Top HR Platforms
for Startups in 2021

We talked to 130+ of your peers about the core HR platforms they use. This report breaks down the top platforms teams use and summarizes the biggest takeaways.

Introduction + Scope

Why we built this report

It's impossible to sort through the dozens of core HR platforms available these days. It's especially hard to figure out which ones work best for scaling startups.

We get asked about what HRIS platforms other startups are using on a daily basis because people want the inside scoop on what others are doing.

So we crowdsourced it, gathering info from 130+ startups.

🔖 Disclosure: At Gather, we are not one of these HR platforms. But we do integrate with 80+ HR platforms to help startups build scalable people ops programs. Our own team uses Rippling, but we've also used Gusto in the past.

Startup HR platforms covered in this report

In this report, we focus on HR platforms that conduct what we like to call core HR activities. Included are the following types of platforms (toggle them for definitions):

Professional Employer Organizations (PEO)

Firms that startups and smaller companies use to outsource core HR functions like payroll and compliance. PEOs often have a software element built into their service.

Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)

Platforms that act as a source-of-truth for employee information and helps manage other HR-related tasks like benefits, PTO, reporting, and time-tracking or integrates with other products that do.

Payroll

Systems that calculates wages, taxes, and produces paychecks. Payroll can be combined into a larger HRIS platform or PEO or can be a standalone product.

Startup HR tech platforms not covered in this report

Startup HR tech stacks usually expand beyond just one platform. But in this report, we're not including recruiting, analytics, or People Ops software like (again, toggle them for definitions):

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Platforms that helps manage the job postings, recruiting and candidate pipelines. For example: Greenhouse, Lever, and Workable.

Performance Management and Engagement

Platforms that helps teams manage performance reviews, feedback loops, and employee development. For example: Lattice, Culture Amp, and 15Five.

Learning and Management Systems (LMS)

Platforms that helps educate and train team members. For example: Lessonly and Trainable.

Employee Analytics

Platforms that helps you visualize the organization through dashboards, and draw insights from your employees. For example: Twine and eqtbl.

People Operations

Platforms that helps People Ops teams coordinate day-to-day tasks across the employee lifecycle and craft communications. For example: Gather and Pyn.

Most Popular HR Platforms

The following eight platforms are the most widely-used HR platforms for startups based on the data from our survey.

#
1
Gusto
Payroll
HRIS
Gusto

👉  Best for: US-based early-stage startups who want a straight-forward HR system that will last them until about 50 people.

Gusto is the leading payroll and HRIS for SMBs. They serve early-stage startups really well with an intuitive, payroll + compliance product. In a landscape of unintuitive software products with bad design, Gusto stands out as one with superior design and ease.

⚠️ But: While they have been investing in scalability lately, historically, many teams switched to another platform when their headcount was around 50 people.

💬 Best Quote: "Gusto - super easy to get started."

#
2
Rippling
PEO
Payroll
HRIS
Rippling

👉  Best for: Those who care about syncing HR/IT, automation, a modern PEO, and can overlook slow support, shady sales tactics, and disregard for customer interests.

Five years in, Rippling is now a big player in the space. Rippling accomplished this growth by understanding the intertwined relationship between HR and IT. Now it's rapidly expanding functionality with new products— introducing full PEO last year and more recently their own ATS and LMS (both of which are clunky still).

⚠️ But: Rippling is quickly becoming well-known for their shady sales tactics. As Rippling customers ourselves, we can verify the multiple claims about concerning sales practices mentioned in reviews. Additionally, Rippling's software design is unintuitive as a result of wanting to be everything to everyone.

💬 Best Quote: "Rippling's AEs had very shady deals and messaging. Product looks good but people seem wack."

#
3
BambooHR
Payroll
HRIS
BambooHR

👉  Best for: Serving as an independent HRIS alongside another payroll system or a PEO.

BambooHR is different from most HR platforms on this list because companies use it to fill in the gaps. Usually, teams combine BambooHR — which has an open API and many integrations — with another payroll system and ATS. BambooHR then becomes the core source of truth for employee information.

⚠️ But: Their software design feels early 2000s-y and functionality has not kept up with changes in how we work now (they don't even have a Slack integration). No one is impressed by it, but it can get the job done.

💬 Best Quote: "It always seems like the platforms are good in one or two areas, but not for all, which requires additional systems."

#
4
Justworks
PEO
Payroll
HRIS
Justworks

👉  Best for: US-based startups who want a modern, competitive PEO.

Justworks is a solid PEO option for US-based small teams looking to go that route. They let you onboard with just a few employees and have good benefits options. We've heard fewer bad things about Justworks than their PEO competition like TriNet and Insperity.

⚠️ But: You might need another platform to provide additional tooling that Justworks doesn't provide. Justworks + BambooHR is a common combination. Also, we heard some reports that a few of their integrations don't work well. Ours works fine though :)

💬 Best Quote: "We chose Justworks for benefits cost, but they don't provide any PTO tracking for our global team, so we have separate HR systems right now."

#
5
ADP
PEO
Payroll
HRIS
ADP

👉  Best for: Later stage startups as an alternative to Workday and early-stage startups as a payroll platform.

ADP has three commonly-used products. ADP TotalSource is a PEO comparable with many of the other big names. Run Powered by ADP is one of the most popular payroll systems around. ADP Workforce Now is their all-in-one enterprise competitor to Workday (startups shouldn't consider this option until they are approaching later stages/enterprise scale).

