There’s an old axiom that there is no such thing as bad press, but I’m not sure Zenefits would be in complete agreement with that. On the positive side, the company is one of the very few HR technology solution providers that the general public could name, but maybe not for the reasons their leaders would prefer. So, in order to both take back control of its image and to unveil its new platform and service, Zenefits held its first customer conference, the appropriately named Z2, this week (Oct. 18).

I’m not going to get into the market, investor, and industry analysis as there are plenty of other reputable outlets analyzing that side of the story. Instead, I would like to talk about the product itself, something that has been largely ignored except for those of us who are deeply interested in this industry.

And the product itself looks great.

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The above picture is from Zenefits, but having seen it live, this is its actual look. And if the image reminds you of Apple’s App Store, that is deliberate. Zenefits’ approach to creating an HR ecosystem is to work with a few (as in two to three) trusted partners for each aspect of the HR suite, with the exception, of course, of benefits. However, and this was the other major announcement, Zenefits will offer payroll services itself. Right now the payroll service, which is not part of the core Zenefits pricing plan, is only available in California, but will roll out to selected states in a controlled fashion over the next few quarters.

The emphasis on focusing on a base and carefully controlling growth is also reflected in Zenefits’ market strategy, as its focus is on small business (less than 50 employees) as its fundamental customers, and moving away from enterprise sales. However, through partnerships, Zenefits is able to offer profit sharing/stock options, expense tracking, and performance management — tools usually restricted to much larger organizations.

Despite a carefully curated list of partners, Zenefits made one move which surprisingly has not received a lot of attention, but is a good indicator of its philosophy and direction: opening its API (at developers.zenefits.com), which will allow for a competitive, engaging new network of applications specifically aimed at small businesses, which is one group that is usually priced out of the more robust HR products (imagine diversity and inclusion apps for small businesses!)

Z2 was not like other HR technology provider conferences. The company had a much larger audience to speak to than just their clients. But for those listening to the parts that were just for existing and potential Zenefits’ customers, company leaders seemed to have hit their marks with an ambitious (but not overly so) platform that provides a strong user experience (a key feature according to Brandon Hall Group research) and meets an existing need: the very small business that still needs fully-integrated HR products.

-Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

@CliffordDarrell

Cliff Stevenson

Cliff Stevenson is Principal Analyst, Workforce Management Practice, for Brandon Hall Group. He came to Brandon Hall Group in 2015 from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) where he was a senior analyst since 2012. Cliff's experience as human capital research analyst has focused on data and analytics, performance management, recruitment, acquisition, retention, and attrition.

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