How Payroll Startup Gusto Attracts the Best Data Scientists

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Gusto, a company that provides technology-driven payroll and HR support to small businesses, wants to hire 1,000 people in Denver over the next seven years. As the company scales up, they need to expand their engineering team, onboard a host of senior developers (to shepherd to the many juniors they’ll be hiring next), and form data teams to handle the company’s growing data science, data, engineering and data analysis needs.

That’s great news for Denver techies, because their mothership office in San Francisco was named best place to work in the city.

Co-founder and CTO Eddie Kim recently stopped by Galvanize Denver – Platte to chat about Gusto’s growth, values and commitment to constant improvement.

Kim says his secret to keeping the team happy is an eternal quest to improve his leadership and management. The key, he believes, is to remove ego and embrace feedback, even if it hurts up front.

“I brought a lot of engineers that report to me to my house, had a beer, and said ‘what do I suck at? What can I do better at?’” Kim said.

That spirit of openness and improvement pervades the company, and it’s paying dividends. To wit, Gusto has added about 10,000 customers in less than year (around 30,000 in all 50 states, now). Maybe, just maybe, that’s because the company prioritizes transparency as a tool to spur innovation. Gusto is beefing up their data department and using Looker to share information beyond just the executives, so that all team members can make intelligent decisions.

In fact, Gusto has built using data to cross-pollinate knowledge and improve efficiency into their company structure. Their three data teams report across departments: data scientists to the CTO (they work data productization, building models that improve payment processing and guard against fraud), data analysts report their findings on Gusto’s finance and business strategy to the FBOS, while data engineers, whose primary role is to build the ‘data warehouse’ Gusto needs to optimize their product, also report to the CTO.

Kim believes providing his data team with substantial work is crucial to attracting top talent.

“You’ve got to have meaty problems for data science to solve,” he said. “Otherwise, the good data scientists won’t want to work with you.”

If protecting the $15 billion in payments Gusto processes for their 30,000 clients isn’t meaty, we don’t know what is. The volume of highly sensitive information Gusto handles is astounding: social security numbers, salaries, addresses, even personal health information. People have tried to steal money from the system, and Gusto uses data to build fraud models, brings in a penetration testing firm every six months to check their work and has a compliance committee meet biweekly to ensure all processes are water-tight.

“It’s not that we don’t trust you,” Kim tells his employees. “But there’s a lot at stake with the info you’re handling.”

And Kim intimately understands how important proper handling of payroll and benefits is for small businesses is. Among his 30,000 customers are his own parents—small business owners, themselves.

“It was a long sale,” he laughed. “No discount.”

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