Solvate’s co-founder and COO Julie Ruvolo will be onstage at Web 2.0 Expo New York next week to give solid advice on how to improve your hiring process of independent professionals. If you’ve ever been burned, this may be the session for you.
Julie recently answered some questions about her session and what you can expect to learn next week.
Justin: For those that are unfamiliar, can you give a quick intro to Solvate?
Julie: Solvate is a startup based in downtown New York City that is building the country’s premier on-demand workforce. We think businesses big and small, startup or not, should have access to the best talent possible, on terms that make sense for them, not just for businesses with a big hiring budget. So only the best independent consultants and freelancers are invited into our network, and we make their time available on a purely on-demand, no strings, no minimums hourly basis.
Justin: You founded Solvate alongside your business partners Michael Paolucci and Rick Lamb, who gets credit for the idea? What was the inspiration?
Julie: Credit for the idea goes to Mike! Let’s call him Client #1. He was operating another business out of the woods in Connecticut – as in no cell phone service – at the time that we met at a dinner hosted by DFJ Gotham. He was working at that time with a completely remote (and international) staff and thought there was room to explore offering remote administrative support to the growing segment of businesses that are taking advantage of cloud technology and working out of the traditional office confines, and he was working on the idea with Rick, his long-time business associate.
Mike, Rick and I got started on Solvate, DFJ Gotham provided the financing, and we very quickly realized that the caliber of professionals ready to work on demand expanded beyond administrative assistants to tons of industries and skill sets. You would be surprised at the breadth of professionals who are joining the Gig Economy and working independently. Market researchers, Salesforce-Certified Developers, Emmy award winners.
Justin: What are the most common positions filled through the service?
Julie: We’re known as somewhat of a one-stop-shop, and most people need help with more than one thing. So a client that starts of asking for a blogger with financial industry experience (we may match them with a freelancer for Forbes.com) may follow up with a second request for a certified Quickbooks bookkeeper.
Most of our Talent is based in New York City since there is a robust ecosystem of freelancers around the major industries headquartered here: media, advertising, finance, fashion, publishing. So as you can imagine we have a deep bench of marketing and creative talent from some of the best firms in the world: Google, Saatchi & Saatchi, McKinsey, R/GA, Disney, Boston Consulting Group, Women’s Wear Daily.
Clients come to Solvate for the kind of business services that are generally more nuanced or complicated, and as a result require familiarity with their industry. For example, if the CEO of a digital music startup is looking for part-time Executive Assistance, we may match them with Michele, a former Executive Assistant at Warner Bros music division. If an entrepreneur is looking for help creating their investor presentation to raise their A round of financing, they may connect with one of several veteran PowerPoint and Keynote designers who specialize in creating venture capital fundraising pitch decks. There is such a specialization if you can believe it.
The best part of how we’ve constructed our service is that you can browse over 2,000 services on our site – not based by what Solvate Talent says they think they’d be good at – but by the specific services they’ve performed for previous clients. We call it the Solvate Talent Engine.
If you’re an ecommerce startup, you can get your Adwords campaign set up by Amanda, who managed eBay’s AdWords account. If you’re a gaming startup you can get your iPhone app built by a developer who worked for X Games or EA. We think it’s super important to connect with the people who already understand your business or industry – and startups in particular appreciate that kind of efficiency.
Justin: The title of your session is “Business Matchmaking 2.0,” and even the best matchmaker fails from time to time, any horror stories that you can share? Do you have a favorite success story?
Julie: Tell you what, working with people remotely can be a really scary process on both sides. I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories. In fact on the heels of Freelancers Union publishing a horror stat – that 40% of their freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009 – The New York Times profiled a consultant who had spent three years trying to collect on a $35,000 project from a delinquent client. The juiciest problem we’ve had on the other hand was a client who would only write in ALL CAPS – and our Talent opted not to work with him.
The stress and uncertainty around hiring contractors is precisely why Solvate is the responsible party for the work that gets done through our service. One aspect of that is making the right match, but setting up successful remote working relationships doesn’t end there – we don’t make a match and wish you well into the horizon.
So we provide dedicated client and talent support, we allow clients to talk with Solvate Talent (for free) on Connect Calls for up to an hour to feel out the fit, and to make it easier to start a new relationship, we guarantee client satisfaction on up to the first five hours of any project they start with us. If for any reason you aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll take care of you. We think we’re building a community of professional peers – many of whom are connected on LinkedIn – and as one client said, “we’re all adults here.”
One of my favorite matches was for a poet who’d just published a book to rave reviews but needed help promoting it online – so we connected him with a woman who had experience working on social media campaigns for a publishing house. They got along from the first moment because they speak the same language – and the eHarmony comparisons are not lost on us!
Justin: Before founding Solvate you spent a number of years in the startup world and undoubtedly had to work with a number of contractors on a variety of projects, any tips or pitfalls to avoid when looking for new talent without a matching service? On the other side of the coin, it’s hard to stand out in today’s economy, any tips for job seekers?
Julie: I’ve always found the best recommendations – for contractors or for full-time hires or agencies – come from trusted colleagues. But even then we’re totally lacking a vocabulary for contract work – how do I explain what it is I need help with, and how do I know what experience you have with it?
The full-time paradigm is just not one size fits all. If you looked at my LinkedIn profile it would not be obvious what work I could do with you as a contractor because a job title like “Director of Business Development” only says so much. So if you know exactly what you need done and can find exactly the right person who’s done just that for clients like you, then good luck – but it’s incredibly difficult. I liken it to an old-school barter system in need of a common currency.
Then, once you find that person, the work it takes to set up the legal terms of the contract (non-disclosure, non-compete, intellectual property) as well as what is the scope and who pays how much when – it’s way too much work for anything less than a really big project.
On the other hand if you remove all that red tape and set-up cost and have a third party that is legally responsible to you for the caliber of the work, you can expand your thinking as to what kind of work you can do with contractors on an on-demand basis. For example I suck at PowerPoint. If I had access when I was in ad sales for AdBrite to a PowerPoint design expert, I could have saved myself some agony trying to mock up a graphic in Paint – seriously, Paint – and paid someone for an hour to help me on it. Think about that, ad sales people reading this – if you don’t have a support team in house, get your boss to pony up for a decent on-demand resource to save you time. I am sure you can make the cost-benefit argument work.
If you are not used to managing hires or managing contractors, I’ve learned it’s especially important to work with contractors who at least are experienced working with clients. That way you can rely on them to help define the scope and guide how the process should go.
As for the question about tips for job seekers, I’m not saying anything novel here – the power of recommendation can go really far. But people who love you have to know you are available for hire and have to know not just that they love you but specifically what you’re best at.
And people considering you for hire, full time or otherwise, need to be able to Google you and get a sense of your professional reputation, whether that’s with a robust LinkedIn profile or otherwise.
Justin: What’s next for Solvate? Any thought of going international?
Julie: We’re keeping the Talent Network limited to US-based professionals, but we already have a number of international clients using our service to connect with some of the country’s brightest, including a nonprofit in Bermuda and a radio executive in Paris. So on that note -
We are actively recruiting the next 5,000 to join the Solvate Talent Network! If you are an independent professional in digital media or any other industry, or know one, you should apply at Solvate and create a profile of what services you have for sale and who you’ve done them for. Stop by our booth and you can meet other New York-based professionals, hear why they prefer contracting through Solvate, and sign up to apply.