancing company culture by building a stronger community.

Article By

Caleb Edmundson

Caleb Edmundson

Caleb A. Edmundson is Editor-in-Chief of ExitUp, the investment blog from Hunt Scanlon Ventures designed for professionals across the human capital M&A sector. Caleb serves as an Associate for Hunt Scanlon Ventures, providing robust industry research to support the firm’s investment group. Connect with Caleb.

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