NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The freelance economy can be tough. Steady work can be hard to find, not to mention reliable payment. Whether you’re a contract designer, writer or Uber driver, cash flow rules. Andrew D’Souza is working to turn that income trickle into a steady stream with an idea called Clearbanc.
D’Souza is a Toronto entrepreneur who pitched his concept to the Y Combinator Fellowship program. YC is the Bay Area tech incubator that has been instrumental in helping hatch many high-profile startups, including Reddit, Dropbox and Pebble watches. The Fellowship program is YC “Light” -- a less intensive, short-term (eight-week) program with a $12,000 grant (compared to the $120,000 for a 7% equity stake YC offers in its regular program). The junior program is for “idea stage” companies.
That’s Clearbanc for sure. It’s not yet a real business -- at least not a proven one -- so “idea” describes best what’s going on here. And that’s basically what D’Souza has -- the spark of an idea: to help the freelance workforce get paid faster, by advancing their pay daily. And he’s starting with Uber drivers.
"Our goal is to build a new type of bank for self-employed freelancers and independent professionals," D’Souza tells MainStreet. "Uber has over a million drivers, growing really quickly, and all of those drivers have a common set of banking and financial services needs. And so, it made sense to start with them."
His first thought was to offer a tax solution to contract employees -- calculating and setting aside estimated self-employment taxes but opted instead to offer a daily payment service. Because Uber drivers are compensated via a single technology platform, it allows Clearbanc to present its solution en masse.
Uber drivers are paid weekly through direct deposit, but D’Souza says that drivers face gas and other expenses on a daily basis, so more frequent payments make sense.
"Having the money they've already earned faster is a huge benefit and an immediate need for them," he says.
By signing up to the service, earnings are transferred to a Clearbanc Visa debit card and immediately available. The fee is $2 per working day. Clearbanc processes the funds through Wave Crest, a payment solutions provider that offers fleet payments as one of its services.
There is no formal partnership with or endorsement of the service by Uber. But D'Souza says the early results are promising.
“The drivers that are on the platform actually drive quite a bit more," D'Souza says. "Once they realize they can get paid in real time, there seems to be a lot more of an incentive for them to drive."
Kathy Doulabi, known as "Kat Do" to her clients and fellow Uber drivers, has been ridesharing since 2012. Having driven for Uber in San Francisco and Chicago, Kat is now based in Rockford, Ill. and drives throughout portions of three states. She signed up for Clearbanc as soon as she heard about it.
"I think I was probably one of the first sign-ups in the country," she says. "Most Uber drivers do this part-time. There are a lot of Uber drivers that drive paycheck-to-paycheck. I know that. I've given Uber drivers money to put gas in their car so that they could drive that night."
Her Uber-driving Facebook friends didn't like the idea of sharing bank account information and like the debit card feature.
"The money will appear in your account the next business day," she says. "And you can use the card to withdraw money from ATMs, just like any other ATM card."
Matthew Branson, a real estate agent and part-time Uber driver in St. Louis, hasn’t used the service -- and isn’t particularly thrilled by the concept.
"Getting paid with Uber is incredibly easy right now," Branson tells MainStreet. "It's directly deposited into my account. If [Clearbanc] is trying to solve something, I don't see what they're trying to solve because it works perfectly right now."
As a part-time driver, Branson admits his gas expenses and financial situation may be different than full-time Uber drivers. So, could he see full-time drivers benefiting from daily pay?
"I would say no, because they're already getting paid weekly through Uber without any additional fees -- and most people are living their daily lives based on getting paid biweekly or monthly,” Branson says.
Regardless of if Uber turns out to be the ultimate proof-of-concept for his idea, D’Souza's goal is to offer his suite of financial services through other contract labor platforms -- and eventually to individual freelancers as well.
But that’s where Clearbanc faces a challenge of more moving parts, having to issue payments separately rather than through a single compensation platform shared by a mass of common workers.
Ultimately, D’Souza hopes Clearbanc will be able to interface with a contract worker's invoicing system, such as Quickbooks, to determine the amount and frequency of payments. Rather than waiting for net-30 payments, a freelancer could be advanced the amount of the invoice.
In a world of direct deposit, PayPal and services like the Intuit Payment Network, which charges 50 cents a transaction regardless of the transfer amount, Clearbanc may be a long shot, even in the world of startups. And D’Souza notes that Uber competitor Lyft recently announced daily payments for drivers -- something he admits Uber could do as well.
But this isn’t D’Souza’s first crack at a startup, where the strategy is punch fast and often at a moving target.
"This is just our first product,” he says. “[We're working to] build something people really want. That's ultimately the goal of any startup-- to build something people want and figure out the rest later."