There are plenty of rankings showing the largest employers in every locale. But really, around the world, the biggest employer of paid workers is the same: No one.
Rather, a vast and growing portion of the labor force consists of some form of freelance, contract, gig or self-employed workers. In a number of professional categories around tech and digital media, in particular, those numbers are taking off.
With big societal shifts come big opportunities for startups to make big bucks. Or so the general thinking goes, which might explain why copious quantities of money have been going into an assortment of startups and services geared for contract and freelance work.
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To illustrate, we put together a Crunchbase sampling of 27 companies funded in roughly the past year that are focused on freelancers and contractors. Businesses, which include marketplaces to connect freelancers with customers, compliance tools and efficiency apps, have collectively raised nearly $2.5 billion to date. We list them below:
Growth, growth, growth
Not all of the above-listed companies are exclusively focused on the freelance and contract space, but it is at least a big part of what they do.
Madrid-based Jobandtalent, a platform for finding and filling short-term jobs, stands out as the most heavily capitalized of the bunch, having raised over $850 million to date, including a $500 million December round co-led by SoftBank Vision Fund. Founded in 2009, the company currently operates in eight countries, mostly matching workers for short-term roles in sectors such as hospitality, logistics and retail.
We’re also seeing sharp growth in funding for startups that help companies manage onboarding, payment and compliance for remote workforces, including both staff and contract positions. They’re seeing sharp valuation gains as well.
A case in point is Remote, a payroll and compliance provider for distributed workforces that pulled in a SoftBank Vision Fund-led Series C of $300 million in April. That round set a $3 billion valuation for the San Francisco-headquartered company, up 200% from its Series B nine months earlier.
In a similar vein, Deel, a payroll and compliance company for international employees and contractors, raised $50 million in May at a $12 billion valuation. That marked an increase of 118% from its prior funding seven months earlier.
The sharp valuation gains for Remote and Deel come as a larger slice of white-collar workers move to freelance and contract roles amid the rise of remote work. A report from Upwork, a publicly traded freelance marketplace, found that 53% of participants on its platform provided skilled services such as programming, marketing and business consulting last year. More than half have postgraduate degrees.
Freelancing is having a bigger economic impact as well. Today, per Upwork, roughly 36% of the U.S. workforce can be classified as freelancers of some type. Collectively, they contributed $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy in annual earnings.
More tools for the self-employed
As freelance employment grows, we’re seeing more investment, particularly at the early stage, in tools to help people manage their work or provide a more secure and stable career path.
To this end, Paris-based Jump raised a $4.5 million November seed round for a platform that helps with labor-intensive freelancing tasks such as invoicing, expense reporting and generating contracts. It also offers insurance packages. Berlin-based Moojo, in turn, raised $2 million in pre-seed funding for tools to help freelancers streamline their invoicing process.
Gig workers are getting tools too. For example, Pittsburgh-based Gridwise, an app for rideshare and delivery drivers to optimize productivity and earnings, pulled in a $12.7 million Series A in May led by Crosslink Capital.
Across the Atlantic, Berlin-based Bliq secured $13.5 million in Series A capital around the same time for tools that let drivers better track their work, mileage and pay across multiple ride or delivery platforms.
The pronounced presence of European startups in the funded company list ties in to broader trends. Today, over 28 million people in the European Union work through digital labor platforms, per the EU. In 2025, the number is expected to reach 43 million people.
More about scaling, less about exiting
While, looking at the numbers, it might seem like a good time for scaling a freelancing-related business, the same can’t be said for exiting one. Venture-backed freelance platforms that went public in the past few years have had a rough time in recent months, as tech valuations overall have taken a hit.
San Francisco-headquartered Upwork, which went public four years ago, has shed more than two-thirds of its value since shares peaked in November. Shares of Israel-based Fiverr, an online platform for finding freelance talent that went public in 2019, are also far off their peaks.
Notably, both Upwork and Fiverr have posted double-digit annual revenue gains in their latest quarters, indicating declines may be more about broad market sentiment than company-specific problems.
As for the still-private crowd, it looks like investor enthusiasm is alive and well. This ties in with a broader trend we noted a couple weeks ago: Amid a general year-over-year decline in startup valuations, funded companies oriented around the future of work are among the few cohorts to see some big gains.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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Author: Joanna Glasner