That Was Zen, This Is Now: The Gusto Name Review


Get off your meditation cushion because Zen is out. Well, a small piece of it anyway. Last week, payroll startup ZenPayroll changed its name to Gusto as it plans to move beyond payroll, into benefits such as health insurance and workers’ compensation. But don’t confuse your chakras, the unicorn-status, HR benefits company Zenefits is keeping its name and is also planning to offer payroll services similar to what Gusto now offers. Indeed, a name change was long overdue for one of these companies. I’m actually amazed that two companies with such similar offerings and names have had enough Zen to avoid an ugly trademark dispute thus far.

Zen has long been a buzzword in the startup industry. In fact, Nancy Friedman, our friend and fellow branding consultant, has a Pinterest board devoted to 31 companies using Zen as part of their name, from ZenEquity to ZenFone. Like other naming fads such as the –ly suffix, ‘Zen’ was getting more crowded and less meaningful. It was time for a change.

Gusto is an assertive word that connotes passion and zeal. And, since they were branching out into services beyond just payroll, it made sense to move away from a descriptive name, like ZenPayroll, to a suggestive name like Gusto. Gusto is enjoyment or vigor in performing a task, and is often used with work, which makes this a clever and effective name for a company that provides services to employers. The word comes from the Italian and Spanish word gusto, where it has the additional meanings of ‘pleasure’ and ‘taste.’ These further the positive connotations of the name while tossing in a dash of worldliness and sophistication as well.

All in all, Gusto is a smart transition from ZenPayroll. It will allow the company to offer a wide range of new services, perhaps even beyond the employment space. It’s hard to rename a company, but I’d say they did it with, well, gusto.

Final Grade:



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