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Offboarded by Zenefits, Parker Conrad’s on Board with New Project

The former Zenefits founder has returned to the HR tech space, but does his new company Rippling have what it takes to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace?

It’s been barely a year since HR technology’s prodigal son, Parker Conrad, was forced to leave Zenefits over regulatory misdeeds after building the HRIS software company into Silicon Valley’s fastest growing startup ever.

He returned in March triumphant with the announcement that he’s launching new company called Rippling, an onboarding services firm that promises to eliminate the checklist from the onboarding process.

Parker Conrad

Parker Conrad has discovered life after Zenefits with Rippling, his new onboarding operation.

According to Conrad, Rippling is going eliminate the biggest problem that small and midsized companies face with onboarding: the endless task list. “A company with 100 employees might have 40 different places where employees need to get set up,” he said. That can require multiple people in several departments to complete different tasks just to get one new hire onboarded. “I felt like it was a problem that wasn’t being solved,” he said.

So he set out to solve it by automating the entire onboarding process, from setting up emails and filing paperwork to making sure employees have their key cards, office space and computers. Rippling even provides the computers preloaded with all the appropriate software, which the company will then update every two years. Conrad sees Rippling as a permanent layer of business software, supporting all of the administrative tasks related to employee changes during their tenure at a company, including promotions, change of office, or new managers. Companies pay $8 per month per employee for the service.

It’s an intriguing idea that has earned Conrad the admiration and financial backing of many of the same firms that supported his first foray into HR tech. He has already secured $7 million in venture capital, and it is likely the first of many rounds of funding if he can follow through on the business plan.

Though that’s a big if. Even Conrad admitted that automating onboarding is a lot harder than building a better checklist. And even if his team can engineer a solution, the onboarding space is crowded with competitors that have been around a lot longer. Onboarding has become the new darling of the HR tech space, noted Ray Wang, principal analyst for Constellation Research. “It is the natural next extension application.” The question now is whether they can win over enough customers. “That’s the challenge for any new software firm,” Wang said. “You have to get to volume to make it work.”

That means Rippling has to figure out how it will stand out when buyers are already overwhelmed by the number of options and features available, said Lilith Christiansen, vice president of organizational development for Kaiser Associates in Washington, D.C. “There are so many tech companies in this space, and they all focus on different aspects of onboarding.”

Rippling isn’t the only startup trying to differentiate itself by making onboarding faster and easier. “Lots of companies are focused on enhancing the experience for new hires and managers, and they are going beyond just automation,” she said. Christiansen pointed to MindTickle, which uses gamification to engage new hires; Appical, which offers an entirely mobile-enabled onboarding process; and Worktop, which focuses on motivating new hires and making sure they are prepared to work on day one.

“From a startup perspective it’s a great time to be in this space because there are a lot of opportunities for innovation,” Christiansen said. And she sees the entrance of Rippling as further proof that the space has room to grow. “Obviously, there are still a lot of problems with onboarding that haven’t been solved.”

For buyers of these tools, she encouraged HR leaders to think about their own onboarding pain points, then assess which tools are designed to specifically address those issues. For some, that might be dealing with paperwork, while others will want to focus on learning, engagement or time to productivity, she said. “When you start with a diagnostic, you can narrow your universe of options and find the right technology to meet your business goals.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.