Why a High School Dropout's Staffing Company Is in a Class of Its Own
Check out the rest of the 2015 young millionaires here.
School isn’t for everyone. Richard Branson dropped out at 16, and he’s doing just fine. David Karp quit school at 15, and 11 years later he sold his blogging platform Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Hell, Benjamin Franklin’s formal education concluded when he was just 10, and he’s enshrined on the $100 bill.
Now we can add software savant Taso Du Val to the list. After dropping out of high school to pursue his passion for technology, he gained real-world experience as a lead engineer at photo-sharing startup Fotolog, which ad network Hi-Media purchased in 2007 for $100 million. From there he accepted a lead engineering position at another early-stage tech firm—PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s social media company Slide, acquired by Google in 2010 for $228 million.
Du Val is now helping other engineers land plum gigs—and building his own multimillion-dollar startup in the process. Toptal, the San Francisco-based staffing solutions firm Du Val co-founded in 2010, connects freelance software developers with businesses in need of programming expertise, rigorously screening applicants and making matches based on each client’s unique project demands and related factors like workplace culture.
The 30-year-old Du Val launched Toptal after hearing complaints about competing staffing and recruiting sites like oDesk (now called Upwork) and Elance.
“People told me, ‘These are the worst places to get developers—nobody would want to go there.’ But I went on to find some developers, and I had massive success,” Du Val recalls. “I realized they didn’t know what they were doing. I sat back, looked at the economics and said, ‘Wow, I could solve this problem at scale through software and processes that I know, and create a place where you could do what I was doing.’”
Thousands of engineers apply to Toptal each month—some with experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Google on their résumés—and the company weeds out all but the best, accepting only about 3 percent of the applications it receives. When businesses post jobs on the platform, Toptal identifies available developers proficient in the software languages necessary to handle the task at hand, then contacts the client to learn more about the job and the company as a whole before interviewing programmer candidates to make sure their skills and personalities are properly attuned.
“Instead of 10, 20 or 100 engineers who apply to work with you, we give you one or two, and we’re very careful and precise about who we send you, so that you have a great experience,” Du Val says. “Our average ratio of people we send who get accepted is 1.7 to 1. Successful staffing companies have a ratio—that they’re proud of—of about 15 to 1.”
In fact, Toptal is so confident in its matchmaking acumen that it offers a 100 percent risk-free trial period for each new engagement.
The Toptal network now comprises thousands of qualified developers and more than 2,000 clients, including KDDI America, JPMorgan Chase and Airbnb, alongside a range of small businesses. Projects vary in terms of complexity, scope and duration. Toptal brokers the contractual terms of each gig, reporting an average engagement size of approximately $40,000—more than 10 times the size of many competitors, the firm crows—
and claiming an unspecified percentage-based fee for its efforts. Toptal achieved 189 percent revenue growth in 2014 and is on pace for an $80 million-plus run rate in 2015.
Toptal is now expanding beyond its core software engineering network: This fall, it will open its platform to freelance design professionals. “We eventually will go into every vertical,” Du Val says. “The Fortune 500 wants quality, integrity and security, and that’s the opposite of what [Upwork] and Elance supply. We can compete with the larger guys on the enterprise level—the Deloittes, the Accentures and the Cognizants of the world.”
Check out our Instagram post on Taso Du Val here.