The office romance is a staple of American life and popular culture. But what if rather than dating people at our companies, we dated companies themselves? What if instead of launching into long-term relationships (employment relationships, that is) with organizations based on little more than an interview and a hunch, we took things a little slower?
When Manny Medina started pitching GroupTalent to VCs, many of them scoffed, "so you’re a dating website for developers." They’d say it in a derisive way, Medina recalls, prompting him to get defensive. Sure, he’d say, GroupTalent was a marketplace for hiring developers using a "try before you buy" approach—developers and companies would start with a basic contract before moving on to a full hire—but it wasn’t as trivial as some dating site.
"As we kept growing," he says now with a laugh, "companies started describing us as a dating site for developers. If a customer’s telling us that’s what we are and are paying, they can call us whatever we want." GroupTalent now proclaims loudly on the part of its website facing developers: "Get paid to date companies."
Fundamentally, GroupTalent is a "matchmaking platform between employers and, at this point, developers," says Medina. Developers sign up on the site, listing languages they’re adept at as well as—crucially—what they hope to get out of their next job. GroupTalent conducts a short interview with developers to flesh out their file. Meanwhile, GroupTalent also allows companies to post positions they’re looking to fill. GroupTalent then runs a bit of algorithmic magic to match developers and companies.
In a recent example, Leap Motion, the makers of a much-anticipated Kinect-like device, was looking to staff up quickly. GroupTalent provided five developers Leap Motion was interested in, and the company wound up hiring two of those. Medina finds interesting that one of the hires had previously worked at another startup that was "literally two blocks away" from Leap Motion in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco. "Even with that close geographic proximity, you still don’t have clarity about who is hiring for what," says Medina, who adds that he would like GroupTalent to bring greater transparency to what he calls a murky labor market.
Ultimately, says Medina, he’d like GroupTalent to move beyond the market for developers. "Our ambitions are clearly grander. We want to be the platform where discovery and engagement for the labor market actually happens."
GroupTalent didn’t invent the idea of contract-to-hire employment, which, though somewhat rare, has reportedly been more common in the IT sector than elsewhere. "I don’t know why this is not a common practice," says Medina, "and there must be some historical reason that eludes me. . . . I would think that it has to do with the fact that people find security in a contract of employment, even though the majority of employment in the U.S .is at will, which means we’re all trying before we’re buying throughout our career history."
Medina believes that the contract-to-hire arrangement doesn’t favor employers over employees necessarily, but that it will accrue to the benefit of both parties, helping to foster better matches. He cites psychological research that humans are averse to changing the status quo, which might suggest that people stay in some jobs far longer than they’d really like to. "Try before you buy allows you to create a path whereby you make a decision that’s better for you," Medina says, and could ultimately reduce job hopping. Commitment isn't assumed by default, and exits are less awkward if it's a bad fit.
Does he worry about creating a "hookup culture" in the world of employment—a world in which both companies and workers have trouble committing? Far from it, says Medina. "We interview the candidate to get a good sense as to what would make him commit," he says. Some dyed-in-the-wool freelancers will crop up, but eventually "those people work themselves out of the system," he says. "You have the same people in dating sites, and yet dating sites remain strong and vibrant." (Incidentally, dating sites themselves are beginning to suppose they have data that can help companies make hires; eHarmony has recently made a move towards recruiting.)
Perhaps stressing the metaphor, I ask Medina what the employment equivalent of casual sex is? He turns thoughtful. "I don’t know. It’s a really good question. I haven’t taken the analogy that far." Ultimately, he says, "on the employee side, it gets old. It might be fun two or three times, but then on the fourth one, you have to get on-boarded again, learn the culture, you have to sell yourself. It’s a lot of schlep to get to the fun part." And for employers, of course, it’s arguably costly for all the same reasons—training takes time and money. Job-hopping, like dating, is tedious if done too much.
Ultimately, Medina finds, what both sides want is commitment. Previously, Medina’s startup was a marketplace for freelancers. "It became obvious to us that what people really want is to hire," he says. GroupTalent pivoted and changed its pricing structure so that instead of paying to list jobs, companies would only pay upon "conversion," or finally landing a developer they like. The fee structure is 20% of the contract rate for up to a three-month trial period. Hire within three months, and there’s a $7,000 conversion fee; after three months, that fee is waived.
Has GroupTalent used its own services? "Yes, and it goes wonderfully," says Medina, though he adds that they haven’t made a full-time hire yet. So GroupTalent’s still playing the field?
"Yeah, in a way," says Medina.
[Couple Image: Mirkoni via Shutterstock]