A startup called Skillbridge is trying to create a new kind of marketplace for freelance work – not for the programming and writing jobs that you’d find on a site like Elance, but for strategy, finance, marketing and other professional services.
The company is announcing today that it has been backed by First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, the firm’s student-run investment arm that offers mentorship and $20,000 in funding to each company. (Skillbridge is also part of Highland Capital’s summer incubator and the MassChallenge accelerator..)
Co-founders Brett Lewis and Raj Jeyakumar have worked as consultants themselves – Lewis, for example, spent nearly three years at Bain & Company. They’re both recent graduates of Wharton Business School, and they said that when they were students, they wanted to use their experience for freelance work. However, they discovered that it was incredibly difficult to actually find interested companies, so they created Skillbridge to match qualified workers with businesses looking for professional services.
Lewis outlined the vision in a post for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog, where he said that the United States’ freelancers have grown from 6 percent of the total workforce in 1990 to 20 to 30 percent now: “Elance, an early talent marketplace, has focused on low-end providers of technology and creative talent. Yet the biggest growth trends are in areas of financial planning and analysis, accounting and legal strategy, where only behemoth white-shoe firms have dominated until now.”
Lewis and Jeyakumar said their core talent base consists of stay-at-home parents and graduate students who have either an MBA or at least three years of experience at a finance or consulting firm. These are people who either aren’t in a position to work full-time or aren’t interested, but they are willing to take on smaller projects or part-time work with flexible hours. And by hiring these workers, companies don’t have to pay for the overhead of a traditional consulting firm.
Not that Skillbridge is trying to replace the big firms. Jeyakumar compared them to Ferraris: “There will always be a need for Ferraris, but there are people for whom a BMW is just fine.” If the BMW doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, that’s Jeyakumar’s point. With Skillbridge, companies that probably couldn’t afford to hire a traditional consulting firm can still pay for high-quality work. He added that there’s already been interest in companies ranging from “pre-revenue startups that need help with market sizing for their pitch decks” to large e-commerce organizations.
The company supposedly delivers a “highly curated” experience, where it provides customers with templates for work requests, identifies two or three of the best matches that they can choose from, and helps to create milestones for the project to ensure that things stay on track. It’s currently in beta testing, with plans for a full launch later this year.
Like moths to a flame, kids gravitate toward iPad and iPhone games. But for parents that want their children to still be exposed to real-world toys, a new startup called ZowPow is offering a way that they can do both.
The company makes plush toys that can control gameplay.
One of their very first toys is a tiny plane that can control up-and-down movement for a paired game called “Tiny Plane,” which is published by EA’s Chillingo.
The game controller they built has built-in sensors and accelerometers that can tell which direction the plane is facing, so that the plane in the game mimics its movement through Bluetooth LE (see the video below).
The two-person startup, which was just accepted for Y Combinator’s upcoming batch, is launching with two partner companies. The other is Get Set Games, a fairly well-known smaller studio that’s behind Mega Jump and Mega Run. The franchise’s protagonist Redford is getting his very own plush toy controller that costs $29.99.
The startup is selling both of their toys through their online store. This is just an initial start. Co-founder Jennifer Lu, who came from a business development background at Andreessen Horowitz-backed game developer TinyCo, says the startup plans to sign up many more titles from third-party developers.
They don’t plan to focus on building their own intellectual property in-house, and instead would rather partner with developers that already have their own unique characters and audiences. There’s a revenue share with the original developer for each toy they sell.
ZowPow’s platform supports iOS devices that are the iPhone 4S or later, the iPad 3 or later, then the iPad Mini and the iPod Touch 5. They can also connect to TVs if the iOS device owner has an HDMI adapter or AirPlay.