Oct
10
2018
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Zenefits’ Parker Conrad returns with Rippling to kill HR & IT busywork

Parker Conrad likes to save time, even though it’s gotten him in trouble. The former CEO of Zenefits was pushed out of the $4.5 billion human resources startup because he built a hack that let him and employees get faster insurance certifications. But 2.5 years later, he’s back to take the busy work out of staff onboarding as well as clumsy IT services like single sign-on to enterprise apps. Today his startup Rippling launches its combined employee management system, which Conrad calls a much larger endeavor than the minimum viable product it announced while in Y Combinator’s accelerator 18 months ago.

“It’s not an HR system. It’s a level below that,” Conrad tells me. “It’s this unholy, crazy mashup of three different things.” First, it handles payroll, benefits, taxes and PTO across all 50 states. “Except Syria and North Korea, you can pay anyone in the world with Rippling,” Conrad claims. That makes it a competitor with Gusto… and Zenefits.

Second, it’s a replacement for Okta, Duo and other enterprise single-sign on security apps that authenticate staffers across partnered apps. Rippling bookmarklets make it easy to auth into over 250 workplace apps, like Gmail, Slack, Dropbox, Asana, Trello, AWS, Salesforce, GitHub and more. When an employee is hired or changes teams, a single modification to their role in Rippling automatically changes all the permissions of what they can access.

And third, it handles computer endpoint security like Jamf. When an employee is hired, Rippling can instantly ship them a computer with all the right software installed and the hard drive encrypted, or have staffers add the Rippling agent that enforces the company’s security standards. The system is designed so there’s no need for an expert IT department to manage it.

“Distributed, fragmented systems of record for employee data are secretly the cause of almost all the annoying administrative work of running a company,” Conrad explains. “If you could build this system that ties all of it together, you could eliminate all this crap work.” That’s Rippling. It’s opening up to all potential clients today, charging them a combined subscription or à la carte fees for any of the three wings of the product.

Conrad refused to say how much Rippling has raised total, citing the enhanced scrutiny Zenefits’ raises drew. But he says a Wall Street Journal report that Rippling had raised $7 million was inaccurate. “We haven’t raised any priced VC rounds. Just a bunch of seed money. We raised from Initialized Capital, almost all the early seed investors at Zenefits and a lot of individuals.” He cited Y Combinator, YC Growth Fund, YC’s founder Jessica Livingston and president Sam Altman, other YC partners, as well as DFJ and SV Angel.

“Because we were able to raise a bunch of money and court great engineers . . . we were able to spend a lot of time building this fundamental technology,” Conrad tells me. Rippling has about 50 team members now, with about 40 of them being engineers, highlighting just how thoroughly Conrad wants to eradicate manual work about work, starting with his own startup.

The CEO refused to discuss details of exactly what went down at Zenefits and whether he thought his ejection was fair. He was accused of allowing Zenefits’ insurance brokers to sell in states where they weren’t licensed, and giving some employees a macro that let them more quickly pass the online insurance certification exam. Conrad ended up paying about $534,000 in SEC fines. Zenefits laid off 430 employees, or 45 percent of its staff, and moved to selling software to small-to-medium sized businesses through a network of insurance brokers.

But when asked what he’d learned from Zenefits, Conrad looked past those troubles and instead recalled that “one of the mistakes that we made was that we did a lot stuff manually behind the scenes. When you scale up, there are these manual processes, and it’s really hard to come back later when it’s a big hard complicated thing and replace it with technology. You get upside down on margins. If you start at the beginning and never let the manual processes creep in . . . it sort of works.”

Perhaps it was trying to cut corners that got Conrad into the Zenefits mess, but now that same intention has inspired Rippling’s goal of eliminating HR and IT drudgery with an all-in-one tool.

“I think I’m someone who feels the pain of that kind of stuff particularly strongly. So that’s always been a real irritant to me, and I saw this problem. The conventional wisdom is ‘don’t build something like this, start with something much smaller,’ ” Conrad concludes. “But I knew if I didn’t do this, that no one else was gong to do it and I really wanted this system to exist. This is a company that’s all about annoying stuff and making that fucking annoying stuff go away.”

Jun
21
2018
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Disrupting the paycheck, Gusto’s Flexible Pay allows employees to pick when they get paid

People should get paid for work they have done. It’s a pretty simple principle of capitalism, but a principle that seems increasingly violated in the modern economy. With semi-monthly paychecks, the work an employee does on the first day of the month won’t be paid until the end of the third week — a delay of up to 21 days. That delay is despite the massive digitalization of bank transfers and accounting over the past few decades that should have made paychecks far more regular.

