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Jobandtalent tops up with $108M for its ‘workforce as a service’ platform

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Madrid-based Jobandtalent, a digital temp staffing agency which operates a dual-sided platform that connects temp workers with employers needing regular casual labor in sectors like transport and logistics, has added €88 million (~$108M) to its Series C — bringing the total raised following an earlier (2019) closing of the round to €166M.

The 2009-founded startup has raised more than $290M to date over its decade+ run but describes itself as just at the beginning of a journey to make a dent in the massive and growing market for temporary work, expecting demand to keep stepping up as more sectors and processes go digital in the coming years.

Jobandtalent says more than 80,000 workers have used its platform to secure temp gigs in the last year across the seven markets where it operates in Europe and LatAm (namely: Spain, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Mexico and Colombia); while 750+ employers are signed up to “recurrently manage a large part of their workforce”, as it puts it, including XPO, Ocado, Saint Gobain, Santander, Bayer, eBay, Huawei, Ceva Logistics and Carrefour.

It’s focused on competing with traditional staffing agencies such as Adecco and Randstad, though other similar startups are cropping up to cater to an ever more precarious temporary employment market. (And Uber, for example, launched a shift-finder app experiment called Works, back in 2019, also targeting demand for on-demand labor — but doing so in partnership with staffing agencies in its case).

Jobandtalent reports the number of workers looking for temp jobs on its platform doubling every year, while it’s grown revenue to €500M and says it’s hit positive EBITDA.

The beefed up Series C funding will be put towards expanding into more markets and doubling down on growing its existing footprint, it said today.

“We will keep expanding through Europe and will consider some additional opportunities (the US and some LatAm countries),” co-founder Juan Urdiales told us, noting that its main markets remain Spain and the UK, while its main sectors are logistics, last mile, warehousing and transport.

The lead investor in the expansion tranche of its C round is new investor InfraVia, a French private equity firm, which is putting in €30M — investing via a Growth Tech Fund it launched last year that’s focused on European b2b high-growth tech companies.

Existing Jobandtalent investors, including Atomico, Seek, DN Capital and Kibo Ventures, also participated in the Series C top-up.

Urdiales said the reason it’s taken in another chunk of funding now is because of increased opportunity for growth as the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate demand for temping. “The reason why we are raising more is because we are seeing a high potential now to grow even faster than expected,” he told us. “The pandemic has helped us with both workers and employers in terms of adoption of our platform.”

“Covid has accelerated the transformation of many industries. We have seen more adoption of new technologies in the last nine months than in the last five years. The staffing market is experiencing a huge transformation that will be accelerated in the upcoming years, moving from brick and mortar traditional structures to data driven platforms that will improve the experience of both workers and employers,” Urdiales went on in a statement.

“This market is really big and we are just in the beginning of our journey (even though we have been a lot of years in the market now),” he added via email, discussing whether an IPO is on the business’ roadmap in the next few years. “We think that if we continue growing at the pace that we are growing now, and we add some private investors to help us with our growth plans, we may stay private for longer.”

Jobandtalent has been through a number of pivots since kicking off more than a decade ago with the idea of using technology to streamline the messy and consummately human business of recruitment. It started out testing a number of approaches before settling on a linguistics algorithm to parse job ads and create alerts to loop in passive job seekers.

Then in 2016 it pivoted away from enterprise recruitment to focus on mobilizing hiring for SMEs — zeroing in on the growing opportunity for temp job-matching offered by the rise of gig work fuelled by smartphone apps. From there, it’s been honing tools to cater to the needs of employers that are managing large temporary workforces.

The flip side of the rapid growth of ‘flexible’ platform-based labor — and Jobandtalent says it’s eyeing a pool of some 500M temp workers globally — is something that gig platforms don’t usually like to talk about: Worker precariousness.

But that’s something this startup says it wants to help with too. A key part of the proposition Jobandtalent offers to workers is increased benefits vs what a temp might otherwise expect to get.

