Raphael Ouzan launched A.Team in early 2020 with a simple premise: To build a high-impact product, you need a high-performing team. While many freelance platforms allow skilled tech workers to get plenty of often-pedestrian gigs, Ouzan says he wanted to create teams of top contractors that could “work on much bigger things.” So far, his freelance crews have helped build products ranging from vaccine-manufacturing software to a study app.
On Tuesday, A.Team came out of stealth mode, announcing $55 million of funding in a Series A round co-led by Tiger Global Management, Insight Partners and Spruce Capital Partners. Among the startup’s high-profile investors: Jay-Z’s Roc Nation VC arm, leadership guru Adam Grant and Andreessen Horowitz. Among its 200 clients, Ouzan says, are McGraw-Hill, Lyft, PepsiCo and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Like a Hollywood producer that brings together talent to make a movie, A.Team’s business model is based on matching top-tier talent with worthy projects. That means vetting and restricting who gets on its platform, soliciting the right client work and creating community through content, connections and conversation.
“We are designing the platform for those who didn’t want to join a platform in the first place,” says Ouzan, whose previous personal-finance startup BillGuard landed him on the inaugural Forbes Israel 30 Under 30 list in 2016. Now based in New York, Ouzan has assembled a high-profile team of advisers and investors for A.Team that also includes Lemonade and Fiverr founder Shai Wininger, SpaceX human resources VP Brian Bjelde and former Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel.
What attracted NFX founding partner and venture capitalist Gigi Levy-Weiss to lead A.Team’s $5 million seed funding in 2020 was the promise of a new model of gig work. “By changing the product from an individual to a team, A.Team managed to change both the supply and demand, and it’s one of the fastest growing companies I’ve seen,” says Levy-Weiss, who also invested in the latest round.
Along with the promise of working on what Ouzan calls “high-order challenges,” A.Team builders earn about $130 per hour and spend an average of 20 hours per week on projects. That’s helped it amass a network of over 4,000 professionals, with more than 500 applications each month from others looking to join, according to Ouzan.
While Ouzan wouldn’t disclose sales figures, he says revenues grew more than sevenfold in 2021. The company makes its money from charging fees to business clients, which he hopes to bring on at a rate of around 100 per month.
Tech Talent Shortage Widens Amid The Great Resignation
A.Team’s launch comes as many companies are struggling to hire tech talent and many workers are rethinking how and why they work. “On the whole there seems to be a recognition from both sides that the traditional 9-5 model needs to be revisited,” says Danielle Phaneuf, a strategy principal at PwC who focuses on workforce digital upskilling issues. “While the flexibility of contract work may be appealing in the short-term, I have also seen people craving connection, and that is hard when you are constantly moving from company to company, project to project.”
With 36% of the U.S. workforce engaged in freelance work last year whether as a side hustle or main gig, according to an Upwork study, employers increasingly need to engage with outside contractors and platforms to get things done—and upskill their own workers. That’s especially true when hiring tech talent to help build out new tools and functions, notes Curtis Britt, a vice-president of search firm Korn Ferry. The challenge, says Britt, is that “a freelancer or a contractor is often a temporary Band-Aid solution. What you see a lot of companies doing now is trying to get creative as to how they can develop their own talent.”
While freelance teams may be able to produce high-value work, the model carries risk. Along with the usual security concerns, outsourcing the creation of core intellectual property can raise questions over copyright and ownership, says Adam Robinson, founder and CEO of Hireology, an employee management platform.
“Having cohesive teams with a high level of trust and the ability to problem-solve and build things together is really paramount,” Robinson says. “If they’re full-time employees, it’s clear that that work product is owned by the company. You have to be careful with your agreements with freelancers.”
Working In Teams
Ouzan says his focus on the value of teams stems from his time as an officer in Israel’s military technology intelligence unit, where he worked on cyberwarfare and cryptography. A.Team creates community for its invited users—which include independent product builders, software engineers, product marketers, designers and more–by creating “cloud-based teams” that work together on projects for 12 to 18 months at a time. Freelancers can meet their teams at co-working spaces, take workshops and courses, participate in roundtables and access A.Team’s advisory board and network.
“The problem with people trying to leave companies and choose their own destiny is that there’s nothing out there to support them,” Ouzan says. “Fiverr and Upwork are great if you want to get an extra income on the side, but it’s certainly not the path of self-actualization for the highly skilled, high-wage professional.”
Vinay Menda, cofounder of mobile coffee company Blank Street, used A.Team to find freelance project and product managers to help build out an app and loyalty program. Menda liked having “the flexibility to hire people who are experts in a certain thing for specific projects” and having A.Team vet the talent, which he made the hiring process faster and more efficient.
If the A.Team model proves popular, the companies most likely to suffer may be those looking to bring tech workers on staff. “We will start to see a proliferation of industry-specific freelance sites that get to real scale,” predicts Hireology’s Robinson, “and it will continue to put pressure on the availability of full-time talent.”