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How Work Today Is Connecting Blue Collar Workers With Jobs, with Joe Nigro

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

For many, blue collar workers--particularly those who are finding a job on a day-to-day basis--the right way to reach them isn't an app, but texting. Santa Monica-based WorkToday (www.worktoday.com) has created a text-based marketplace to help connect workers with employers. We caught up with CEO Joe Nigro, the former VP of Growth at HomeHero and General Manager of Handy, and talk about why he started Work Today and how the service works. The company recently raised $1.1M in a funding from Mucker Capital, Social Capital, Hone Capital (formerly CSC Venture Capital), E-Merge, and GAN Ventures.

What does Work Today do?

Joe Nigro: Work Today is an online, blue collar staffing agency, that connects blue collar workers with businesses via text message. Text messaging is one of the best communications mediums for our demographic of businesses and workers. We've built this business for our customers, on both side of the marketplace. We did that instead of building an , which doesn't allow our customers to take action like text. I started by rolling up my sleeves a year ago, and passing out business cards in both English and Spanish, saying “text me for jobs”. I talked to many workers, and many businesses, and listened to them to build a product that they really wanted built. This is the culmination of that work, and where we are. We're now helping many, many people.

How is it you decided to get into this area?

Joe Nigro: I have been building labor-based marketplaces my whole career. I've been at Handy and HomeHero, and have always had this affinity for the supply side, the worker side, creating jobs. I think it's amazing to be able to help people get work, get paid, and put food on the table for their families. That led to my experience and the idea, wondering if I could create the same kind of native experience people are used to with an app, except bring that through SMS. I figured if we could do it right, we could engage a broader population trying to find work. I think we've proved that thesis to be correct. When Mucker found out about us, they invested in us, even though it was just me out there in the streets running around Home Depot, unemployment offices, and staffing companies, handing out business cards. That's really how it started. I would wake up every morning before work, and from 5-8 in the morning, and from 5-8 in those locations, I would go from worker to worker, ask them how I could help, and heard lots from workers interested in figuring out a way to find consistent work. They liked the idea of being engaged with text messaging, and getting paid at the end of the day for hard work. They told me, if I could do that, they'd love it. That's really it.

Speaking of getting paid, how do you get paid as a business?

Joe Nigro: That's the best part of this. Everything is free for the worker, but we charge a 20 percent service fee to the business. So, if the worker is being paid $15 an hour, we tack on 20 percent, and the business pays up. It never comes out of the paycheck of the workers. That's really how blue collar staffing agencies work, however, they tell the businesses they will take $15 an hour, but the staffing agency only pays the worker $10, and they end up charging the business a 40 to 50 percent marketup on the labor. I think that's a complete travesty for the workers. What we are doing, is providing full transparency, and demonstrating that we can drive value to businesses who use our platform. We've had an amazing experience over the last year doing this, and really feel we have a big advantage here.

What kind of jobs are coming through your platform?

Joe Nigro: We do a lot of manual labor jobs like picking and packing, warehouse, demolition, framing, construction, to waste management. Interestingly enough, though, we've also had education. We had a middle school substitute teacher not show up for a shift, and a job was posted for a substitute—and wouldn't you know it, we had substitute teachers on our platform who connected to that school and booked on our platform. So, though I say manual labor is our core focus, we're moving outward as we grow, and we're seeing many use cases for jobs that businesses of all types can use us for. I think that's cool, and we're proud of that.

How are you funded?

Joe Nigro: We're funded by Mucker Capital, which is an amazing investor, Social Capital, Hone Capital, which was formerly CSC Venture Capital, E-Merge in Belgium, and GAN Ventures, which is a fairly new fund based in Colorado, which is an offshoot of the Global Accelerator Network. It's an amazing team of investors who are working with us, who believe in our mission, and made a bet on the fact that we could figure out how to help amazing people. I couldn't be happier that they have joined the team.

As a marketplace, it's always an issue to get both buyers and sellers on the market, how have you accomplished that?

Joe Nigro: The amazing thing, is the workforce, the workers who use our platform, love using our service so much, that they are the ones referring businesses and workers to us. Organic referrals are the major driver of growth for us in the market. There couldn't be a much more efficient strategy than that. The other channel we have is online acquisition, but I must say that organic referrals really are the main driver on both sides of balancing the market. That is one of the most difficult things in this business. We found that if we really honed in on the supply side, the workers, and drove value to them, that would drive value to the business side.

What's the current geography for your service?

Joe Nigro: Right now, we're focused on the Greater Los Angeles area, and we'll be adding Orange County and San Diego over the next few months. I say that, in the next year, we'll be going nationwide with this, and the largest market opportunities there are Texas and South Florida. If you think about the core states we are looking at over the next year, it's naturally Southern California, Southern Florida, and Texas, with a bunch of other states which we are also looking at.

What's been the biggest lesson you've learned so far as part of this startup?

Joe Nigro: The biggest lesson I've learned, is it's important to have empathy, and to listen. We deal with all different types of workers, from all over Los Angeles. When you build products for people that need them, they don't necessarily know that they want them. For these folks, they need jobs, and if you can create products they can use, and engage with, and take action, that's a really powerful thing. The only way you can get to this early stage is by listening to both the businesses and the workers, and listening to your teammates and investors. The more information and communication we can have, the better off we are. Those are the major lessons we've learned, and we'll continue to learn moving forwards.

Thanks, and good luck!