November 14, 2014
About 18 months ago JT Eberly moved from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota to immerse himself in the local startup culture and foster the growth of his company, vBench. His co-founder Matt Pundmann stuck behind in the windy city, and together they have successfully bootstrapped the company through its initial development phase.
“Entrepreneurship is very much alive and new startup groups are popping up nearly weekly, which creates an advantage for the Twin Cities over many other mid-sized metros,” says Eberly. “But being an outsider has proven tough as I try to break into some of the inner circles of the startup community. I find my new network to be primarily other transplants.”
But that hasn’t stopped the them from working to solve both financial and resource inefficiencies for employers when it comes to finding, hiring, and paying freelancers. As it stands, most employer user staffing firms to hire contractors, and these firms often tack on huge markups on top of the hourly consultant rates.
Eberly and Pundmann built vBench to give employers a platform to negotiate rates and collaborate directly with the freelance consultant. Through vBench, the employer gets a better rate because they are paying a rate with no added fees or markups; the platform focuses exclusively on local US-based freelance consultants mitigating these hidden costs.
“At vBench we eat our own dog food, so nearly all of our other employees are freelancers we hire through our site,” says Eberly.
It’s been a bit of a tough road for the two men though, and they let themselves become victims of ‘scope creep’, as they call it. They originally started with just basics for the vBench platform, but after studying their already successful competitors they started developing features that weren’t necessary for their MVP release.
“Since we didn’t have a technical co-founder we ended up schilling out a lot of extra cash for these features that could have gone into marketing and business development,” says Eberly. “In hindsight, we just needed to stick to the basics and build new features as we received validation from our users.”
There have been encouraging signs of success despite a few setbacks though as Eberly and Pundmann have started partnership discussions with well-established companies. If any of the partnerships materialize, it could mean an enormous boost to brand exposure for vBench.
It’s a step in the right direction for the long term vision of the company too, as they want to build a platform that gives over 1 million US freelancers enough job opportunities. According to Eberly, there needs to be a cultural change where more employers realize the value of a domestic contract workforce.
“They need to stop offshoring their business functions in an attempt save a few bucks,” says Eberly. “We are at the very start of this quest to bring more contract jobs onshore, so more domestic freelancers can have a sustainable income and work on their own terms.
Eberly and Pundmann are the only full time employees with vBench at the time of this writing, but that’s not going to stop them from pushing for ultimate success. By holding each other accountable, the two have maintained a high level of motivation as they keep marching.
Being located in two different cities is difficult, but the entrepreneurs talk daily to discuss positive updates including potential new clients, events they’ll attend, new ideas, and partnership opportunities.
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