On-Demand talent platform Stoke has raised $4.5M to help companies access the growing talent pool of self-employed freelancers and contractors and manage this flexible workforce at scale. The seed round was led by TLV Partners with participation from Bogomil Balkansky (former VP Cloud Recruiting Solutions at Google), Flatiron Health founder Zach Weinberg, Boaz Chalamish (CEO of Clarizen), and others.
As the pace of business accelerates, companies need to adapt fast and adopt an agile approach. A key factor is staying up to date with trends and knowledge; firms want the best people working for them, and often need to scale up quickly or bring on specialist talent with the skills or knowledge to perform a specific task, ensuring the workforce matches the pace of business.
Businesses struggling to fill key skills gap are discovering that talented candidates aren’t applying for full-time positions, preferring the flexibility and freedom of freelance or contract work. The US workforce has dramatically shifted towards freelance work over the past decade; 31% of all US workers did some work outside of traditional employment in 2017; among under-35s, that number rose to 43%. At Google, for example, more than half of the total workforce are freelancers, contractors and outsourced workers. Deloitte describes this new reality as the Open Talent Economy.
Online marketplaces for freelancers help locate talent, but they are primarily aimed at consumer and ad-hoc markets, not corporate use. For medium and large companies, the process of hiring and managing freelancers is haphazard, disorganized and difficult, managed through a combination of email, Excel spreadsheets and scattered Word documents. Working with on-demand talent is fraught with complicated issues that require management, such as payment schedules and benefits, NDAs and work product ownership. All of these friction points prevent companies from flexibly scaling and moving fast.
Shahar Erez and Hilik Paz founded Stoke to solve these problems and to put companies on the fast track to an agile workforce. The two entrepreneurs had experience managing departments in large technology companies. Their time together in senior positions in Mercury / HP, VMWare and Microsoft showed them first-hand the challenges of hiring and managing a modern, flexible freelance workforce. They interviewed more than a hundred CEOs and CFOs to understand the challenges they’re facing as the workforce changes.
Shahar and Hilik’s vision was backed by business leaders who had also faced these problems.
Bogomil Balkansky explained why he invested in Stoke. “I’ve faced the challenge of locating and onboarding on-demand talent, both at a 20-person startup and during my stint at Google. Regardless of company size, hiring managers are wasting an inordinate amount of time sourcing and screening contractors, and then chasing statements of work, invoices and payments. That’s why I was excited to back Shahar and Hilik’s vision at Stoke, and be a part of solving this economy-wide problem,” said Mr. Balkansky.
Zach Weinberg noted the scale of the challenge. “I am seeing a fundamental shift in the industry where freelancers are growing to become more instrumental in helping companies grow and adapt quickly,” says Mr. Weinberg. “However, managing that part of the workforce is a daily challenge. Varying invoice systems, payment cycles, compliance issues; most companies are still not set up to handle the realities of today’s employment landscape. As a founder and investor, I see this trend continuing, which is why I was so quick to invest with Stoke.”
Stoke’s talent-on-demand platform will enable companies to find, hire and manage freelancers at scale. Stoke will provide organizations with a management platform for their existing external workforce, as well as integrate with popular online freelancer marketplaces, enabling Stoke users to search these sites in from Stoke’s own unified interface and easily on-board new people.
“Shahar and Hilik’s strong entrepreneurial characteristics complement each other in solving a problem they’ve faced first-hand in their previous roles,” said Eitan Bek, co-founder and Managing Partner at TLV Partners. “Stoke aims to enable businesses to leverage a talent cloud; to get the talent they need when they need it, across all business functions. As the growth of the flexible workforce continues, being able to leverage this talent cloud will play a fundamental role in the survival of businesses. We’re thrilled to lead Stoke’s seed round and look forward to our partnership with Shahar and Hilik as we jointly usher in the Future of Work.”
“The new generation who’ve entered the workforce in the past decade want a different contract with life; they want flexibility and ongoing self-development,” said Shahar Erez, co-founder and CEO of Stoke. “Companies, meanwhile, are changing their operating models and becoming learning, evolving organizations. On-demand talent provides the scale, knowledge and flexibility these organizations require. Stoke will bridge the gap between enterprises and freelancers, providing a one-stop management platform for the Open Talent Economy.”
Stoke was founded by Shahar Erez and Hilik Paz to solve the problems companies face managing an agile workforce. The two entrepreneurs had experience managing departments in large technology companies including senior positions at Mercury / HP, VMWare and Microsoft. They experienced the challenges of hiring and managing a modern, flexible freelance workforce.