A Different Type of Infrastructure: People-Based Platforms

With today’s mobile networks blanketing a world of users with invisible, always-on connections, the term infrastructure doesn’t always have to be viewed as a physical thing.

When we first started Moment Ventures, we became very intrigued with software platforms to connect digital and physical networks: something we refer to as the Infrastructure of Everything. It’s a broadly defined term that we came up with to encompass anything that can make an ecosystem, market or even society work better.

In addition to platforms that connect new hardware categories such as robots and drones, we added another category to our Infrastructure of Everything portfolio: People-Based Platforms, a labor infrastructure category where mobile networks and devices create IT connections to replace old school platforms to connect employers and workers. Thanks in part to an intriguing Techcrunch piece written in 2015 by a Y-Combinator entrepreneur who proclaimed: “In the Future, Employees Won’t Exist”, a thought-provoking op-ed piece about the freelancer revolution that’s projected to make up 40% of our future workforce, we became very interested in role that IT could play in disrupting these workforce marketplaces. In just the past few years, scores of startups emerged serving different consumer-facing markets, making up what many have called the “Uber of X” trend. For these broader “gig economy” opportunities, we ultimately decided to invest horizontally across the industry in a company aptly named Payable (and coincidentally the previously mentioned author’s company), which provides a finance, payroll and tax platform for 1099 contractors and the companies that employ them.

People-Based Platforms for Enterprises

While drivers, food deliverers and roving IT support teams have joined this freelance labor movement, what about workers in more specialized professions? Contractor platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr have federated a community of freelancers in marketing, technical writing, graphic design, creatives and more, but what about doctors, teachers and accountants? Do these professionals seek more flexibility in their work lives, and could a labor marketplace in their respective industries serve their needs accordingly? What about the employers in these industries? Do businesses that hire these professionals have elastic labor needs?

We think so. People in these specialized professions, ranging from emergency room doctors, registered nurses, substitute teachers, and even fast food workers with the skills to operate certain cooking equipment, require advanced training and more rigid qualifications to obtain work. Once certified, these professionals can still experience difficulty finding work, especially if a standard 40-hour work week with a single employer isn’t something they are able to do. Often times the skill set of their labor force is integrated into a higher value service, so the workers become part of the platform. Examples from our early portfolio include companies that are connecting nursing homes and ER doctors, schools with substitute teachers, and even companies that serve food with nonprofits in need of food by way of food heroes that serve as the distribution platform.

Companies That Are On A Mission

As a result, we look for entrepreneurs who build platforms that are more than just modern day job boards. Many entrepreneurs in this arena come from the industry they’re targeting and use their unique perspective from being in the trenches to create services that inspire their workforce with a higher level cause than simply providing flexibility in work hours.

For example:

Copia’s app alerts food heroes to pick up surplus food

And we believe there are many more out there, across all industries.

People Who Need People Who Need IT

Finding labor efficiently with the conviction to disrupt an entire industry through a much higher level value proposition and mission is a terrific backdrop for a startup, as IT isn’t always able to solve the problem on its own. By building these people-connected platforms, companies can build in features to serve the nuances that are important and unique to both employers and workers. By doing so, they create solutions platforms that enable them to operate profitably in markets where minimalist marketplaces might otherwise struggle with operating margins. Employers using IT to efficiently find labor, and connected workers finding fulfilling work autonomously from their smartphones: this is what we call People-Based Platforms. Of course, much of their success will be dependent on their execution, but we like what we see thus far, and love the feedback and reaction we get from customers and workers on these platforms. Stay tuned for future updates on the progress of these companies.

If you are an entrepreneur with an idea to disrupt the industry that you’re in, give us a call and join the campaign to build the Infrastructure of Everything!

This post originally appeared on the Moment Ventures blog.

Clint Chao is a General Partner at Moment Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund based in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach/follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.