5 Best Toptal Alternatives for Startups in 2022
Toptal has long been the most important name on the market of online platforms that startups often use for sourcing and hiring developers. Usually, it’s a service that is used by startups that might not have in-house recruiters or fully-formed human resources teams.
Toptal has long claimed that the top three percent of freelance talent is available through their platform. What separated Toptal from the competition early on and continues to keep them at the top of the heap is their vetting process. Toptal is considered a premium market for freelancers because they take the time to thoroughly test all applicants and will not offer freelancers to startups if those freelancers do not meet their fairly rigid requirements.
Obviously, Toptal tests the freelancers it hires to make sure that their skill set is where it needs to be, but they also make sure that freelancers can communicate properly (usually by having requirements for a freelancer’s level of English), and that they are culturally fit for the companies that they are looking to join.
On top of Toptal’s very detailed screening process, the company also has a strong recommendation system that startups looking to hire from them can use to see how other startups have fared when employing certain individuals.
Why Seek a Toptal Alternative?
Everything we’ve said about Toptal thus far sounds pretty great. So why should startups even consider using another service that doesn’t vet their freelancers as well as Toptal?
Because no two startups are exactly the same and not all young companies have the same needs and means for hiring freelancers. Running a startup is a very complex process, especially if you’re running a young startup that is still scaling and doing so very quickly.
Toptal seems to work best for already-established companies that have a decent revenue stream or significant amounts of funding available to them.
So now that we’ve discussed what sets Toptal apart and makes them an attractive freelance market for startups, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why startups might want to look for total alternatives.
Toptal is pretty expensive to use, meaning that you’re going to need to have a serious budget for them to even want to work with you. The hourly rates for the software developers that you can get from Toptal are pretty steep, in between $80 and $200 usually, which is fine if you are getting great freelancers.
However, Toptal has grown and scaled its business model tremendously and has many of its employees to pay as well, most of which also demand high wages and are not freelancers. Because of this, you are more than likely overpaying for the development services that you are getting from Toptal.
This is fine for large enterprises who are willing to pay more for the convenience of easily getting excellent freelancers from Toptal, but if you’re a small startup that can’t afford to pay Toptal upwards of $100,000 a year for these services, then it’s might not be the smartest thing to do financially. In fact, if you’re not working with a large hiring budget, there’s a good chance that Toptal might not even be interested in working with your business.
As the platform has grown, Toptal has shown that it clearly targets and prefers working with larger companies with big budgets.
Focus on Developers
Toptal is known for being able to offer great developers of all skill levels and the same can be said for designers. But the truth of the matter is that startups that are looking to outsource or freelance services sometimes need a lot more than developers and designers.
In fact, many small startups would rather hire in-house developers and designers to work closely with them and then hire freelancers to fill other positions. If you want to hire any profile that isn’t a designer or developer, then you might have to look elsewhere for better options.
For example, if you are looking for marketing experts or even freelancers to help you in fractional c-suite roles, then it might be a good idea to turn to a service or platform that specializes in the exact roles that you are looking to fill. This is especially true when we’re talking about the all-important executive positions.
Lack of Flexibility
The way that Toptal charges for its services is incredibly rigid. This seems to be counterintuitive when marketing to startups, since, as we already mentioned, no two startups are the same. There aren’t any different packages designed for companies with different needs. Basically, everyone pays the same rates, no matter how many people they hire and for how long a period of time.
The hiring contracts are also very strict. Toptal offers freelancers that work 20 or 40 hours a week, and that’s basically it. If neither of those options works with what you’re looking for, then you’ll certainly end up overpaying for what you get in return.
If your needs to hire freelancers are much more relaxed and change from month to month, then you should probably look for a service that offers more flexible solutions and a variety of hiring options.
If you take a look at popular review sites, you’ll very commonly see people who have hired from Toptal complaining about the company’s customer service and support. Since the hiring process has many touchpoints and can last a significant amount of time, it’s not uncommon to see people who are unhappy with Toptal’s support even before they’ve been able to hire anyone.
Naturally, popular platforms with thousands of users are going to have much more demanding customer service and support issues, but at the same time, it seems as if Toptal might not have scaled this side of their service as well as other parts of the organization have scaled.
If you prefer quick, detailed, and personalized support from a freelance platform, then you might want to look elsewhere.
