Silicon Beach: South Florida Startup VOIS Helps Geeks Get Jobs

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VOIS.com is one of South Florida's homegrown startups,

founded in 2006 by Craig Agranoff (@lapp) and Herb Tabin (@herbtabin). The Boca Raton-based company began when Tabin approached

Agranoff, wondering how to improve the model of existing websites where

buyers post jobs and consultants and freelancers sell services. Both VOIS founders wanted to see a more

personal, social network with less spam and increased transparency.

VOIS is publicly traded and based in Palm Beach County, with

a local staff of four. There's

also some staff in India. Most of

the work, however, is "outsourced" locally -- requested by Americans and completed

by Americans.

What makes VOIS unique is the concept of "socialsourcing,"

which Agranoff and Tabin recoined. On VOIS, when it comes to searching for gigs, freelancers get to see,

interact with, and communicate directly with clients. Companies and individuals get to know their freelancers and consultants, who can range

from web designers to copywriters. VOIS users post their real names, not

monikers. A focus on the social has created a community that polices itself, so if a

consultant bids on a job, he'd better not stiff his new client. It's all about reputation.

Unlike other sites, VOIS doesn't leach buyers or sellers of their

cash by charging a steep percentage on commissions. When you sign up, you get a generous number of credits that

allows for the completion of up to six jobs. Afterward, additional credits are

available for purchase at a very modest and competitive rate. VOIS never takes a cut from any

consultant's earnings, and there is never a membership fee. Buyers and sellers handle their financial

transactions directly.

Riptide spoke with Agranoff over the phone about VOIS, its current success, and future aspirations.

A Long Island native, cofounder Agranoff is the "idea guy" who manages daily operations on the site. He has a background in finance, a world he left to pursue his love of technology. "I'm not only a cofounder," Agranoff says, "but a daily user. I love the site. It's great to be passionate about my work."

New Times: What inspired VOIS?

Craig Agranoff: VOIS was created to give freelancers the ability to meet the buyers of their services in a totally open and decentralized platform. I was actually using another freelance service site to build VOIS in the first place and was banned because I suggested speaking to a potential freelancer on Yahoo. Eventually, I got back on, but I realized that decentralized platforms, like Ebay, are the ones that really grow. An online community should define itself. I should be able to talk to the person I'm thinking about hiring. It just made sense to me.

NT: Outsourcing gets a bad rap. Does your website help people in other countries get work?

CA: Actually, the majority of VOIS projects have been from Americans for Americans, and that's exactly how I wanted this to work. Most people think "outsourcing" means using techies in India, but in reality, it could be some guy in the building next to me. As long as it's not in-house, it's outsourcing. I've hired people whom I would've never met, who worked just around the corner here in Boca Raton. It's a great way for local designers, developers and techies to make supplemental income or to work as freelancers.

NT: What makes this site particularly social?

CA: We feature profile pages, similar to the ones on Facebook. Members can use their profiles to promote their business. If you screw somebody over doing a bad job or if you don't pay a consultant, the whole community will know because of the social tools. Our commenting system is awesome and we're working on developing an instant messenger application, so clients and consultants can chat.

NT: What's in it for the buyers?

CA: If you have a dream and it sits in your head, it's going to die there. We want to make dreams come true. If you want to create a website, VOIS can provide you with a cost-effective way of making it happen.

NT: How do you see VOIS growing in the future?

CA: In the coming weeks, we'll be enhancing the site and opening up an API for developers. We'll also create iPhone and Facebook applications so we can leverage the power of those communities. Eventually, I see VOIS becoming the premiere spot where people will come to sell and trade their services. It's a place to build good reputations -- socializing, utilizing and monetizing an online presence all in one place.

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