Though the “gig economy” is a trendy phenomenon to talk about these days, the underlying truth is that short-term contract labor is, well, not new. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the largest brackets of those who define themselves as self-employed or working as independent contractors are the 65 and older and 55 through 64 age groups.
Shelly Justice first took note of the contract workforce in the late 1990’s, specifically in the world of events and trade shows. Particularly in the B2B and technology marketing world, trade shows are a major way that companies market their products and services.
Justice realized these trade shows could be quite a big business; specifically, staffing them. Companies need to hire temporary contract talent, often for several days at a time, several times a year, to staff their booths, market their products and serve as brand ambassadors. Justice felt she could provide that talent, and launched CMT Agency in 2001 with $1000 seed money.
CMT Agency is still a successful business today, counting Anheuser-Busch, Merck, P&G, Spanx, Toyota and Panasonic as clients. Justice was skilled at finding talent and filling the specific needs of each client.
However, she encountered a major pain point: the operational challenges of the business. A contractor staffing firm actually caters to two different sets of customers: the companies who need workers, and the talent who can fill these roles.
CMT, and agencies like it, go through a long process and several steps within each job, many of which don’t always happen in the same order. The agency sources talent, matches and assigns them to jobs, works with the client company to get all the details around those jobs, invoices the company, pays the workers, and ensures the paperwork and proper forms are in place for the entire thing.
In other words, a back office nightmare.
Justice sought a software solution, but found nothing customized to her specific needs. So, she created it herself. The system she architected and saw through development had the capabilities of a customer relationship management platform, an HR system, accounting and billing capabilities, and even recruiting.
After 20 years using the platform, this year Justice decided to spin off the software platform into a SaaS startup of its own, Atlanta-based Senegal Software. She recently brought in John Franco, a 25-year career software executive, as CEO to scale the business.
“You don’t have to be a CFO or a financial person to be able to manage your books correctly because everything is taken care of within the system — all of my payroll information is up-to-date, all of my billing information is up-to-date, and everything has been run from one system. One person can handle that entire process,” says Franco about the software platform.
He claims it can increase a firm’s productivity and efficiency anywhere from 20 to 70 percent.
Franco’s specialization has been in products that deal with people: call center platforms, customer relationship management, workforce management, “all of the things that are necessary for businesses to drive profitability from their most important assets, which are really the people,” he explains.
This dovetails nicely with Senegal, which contains robust people management capabilities. The platform integrates a payment system to send the hired talent their paycheck right away, updates into Quickbooks, and even produces tax forms that need to be sent to contractors.
Franco says his experience also meshes with the next phase of Senegal: expanding beyond its current markets of event and experiential marketing staffing, and into the entire gig economy at-large.
Though not as large as the contract or part-time workforce, that online and on-demand gig economy is indeed growing — 2018 data released by the Freelancers Union shows that workers who identify as “moonlighter” or a “diversified worker” grew by 8.7 million in three years.
“The market really as a whole is changing,” says Franco. “With the advent of the sharing economy, it’s morphed into what is being referred to as ‘the human cloud.’”
Though it’s increasingly-common, very few people operations platforms handle the entirety of contract staffing operations. Applicant tracking systems, vendor management platforms, and billing software clients only handle a small portion of the process.
“Very few have joined these all together and really streamlined operations to make it really easy to run a business more efficiently and more profitably,” says Franco.
Senegal has taken no outside funding since being spun off from CMT Agency, and Franco hopes to continue to bootstrap until they see a need for substantial capital. He hopes to get the company to profitability by Q4 of 2019, and grow the current dozen clients by tenfold within a year.
“When we present a solution to a potential client, they’re just blown away. They’ve never seen anything that can encapsulate all of these different functions in one system and give them everything that they need,” Franco says.
“The more I look at this market, I’m starting to realize that all companies are going have to face this gig economy trend,” he continues. “People are not going to be saying, ‘I want a full-time job,’ they’re going to come in and say ‘I want to be a contract worker.’ I think the workforce going forward is going to have multiple jobs.”