Startup rolls out marketplace of US contract workers
A startup is rolling out an online marketplace where employers can connect with U.S.-based contract workers in a variety of industries.
Start Garden, the $15-million seed fund in Grand Rapids, said last month that it will make an initial $5,000 investment in vBench.
Matt Pundmann, co-founder of vBench, said the number of independent professionals in the U.S. is on the rise, and he recognizes there are many talented people available for hire.
With a target market of small-to-medium-size businesses, vBench connects employers with workers in fields such as information technology, business administration, sales, marketing, design, accounting and legal.
“Our platform allows you to quickly find, assess, hire and pay them,” Pundmann said. “As it stands, most employers contract through staffing agencies, with excessive markups or look to offshore resources, which has its challenges as well. We built vBench to give employers a platform to negotiate rates and collaborate directly with the freelance consultant.
“The platform focuses exclusively on local U.S.-based freelance consultants, mitigating the hidden costs associated with offshoring."
The vBench platform combines project management and accounting with job-board functionality, to allow employers and independent professionals to efficiently connect.
For employers looking to hire a freelancer, the platform involves several steps: post an employment position; search vBench profiles and invite candidates to bid on the job; manage and collaborate online with deadlines, messages and file sharing; compensate freelance workers with an escrow payment system; provide feedback; and rate the contractor.
Contract professionals can create a profile, submit proposals, manage their work online, receive compensation and provide feedback.
There is a 6.5-percent service fee for all new hires using the vBench platform for employers. When a company re-hires the same professional, the service fee drops to 4.5 percent, according to the vBench website.
The idea for vBench was developed by Pundmann and co-founder J.T. Eberly, and the platform recently launched after a beta testing period to receive feedback from users.
“We started working on it two years ago — back-of-a-napkin-type thing,” Pundmann said. “It has only been online for not even a year. We work with freelancers on a contract basis to help with website development, with marketing.
"All in there, is give or take probably about 10 of us working together, which fluctuates depending on what projects we are working on.”
In response to the initial investment by Start Garden, Pundmann said the startup is thrilled since it’s the first funding the team has received from investors.
“We have been boot strapping vBench from the conception,” Pundmann said. “We decided in 2015 our initiative is to go out and seek investors, as well as grow out an advisory board. Start Garden is a great organization, and they were really responsive to our idea.”
With the implementation of an online platform that’s responsive for mobile devices, Pundmann said vBench will use the Start Garden funds to raise awareness of its newly formed partnership with Freelancers Union.
The nonprofit connects independent workers to group-rate benefits and resources.
“Freelancers Union is a really cool organization,” Pundmann said. “We feel it is a really nice complement to our platform. We are going to market toward their existing user base, as well as a national reach too — raise awareness of Freelancers Union, as well as vBench. Our goal is to reach about a million freelancers, and we feel this will give us a nice boost and help us to expand and grow.”