Accel, GV-backed Sense Raises $10M To Keep “Gig Workers” On Board

The new tech economy, as well as a longstanding trend toward outsourcing, has boosted the number of “gig workers” who rely on temporary assignments to earn a living. With a lack of income security and sometimes without benefits, these workers may run low on job satisfaction and loyalty to their employers.

The founders of San Francisco-based startup Sense saw an opportunity to help improve retention for the staffing agencies that supply many of these temporary employees, and it has now scored $10 million in seed funding to expand its worker engagement system.

Accel Partners and GV led the financing round, joined by Signia Venture Partners, IDG Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.

Sense, launched in 2016, counts large staffing agencies as customers, including Vaco, PrideStaff, and CDI. Its automated service sends messages to temp workers at key points in time, from a welcome greeting to an invitation to consider a new job when the current gig is about to end. Sense also gathers feedback that tells the agencies why their workers bail—a significant problem for those companies, which now supply a wide variety of workers, from baristas to IT team members.

Sense says that as many as 20 percent of contingent workers leave before finishing their job assignments, and among those who complete their projects, about 70 percent don’t accept another gig from the same agency. About a quarter of those contract workers quit because they find a better opportunity, Sense CEO and co-founder Anil Dharni says. But for the same percentage of temp workers, the problem lies with the employment agencies themselves, he says.

“According to our data, 25 percent of contractors quit their jobs due to poor communication or follow up by the staffing agencies,” Dharni wrote in an e-mail exchange with Xconomy. “Twenty percent quit because the job turned out to be different than promised or they weren’t offered benefits as promised.”

Sense sees its automated technology as a solution to those communication problems.

“Poor communication and lack of ‘care’ for the contractor is the number one reason why contractors leave staffing companies,” Dharni wrote. “Today, staffing companies try and manually run contractor care programs via phone calls, surveys, and emails. Unfortunately, they have very low response rates of sub-10 percent.”

Timing is a key ingredient of Sense’s messaging strategy. For example, the startup sends reminders to temporary cafeteria workers, right before their first day on the job, that they need to wear non-slip shoes. That step was meant to reduce an expensive problem for the staffing agency—a quarter of the workers it sent out were once turned away because their shoes didn’t meet the safety requirements, Dharni says. He says that percentage has now been reduced by half.

Sense is aiming for a service niche in a global staffing market estimated at $428 billion. (The company doesn’t serve clients that hire contractors directly, such as Uber.)

Citing Intuit research, Sense says that freelancers and contractors now make up about 34 percent of the U.S. workforce. That percentage could amount to as much as 43 percent by 2020, the company says.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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