You may not look at Minnesota as a hotbed for the issue of Latino immigrant labor, but it’s a bigger factor here than you might think.
The team behind Queblo is using the Twin Cities as a proving ground for their latino-driven business model, which they hope will have a wide-reaching impact across the country.
As the construction industry continues growing here and elsewhere, Aleksey Polukeyev and Igor Fridman estimate that around 35 percent of construction workers today are Latino. They teamed up to create Queblo in order to give those workers — many of them immigrants lacking English speaking skills — a better system, along with those who seek to employ them.
“We’re in tune with the immigrant community,” says Fridman, noting that both cofounders immigrated to the United States from Russia as children. Fridman in particular has a good understanding of Spanish speakers and the challenges they face, having spent time working at an architecture firm in Spain where he became fluent in the language.
“I came back to the U.S. and I could see there was a huge disconnect,” he says. “A lot of the contractors I knew here were looking for these workers and subcontractors but they didn’t have a good way to find them and didn’t have a good way to communicate with them. So Alex and I decided we were going to build a platform.”
That platform is Queblo, an online marketplace where contractors, subcontractors, home builders and workers can connect while bypassing the traditional barriers that have bogged down the industry. The website can be accessed in both English and Spanish, and it houses profiles for both individuals and companies so that each side can gain valuable knowledge before going into business with another party.
For immigrant workers, who the founders say are too often taken advantage of, it’s a vital tool for finding work with employers they can trust. This will lessen some the struggles they face when trying to monetize their craft.
“One of the things we’re tackling is wage theft,” says Polukeyev. “Too many workers and subcontractors are doing work and not getting paid for it. We’re trying to set up escrow to secure those transactions.”
Workers can create an online profile by calling or visiting their Lake Street office, and can then receive text messages regarding opportunities. The information within Queblo’s database enables them to learn about companies or subcontractors that might hire them, and conversely, those entities can find a documented history of work for employees before bringing them aboard.
Fridman and Polukeyev first started building Queblo last year, hiring developers to build the software while utilizing funds provided by a private investor and bootstrapping. Today, they report that their user base is at 600 (about 60 contractors and subcontractors, the rest workers) with 10 percent month-to-month growth.
The revenue model is based on transactional fees; it costs $10 to post a job and $2 to send a direct message that results in a hiring. Language translation, of course, is included. Fridman readily admits that the market size here in Minnesota is limited.
“We think we can get 150,000 users in this state,” he says. “It’s really a proof of concept.”
As you would guess, their long-term plan is to expand into the southwest. That’s where Queblo could really take off.
“We’re creating an innovative and new marketplace for a demographic that has historically had a hard time in this country,” Fridman says. “We think it’s pretty important.”