As we just mentioned, the Toptal hiring process is definitely a complex process. The company does this as part of its promise to vet all freelancers well enough to make sure that they are only working with the best of the best.
That’s great, but in the fast-paced world of startups, you might not have three weeks to wait to hire a freelancer for a certain job that needs to get done right away. For example, imagine your CFO has left in the middle of your push for venture capital funding and you need to hire a fractional CFO to help guide you through the process. Three weeks is basically three years in venture capital time and investors don’t want to wait that long for anyone, even if you have an amazing product and pitch.
So while we understand why Toptal’s process takes so long, we also understand that having to wait three weeks to hire someone is not an ideal situation in the world of startups, where time is of the essence.
Now that some of the pain points associated with Toptal are clear, let’s take a look at some of the best Toptal alternatives for startups that are currently on the market.
5 Best Toptal Aternatives
One of the most important things to remember about startups is that they are complex and diverse organizations, no matter the size. Even if we’re talking strictly about technology startups, their hiring needs will be greater than simply needing developers and designers to work on their products.
One key area in which young startups often need freelance/fractional help is in the realm of leadership. Young companies often have first-time CEOs, CMOs, and CFOs working for them—people who could benefit from the help of an experienced executive who has been around the block and knows their way around the startup ecosystem.
That’s exactly the type of freelancer you will be able to find at Shiny. This is a very specific talent marketplace that matches top-rated fractional executives with startups that need their services.
Who It’s For: Shiny is the perfect solution for startups that need guidance from a freelance executive, which can come in handy in a large number of circumstances. For example, if your startup is about to enter the process of securing VC funding, having an expert CFO by your side throughout the process would be extremely helpful, especially for companies who either don’t have a full-time CFO or have an inexperienced CFO that has never raised funding before.
Shiny has a large database of freelance executives no matter what you need. Whether you need an experienced fractional COO to give advice on your operations, a fractional CMO to put together a viable marketing and go-to market strategy for you, or a fractional CFO to help you with a very important audit, Shiny is a great place to look.
Unique Feature: What makes Shiny stand out is the fact that it is completely dedicated to freelance executives, which makes it different from other Toptal alternatives. Companies like Toptal that focus on software developers and designers often lack excellent candidates in particular niches that are less popular than development. Shiny takes the opposite approach. They focus on providing top-level executives and c-suite freelancers for companies that specifically need this type of help.
Minimum Annual Budget Required: There is no minimum annual budget requirement when using Shiny.
Fee: The platform takes a 15% fee of the hiring cost.
You can start looking for a fractional executive for free from here.
Fiverr is a popular platform for finding freelancers very easily. However, it has earned (perhaps unjustly) a reputation as a place where one would go to find cheap labor. This is because the entire concept that made the platform popular was the fact you could get freelancers to complete tasks for as little as five dollars, hence the name.
Because of this, Fiverr isn’t really considered a premium service like other Toptal alternatives, but that certainly does not mean that there are not many excellent freelancers available through Fiverr. Most importantly, there truly is a very large variety of freelancers available through Fiver, and while you might not be able to find a freelance executive like you would with Shiny, you should be able to find the types of freelancers that you would most commonly find through Toptal and Toptal competitors, e.g., developers, designers, content creators, video editors, writers, and more.
Who It’s For: Fiverr is not just for startups, it’s literally for anyone that needs some type of service performed by a freelancer. What sets apart Fiverr is that wide range of freelancers being offered. A startup can hire a mobile app developer to work on a long-term project as easily as someone can find a freelancer to retouch a photo of their dog for five bucks.
Unique Feature: As already stated, Fiverr is unique because you can find a freelancer to do just about anything that is possible on a computer. While this has made the platform incredibly popular, it has given it a bit of a “quantity over quality” reputation. However, that absolutely doesn’t mean that a startup won’t be able to find good freelancers through Fiverr, it just might be a little harder to do since Fiverr doesn’t have a vetting process like Toptal does.
However, startups can read freelancer profiles and reviews that were submitted by other people or companies that used their services in order to determine if the freelancer would be a good fit for the company.
Minimum Annual Budget Required: There is no minimum annual budget requirement when using Fiverr.
Fee: Fiverr is different from other Toptal alternatives because the person that is hiring through the platform is not paying a fee to Fiverr. The business model is different at Fiverr, which will instead take a 20% fee from the freelancer that is hired and paid through its platform.
