Solvate CEO on Helping Creatives Find, Companies Fill Contract Jobs

by Gil Zeimer on September 5, 2011
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Looking for a new opportunity? Freelancing could be your best option. Nearly seven in 10 new hires last year were free agents, and one in four people now work on a contract basis, according to figures from Solvate.com, an online marketplace for creative, marketing, and digital freelance professionals. The service charges a subscription-based fee to clients and receives a commission from its talent pool, which sets its own rates. We recently asked Michael Paolucci, the company’s co-founder and CEO, about his value proposition — and what sets his service apart from other job boards.

ISBB: How does Solvate differ from Guru.com, elance.com, and the myriad other companies now competing for freelance talent?

Paolucci: The key point of differentiation is that the talented professionals we list in our network are highly vetted, experienced freelancers. We only accept 20 percent of our applicants, because we want the best of the best. Our average hourly bill rate is higher because they’re the kind of people you’d find in a top public relations firm or ad agency, but you only pay a 10 percent fee to tee it all up. We’re not interested in clients who ask for spec work or $15 blog posts.

The beauty of it is that you can directly find the best talent of consumer-facing specialists and buy them by the hour to lift your business. It’s like having Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees hit for your minor-league ball club. Plus, Solvate is a cloud-based system, just like Facebook, Salesforce.com, and so many companies these days. We’re bringing enterprise-class computing down to every organization.

Do you offer only creative talent?

We’re a very good fit for finding ad agency all-stars like public relations specialists, art directors, designers, web designers, animators, copywriters, and creative directors. But we also have a different breed of talent like business strategists, programmers, branding specialists, and account managers. Our talent is U.S.-based, because we don’t believe you’re going to find that skill level of experienced freelancers who know how to work directly with businesses of all sizes in a foreign country.

We don’t have the overhead of a big ad agency. You can get any of our people for half of their normal cost that you’d pay through an agency for $200-plus per hour. For example, you can hire the brand manager who named the Wii. You can work with CLIO Award-winning creatives. You can select the right person with the appropriate experience for you.

How do you market your services to clients and top freelance talent?

We find talent through email campaigns and follow up with telemarketing. The professional talent we’re looking for has a successful track record freelancing. They’re also finding us through our public relations campaign and word-of-mouth through our refer-a-friend program. We’re aggregating the very best people who are committed to a lifestyle choice, for continuity with our customers.

How long has Solvate been around? How big are your talent and client pools?

We launched in Summer 2009 as a venture-backed startup. We currently have about 2,000 freelance professionals in our system and are growing quickly. We also have hundreds and hundreds of clients from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Is Solvate a virtual company?

We have a New York City headquarters and just opened a national sales office in Austin, Texas, which will beat the cost out of the employment agency model. We look to do everything we can to pass the savings to our customers.

What do you offer clients and talent?

From a general perspective, we only take a 10 percent licensing fee to tee it all up. For small-business clients, we offer three levels of subscription pricing plans: a basic membership fee of $100 a month to sift through our talent pool, just like shopping at Costco. If you want us to help, we start charging you more for our services. The enterprise class (mid-size and large companies) pays a higher monthly fee with more services.

Are the jobs full-time or freelance?

It’s all project-based. Contractors work in their own offices. It’s not like a temp service that sends people to job sites.

How are freelancers paid?

Our talent members set their hourly rates when they register with our system and can change them at any time. They’re under contract with us, so we collect payment from clients and pay our talent. At the end of each month, we send each client a statement of the hours incurred on an account.

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