Normally I don’t write about portfolio companies because I generally dislike the whole genre of press and wish there were less emphasis on what VCs are doing and more about what companies are doing, but I wanted to make an exception for Rippling. Today Rippling announced a Series A round, and I am excited to be participating. In fact, this will be the largest check I’ve ever written, and is (knock on wood) the surest I’ve ever been at a Series A that I am working with a future unicorn, but that’s neither here nor there.
I wanted to write about this investment specifically because I expect the peanut gallery to come out in force today to relive the downfall of Zenefits, and I think folks might benefit from an alternate perspective.
I met Parker Conrad when Zenefits was still a small company, but clearly on its way. He struck me as the kind of founder that I like. He has little interest in the trappings of startup life or the romanticized aspects of the industry, nor does he have the curse of ego that makes many on-track founders unpleasant.
While the rest of us blog about our value-add to startups, I saw him quietly help entrepreneurs in the background, and though he doesn’t profess his love of family in his Twitter bio, we’d privately discuss the challenges of co-parenting with (amazing) spouses that travel a lot for their jobs. And we’d have probably become much closer friends had he more time for things that weren’t team, customers, and home.
What I’ve come to understand is that a press cycle like the Zenefits debacle is terrible for people like this. Those who invest social capital in press relationships and public brands find ways to weather them. People who don’t invest in these activities find themselves without much public support, and subject to the narrative that is created for them, whatever that might be.
While I don’t intend to absolve Parker and other executives at Zenefits of mistakes they made, or rehash them here (Parker is very open on this with prospective hires), I do think prospective employees particularly need to understand that Rippling is not the company they vaguely remember reading about full of tech bros who hate freedom.
This is a company where the core team has worked together for years, coming together to finish what they started together at Zenefits. They trust and respect one another. And they’ve brought along several of their early investors from that period as well, who were also privy to the inside story.
What has changed is the business, TechCrunch describes the increased ambition, and most interestingly the organization. If Zenefits was ahead of the wave on Silicon Valley HR tech, Rippling has taken that to the logical extreme (the most common product description I’ve heard is “jaw dropping”) and moved on to the front of the wave on organization structure.
As we continue to talk about the challenges of building teams in San Francisco, Rippling began life with a fully distributed (and global) product team and will continue to scale this way. I hope to see them write more about specifically how they organize teams, so won’t get into it here, but will say that I’m a convert to the distributed-first approach to building product and think Rippling will set the bar for what these teams look like.
If you’re interested in joining a great set of folks building an amazing product and live somewhere on earth (space bandwidth still sucks), they’re hiring.