Gusto, Growing in Denver, Looks to Add 1,000 Area Employees

Striding into the new Gusto office in the heart of Denver’s frantic LoDo neighborhood feels a bit like stepping into a daycare center.

But not in the snotty-nosed-kid way. More like the prototypical Silicon-Valley-startup way.

Just three stories above the bustling 16th Street Mall, the tricked-out lobby area boasts massive, floor-to-ceiling maps of the region with various Post-it notes representing different clients. About 80 wooden cubbies that employees use to store their shoes before stepping into the office hug the glass entryway. Nestled beside the rows of boots, sneakers and heels, a black sign on an easel proclaims, “Welcome! Please remove your shoes & show off those cool socks!”

Inside, an employee hangout space boasts a ping-pong table and a Lego wall for workers to fiddle around on while they flesh out ideas. If this sounds like the next tech bubble has officially arrived, well, maybe it has.

Gusto office in Denver

All of those kooky amenities are daily staples for the roughly 50 employees of Gusto, neé ZenPayroll, at its new outpost in Denver, which celebrated a grand opening Thursday, Feb. 11. The company invited more than 100 local clients to celebrate the official launch of its overhauled 37,000-square-foot space, which has been several months in the making.

Since deciding to set up shop in Denver last July, Gusto has been in the process of building out the third-floor suite at 1201 16th St. Renovation costs have totaled about $1 million, according to Charles Sim, chief of environment at Gusto, who oversaw the transformation of what used to be offices for the University of the Rockies. In the years before that, the facility, which features a class bridge that juts across Lawrence Street, housed an ESPN Zone and a boutique shopping center.

“That’s why we have the escalators,” said Josh Reeves, CEO of Gusto.

Reeves (pictured below, cutting ribbon) said the company began building a team in Denver this summer with a colonizing crew of nine employees who transitioned from Gusto’s first operation in San Francisco. The company specializes in providing payroll, health insurance, and benefits services to more than 25,000 clients in all 50 states.

Gusto's Josh Reeves cuts ribbon in Denver

Since starting in a residential bedroom in Palo Alto, CA — where the tradition of a shoeless work environment first began — nearly five years ago, the company has managed to raise more than $136 million in funding, according to Gusto’s CrunchBase profile. That total includes a $50 million addition that came during a Series B funding round late last year. (The company’s investors include General Catalyst Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures, Google Capital, and angel investors such as Aaron Levie and Drew Houston.)

The company’s early success was appealing to city developers like Paul Washington, executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development, who said that the addition of Gusto to Denver’s ever-expanding catalogue of tech companies reaffirms the city’s status as a magnet for small businesses and entrepreneurs, specifically programmers and developers.

“We don’t have a lot of economic incentives like a Texas might have, maybe even a California, but we do have partnerships, and we have a very vibrant tech community and small business community, which I just think would be really helpful,” Washington said.

Small businesses, those that employee five to 100 workers, comprise 42 percent of the entire business community in Denver, according to a 2015 report compiled by the office of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

The potential for high-quality recruitment and the caliber of Denver’s workforce was a driving factor in deciding to set up shop in the Queen City of the Plains, according to Reeves.

“We had high expectations and they’ve been exceeded as far as hiring goes,” he said.

Gusto is expected to add more than 1,000 employees to offices across the metro area over the next several years, according to communications director Rachel Kim. (That would seem to be predicated on Gusto avoiding the declining valuations and layoffs that are hitting some other high-flying tech companies.) The company is currently looking to double down on engineers, sales staff, HR, and customer service representatives, Sim says.

Lexi Reese, Gusto’s chief experience officer, said that the company’s recent foray into health insurance and benefits will help feed its expansion.

“Moving into things like health insurance and enabling more of these businesses to not have to think about that is, I think, what you’ll see in 2016,” Reese said. “And a lot of growth in Denver.”

Quincy Snowdon is a staff writer with the Aurora Sentinel, reporting on the arts, entertainment and business. He lives in Denver. Follow @QuincySnowdon

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