Brian Rothenberg left a Silicon Valley job as a product manager for Yahoo! Real Estate to pursue a MBA at NYU's Stern School of Business. Interning his first semester at a venture capital firm, he met Bartek Ringwelski, an investment analyst with such an intriguing business concept, he gave up his dream of becoming a VC and together they founded SkillSlate.
When Ringwelski couldn’t find a reliable house cleaner for his apartment, he realized he’d tapped into a problem many consumers face: it’s hard finding a person to employ instead of a large, more expensive corporation. “Search engines favor bigger companies,” says Rothenberg. Yet individual business owners often do as good a job—or better—for less, because they don’t have the overhead. Now Skillslate’s goal is helping consumers discover those people. In less than a year, on the strength of a prototype website, the company raised more than $1 million from Canaan Partners, First Round Capital and several angel investors, and got off the ground.
By some estimates 15% of the U.S. workforce, or 16 million businesses, are sole proprietorships. Every one is a potential SkillSlate client. Skillslate gives them a permanent, online business profile web page to market their services that is easy to manage. The page is far richer in information than a classified ad on the web, offering photos, business details, personal information, ratings and reviews. It’s free to the service provider; SkillSlate will generate revenue by selling optional add-on marketing services.
The launch relied heavily on Rothenberg’s NYU network. Angel investors include NYU alumni Jason Finger, JD/MBA, who also serves as an informal adviser. Helpful support and input came from Frank Rimalovski, managing director of NYU’s Innovation Venture Fund, as well as Panos Ipeirotis, associate professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences at Stern, who sits on SkillSlate’s advisory board.
Today the company has seven on staff. While not yet generating revenue, plans are to grow quickly. In late-2011 comes another round of fundraising. By 2012, Skillslate expects to ramp up from offering 115 services to 1,000-plus. And by 2013, Rothenberg says, it will expand from NYC to serving every major metropolitan area in the nation.