the great resignation led tech workers to realize its power. Salaries are rising, demand for talent is high, and if you’re an engineer at Stripe, there are likely at least three investors who would support your pre-seed company before you even have an idea.
However, the heat of the hiring market doesn’t make it easy to navigate. If you’re the creative director at Shopify or the head of product at Thrasio, you’re probably inundated with job offers.
free agencya startup founded by Sherveen Mashayekhi and Alex Rothberg in 2019, it hopes to capitalize on the craze for startup talent. The startup thinks tech workers can benefit from the same kind of advocacy Hollywood or sports stars get from their agents. Free Agency focuses on providing representation for mid- to C-level candidates in product, engineering, marketing and design. To date, the company estimates it has helped candidates book 4,700 interviews and secure $200,000,000 in negotiated compensation for total salary offers.
As an example, Free Agency helped a client secure a senior product director position worth over $900,000 in total compensation, a 53% jump from the client’s previous pay package. In the process, the company arranged 21 interviews with companies including Snapchat, Coinbase and Lyft without requiring the client to send a single app or email during their job search.
“We used our network and job search engine to get him interviews while he slept,” Mashayekhi wrote in an email.
While the agent model is ubiquitous in Hollywood, technology has yet to embrace the idea of managing a career through a third party. Mashayekhi, who founded a job market and worked at recruiting firms like Toptal and Stella.ai, says HR technology solutions have historically been aimed at pleasing the employer, not the employee.
“If you’re an entrepreneurial founder in the HR tech space, it’s very easy to go to employers and say ‘pay for my tool’ or ‘pay for the market’ because they understand the urgency of the problem,” he said. “Employers understand that the dollar solves a hiring and retention problem, but historically candidates have not used the money that way.”
Instead of charging employers to “spam” or “pattern match” potential employees, Free Agency focuses solely on the candidate’s goals. The startup makes money by charging a candidate 5% to 10% of their first year’s salary.
In the meantime, employers can subscribe to a free service where Free Agency will share up to five candidates per week with them.
Asking an employee to pay a recruiter to manage their career is a big question. Furthermore, candidates may not need your services for at least a few years, perhaps much longer if they are satisfied in their role.
Mashayekhi argues that Free Agency can demonstrate its value to clients not just by first placement, but also by helping candidates through promotion cycles, job changes within the company, and qualification. The startup is actively developing its product and engineering team to build a Career Operating System, a platform where users can search for jobs, performance reviews and pay benchmarking.
Another question is whether Free Agency will place those most in need of its services – historically neglected people who often lack access to important networks or information – or simply help already well-connected clients get better jobs.
“Honestly, our breakdown of diversity on our Free Agent roster is mediocre today,” Mashayekhi said in an email. The startup plans to deploy resources for sales, customer acquisition and go-to-market programs to change that. Currently, talent agents on the platform are 60% female, with 20% coming from underrepresented groups.
Despite these question marks, Free Agency managed a $10 million Series A last month, led by early-stage company Maveron. Surprisingly, 20 Free Agency clients also invested in the round, alongside Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, Resolute, Bloomberg Beta, Kygo’s Palm Tree Crew and others. The company had previously raised a $5.35 million seed round.
Still, the ultimate test for Free Agency will be whether it can convince enough candidates to proactively pursue a more managed, outsourced job search. While the Great Layoff may have been a boost for candidates to try out a service like Free Agency, it’s unclear whether job seekers will be as confident once the cycle passes.