The Great Resignation led tech workers to realize their power. Salaries are increasing, demand for talent is high and if you’re an engineer at Stripe, there are probably at least three investors who would back your pre-seed company before it even has a kernel of an idea.
However, the hiring market’s heat doesn’t make it any easier to navigate. If you’re the creative director at Shopify or the head of product at Thrasio, you’re probably deluged with job offers.
Free Agency, a startup co-founded by Sherveen Mashayekhi and Alex Rothberg in 2019, hopes to capitalize on the mania for startup talent. The startup thinks tech workers could benefit from the same kind of advocacy Hollywood or sports stars receive from their agents. Free Agency focuses on providing representation to mid to C-level candidates across product, engineering, marketing and design. To date, the company estimates that it has helped candidates set up 4,700 interviews and secure $200,000,000 in negotiated compensation for total salary offers.
As one example, Free Agency helped a client secure a senior director of Product role worth more than $900,000 in total compensation, a 53% jump over the client’s previous pay package. In the process, the company arranged 21 interviews with companies like Snapchat, Coinbase, and Lyft without requiring the client to send out a single application or email during his 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 somewhat ubiquitous in Hollywood, tech hasn’t yet adopted the idea of career management through a third party. Mashayekhi, who founded a job marketplace and worked at recruitment companies such as Toptal and Stella.ai, says that technology solutions in HR have historically been aimed at pleasing the employer, not the employee.
“If you’re an enterprising founder in the HR tech space, it’s very easy to go to employers and say ‘pay for my tool’ or ‘pay for the marketplace’ because they understand the urgency of the problem,” he said. “Employers understand that the dollar solves a hiring and retention problem, but historically candidates haven’t really used money in that way.”
Rather than charging employers to “spam” or “pattern match” prospective employees, Free Agency is focused solely on the candidate’s goals. The startup makes money by charging a candidate anywhere from 5% to 10% of their first year’s salary.
Employers, meanwhile, can subscribe to a free service in which 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 ask. Also, candidates may not need their services for at least a few years, perhaps far longer, if they are happy in their role.
Mashayekhi argues that Free Agency can demonstrate its value to customers through not only the first placement but helping candidates through promotion cycles, intra-company job changes and up-skilling. The startup is actively building out its product and engineering team to build a Career Operating System, a platform where users can look for job search, performance reviews and compensation benchmarking.
Another question is whether Free Agency will place those who need its services the most — historically overlooked people who often don’t have access to networks or key information — or simply help already well-connected clients land better gigs.
“Candidly, our diversity breakdown on our roster of Free Agents 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 this. Currently, talent agents on the platform are 60% female, with 20% coming from underrepresented groups.
Despite these question marks, Free Agency landed a $10 million Series A last month led by early-stage firm Maveron. Tellingly, 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 if it can convince enough candidates to proactively pursue a more managed and outsourced job search. While the Great Resignation may have been an impetus for candidates to try out a service like Free Agency, it’s unclear whether jobseekers will be quite so confident once the cycle passes.