Braintrust Explained: Freelance talent marketplace with a twist

Since my recent post about Pipe, Peter from FinVC recommended that I check out what Braintrust is up to. I dug in and was not disappointed. Let's go!

Braintrust is a two-sided talent marketplace with a blockchain token, $BTRUST.

🥖 The Marketplace

Similar to other talent marketplaces, Braintrust aggregates companies looking to hire freelance talent (demand side) and high-quality tech talent (supply side). The playbook for this part of the business is well-known: continue to grow both sides until the marketplace becomes self-sustaining via network effects and other moats. Sound easy? It's not.

Marketplace businesses are tricky to get off the ground. They require doing things that don't scale in order to grab market share. It's grueling work akin to building two businesses at once. Moreover, Braintrust is up against some big competition with established brands including Toptal, Fiverr, and Upwork.

To assure continued success, Braintrust must execute the following at a minimum:

  • processing payments
  • settling disputes
  • building sticky tools & features (e.g. discovery, scheduling, time-tracking, reputation systems)
  • vetting talent
  • and everything else customers (hiring organizations) offload to Braintrust instead of handling internally.

So we know it's difficult, but how might Braintrust dominate the talent marketplace of the future and beat the competition?

🌪 The Twist

Braintrust is a non-profit that prides itself on transparency, user-ownership, and not extracting rents.

How?

  • Braintrust doesn't take a cut from its talent base (👈 this is hugely important to freelancers).
  • Hiring companies gain transparency: jobs are marked up at a flat 10% rate (so Braintrust can cover its bills).
  • Talent and companies own the network via the $BTRUST token, a digital asset issued by Braintrust that incentivizes referrals and enables token holders to play an active role in the network by voting and vetting peers.

Typically, most marketplaces succeed by first aggregating supply. Braintrust believes that its non-profit model and token are enough to align incentives and diminish the resources needed to hit self-sustaining growth.

Braintrust’s accomplishments include:

  • Capturing $2M+ revenue in the first 11 months of private beta since Jan 2020.
  • Gaining 52 active customers, mostly large enterprises
  • Growing 59% MoM organically with no marketing spend
  • Onboarding 1,000 approved freelancers with 55k more on wait list, growing through word of mouth

🤷‍♂️ User-owned what?

The user-owned economy is a model whereby customers benefit by sharing in the success of the companies whose products they consume. For example:

AirCnc is a marketplace where hosts can rent their homes to travelers. AirCnc bets that by creating a loyalty program, they can incentivize their host community to only list their homes on AirCnc. In return, hosts get special recognition on the site, access to benefits and perks such as exclusive host-only events, and dividends every quarter.


User-Owned Economy.png

The thesis is sound, but how long until it becomes mainstream?

First, Bitcoin needs to solidify its place as an excellent store of value (hitting gold's market cap). Once consumers store large amounts of wealth in a decentralized currency, blockchain based digital assets like $BTRUST will be easier to understand and utilize. Shifting demographics and the remote work wave are both trends that Braintrust will ride.

Until then, Braintrust should mitigate the complexity of digital assets and lead with the value: matching freelancers to gigs without price gouging, and connecting companies with the best, distributed talent. Gradually, Braintrust should test new features for the $BTRUST token and course-correct when necessary. Braintrust should include the "Beta" or "Preview" labels on all $BTRUST technology and be transparent about utilizing experimental tech so they’re in a position to exceed expectations.

What's exciting about Braintrust?

Braintrust is taking a radically different approach to building the talent network of the future. Other companies are either beholden to shareholders (Fiverr) or will be once they go public. If Braintrust stays true to its mission, it can build a wonderful, future-proof network to show the world there are alternatives to riding the VC route to IPO.

Tailwinds

  • remote work
  • software eating the world
  • distributed talent, demand for specific needs
  • user-owned economy thesis
  • sovereign individual thesis
  • Metcalfe's law

Headwinds

  • established players with market share
  • digital assets can be confusing
  • experimental tech
  • unclear regulation

🔑 Nuggets

  1. Braintrust is building a great business and then rewarding users with tokens. This is absolutely the right way to do it as opposed to many ICOs in 2017 who sold a token and then tried to create a business. As Braintrust is a trailblazer in the space, I'll be keeping an eye on its endeavor to integrate a digital asset thoughtfully. Braintrust will benefit from having a dedicated team to work through gamification, growth, tech, and regulation as it creates not only a marketplace but a community.
  2. With a small team, word of mouth marketing, and excellent customer experience, Braintrust has the potential to become one of the best talent marketplaces globally.

