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Gusto (Née ZenPayroll) Snags Google Ads VP as It Braces for Fight With Zenefits

A new name and a new face for the HR software startup.


Gusto, a human resources software startup known as ZenPayroll until last month, has hired Lexi Reese, an eight-year Google sales and operations veteran, as its chief customer experience officer.

In September, Gusto dropped its earlier moniker and added a new category, employee benefits, to its automated software offering. Reese will lead the division at Gusto that interacts with its business customers as the company expands into this new service, taking on well-funded rival Zenefits and incumbents.

“We love Lexi because she’s an inspiring leader, she’s motivated her teams to do inspiring work and she loves our culture,” raved Gusto CEO Josh Reeves.

For the past year at Google, Reese has been VP of global programmatic platforms at Google. Translation: She managed business relationships, with publishers and media buyers, for the search giant’s massive unit for the automated selling and buying of ads. She compared that effort — replacing old ways of selling ads — to Gusto’s work replacing the ways businesses process human resources. “I see the same core fundamentals in this market,” she said. “There are a lot of inefficiencies.”

Lexi Reese, chief customer experience officer, Gusto
Lexi Reese, chief customer experience officer, Gusto

Gusto has raised considerable cash — $86 million — but Zenefits has netted $581 million. Last month, as Gusto was preparing to move into benefits provision, BuzzFeed reported that Zenefits was working on a move (codename Nutshot) into payroll offerings. Reeves said the market is large and fragmented enough for several competitors. (He also noted that Reese’s hire does not denote a transition into an advertising product for his company.)

More relevant for Gusto than Reese’s most recent work at Google may be her prior positions there. She was part of Sheryl Sandberg’s early sales team, which pitched search and display advertising to a wave of small businesses. Working with those types of clients, Reese said, is something she’s eager to return to at Gusto. More recently, she reported to sales exec Phillip Schindler, who was promoted to SVP for all sales and operations after the Alphabet reorg.

Don’t count this as an executive fleeing the search giant. Reese insisted, “I love Google.” So much so, in fact, that when she left the company in 2011 — to head up a short-lived local commerce initiative at Facebook — it was for only seven months. The Facebook project ended, and Reese returned to Google.

“I wasn’t leaving Google,” she said of her recent decision. “It was about going to Gusto, because it’s an incredible place.”

Gusto’s headcount has grown nearly sixfold this year, reaching 290, said Reeves. The only sales metrics he would offer: It has “tens of thousands” of customers and is processing “several billion dollars” in payroll. In April, Gusto closed a $60 million Series B round led by Google Capital.

Update: A previous version of this story said Gusto claimed billions in “payroll contracts.” In fact, Gusto does not have a contract model, but offers opt-out monthly subscriptions.

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