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- Payroll company Gusto hired former Netflix and Ebay lawyer Alyssa Harvey Dawson as its first chief legal officer.
- As the coronavirus interrupted small businesses across the country, the company has been toiling away on tools to help them apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, and more.
- Dawson plans to help Gusto continue to roll out new tools and advocate on behalf of small businesses to Congress.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Cloud-based payroll startup Gusto just hired a seasoned tech executive as its first-ever chief legal officer as it continues to build out its product offerings for small businesses navigating the coronavirus crisis. Alyssa Harvey Dawson, who previously worked at Netflix, Ebay, and Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs, joined the company on August 3, the company announced Tuesday.
When the coronavirus locked down cities across the country in March, leaving many small businesses in limbo, Gusto’s product, legal, and customer service teams sought to quickly build out its product suite to help them apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, the first-come first-serve federal aid initiative. In a matter of weeks, the company rolled out a slew of 50 tools — including a customizable payroll report which launched in 24 hours — to help companies handle unemployment and navigate the complexities of PPP. Dawson will now manage a team of 30 legal, compliance, enterprise risk, and policy professionals.
“We just knew that with so many new companies now not being able to get business, the recession kind of being started almost immediately, and all these government programs being created, that there was gonna be a lot of confusion,” CEO Josh Reeves told Business Insider.
Among Gusto’s tools was a resource hub where in-house legal counsel and compliance experts explained PPP, healthcare, and unemployment laws state-by-state to Gusto’s customers. Because PPP applications required a list of employee salaries, Gusto generated customized reports that over 80,000 of its small business customers downloaded, and it began partnering with smaller banks to streamline the application process. Through those application tools, small businesses accessed over $2.5 billion in PPP loans.
For companies that received money, Gusto also created a loan-tracking system to help them stay on top of spending, since 60% of a PPP loan had to go towards payroll in order for it to be forgiven. And when cities began reopening, Gusto built new tools to make it easier to rehire employees and get them healthcare.
Reeves opened the position for a CLO in November 2019, but the coronavirus crisis and complex legislation accelerated Gusto’s need for a legal expert in the C-suite.
“It’s simplifying the complex, regulatory, rule-driven systems that can prevent people from getting access to aid that they need,” Dawson told Business Insider. “[PPP] was created to enable small businesses to survive. To do that, you’ve got to cut through a whole bunch of stuff that small businesses don’t have the time to learn or understand.”
Dawson is well-accustomed to guiding companies through times of complex change. From 2008 to 2011, she worked with Netflix as it transitioned from mailing DVDs to streaming movies and TV shows online. In 2017 she established Sidewalk Labs’ first legal department as the company was navigating local government regulations to establish partnerships for its smart city concept.
“I love companies that are trying to transform something major,” she said.
Dawson’s first and only in-person meeting with CEO Reeves happened a week before Gusto transitioned to working from home, and one day before Sidewalk Labs did the same. She ultimately joined Gusto because its aim to transform labor-intensive, difficult processes for small businesses — especially during the pandemic — “struck me as foundational,” she said. “That’s what got me excited.”
Gusto, which has raised $521.25 million at a $3.8 valuation according to Pitchbook, has offices in San Francisco, Denver, and New York for its 1,300 employees. Gusto has over 100,000 US-based customers for its onboarding, payroll, and healthcare services products, and all its new tools are available to them at no extra cost.
“Our job on a normal basis, whether it’s COVID or not, is actually navigating all of these complex processes,” Reeves said.
Dawson also plans on doing more advocacy work on behalf of the businesses Gusto works with. The company recently said in an op-ed that the PPP program unevenly distributed loans to benefit companies that have around 500 employees while businesses with less than 50 employees were neglected, and has written letters to Congress to that effect.
Dawson said Gusto is doing what it can to support small businesses, but“a big part of the next steps are ensuring that those needs are being heard and ultimately met and addressed,” and plans to focus on supporting emergency paid leave and loan forgiveness laws.
Applications closed on August 8 for Congress’ most recent round of PPP loans for companies with less than 300 employees, but Reeves said that the processes it put in place to streamline applications will be valuable in the long term, too.
“We changed how we work to be almost on a much more agile, iterative monthly cadence,” Reeves said. “A lot of those changes, especially with work from home, are things that are going to persist afterwards, especially we go back to the office. We want to maintain that collaboration and that high degree of partnership across teams in the company.“