The average gig platform does not offer a full suite of workers rights and benefits, just as they don’t provide a contractual guarantee of future shifts, as they classify on-demand labor as ‘self-employed’ — even as, simultaneously, they apply mobile technology to tightly manage this workforce (via data, algorithms and their own devices). 

This disconnect, between the level of gig worker rights and platform control, has led to a number of legal challenges in Europe — including in several of the markets where Jobandtalent operates (such as Spain, where Glovo continues to face legal challenges over its classification of delivery couriers, for example; and France and the UK, where Uber has lost a number of employment tribunals over driver status).

EU lawmakers are also eyeing conditions for gig workers — considering whether legislation is needed to protect platform workers’ rights. While some platform giants, like Uber, have already felt politically pressured to offer a level of insurance in the region.

Jobandtalent’s promise is it’s pushing for more perks for temps — leveraging the scale of its platform to get workers a better deal, including by making precarious work more steady (by lining up the next gig) and therefore less uncertain.

“All of the workers have access to the same benefits,” said Urdiales via email when we ask about how Jobandtalent’s perks are structured. “There are benefits such as advance payroll, health insurance, training courses, etc (not all the benefits are available in all countries, it depends on the level of maturity of each country).”

“We want to give any worker that starts working through Jobandtalent access to those benefits and offer a high standard employment treatment, so they have a similar status to what a perm employee has,” he added.

In a press release trumpeting its investment in Jobandtalent, new investor, InfraVia, also suggests the platform makes “temporary work a fulfilling professional step” — by defining “career plans” for temporary workers so they can “progress towards permanent and rewarding positions”.

However when we asked Urdiales what data it has on temp-to-permanent switches that have been enabled by its platform he said this is “not a common thing”.

“Employers are not looking to add workers to their perm workforces, and Jobandtalent is precisely trying to solve that for the workers, trying to give constant employment in different work assignments at different companies so they can find more stability,” he told us, adding: “The market is moving even more into a more precarious temporary employment market, and we believe that in this context a platform like the one that we are offering makes even more sense.”.

The other big carrot for workers to plug into Jobandtalent’s temp work marketplace is convenience: It takes a mobile app-based approach — offering a one-stop-shop for giggers to find their next shift, apply for the temp job (via in-app video interview), sign the contract and get paid, as well as access the touted benefits.

Its streamlining of admin around recruitment and payroll is also of course a key carrot for employers to get on board with Jobandtalent’s ‘workforce as a service’ proposition — which claims an upgraded offer (such as a CRM that bakes in analytics for tracking workforce performance in real time) vs traditional temping agency processes, as well as lower costs and increased numbers of job offers.

Its worker-to-temp job matching tech is designed to take the (temp) recruitment strain for employer customers via a proprietary quality worker scoring algorithm which it calls a Worker Quality Score (WQS).

Urdiales told us the criteria that feeds this score include attrition rate, absenteeism rate — and “some productivity metrics of the workers that we place” — when we asked for details, having found no information about the WQS on its website.

Algorithmic scoring of workers can have obvious implications for worker agency.

Nor is it without legal risk in Europe where EU citizens have rights attached to their personal data, such as access rights, and also (under the GDPR) a right to human review of any purely automated decisions that have a legal or similarly substantial impact on them (and decisions impacting access to work would be likely to qualify).

In a recent judgement, for example, a court in Italy ruled that a reputation ranking algorithm used by on-demand delivery platform Deliveroo had discriminated against workers because the code failed to distinguish between legally protected reasons for being absent from work (such as sickness or being on strike) and more trivial reasons for not turning up for a previously booked shift. (Deliveroo no longer uses the algorithm in question.)

Uber is also facing legal challenges in the Netherlands to its use of algorithms to automatically terminate drivers and to its use of data and algorithms to profile and manage drivers. While ride-hailing company Ola is facing a similar suit over its algorithmic management of gig workers. So EU courts are certainly going to busy interrogating the intersection of app-driven algorithmic management and regional data and labor rights for the foreseeable future.

