How Zenefits just lost an engineer

Yesterday a Quora user asked “What is the best way to start my career: Uber or Zenefits?”. This user had received an offer already from them and wanted advice as to what company would be better to work at. One of the cons was that Zenefits wasn’t a household name yet like Uber (or Google). This is a completely reasonable and innocent question. However, the CEO heard about this and on Quora publicly rescinded this person’s offer. Here’s the CEO’s full response:

Let’s look at this piece by piece:

The CEO makes it clear that it should be your dream to work at Zenefits. “[You should] *want* to work here, specifically”. Let’s be honest now, how many engineers do you think out really truly *dream* to work at a HR SaaS company? I think what Zenefits is doing is amazing product and engineering wise and they’re going to be even more huge than they already are, but it’s just not many engineer’s dream so much they’d only apply at Zenefits (because god forbid you look elsewhere and get your offer rescinded because someone else offered a better deal).

I think this is especially true since, although the CEO says “there are enough ppl out there who do want to work here”, I know for a fact that at least a couple engineering departments are struggling to find enough people since I know about a dozen people there across the organization and have specifically talked about hiring with a few of them.

I found this section especially amusing since a friend of mine told me he was applying to Zenefits specifically because “anything [David] Sacks touches turns to gold”. He’s now working there and I’d be willing to bet money they’d never fire him now even if they heard that because he’s a damn good engineer.

The part I found deeply concerning though was he didn’t want employees to use Zenefits “to position themselves for later in their career”. Why the hell not? This comes off as if you join Zenefits we expect you to work here until the end of times just because you love the company that much”. This sounds cultish from the outside.

When I left Yammer I wrote a post titled What I Learned At Yammer. Kris Gale, the then VP of Engineering and now co-founder of Clover Health, told me how he loved the post because he loved seeing how much Yammer made me grow as a programmer and taught me skills about managing teams. Since leaving Simple about half the executive team has helped me in some way or another with my startup, Piggybank. This is the way it should be. You should want your employees to grow and move on to bigger and better things. It’s troubling reading that the CEO of Zenefits does not want you to do this.

I do, sort of, get the point the CEO wants to make. He wants you to be passionate and loyal. The problem is nobody is going to be even close to as passionate about it as the founder(s). They may truly believe in the project, be excited, and even believe the company is making the world a better place, but for most employees it’s still just a job whereas for founders it’s their life. I’ve been on both sides of this and it’s a completely different mindset. These engineers are building your dream. They are making you money.

Because of this, this CEO should have fought for this candidate. This candidate was qualified. They went through a rigorous interview. They were offered equity and a great salary. This means the company valued them highly. This candidate would have made the CEO’s dream just a bit more of a reality but now, instead, they’ll be building someone else’s dream and wealth. Compassion and empathy towards your employees will go much further than forcing loyalty upon them.