For Zenefits, 2.0 is More than Just an Upgrade

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.


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, 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


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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.