The European Commission has also proposed a sweeping reform of the regional rulebook for digital services which includes a requirement for regulatory oversight of key decision-making algorithms with the aim of shrinking the risk of negative impacts such as bias and discrimination — although any new laws are likely still years out.

Asked whether Jobandtalent’s worker users are provided with their own WQS and given the chance to appeal substantial decreases in the score — including the opportunity to request a human review of any automated decisions — Urdiales said: “The platform gives them constant feedback based on the main metrics that they can affect (voluntary attrition, absenteeism, etc) with the aim to make them improve at work and consequently improve their ability to get more jobs in the future.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Unmind raises $47M for a platform to provide mental health support in your workplace

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Mental health has been put into the spotlight in a big way in recent times. For many of us, our lives and lifestyles have changed massively in the last year, and alongside that, we’re collectively facing pandemic-fueled mortality on a global scale in a way that hasn’t existed for generations, a perfect storm of sorts that has inevitably had an impact on our state of mind and our moods.

Today a startup that has built a platform to help people think about and respond to this situation is announcing a big round of growth funding, specifically to help address all of this and how it plays out in one of the more stress-inducing aspects of our life — our workplaces.

Unmind — a London startup that has built a mental health app for the workplace — has raised $47 million, a Series B that it will be using to continue investing in its research and development and also to expand its business reach. The funding is being led by EQT Ventures –- a very active investor at the moment in UK growth rounds — with participation also from Sapphire Ventures and previous backers Project A, Felix Capital, and True.

The core of Unmind’s service is an app built around a set of questions to help employees explore their own states of mental health, which could include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other manifestations. It provides advice and content to begin addressing the results of that — exercises, advice, podcasts, links for further reading, and links to seeing further help from professionals (not more machine interfaces, but humans). It also provides a service to the employers, sharing anonymized data from the app with them so that they, too, can consider how better to respond to their employees’ needs.

The app has seen some notable traction especially in the last year, a time when the conversation about mental health has become much more commonplace and critical, given the environment we’ve been living in.

Unmind does not disclose user numbers, nor how they have grown, but it tells me that uptake and adoption of its app ranges from 15% to over 60% of an organization’s workforce (this varies by size, and the emphasis that the organization itself puts on using the app, among other things). It said that of those employees who are using Unmind, 88% have said they experience an improvement in mental wellbeing, work, or relationships, while 92% report higher confidence, awareness, and understanding of mental health.

The company also said that revenues grew by more than 3x in the last 12 months. Meanwhile, its customers include major retailers like John Lewis and M&S, high street bank TSB, Uber, Samsung, Virgin Media, British Airways and Asos — a list of companies that have strong degrees of customer service around them, have been greatly impacted by the lockdowns, and you can imagine must have a lot of people working in them pretty stressed out as a result of being on the front lines of interfacing with a stressed-out wider population of consumers.

The company was co-founded by Dr Nick Taylor, who previously had been a clinical psychologist and worked for years in mental health care (and before that was a classically-trained singer), who said he came up with the idea after feeling like he was seeing too many people only for the first time at a stage when their issues were already very advanced.

“I kept encountering the same frustration time and again: I wish I’d met this person six months ago,” Taylor said in an interview.

As with all kinds of preventative healthcare, it’s always better to identify and work on issues before they grow big and more urgent, and so he set out to think about how one might approach the concept of a preventative check-up and check-in for mental health.

The workplace is not a bad place to base that effort. Not only is it often a source of stress for people, but it’s a regular place for them to be every day so creating a way of assessing mental health through that implicitly creates a kind of routine to the effort. It also potentially means a closer connection to the employer to work on issues more collectively when and if they emerge, in a way that the employer might not do (or ever discover) through other means.

The connection between work and mental health is a longstanding one but has perhaps been proven out more than ever before in the last year.

“I didn’t know what would happen with mental health during Covid,” Taylor recalled. “I actually wondered if it would be demoted,” given all of the other conflicting priorities. “But the prevalence of mental illness has escalated. It’s out of control. And in the workplace, it’s a leading cause of absenteeism and turnover.” And given how full-on everything has become, including likely more hours spent working since now it all has merged with our home lives, we all know (and may well be among) many people who are feeling incredibly burned out right now.

