The gig economy, rising before the coronavirus pandemic hit, is expected to grow more in years to come. Yet as it has become more prevalent, employers have faced challenges recruiting and verifying candidates' credentials for the short-term assignments.

Matt Meents founded Yardstik to meet those needs.

Admittedly, he picked a tough time to build a company, launching it in April 2020 amid the worst of the pandemic restrictions. Yet he quickly raised $4.25 million in seed financing.

On March 1, he launched his software platform that interacts with other systems so clients can more efficiently do background screening and professional licensure certification and provide additional industry training through videos or links to other training sources.

What Meents saw through the year was that the pandemic had sped the digital transformation of work by years.

"I think human security is even more important with that speedup," Meents said. "This industry is really obsolete in a lot of ways and ready for transformation."

This isn't Meents' first company. His first, founded in 2001, became part of Magnet360. Meents became CEO.

Magnet360 became a global Salesforce consulting company and then was sold to Mindtree in 2016. Meents stayed for a few years as one of the top executives at Mindtree before leaving the company in August 2019.

He took some time to decide whether he wanted to invest, consult or build something new.

"Everything in my soul is entrepreneurship and creating something and teams and having a community impact and cultural impact," Meents said.

He decided to build something new, took a few months to mold a new business concept and then launched Yardstik.

In less than a year, Meents has hired 22 employees, received the seed-series funding, consulted with potential clients for needs they could address, built a software platform and conducted a pilot study with a handful of companies.

The company has no physical office yet since work had to be done from home during the pandemic. But Yardstik leaders have tried to build a company culture despite the workers being apart. Every other Monday, everyone jumps on a Zoom call to discuss what they are working on. The following Monday they have a get-to-know-you session.

"It just feels like everyone in the company knows one another even though we've never physically been in the same room together," he said. "You can see the dynamic and collaboration happening just because of those meetings."

Office space is on the to-do list at some point. In the meantime, Meents expects the employee count to be 50 by the end of the year.

In the last year, Yardstik has sold $2 million worth of services and will seek additional funding in the second or third quarter that can fuel more growth.

"We have a goal to be $100 million in revenue in five years," Meents said. "The total addressable market across gig work, volunteerism … we see it as a $16 billion-plus market opportunity."

Gig work increased 15% from 2010 to 2019, according to a report from ADP Research Institute, which studies the labor market. Other ADP studies show there has been an increase in interest in gig work during the pandemic.

Minneapolis-based Rally Ventures co-led Yardstik's $4.25 million in seed financing by investing $2 million.

Managing Director Justin Kaufenberg knew of Meents' success with Magnet360 and, from when he was CEO and co-founder of SportsEngine, also knew the value of background checks of youth sports volunteers.

"We saw firsthand the power of background screening, the power of certification management, the power of verification management," Kaufenberg said.

"We generally believe that this is one of those industries that is going to end up being a lot larger than it looks on paper."

Existing platforms have different features and functions but often don't provide the compliance and screening process because it is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Yardstik manages the whole platform for compliance. Working with a dental hygienist sourcing platform, Minneapolis-based Kwikly Dental Staffing, for instance, Yardstik would verify the certificates and license requirements for dental hygienists.

Another company Yardstik has been working with is Dispatch, a Bloomington-based startup that specializes in the last-mile delivery in the business-to-business marketplace.

As a technology-based on-demand delivery company, it hired Yardstik to do the background checks on its drivers.

Now it uses Yardstik to measure other things such as certification work, and the software is fully integrated into Dispatch's.

Both Yardstik and Dispatch are startups, and the relationship benefits both.

The two startups learn from each other and can apply those lessons to other relationships.

"Matt has taken a very partnership approach to this whole process," Dispatch co-founder Andrew Leone said. "The great thing about working with startups, especially good ones with good leadership, is that they are adaptable. There are downsides every time you are working with a new company, but I think we have the right partner."

Since April 2020, Meents has basically built a new company over Zoom and Slack, hiring 22 employees.

With no physical office space yet and while Meents has had "off-site" meetings with key leaders, he said they haven't had an all-employee meeting in person yet.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926