Gusto, a payroll and HR benefits provider focused on small businesses, announced the launch of Flexible Pay today, a new feature that will allow its payroll users to select when they receive their income for work already completed. The feature, which must be switched on by an employer, will cost employers nothing out-of-pocket today. The launch is limited to customers in Texas, but will expand to other states in the coming year.

As Gusto CEO Joshua Reeves explained it to me, a kid mowing lawns in a neighborhood has a much more visceral connection to income than the modern knowledge economy worker. Cut the grass, get cash — it’s that simple. He also pointed out, with irony, that terminated employees experience much better payroll service than regular employees: they have to be paid out on their last day of work outside of the standard paycheck schedule. Reeves and his team wanted to offer that flexibility and convenience to every worker.

Flexible Pay allows users to choose when they get paid, outside of typical paycheck schedules

The key to this new feature has been Gusto’s increasing data about small businesses. Gusto now serves 1 percent of all small businesses in the U.S., and it has comprehensive access to its customers’ financial and payroll data. With integrations to time sheet services and proper risk modeling, Gusto is able to predict exactly what salary a worker has already earned, and can front the money at minimum risk to itself.

One major challenge for Gusto was how to reconcile the books of the employer with the irregular paycheck schedules desired by employees. Gusto handles all the logistics transparently, including tax withholding, so that for employers, the paycheck distribution looks and feels “normal” on its books.

That means that Gusto is effectively loaning money to companies, since it is paying payroll in advance. Gusto is funding those loans off its balance sheet today, but over time, the company expects to create a financial facility to underwrite the product.

For Reeves, Flexible Pay is “the right thing to do.” He believes that this new level of flexibility will empower workers to control their financial lives. In the long run, as more users get habituated to the product and its convenience, he hopes that the feature will draw other employers into using Gusto based on employee demand.

The unfortunate reality in the American workforce is that huge numbers of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, by some counts as many as 80 percent. A bill can come due just a day or two before a paycheck hits, but without cash in a checking account, people often have to resort to predatory financial products like payday loans or high-interest credit cards in order to make ends meet. Flexible Pay is one step in the right direction of fighting for workers to get the money they justly deserve.

Jun
08
2018
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Workday acquires Rallyteam to fuel machine learning efforts

Sometimes you acquire a company for the assets and sometimes you do it for the talent. Today Workday announced it was buying Rallyteam, a San Francisco startup that helps companies keep talented employees by matching them with more challenging opportunities in-house.

The companies did not share the purchase price or the number of Rallyteam employees who would be joining Workday .

In this case, Workday appears to be acquiring the talent. It wants to take the Rallyteam team and incorporate it into the company’s engineering unit to beef up its machine learning efforts, while taking advantage of the expertise it has built up over the years connecting employees with interesting internal projects.

“With Rallyteam, we gain incredible team members who created a talent mobility platform that uses machine learning to help companies better understand and optimize their workforces by matching a worker’s interests, skills and connections with relevant jobs, projects, tasks and people,” Workday’s Cristina Goldt wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Rallyteam, which was founded in 2013, and launched at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco in September 2014, helps employees find interesting internal projects that might otherwise get outsourced. “I knew there were opportunities that existed [internally] because as a manager, I was constantly outsourcing projects even though I knew there had to be people in the company that could solve this problem,” Rallyteam’s Huan Ho told TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois at the launch. Rallyteam was a service designed to solve this issue.

Last fall the company raised $8.6 million led by Norwest Ventures with participation from Storm Ventures, Cornerstone OnDemand and Wilson Sonsini.

Workday provides a SaaS platform for human resources and finance, so the Rallyteam approach fits nicely within the scope of the Workday business. This is the 10th acquisition for Workday and the second this year.

Chart: Crunchbase

Workday raised over $230 million before going public in 2012.

Mar
16
2018
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Small businesses love free stuff, so Gusto is giving them free HR Basics

Gusto, formerly ZenPayroll, is the rare startup unicorn that has stayed relatively mum on its product and growth — its last press release, for instance, was more than a year ago. The company’s core offering remains payroll for small businesses, and it has been working to expand its customer base across the nation, including having its CEO, Joshua Reeves, go on a tour of the country to visit SMBs in an RV.

Now the company is opening up a bit on its recent progress. Gusto has just hit 60,000 customers nationwide, or roughly 1% of all employers in the United States, according to the company.

The company is also working on new products. One challenge small businesses face is getting access to high-quality, yet affordable, software, particularly in HR. “Small businesses actually get that people are the core more than large companies,” Reeves explained to me. “In a 10-person company, you know everyone, your customers are your neighbors, but they never really had access to high-quality software.”

