This startup lets techies fleeing Silicon Valley work on remote engineering projects for big companies, and it's already being used by Nestle, TaskRabbit and NASA


Adam Jackson — founder and CEO of Braintrust and Freelance Labs

  • A trio of entrepreneurs is officially launching a new marketplace for technical workers called Braintrust.
  • The new marketplace is free for freelancers and relatively inexpensive for companies; it's able to charge low fees because it will be operated as a non-profit.
  • While running in stealth, it saw a surge in usage because of the coronavirus, after companies closed their offices and sought out remote workers.
  • The Braintrust network will be owned and governed by its users through Ethereum-based tokens that its founder plan to distribute in the future.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Companies embracing remote work in the wake of the coronavirus crisis have a new and potentially better way to find freelance software engineers and designers.

A trio of entrepreneurs on Wednesday is announcing the official launch of a service that lets companies quickly assemble project-based teams of computer programmers, designers and other technical talent — all working remotely, from wherever they happen to live. 

Braintrust, as the new service is called, says it has already been used by organizations including Nestle, Task Rabbit and NASA.

After launching in stealth last fall, Braintrust saw a pick-up in usage because of the pandemic, said Adam Jackson, one of the project's cofounders and its CEO. As companies closed their offices and allowed employees to work from home, many businesses began to rethink their approach and policies on using remote workers.

"This is actually what prompted us to do this out of stealth now," Jackson told Business Insider. "We're growing way faster than we thought we would because of this tailwind."

The launch also comes as many tech workers are leaving Silicon Valley, relocating to areas where the cost of living is cheaper or closer to family. In a poll of thousands of Bay Area tech workers in May, two-thirds said they'd consider leaving if they could permanently work remotely. 

Braintrust is free for the engineers, designers and other freelance workers that use it, a group Braintrust says already includes workers with years of experience at tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook. Companies looking to hire such workers pay a 10% fee for each job they invoice through Braintrust, a rate that's significantly lower than that on other job marketplaces.

Braintrust isn't intended to generate big profits

Braintrust works similarly to other marketplaces. Freelancers list their skills and experience. Companies list jobs or projects they need help with. The service then finds the best fit between the two sides.

But unlike other such marketplaces, Braintrust isn't designed to maximize profits. Instead, Jackson's plan is to have the marketplace be owned by its users and operated by a non-profit foundation. The fees Braintrust charges will go toward paying its operating, maintenance, and development costs.

Assuming it's able to attract enough workers and companies, that structure could be a boon to both by offering a much lower-cost service.

"Most networks exist to extract maximum fees. That's Amazon's job, that's Uber's job, that's Airbnb's job," he said. Jackson continued: "Because Braintrust is meant to be a public good ... we actually take the smallest possible fee."

Jackson, who founded Braintrust along with Gabriel Luna-Ostaseski and Brian Flynn, is developing a cryptocurrency token based on the Ethereum network that will be used to convey ownership of the network. Venture investors including True Ventures and Homebrew Ventures invested $6 million in exchange for the promise of future tokens. But workers and companies can earn credits towards their own tokens by contributing to the network, whether by helping with the underlying code, helping market it, or referring other users or companies to it. 

Each token will represent one vote when it comes to decisions on new policies or how the network will evolve over time. But because it will be run essentially as a non-profit, they won't represent a claim on future earnings of the network, said Jackson, who previously founded telemedicine company Doctor on Demand and car information site DriverSide.com.

NASA and Nestle are already using Braintrust

That combination of a low cost marketplace for highly skilled technical workers and the potential for having a say in its development has already attracted some big organizations, despite its stealth status. Nestle, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Task Rabbit, and NASA are among the 25 corporations and institutions already using Braintrust. Some 500 freelancers have created profiles on the system, but nearly 10,000 more are on a waitlist, Jackson said.

"As we grow the clients, we recruit from the waitlist to expand the talent," he said.

Despite designing Braintrust to be a public good, Jackson still hopes to profit from it. He's also the CEO of Freelance Labs, through which he offers software development services. He plans to use Braintrust to offer his services to potential clients.

More ambitiously, Jackson sees Braintrust as a kind of proof of concept for a new kind of marketplace that's owned by its users — and that upturns traditional for-profit marketplaces. He's already been commissioned to build similar token-backed networks by large companies, he said.

That work "will be incredibly profitable for us," he said.

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SEE ALSO: These far-flung US regions could become the next big startup hubs as techies abandon Silicon Valley and embrace remote work

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