Taylor said that in fact quite the opposite has happened to his early skepticism: mental health has become front of mind, “and the shackles of stigma are falling away.”

This is part of what has really caught the eye of investors: technology that is not just effective, but very relevant to right now. “It is now universally recognized that our Mental Health is as important if not more important than our physical health – but has long been neglected. That is now changing rapidly,” said Alastair Mitchell, a partner at EQT Ventures. “As a result there has been a massive rise in the popularity of consumer mental health apps which is now being matched by surging demand from employers and employees for the same in the workplace. Unmind is the leading mental health app for the enterprise and we are so excited to work with Dr Nick and the team to support their scaling globally.” EQT is also a strategic investor, not just a financial one: it’s rolling out Unmind across its own workplace and its many portfolio companies.

Unmind, it should be noted, is not the only company that has identified this “opportunity,” if you could call it that. They include other startups like SF-based Ginger — which has also built a platform that partners with employers, but also healthcare providers and other stakeholders, to help people identify and manage their state of mind. Ginger has been well-capitalised over the years. Others in the same space include Welbot in New York, Spill also out of London and a host of others providing different aspects of mental wellness like Calm and Headspace, the meditation apps.

I’m inclined to think that, given the size of the problem and that mental health should not be a bunfight but something that takes a village to address, the key will be in how each company approaches its remit, and how people respond to it, and whether what people do ultimately use results in better bridges for employees to getting the help and peace they need, whether it’s from the app or a professional.

“We have a responsibility to connect with our mental health in the same way that we do when it comes to healthcare,” Taylor said, likening the effort to how it takes a number of skill sets sometimes to work on the complexities of a health issue. “Great healthcare integrates across a number of systems.”

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Dutch startup QphoX raises €2M to connect Quantum computers with a Quantum modem

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When eventually they become a working reality, Quantum computers won’t be of much value if they simply sit there on their own. Just like the internet, the value is in the network. But right now there’s scant technology to link these powerful devices together.

That’s where QphoX comes in. Thus Dutch startup has raised €2 million to connect Quantum computers with a ‘Quantum modem’.

The funding round was led by Quantonation, Speedinvest, and High-Tech Gründerfonds, with participation from TU Delft.

QphoX aims to develop the Quantum Modem it created at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) into a commercial product. This networks separate processors together, allowing quantum computers to scale beyond 10’s or 100’s of qubits. Look out for the Singularity folks…

Simon Gröblacher, CEO and co-founder of QphoX told me: “It is the exact same thing as a classical modem except for quantum computers, so it kind of converts electrical and microwave signals to optical signals coherently, so you don’t do any of the quantum information in the process. It then converts it back so you can really have two quantum computers talk to one another.

I noted that there’s more than one type of quantum computer. He countered “We are in principle agnostic to what kind of quantum computer it is. All we do at the moment is we focus on the microwave part, so we can work with superconducting qubits, topological qubits etc. We can convert microwaves to optical signals and they can talk to each other. Currently, the only competitors I know are all the in the academic world. So this is we’re the first company to actually starts building a real product.”

Rick Hao, Principal with Speedinvest’s Deep Tech team, added: “ We want to invest in seed-stage deep technology startups that shape the future and QphoX is well-positioned to make a major impact. Over the next couple of years, there will be rapid progress in quantum computers. Quantum Modem, the product developed by QphoX, enables the development of quantum computers that demonstrate quantum advantage by combining separate quantum processors.”

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UK fashion portal Lyst raises $85M in a ‘pre-IPO’ round, reportedly at a $500M valuation

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E-commerce continues to be a huge focus for investors watching consumer behavior and spending patterns in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the latest development, UK startup Lyst, a portal for high fashion brands and stores to sell directly to users, has picked up $85 million, in what the startup is describing as a ‘pre-IPO’ round.

The news comes as the company says that it has now grown to 150 million users browsing and buying from a catalog of 8 million products from 17,000 brands and retailers.

