The Zen of Parker Conrad

You’re no stranger to entrepreneurs who got fired from one job before moving n to the startup that eventually made it rain cash.  Noah Kagan was let go by Facebook before going on to galactic success with AppSumo.

Another person whose path was at least similar to that is Parker Conrad.

The only thing that makes Conrad’s firing—from SigFig (previously Wikinvest) is that he was the company’s co-founder.  Apparently your partner can fire you.  But, like Kagan, Conrad more than bounced back, and today you know him as the mastermind behind Zenefits.

No Shortage of Enthusiasm

We’ve all met people who throw themselves into certain projects with great intensity, but to the detriment of other things.  For Conrad, the attention-getting endeavor was a worthy one, his post as managing editor of the Harvard Crimson.  He threw not just passion but time into it, so much that he flunked out of the Ivy League.  That meant no more editing, though not necessarily no more managing.

After his first day job and a winning battle against testicular cancer, he longed to launch a startup.  With a college pal, Mike Sha, Conrad started Wikinvest, which they then named SigFig.  They were co-CEO’s.  Not bad for a college dropout.  But when Sha infused a lot of cash from his family into the business, he felt he should be sole CEO.  That caused an irreparable rift between the two, and Sha finally asked Conrad to leave.

It’s no secret that Conrad’s personality is a bit fiery and that he has a way with sharp words.  At one point, when a person posted a question to Quora expressing some misgivings about taking a job with Zenefits, Conrad himself took to the forum to tell the candidate he wasn’t welcome at his company.

Passion Harnessed

But a brash personality—or at least persona—is often either necessary for, or at least found in people who can get a startup off the ground and turning a steady profit.  Just the initial funding is not for the faint of heart.  But it was something at which Conrad found success after the schism with SigFig.  In his Series A funding, he reeled in $15 million.

From there, it was racking up $20 million in annual recurring revenue in its first year of operation.  Conrad’s concept, for a SAAS package to help with a variety of human resources operations, was a success.  It quickly became particularly essential to small businesses.

Underdog Complex

A profile by re/code gave us a glimpse into the Zenefits offices, where employees work in a large bullpen setting, with hulking TV’s showing mug shots of employees who make the most customer calls.  “Everyone at the company,” Conrad said, “and the company as a whole, has a real underdog complex.  Everyone feels we’re fighting for survival against much larger forces trying to crush us.”

It’s no wonder.  Conrad has been an underdog and overachiever for much of his life.  He’s had plenty of battles against the odds and fierce struggles.  Frugalentrepreneur has profiled many of his kind, profiles in persistence.