It’s a Silicon Valley archetype that dates all the way back to the Traitorous Eight ditching Shockley Semiconductor: Guys join a startup, guys leave the startup, guys launch their own startup. The latest example came out of the stealth-mode closet Tuesday, when a San Francisco fledgling called Rev.com announced $4.5 million in venture funding.
Rev offers a marketplace to find people who’ll translate documents or transcribe recordings into print. It was founded by employees #3 and #4 at oDesk, a well-regarded Redwood City startup that – ready? – offers a marketplace to find people who’ll tackle a host of different contract jobs, including translation.
The whole thing reminded me of the way Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri founded Workday as a competitor to their old company, PeopleSoft. Except, says Rev CEO Jason Chicola, his company doesn’t compete with oDesk. An oDesk spokeswoman agrees with that assessment.
In fact, Rev has used oDesk to find customer service reps and software testers for its site. The two companies even share a board member, Venky Ganesan of Menlo Ventures.”From the outside, it might appear competitive,” Ganesan conceded, “but it’s more like going to Whole Foods vs hiring a chef.” Or, as Chicola puts it, “We think oDesk is great for hiring labor. We don’t sell labor, we sell services.”
So let’s say you’ve got that document to translate. Using oDesk, you can bid out the job, find and hire a contractor, track her progress each day and tell oDesk when to pay her. Using Rev, you upload the document, and Rev does the rest – vetting the freelancers, managing the project and delivering the finished product in what Chicola says is “half the price and twice the speed” of traditional transcription services. (The startup’s name, Rev, refers to revving up a project’s speed; Chicola originally launched the company in 2010 under the name FoxTranslate, but he concedes now that name didn’t have a lot going for it besides a cute logo.)
After 18 months in beta, Chicola says his customers range from reporters who need interviews transcribed to marketing departments that need Podcasts translated. The just-announced funding round actually closed late last summer, when Ganesan was still at Globespan Capital; it also includes Craig Sherman, the former COO of Ancestry.com, and CarMax founder Austin Ligon.
oDesk’s venture capital war chest is much deeper – a reported $44 million – and the company offers a much broader menu of contract services, such as Web design, software development, database administration, sales and PR. Chicola said he has fond memories of the early days at the company, when he worked for free helping founder Odysseas Tsatalos pitch venture capitalists on an idea they described as “eBay for labor.” Chicola’s still a shareholder in oDesk and said he left not because he was unhappy but “to do my own thing.”
Still, while he’s initially targeting translation and transcription, Rev’s marketing materials make it pretty clear the company aims to branch out to other freelance sectors. Said Chicola: “The big lesson we learned from oDesk is that businesses don’t want labor they have to manage themselves. It’s really difficult to talk to somebody 10 time zones away.”