(Reuters) – Human-resources software company Zenefits said it had raised $500 million in venture funding, giving it a valuation of $4.5 billion and confirming a drop in appetite among venture-backed companies for initial public offerings.
Zenefits was founded just two years ago, making its trajectory to the “Unicorn Club” of start-ups valued at $1 billion or more impressively quick, even by Silicon Valley standards. It had annual recurring revenue of $20 million by late last year.
Once companies reach that stage, founders say, some of their biggest expenses lie in sales and marketing as they attempt to expand into new markets and outdo competition. Zenefits is no exception, a spokesman said, earmarking much of the new funding for those areas as it seeks to sustain its rapid pace of growth.
Zenefits’ core services are free, and it makes money by collecting fees from insurance companies when it refers its clients for health insurance and other products. The startup hopes the new funding will help propel it to annual recurring revenue of $100 million by January 2016, the spokesman said.
Where human-resources software peer Workday targets larger businesses, Zenefits has been going after small and medium-sized firms. It says it now has 10,000 customers and has diversified beyond the technology industry, which in its first year constituted four-fifths of its customer base.
Fidelity Management and Research Company and TPG Growth led the latest funding round. Other new investors were Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, Insight Venture Partners, and Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, joining previous investors Andreessen Horowitz, Institutional Venture Partners, and actor Jared Leto.
Zenefits is now the start-up Andreessen Horowitz has invested the most cash in, a spokeswoman for the investment firm said.