News organizations have one great advantage over tech companies, Katharine Zaleski says: They’re used to people working remotely. “For years now, decades, newsrooms have been set up where someone can work remotely because of the bureau system,” she said.
When Zaleski was at The Washington Post she noticed that lots of people were able to work efficiently from home. Journalism, she said, is “already set up for the model that we have.”
Zaleski is a cofounder of PowerToFly, a startup that wants to match women in tech jobs no matter where they work from. “The whole concept is that female tech talent is out there and theres quite a bit of it,” Zaleski said. “If you want more female tech talent you have to be able to allow them to work differently.”
The service, which launched formally Monday, vets candidates through a series of interviews, then places them with companies that have contracted with them. “Work when you’re the most productive; take a break when you’re not,” PowerToFly’s website tells prospective hires. “We don’t care whether you log a 9-5 (or 9-9) day — we care about results, quality, passion and the commitment you show to projects.”
Power to Fly plans a journalism vertical, and it is already placing women in journalism jobs, at organizations including BuzzFeed (where it has placed seven women in tech positions) and Hearst.
Zaleski estimates about half PowerToFly’s workforce is mothers. (“One of our theses is that working mothers are the most efficient work goup in many ways,” she said. “They’ll tell you exactly when they will get something done.”) Lots of others are women who can’t afford to move to geographic areas with lots of tech jobs. Some are overseas, a situation that can be very complicated for companies who want to hire them. Others have long commutes. Others just need a new gig.
Kim Bui, formerly of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome project and KPCC, signed up Monday in search of a community editor position. She appreciated that the company’s first question was about how much she wanted to get paid, she wrote in an email, a subject she said doesn’t come up often in job interviews.
Clients of PowerToFly pay the company, which in turn pays the people it has placed. “It’s really a long game,” she sadi. “This isn’t project-based work, these are long-term positions.” If PowerToFly begins to place people in full-time positions, she said, it will start looking at asking for recruiting fees.
Right now PowerToFly puts candidates through video interviews, as well as a code test for tech applicants. Then the client gets another interview with the talent. “We’re encouraging clients to start with trials,” Zaleski said. Clients will pay PowerToFlyers during the trial period. “We’re letting women try before they buy and vice versa,” she said.
After journalism jobs, PowerToFly plans verticals in legal, finance, production and other areas. It hopes to automate the interview process as the business gets larger; it may indicate which individuals are vetted or unvetted and price their services accordingly.
For Zaleski, working outside the office is not an abstract concept. She left NowThis News last December to go on maternity leave and started talking with Milena Berry in February about the idea that eventually became PowerToFly. Zaleski had worked with Berry’s husband Paul Berry at Huffington Post, where they were both very early employees. “She had a remote tech team and she also was able to have three babies at the time,” Zaleski said.
“I have been working remotely since 2007 when my first child was ten months old,” Berry told Poynter in an email from Bulgaria. “Over the following six years, I was able to balance a great career as the CTO of Avaaz.org while having two more kids. This was all because I built a remote team made up of highly skilled talent who weren’t limited by borders or time zones. With PowerToFly, we’re extending my experience to women in the US and around the world who want challenging and wonderful careers that don’t compete with building a life.”
Zaleski took her idea to Ken Lerer, who founded NowThis News and with whom she also worked at HuffPost. He agreed to let her leave and is the new venture’s biggest funder.
Now Zaleski works mostly from her house, but she checks in a couple times a week at PowerToFly’s office in New York. “It’s actually the same space we started Huffington Post out of,” she said. Her original desk is still in the space, which Power to Fly shares with the Lerer-backed animal site The Dodo. I asked which workspace had the better chair.
“I have a much better chair at home,” she said.