When Jay Fulcher came to grips with the fact that his childhood dream to be an NFL quarterback was not to be, he switched course. Growing up, he regularly helped family and friends with their small businesses and saw firsthand what it took to conceive a business and execute a business plan. So, it was a natural pivot for him to explore entrepreneurship.
From working in the orchards of Santa Clara Valley picking and packing fruit, to mowing lawns and painting houses, to selling fitness equipment, Jay had a first row seat in seeing how small businesses navigated the challenges and difficulties of finding customers, doing quality work, getting reliable help, and ultimately seeing their hard work result in something of value. This was a great training ground for a long, successful career in business. And it provides the perfect perspective for what is now his career capstone mission: leveling the playing field for small and mid-sized businesses to better care for their people.
Jay Fulcher is the Chairman and CEO at Zenefits, the leading human resource, benefits, and payroll software provider. He shares here the inspiration, perspective and passion that informed his personal journey and the unique path of the Zenefits business.
The Zeal of Zenefits
A serial entrepreneur and leader at some of tech’s best-known companies such as SAP and PeopleSoft, with a stellar track record of building and successfully exiting businesses via IPO, acquisition, or both, Jay joined Zenefits in 2017.
A storied HR startup, Zenefits was cited in 2015 as the fastest-growing software company in history, But with the record-breaking growth came significant issues in compliance and culture that threatened this high-flying “unicorn.” After close due diligence, Jay found great untapped strengths and accepted the role, only after he reviewed board’s approval to pursue a unique path forward that he envisioned.
In his first year on the job, Jay built a new leadership team, reset company values and culture, pivoted the business model, moved from a freemium to a paid Software as a Service model, got out of the broker business and instead powered the nation’s leading insurance brokers with its products. This 180% reset, put the company in the position of market-leading growth. This time the business is growing in a rational, purposeful and aligned way with a solid infrastructure, plan, team, tools and laser focus on the unique needs of small business customers at each stage of their growth.
Zenefits most recently-completed fiscal year is testament to that well-laid plan. The company grew its annual recurring revenue by 78% in the fiscal year closed January 31 and their growth trajectory continues. Zenefits products are currently in use at more than 11,000 customers and the responses from existing and net new customers (more than 200 monthly on average) reflects the company’s alignment with small business needs.
Zenefits Offers the Best
With their unique concept of delivering a perfect balance of technology and services for each stage of a small business’ growth, Zenefits delivers an experience that meets and exceeds their customer’s needs across the customer life cycle, from how they package and sell to how they service and support businesses ranging in size from 25 to 500-plus employees.
Most of Zenefits’ competitors are geared toward huge businesses and corporations, but Zenefits software is built specifically for the 99.7% of American businesses that fall into the Small and Mid-size category. Zenefits levels the playing field for small business owners by providing access to resources that in the “old” world of work, were not feasible. From its HR, Benefits and Payroll software, Zenefits equips SMBs to compete with their larger competitors for talent by making up for what they lack in HR manpower, fringe benefits, and company culture. Zenefits customers have cut costs, saved time, and increased efficiency in their HR and administration by reducing paperwork. In fact, on average, Zenefits customers each grew about 20% in the past year.
The Leader’s Opinion
Jay recognizes that there is always more to be done to level the playing field for small businesses. Technology and the world of work have been evolving constantly, for decades, with no signs of stopping. He believes that no workplace is perfect, and no business is perfect, so continuous improvement is always important to ensure better choice, cost, compliance and growth options for small businesses, to compete on more even footing with larger companies.
The mission of Zenefits customers keeps him driven. He shares, “One of our customers, a non-profit organization called GOALS for Autism, has a story that particularly motivates me. GOALS is dedicated to providing at home services for developmentally challenged youth and their families. They use our benefits platform to ensure that their own employees —who work tirelessly every day to improve the lives of others— are getting the care they need, too.”
GOALS’ CEO and founder Adryon Ketchum said “Zenefits has given me the gift to stay afloat. At times, I’ve gone sleepless worrying about getting everyone a paycheck. With more time to focus on our business and our culture, we can achieve an even more meaningful level of success, together.”
“I’m proud to lead a company that can contribute to leveling the playing field for small businesses, their people and, in turn, their customers, like GOALS for Autism does”, Jay adds.
Jay says that growing a company and leading a team is one of the most rewarding things he had have ever done, and it is the ultimate learning experience. He has always been drawn to challenging opportunities, and to be part of something big and important, where the potential impact can be profound. After spending years in various fields, Jay learned that he is passionate about leading, building, and learning.
“I am grateful to be practicing my craft at such a high-potential company with such a stellar team. I don’t take this opportunity for granted, because it is a precious thing to be entrusted with a leadership role like this one. Many depend on me, and I depend on them. Trust is at the core of everything. I take great care in leading, mentoring, growing and challenging my team by —as Stephen Covey says— ‘communicating their value and worth so clearly that they begin to see it in themselves.’” Jay asserts.
Getting fresh air and outdoor exercise plays a vital role in Jay’s ability to take stock, reset and persevere. Whether it’s fly fishing or being on horseback or skiing or spending time with family, those are the things that sustain and ground him and help him maintain a balance between his professional and personal life.
The Visionary Eye of Zenefits
The Zenefits team is mindful of its opportunity to work with so many inspiring and effective entrepreneurs in a variety of industries, from hospitality to healthcare, and from professional services to the nonprofit sector. Their goal is to continue to stay true to their mission of helping small and mid-sized companies — the 99.7% of American businesses — to compete on a level playing field with their larger competitors by empowering them with technology that allows them to grow, stay compliant, and offer the best benefits possible.
In the past year alone, Zenefits has launched a new Well-being App that allows employers to target the root causes of employee stress. It was built with the input of Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, and allows employees to measure, monitor and understand their well-being mindsets and behaviors so they are equipped to act for positive change. Business owners can also leverage the app to measure and track workforce well-being at the company or division level. They also recently launched their Compensation Management tool, which leverages (anonymized) pay data from across hundreds of thousands of SMB employees, nationwide. This allows small business leaders to pinpoint competitive and fair pay for their people by industry, role, level, and geography.
Headquartered in Silicon Valley where innovation and “growth hacks” are prized, Zenefits is used to setting its own course. Jay reminds his team —and countless entrepreneurs at forums across the country where he speaks— that the “ultimate hack” isn’t a shortcut. Instead, it is embracing the work, relishing the process, and being relentless about learning and adjusting as you go. He also urges them to trust that if they execute and pay attention to the details, the results will be there.
He might have not made it as the NFL quarterback, but Jay Fulcher has led an impressive charge across his 30-year career to out-maneuver the competition and deliver products and services that are unique and warmly welcomed in the market.
“As the world of work, the definition of wellness, and all the technology that supports us continues to evolve, we will too”, says Jay Fulcher, a man who dreams big for small businesses everywhere.