Gusto is hoping to fill that gap, announcing the beta launch of a new product it’s calling HR Basics. The product offers a suite of tools for small businesses to handle the quotidian tasks of HR, including managing vacation time, compiling employee directories and improving the onboarding of new hires. Most importantly, the product is free, and doesn’t require a credit card or a bank account to sign up.

Reeves believes that Gusto has two purposes: to offer “peace of mind” to small business owners around areas like compliance that can lead to negative enforcement actions, and to provide software that can help companies become “great places to work” that are more focused on community. Reeves is particularly passionate about the latter point. “Even the terminology ‘human capital management’ — humans are not capital, humans are not resources, they are people, thank you very much.”

One particular area of focus for HR Basics is around onboarding. Gusto is hoping it can move all HR paperwork online, so that everything required to officially onboard an employee can be done even before the employee walks into work the first day. With that out of the way, Gusto can then focus on helping companies create the right corporate culture. For instance, the product offers a “Welcome Wall” where other employees can write cheerful and encouraging notes for a new employee to make them feel like they belong at the company from day one.

The Welcome Wall is designed to encourage new employees joining a company

This new product is free for businesses, and Gusto obviously hopes that it creates a funnel of potential customers who will eventually sign up for its payroll service and full HR platform, which charge around $6-12 a month per employee based on the specific plan that a business chooses.

One interesting commitment Gusto is making according to Reeves is that an employee’s profile on the platform will be a lifetime account. If an employee moves from one company to the next and both use Gusto, all of the preferences and other data required to administer HR should work immediately.

That portability mattered less in a world where employees spent decades at a single company, but now that employees often switch employers as often as every year, the repeated savings of time in the transition can be quite significant. Longer term, Gusto sees that sort of portability as critical for facilitating the changing nature of work in the 21st century.

Gusto, which was founded in 2011, is now entering middle age, and the company has 530 employees across its San Francisco and Denver offices, according to Reeves.

Update: Added the number of customers Gusto currently has.

Mar
06
2018
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Justworks raises $40M to build a simpler business operations suite

 Isaac Oates runs a startup that’s looking to be a complete suite of operational tools like human resources and payroll for businesses — but he and his team initially didn’t get why users kept asking better reporting tools over and over again. It’s indicative of the constant push-and-pull startups and founders face when having to juggle the hopes and dreams of their own… Read More

Jan
05
2017
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After rejecting Google, Namely raises $50M to take on the biggies in HR

2240752018_37976b95df_b One of the big HR startup stories of the last year has been the trials and tribulations of Zenefits, but news coming out today from another company in the space shows that there is still a lot of opportunity in the industry with the right approach. Namely, a New York-based SaaS HR firm that focuses on mid-sized (100 to 1,000 employees) companies offering an all-in-one human resources… Read More

Oct
05
2016
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Zenefits makes licensing compliance app available for free in the Salesforce App Exchange

disrupt_sf16_david_sacks-3705 Zenefits announced this week, it was making a licensing compliance app it created in-house to ensure its sales people are properly licensed to sell insurance in a given state, available for free to anyone to download from the Salesforce App Exchange. Last winter Zenefits was sailing along providing HR services in the cloud for small and medium businesses when a bombshell hit. Buzzfeed… Read More

Aug
07
2016
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HR 2.0 is the poster child for the next wave of SaaS innovation

shutterstock_157573751 The path for SaaS domination of a market segment has historically followed one of two routes: bringing previously offline workflows online, or moving on-premise software processes online. In short, SaaS would take over segments that previously were not SaaSified. Yet, the current wave of HR SaaS innovators the past few years is proving that there can be more to the story. Read More

Apr
15
2016
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Impraise raises $1.6M seed to rethink how companies handle performance reviews

shutterstock office Annual performance reviews are often more like an annual headache for both managers and employees. Impraise, a startup that wants to streamline the process with a mobile app, just raised $1.6 million in seed funding. Investors include Palm Drive Ventures, China Growth Capital, and HenQ. Read More

Apr
23
2015
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Salesforce Makes Hard Push Into Human Resources With New Platform

Woman pointing a concept picture of a network of people. One person has been selected in the center and stands out. Salesforce.com announced a new set of human resources tools today designed to improve employee engagement. The tools have been mostly adapted from existing Salesforce products and represent a significant departure from Salesforce’s traditional sales and marketing targets.
“What we are doing is taking the best of our technologies and allowing customers to turn them inward and… Read More

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