Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto

Remember when Zenefits imploded, and kicked out CEO Parker Conrad. Well, Conrad launched a new employee onboarding startup called Rippling, and now he’s going after another HR company called Gusto with a new billboard, “Outgrowing Gusto? Presto change-o.”

The problem is, Gusto got it taken down by issuing a cease & desist order to Rippling and the billboard operator Clear Channel Outdoor. That’s despite the law typically allowing comparative advertising as long as it’s accurate. Gusto sells HR, benefits, and payroll software, while Rippling does the same but adds in IT management to tie together an employee identity platform.

Rippling tells me that outgrowing Gusto is the top reasons customers say they’re switching to Rippling. Gusto’s customer stories page lists no customers larger than 61 customers, and Enlyft research says the company is most often used by 10 to 50 person staffs. “We were one of Gusto’s largest customers when we left the platform last year. They were very open about the fact that the product didn’t work for businesses of our size. We moved to Rippling last fall and have been extremely happy with it” says Compass Coffee co-founder Michael Haft.

That all suggests the Rippling ad’s claim is reasonable. But the C&D claims that “Gusto counts as customers multiple companies with 100 or more employees and does not state the businesses will ‘outgrow’ their platfrom at a certain size.”

In an email to staff provided to TechCrunch, Rippling CMO Matt Epstein wrote “We take legal claims seriously, but this one doesn’t pass the laugh test. As Gusto says all over their website, they focus on small businesses.”

So rather than taking Gusto to court or trying to change Clear Channel’s mind, Conrad and Rippling did something cheeky. They responded to the cease & desist order in Shakespeare-style iambic pentameter.

Our billboard struck a nerve, it seems. And so you phoned your legal teams,
who started shouting, “Cease!” “Desist!” and other threats too long to list.

Your brand is known for being chill. So this just seems like overkill.
But since you think we’ve been unfair, we’d really like to clear the air:

Rippling’s general counsel Vanessa Wu wrote the letter which goes on to claim that “When Gusto tried to scale itself, we saw what you took off the shelf. Your software fell a little short. You needed Workday for support”, asserting that Gusto’s own HR tool couldn’t handle its 1000-plus employees and needed to turn to a bigger enterprise vendor. The letter concludes with the implication that Gusto should drop the cease-and-desist, and instead compete on merit:

So Gusto, do not fear our sign. Our mission and our goals align.
Let’s keep this conflict dignified—and let the customers decide.

Rippling CMO Matt Epstein tells me that “While the folks across the street may find competition upsetting, customers win when companies push each other to do better. We hope our lighthearted poem gets this debate back down to earth, and we look forward to competing in the marketplace.”

Rippling might think this whole thing was slick or funny, but it comes off a bit lame and try-hard. These are far from 8 Mile-worthy battle rhymes. If it really wanted to let customers decide, it could have just accepted the C&D and moved on…or not run the billboard at all. It still has four others that don’t slam competitors running. That said, Gusto does look petty trying to block the billboard and hide that it’s unequipped to support massive teams.

We reached out to Gusto over the weekend and again today asking for comment, whether it will drop the C&D, if it’s trying to get Rippling’s bus ads dropped too, and if it does in fact use Workday internally.

Given Gusto has raised $516 million10X what Rippling has — you’d think it could just outspend Rippling on advertising or invest in building the enterprise HR tools so customers really couldn’t outgrow it. They’re both Y Combinator companies with Kleiner Perkins as a major investor (conflict of interest?), so perhaps they can still bury the hatchet.

At least they found a way to make the HR industry interesting for an afternoon.


By Josh Constine

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.


By Danny Crichton

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 — it’s 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 have its CEO, Joshua Reeves, go on a tour of the country to visit SMBs in an RV.

One challenge small businesses face though 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 ten 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 that 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.