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Trump’s decision to temporarily ban H-1B workers is 'stupid': Braintrust CEO

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Braintrust is the first user-controlled talent network that connects organizations with highly skilled tech talent. Braintrust Founder & CEO Adam Jackson joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to weigh in on the company’s launch during a pandemic.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Well, with so many people out of work right now, at least some of them are opting to try to freelance. And there's a new platform to help them find work, particularly for highly skilled workers in technical and design fields. That platform is called Braintrust, and the founder and CEO, Adam Jackson, is joining us now from northern California. Adam, thanks for being with us.

If you could just unmute yourself, we can chat. There he is. Adam, so you-- you've just launched this platform, and I imagine, even though it's been in the works for a little while, that there is quite a lot of demand right now from people who might not have a steady income or be salaried like they once were. So how are you sort of tailoring it for them?

ADAM JACKSON: Sure. Thanks for having me on. So we've been working on Braintrust for actually two years. It is a global talent network that connects technical talent at first-- so we're talking about engineers and designers and product managers-- with generally kind of the Fortune 1000 companies that need them and-- and have trouble hiring this type of talent. And-- and what we're doing is we're-- we're trying to connect-- there's this lopsided labor market in the United States, where you have lots of demand, not as much supply, and vice versa.

And so we're trying-- we're-- we're connecting these teams in distributed ways. And that was always kind of sort of hovering around, but this sort of new COVID force work-from-home environment we're all in has sort of woken up a lot of companies and said, wow, we can't even use our own offices. We should think more about distributed teams. And that's-- that's a big part of Braintrust model.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I'm not sure a polite way or an appropriate way to ask the question, so I'll just ask it. If I'm an employer or if I want to, you know, close the deal to hire one of these people, can I scan somehow for identity, whether it be racial or ethnic, so I can make a concerted effort to hire somebody of a specific kind of racial or ethnic background?

ADAM JACKSON: Well, we have-- we have photos up of everybody on the site. We don't ask people their-- their ethnicities or races. We do allow for sorting by geography and time zone. So where someone is located in the world is often important. People like to have product teams that are maybe barely overlapping their business hours so the-- kind of the sun never sets on their innovation team.

MELODY HAHM: Hey, Adam, Melody here. You know, in light of the news this week that President Trump is effectively banning H-1B visa folks for at least until the end of this year, I know you're in the heart of Silicon Valley, and a lot of your counterparts have been outspoken about how this is a bad decision when it comes to actually fueling innovation. What is your sense of how this will affect your business, if at all?

ADAM JACKSON: Well, first of all, I-- I'm totally dismayed by that news. I think it's a awfully ridiculously stupid move for anyone who is interested in American progress. I've sponsored H-1Bs, many, many, many dozens of them, over my last four companies. It's a brilliant program. It's one of the reasons America is-- is in the lead on technology. How it will affect networks like Braintrust, it's probably good for us. I-- I hadn't really thought of it until now. Because now those folks will stay in-- in their home countries, and-- and they'll have to use networks like ours to connect. But-- but I cannot, like, overstate how stupid that move is.

JULIE HYMAN: Adam, I also want to ask you about [INAUDIBLE] because we know that you say unlike some other competitor networks and platforms that take a chunk of the people who are on it, their earnings, that you allow people to keep 100% of their earnings. So how do you make money?

ADAM JACKSON: Yeah, this-- so this is a real innovation. So-- so connecting talent with clients is-- is not new. People have been doing that since the internet started. What's new about our-- our model is the business model itself. So most two-sided marketplaces, their job is to connect buyer with seller and take as much of that transaction as possible in a fee. So if you're on Amazon, it's a 50% fee for the privilege of selling on Amazon. If it's Uber, it's about 25-or-something percent, on and on. I've been building market-- two-sided marketplaces my whole career, and that's been my model is getting as much fee as possible.

But the problem is, once that gets bigger, the-- the incentives diverge, right? The-- the supply or the demand or both end up hating the operator. And the more successful the network is, the more hatred there-- there becomes. And we're seeing that play out in the gig economy with Postmates and Uber and DoorDash and et cetera. So Braintrust model is to invert that. Instead of the network being owned and-- and harvesting profits by just the founders and a couple VCs in Silicon Valley, and-- and the people who actually use the network getting, you know, almost no economic benefit, we're inverting the model.

So now the-- the network can be owned by all the people that use it to make a living. And so if I'm using this network to make a living, I'd want to charge myself as few fees as possible, as small a fee as possible, right? So because we're owned by our talent, our business is connecting with clients. That's how we make money. The Braintrust network, you can almost think of it like a public good. We're-- we're building it, and we're replacing that fat middleman before. We're just replacing him with software, and that's where this Blockchain element comes in.

RICK NEWMAN: Hey, Adam, Rick Newman here. One of the simmering problems in the economy that's worsening now, it's not highly skilled people finding work, it's lesser skilled people who don't have those kinds of opportunities, especially now. So I'm-- I'm wondering if your network offers anything to help people get on that skill ladder and start to get some of those skills that employers are still looking for, even amid a pandemic?

ADAM JACKSON: Rick, 100%. This is a really important point, and so-- so two points here. One, Braintrust is starting off in this sort of highly skilled high tech environment because it's-- it's easy low-hanging fruit to sort of build a network and explain how it works and-- and implement a new financial model. You start there, and we'll expand into other markets. I think this model that we're describing is perfect for ride-sharing and food delivery.

Any of-- any of these gig economies we see today, where the-- the company, the big Silicon Valley waste machine in the middle is extracting disproportionate value, this model will disrupt them. To your second point, yeah, people got to get on the ladder, right? They-- we call it upskilling. So we are building out big programs right now for-- for a later announcement that-- that help people climb-- climb that skill ladder and-- and get better jobs and better rates.

JULIE HYMAN: Adam, thanks so much. Adam Jackson is the CEO of Braintrust, which has just come out of stealth mode, as they call it. Thank you so much, Adam. I appreciate it.

ADAM JACKSON: Thanks for having me. Pleasure.