Zack Smith will never be one of those people who say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” as they watch a simple, innovative idea explode with success.
Smith, a 28-year-old Northeastern grad, and partner, Cory Bober, are smack in the middle of one of those simple ideas. They co-founded Jobble, a now year-old tech start-up in Boston that connects companies to a network of freelance or part-time workers. In other words, they’re right in the middle of the gig economy.
But Jobble is a temp agency the way Uber is a taxicab company. Meaning it’s not.
Like Uber, which connects drivers with people looking for a ride, Jobble is a technology company—a mobile platform that instantly and easily allows businesses to connect with people looking for work. The company receives a list of available workers—called Jobblers—complete with recommendations and level of experience and expertise. The company posts what they’re willing to pay for certain jobs and Jobblers bid on filling the spot. Companies who use Jobble like the product because they can staff up or down with the click of a button. Workers like it because they get paid right away.
“We can staff 100 people easy with two or three days notice,” Smith said. “With a click you can staff up a workforce without all the paperwork, screening, and all that stuff.”
Jobble automates the burgeoning gig economy or on-demand workforce—the large army of people, mostly college students or out of work young people looking for temporary assignments—negating the need for corporations to search job boards, retain temp agencies, or advertise for spots. Functions that might take days or weeks can be cut to minutes. The hiring, assigning, and paying is all done through the Jobble app.
“I guess you could say we’re a modern day temp agency,” said Smith. “It puts technology in place of manpower. Instead of having a person or agency working between the company that’s looking to hire and the worker, we’ve put technology in the middle. That makes it easier, more convenient, faster, and more efficient.”
Why didn’t I think of that?
From academic experiment to rapid expansion
Starting out as more or less an academic experiment, Jobble—in less than a year—has expanded nationwide, with over 600 companies on the platform and thousands of Jobblers connected to the network. Smith said those figures will likely double within the coming weeks. The kinds of gigs at the moment include guerrilla marketing, trade shows, conferences, product demos, sales activations, and warehouse staffing.
It’s a serious business model: Jobble is nearly alone in its space and has attracted serious investors. Earlier this year, Jobble raised $1.2 million from big time venture capitalists and angel financiers, and is already poised for another $3 million-$5 million round. Along with expanding its geographic base, the company in the last four months has increased its workforce by 100 percent—to a rip-roaring 12 employees. Technology platform companies don’t need a lot of overhead.
The concept exploits the gig economy, which is largely being led by millennials either starting shared service platform companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Jobble, or joining the legion of millennials attracted to part time gigs. Smith and Bober, in fact, were college-age participants in the gig economy, joining street teams and event marketing groups when the idea of Jobble struck.
“We were Jobblers before there was Jobble. We understood the ins and outs of the flexible workforce,” Smith said. “We were brand ambassadors at the Boston Marathon handing out rally cards when this notion of the flexible workforce mindset hit us and we uncovered it.
Initially, Smith said, they focused solely on the event-marketing arena. But that soon changed.
“We found out right away that there are a lot of companies that need short-term help for event marketing, yes, but catering, restaurants, local businesses, retail companies, warehouse, and deliveries; there’s a big need out there,” he said.
Demand for part-time workers is climbing
More than 40 percent of U.S. corporations said they planned to hire part-time or contract workers this year, up from 36 percent in 2012.
Statistics show that nearly 16 percent of American workers, an estimated 23 million people, are part of the gig economy, though some estimates put it as high as 55 million. The growth of 1099 forms filed to the IRS is increasing faster than the growth of W2s, the IRS says. Moreover, a recent Pew poll found that 72 percent of Americans have used some sort of shared or on-demand service like Uber or TaskRabbit. These platforms, like Jobble, take a percentage of whatever the client pays.
“About 40 percent of our Jobblers are college students, but we have everyone from young people who just want part-time work to retirees looking for extra money,” said Smith. “Some people drive for Uber in the morning, take a Jobble in the afternoon, and maybe another temp job at night. They make full-time part-time jobs and are their own bosses.”
Smith and Bober run the company out of the shared WeWork office space in Boston’s Leather District, an 11-story brick building with hundreds of companies, from start-ups to established firms, overrun with millennials on the move—and not a necktie in sight.
Advice for millenials seeking investors
Smith has tips for millennials starting companies and seeking money from white-shoe investment houses.
“The pros of being young and being just out of college means you don’t need much,” Smith said. “I can live without any money in my pocket. I’m not married and don’t have kids, so we didn’t have any other things to take care of.”
It took almost a year of scratching along without much money while building the platform and launching the beta version before the partners got enough traction to interest investors.
“It’s pretty intimidating to walk into a room and have everyone looking at you,” he said. “I know they’re all thinking ‘How can we trust this kid?’ But most of all, they want to see that you’re driven and that you actually believe in what we’re doing. I have to convince them that I’m the guy who can push this product along, that I’m ready to lead a team, and that I can do it. They have to be convinced you’re the one that can get it done.”
Most of all, Smith said, you have to rely on the product.
“If the product works and you can show it, you’ve overcome the biggest barrier,” he said. “Create a simple product that gets something simple done, and you’re on the runway.”
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