Zenefits Moves to Shed Scandals, Transform Image

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Zenefits' new logo.
Zenefits' new logo. Credit: Zenefits

While most people may not know exactly what Zenefits does, it's likely they know about the hits it took last winter. They included: regulatory hurdles, accusations that it violated insurance-provider licensing regulations, layoffs, leadership changes and that issue it had with employees' penchant for sex in the stairwells.

Now Zenefits, which describes itself as a software company geared to HR departments, is making over its image with a new logo (same name, different look), an event that features marquee names such as Arianna Huffington and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, and a pivot in how it does business.

Zenefits' software helps companies manage payroll and provide employees access to things like their benefits and vacation time. It gives this software away for "free" in exchange for helping said companies acquire health insurance. Investors once valued Zenefits, which launched in 2013, at $4.5 billion (it's since lost half its valuation).

But now the company that was at odds with traditional brokers that sell insurance but don't have Zenefits' technology will allow brokers to sell Zenefits' software in exchange for a cut.

"We're repositioning Zenefits so it's a company that champions people and what they do," says Kevin Marasco, chief marketing officer at Zenefits. "We really want to celebrate that."

The spotlight

The need to make changes was obvious to the company, especially after an internal memo about used condoms being found in the stairwell made it into the press.

"I'll be honest—and I won't mention names—but I've been at companies and seen stuff, heard stuff, that is way, way worse than the Zenefits stories," Marasco says. "We were the fastest growing company in 2015 and, oh, wow, someone had sex in the stairwell. When you're in the spotlight like that, you're going to get scrutinized for every word you say and everything you do is watched under a microscope."

Over a six-month span, the company explored whether it needed to change its name. It found, among other things, that 80 percent of HR buyers don't know what the company is and that less than 10 percent of those it surveyed have a negative impression of it.

The damage it sustained, says Marasco, seemed to be more of a tailwind than headwind, and the biggest issue, they realized, was awareness.

Thus the change in the logo, which ditches the original origami bird for something more straightforward (see above).

The company also recently hired Beth Steinberg as its first chief human resource officer to help change the culture internally. Steinberg has previously worked at companies like Nike, Facebook and Electronic Arts.

The Zenefits event, "Shift: The Culture Conference," is on Thursday. Topics will include the changing work culture and diversity. Additionally, companies including Aetna, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, MetLife and United Healthcare will be on hand to discuss their platforms.

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