⚠️ But: ADP is great for payroll but too hefty as an HRIS for startups.

💬 Best Quote: "ADP is much better suited to enterprise-sized orgs. Not very customizable or flexible, and support is often difficult."

#
6
TriNet
PEO
Payroll
HRIS
TriNet

👉  Best for: Cost-conscious PEO buyers who care more about benefits than software and service.

TriNet is an incumbent PEO that has been around for over 30 years. The software part of their platform is lacking and their customer support receives mixed reviews. It's comparable to Justworks in a lot of ways.

⚠️ But: A lot of times decisions between PEOs like TriNet and Justworks come down to benefit options. It's relatively affordable as a PEO, so if you're headed that direction, TriNet will likely be on the table as an option.

💬 Best Quote: "We hate TriNet and can't wait to use Sequoia"

#
7
hibob
HRIS
hibob

👉  Best for: A modern all-in-one platform.

Israel-based hibob (sometimes called bob because they are inconsistent with their brand name) is one of the newest arrivals on this list. Startups in Europe and Canada are loving it. In addition to normal HRIS elements, they have strong performance management and engagement tooling. Like BambooHR, you'll have to pair it with a separate payroll system.

⚠️ But: We're a little wary of how quickly they are expanding to new features outside of their core competencies. Also, it hasn't made a splash in the US yet.

💬 Best Quote: "We chose hibob for its ability to do performance reviews, surveys and OKRs in one tool."

#
8
Zenefits
Payroll
HRIS
Zenefits

👉  Best for: Teams who get it for free and don't need a robust, modern HRIS.

Zenefits was an upstart growing player in the 2010s, built with a strong connection to benefits providers. Now, it's a clunky, overly-bloated software.

⚠️ But: Some benefits providers are giving away Zenefits for free.

💬 Best Quote: "We chose Zenefits and Gusto b/c they were standard in the early days, but they are not scaling with us and keep getting things wrong."

Others platforms worth a look

Just missed the cut

Sequoia is a multi-product platform that includes benefits, HRIS, and a PEO called Sequoia One.  We've heard they know the startup context a little bit better than some of their competitor PEOs.

Namely is an all-in-one HRIS platform for teams with hundreds of employees. Like many other HRIS systems, they try to do too much and are full of fairly average features and functionality.

Insperity is a poorly-reviewed HRIS and PEO. Their main feature set is robust, but their UI is unintuitive and they don't scale well.

Paylocity is a payroll-forward, module-based HRIS platform for teams in the low hundreds of employees. It can be a one-stop-shop for most HR needs.

Country-specific platforms

🇬🇧  Charlie HR is a popular all-in-one HRIS used mainly by teams in the UK. It has a similar feature set to and brand confusion (is it Charlie HR or Charlie?) to hi bob.

🇨🇦  Humi is an all-in-one HRIS exclusively for Canadian companies. Most the Canadian startups we talk to love it, but a few say they've had problems with it at scale.

Global PEOs focused on distributed teams

Deel, Oyster, and Remote are a new set of platforms that came of age during COVID-19 to help solve for payroll and benefits challenges for globally distributed companies who don't want to set up operations in every country their team members live in. All three are worth checking out if your team is experiencing the pain of employing people across multiple countries.

Newcomers tackling gaps in the mainstream HRIS tools

Humaans is a new HRIS that is bringing a fresh, design-driven approach to the HRIS.

Personio is a new German all-in-one HRIS focused on delivering quick implementation and top-level support. It's becoming a popular choice in Europe.

Where you'll end up as you grow into an enterprise company

Workday is the dominant HR platform many startups end up with when they have thousands of employees. It's an enterprise solution with a long implementation process. It's not meant for teams under 500 people.

Top HR platforms by segment

By funding stage

We segmented funding into two main stages.

Early-stage startups tend to focus on finding a PEO or HRIS that does the basics and gets the job done in an intuitive way. Often founders — rather than People People — make buying decisions in the early stage.

Later stage startups take a more systems-based approach that thinks critically about the scalability of solutions.

Distribution of early stage vs later stage startups using each HR platform

By Team Size

The funding stage is not always equivalent to team size so we also broke down top choices by the number of employees at the organization.

Distribution of HR platforms based on company size

By Rating

And finally, here are the top and bottom three HR platforms based on respondent ratings.

Note: We had a threshold for a minimum number of votes before a platform was considered for either top 3 or bottom 3.

Distribution of HR platforms by rating

By Team Location

Because of employment law, geography and the distribution of employees is a relevant variable in choosing a platform. Here we look at choices based on those factors.

Note: We talked to many teams located in other parts of the world, but didn’t have enough data to segment all of those regions. Hopefully, we do on future reports!

Top HR platforms for globally distributed teams
Top HR platforms for teams primarily in one state in the United States
Top HR platforms for teams across multiple states in the United States
Top HR platforms for teams in Europe
Top HR platforms for teams in Canada

Conclusion

If you made it to the end, I hope this report has given you some perspective on the HR platform options and how they do supporting startups.

This is our first version of this report, but we will be continuing to iterate and improve on it.

Got any feedback for us?

Please email us at: hrplatformreport@teamgather.co with your thoughts.