List said that gross merchandise value in 2020 was over $500 million, with new user numbers growing 1100% growth in new users. GMV has definitely been accelerating. Lyst has been around since 2010 and said today that lifetime GMV is more than $2 billion.

“Lyst is rapidly becoming a fashion category leader, which hundreds of millions of fashion lovers rely on to decide what to buy. While our app and website already enjoy very large audiences in the USA & Europe, fashion e-commerce remains under-penetrated in general, with huge growth potential globally. We’re excited to use this raise from top-tier investors to continue personalising the fashion shopping experience to each of our millions of customers, while helping our partner brands thrive,” said Chris Morton, Lyst’s CEO and founder, in a statement.

We have contacted the company to ask about the timing and location for a public listing and while it has not commented, we understand that London or New York would be the most obvious locations for a listing, which is not likely to be for another year or even three.

For now, Lyst has disclosed that investors in this latest injection include funds managed by Fidelity International, Novator Capital, Giano Capital and C4 Ventures, as well as a mix of financial and strategic previous backers Draper Esprit, 14W, Accel, Balderton Capital, Venrex and LVMH. Carmen Busquets — a strategic advisor to the company who co-founded Net-a-Porter, one of Lyst’s competitors in the space — also increased her investment in the company with this round, the company said.

Lyst is not disclosing its valuation but PitchBook notes that with this round, it is $500 million post-money. (We’ve also asked the company to confirm whether this is an accurate figure.) Sky News, where the funding news was leaked last night, did not have a valuation figure.

For some further comparison and context, though, Farfetch, another competitor in the same space as Lyst, listed publicly some years ago and currently has a market cap of $14.4 billion. And more generally, there is a lot to play for here online, not just against other pure-play fashion portals, but also standalone retailers, marketplaces like Amazon, and increasingly social media apps like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which are all looking at how they can better capitalize on how their platforms are already being used quite aggressively and widely for social commerce.

Social media sites would be an ironic but perhaps very unsurprising competitor for Lyst, which started life as a pioneer in the concept, creating a way for people to follow influential high fashion brands and influencers on its platform — who were not actually called “influencers” at the time, but curators and bloggers (the more things change, eh?) — and get alerts when items would be posted by them for sale.

People might have originally been very skeptical about how well high fahion (read: expensive, sometimes esoteric) might play over screens, but over time Lyst and the others in the same proved it all out in spades, raising successive rounds over time to back up its premise. Balenciaga, Balmain, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Moncler, Off-White, Prada, Saint Laurent and Valentino are among the brands that appear on Lyst today.

Over the years, more variations and competitors have presented themselves, but the salient fact remains that high fashion has a huge target audience delivered in the right way, and that is something that investors, brands, influencers, and these marketplaces themselves have all doubled down on in the pandemic.

It’s been a time when people who have not found themselves outright struggling financially (and there are lot of those, unfortunately), have instead found themselves with more disposable income since they went out and travelled significantly less than before. Fashion and buying goods for ourselves has become a form of escapism, and for those who get a lift out of the tree falling in the forest and being there to hear the sound, we can still put on the outfits, snap ourselves for our Stories, and exposure will still be ours.

“Lyst has made huge progress over the past year with its industry leading app for the fast- growing online luxury fashion market – a trend which looks set to continue as consumers retain their newfound digital habits, and demand for fashion rises further post-pandemic. In recent years we have seen other high-growth fashion tech businesses taking the next step, and we believe Lyst is well positioned to capitalise on this market momentum. Draper Esprit has backed Lyst since Series A and we believe this latest round sets the business up for an exciting next phase,” said Nicola McClafferty, a partner, Draper Esprit, in a statement.

Lyst also announced a few appointments to firm up its executive bench in the lead-up to its next steps as a company. Mateo Rando previously at Spotify, is joining as chief product officer to focus largely on Lyst’s popular mobile app. And Emma McFerran, formerly general counsel and chief people officer, is stepping up as COO and a new board member.

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