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Pipe.com Explained: Enabling a new asset class

Pipe was one of those names that kept popping up on my Twitter feed and I only got a round to digging into it over the holidays. Man, was I impressed! Software continues to eat the world and is not stopping at Finance. Let's dig in!

Pipe is a two-sided marketplace that solves a critical issue for SaaS companies who have found product market fit and investors looking for exposure to a new asset class for their alternatives book.


🧗‍♀️ For Founders

After a SaaS company has found product-market fit, the founders double down on growth and increase their marketing spend. Typically, companies go out and raise a round of equity financing from VCs to get the capital they need for growth. This happens many times over, each time diluting the founders. At the point of a liquidity event, it's common for the founders to be left with a small ownership fraction in the business.

Building a venture backed company is a most grueling undertaking, and Pipe believes in a better way to acquire capital without diluting the founders.


🪄 The Magic

With Pipe, founders connect their existing bank accounts and payment processor with Pipe's infrastructure and receive up to the full annual value of the their monthly software subscription revenue less a fee. For example:

SpaceY is generating $20k in net new MRR via monthly B2B subscriptions for their satellite monitoring software. They are using Stripe for payment processing so it's easy for Pipe to get a look behind the hood of SpaceY's business. They "pipe" these contracts over and get 240k instantly (20k MRR * 12 months is the annual).

This has a range of benefits:

  • companies get cash to invest in growth without giving up equity
  • founders can focus on building instead of fundraising
  • founders can eliminate annual subscriptions where customers get discounts up to 30% in some cases

💰 For Investors

Once contracts are loaded into Pipe, a new asset class is unlocked for investors: a fixed income-like product for asset-backed, stable, recurring revenue streams of SaaS companies.

Investors can filter contracts by a variety of SaaS metrics (ARR, CAC to LTV) and invest in a pool of recurring revenue assets that fits their risk/return profile. 🤯


👀 So how could Pipe continue to innovate?

Private markets are notorious for outdated and "hard to piece together" data on private companies. Pipe is privy to some of the most valuable, fresh data, which sets it apart. It's an Investor's dream to access real-time data on software companies.

To that end, Pipe needs to double down on its data science team to be prepared to seize new opportunities as it expands.

Opportunities could include:

  1. Speeding up the underwriting process to become fully automated.
  2. Building algos to predict company success (Pipe Score). With more data and a sufficient time frame, Pipe can discover which companies have been successful, failed, or stayed flat. Pipe may surface this "health" score in the app UI to show Investors how a software contract compares with peer companies. But this only scratches the surface. With Pipe’s wealth of data, it can inform its own equity investments (for companies that don't yet have product-market fit / don't qualify for Pipe), create a research product for VCs to help them in their own investment decisions, or offer non-dilutive capital plus dilutive capital (if founders need more than a year's worth of annual revenues to grow their business).
  3. Including value-added services for companies listed in Pipe. Like traditional early-stage VCs who provide intros, recommendations, and hiring help, Pipe can include these value-added services to Pipe-listed companies as an additional incentive to join.
  4. Community for Pipe companies. Building a high growth company is challenging. Pipe can establish a strong peer to peer network to connect founders as they build their companies and roll with the punches. This creates a positive feedback loop— founders can help each other overcome challenges, share what's working, refer their friends, and use one another’s software. The bigger a company gets, the more SaaS tools are added to the stack, and what better place to look then the Pipe community itself. (Could there be a circular economy within Pipe?)
  5. Non-software recurring revenue streams. Pipe can expand horizontally not only to support software companies, but other companies with recurring revenue such as newsletters, podcasts, and membership communities.

Takeaways

The Pipe team has developed an incredible innovation in the space and I'm excited to see the company grow. Pipe builds on the idea that automation continues to steamroll into Finance and creates opportunities for increased efficiency. Between central bank-issued digital currencies, MMT, fintech companies, and crypto (did somebody say yield farming?), we are just at the beginning of this journey.

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