Even though it is a definite Toptal alternative, Upwork is probably more similar to Fiverr than it is to Toptal or any other Toptal alternatives. That’s mainly because of the fact that Upwork doesn’t perform the screening process for you. Just like Fiverr, Upwork has a huge database of freelancers that are available for work, but it’s up to the person or startup hiring the freelancer to determine whether they are a good candidate.
Upwork is also similar to Fiverr in the sense that it covers a huge number of verticals and it’s not reserved just for developers.
Who It’s For: Much like Fiverr, Upwork is probably best for people or companies who are looking to wrap up small and fast jobs like logo design or a quick how-to video. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find great, long-term freelancers on Upwork, because you definitely can. It will simply take a bit more effort during the vetting process on your part to find the right candidates than it would via Toptal.
Unique Feature: What makes Upwork unique is the fact that the freelancers bid on projects. An individual or company will create a task on Upwork after which qualified freelancers will bid on it. In the end, the entity that created the project will decide which bid they will go with, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will choose the lowest one. The hiring entity will be able to see not just the freelancer’s bid, but their entire profile, reviews, and other projects that they have completed. This gives the hirer a better picture of the freelancer’s skill level and whether it corresponds well with their bidding price.
Minimum Annual Budget Required: Most people using Upwork have a Basic plan, which is free. That means that the company that is hiring a freelancer through a Basic plan only pays what is owed to the freelancer and a payment processing and administration fee to Upwork, which is about 3 percent. If you need specialized services and are using Upwork to hire for many projects, there is a Plus plan that costs $50 per month and a Business plan that costs $500 per month.
Fee: Unless you have one of the aforementioned plans that aren’t free (Plus or Business) there is no fee other than the aforementioned 3 percent payment processing and administration fee.
If you’re looking for a service that is more similar to Toptal than Shiny, Fiverr, and Upwork, then you should definitely check out Turing. Turing was built by developers for developers and its focus is to help top developers find their dream jobs by connecting them with the right remote companies.
Like some alternatives to Toptal, Turing vets and tests all its developers before offering them to startups.
Who It’s For: Turing is definitely geared towards tech startups looking to hire talented developers. It’s also for developers who want to find a job that fits all of their needs. Unlike some of the other alternatives we have mentioned, Turing seems to be created with the very specific goal in mind of doing exactly what Toptal does, but making the process better for the freelancer.
Unique Feature: Most of Turing’s unique features are geared towards the freelancer developers using the platform, not the companies that are looking to hire talent. Turing boasts an AI-powered job searching engine that makes it easier for developers to find the exact job that they want.
Minimum Annual Budget Required: There is no minimum annual budget requirement when using Fiverr.
Fee: Companies that hire through Turing can try the service out for two weeks for free to see if it’s right for them, after which you will have to pay a fee. However, the company is not very transparent about how much that fee will cost.
Andela was once a distance learning platform that was created for African university students that aimed at empowering young Africans to enter the tech workforce by providing them with learning resources and career development resources.
However, the platform has changed a lot recently and has basically turned into an African version of Toptal. Andela used to hire engineers in training, but since late 2019, it has been working with nothing but professional and established developers.
Who It’s For: Andela fits the same profile that Toptal does, meaning that it’s a good platform for startups that are strictly looking for developers and want them to be vetted and tested before they even meet them. It’s probably the most obvious Toptal alternative that exists right now since its business model is very similar to Toptal’s.
Unique Feature: The most unique thing about Andela is that most of the development talent is being sourced from Africa. Most other Toptal alternatives are not that geographically specific. However, it’s also obvious that Andela will soon have to offer freelance developers from all around the world in order to try and compete with Toptal.
Minimum Annual Budget Required: Since Andela is trying to become the next Toptal, there is a good chance that they are also going to require companies to enter into agreements with a significant budget. Andela are obviously looking to cater to the same established and larger tech startups and companies that Toptal wants to attract.
Fee: Fees for using Andela are similar to the ones companies will pay to use Toptal. It costs companies in between $50,00 and $120,000 per developer with about a third of that fee going to the developer, while the rest goes to Andela.
These five Toptal alternatives are just scratching the surface of what’s available. The freelance tech market is massive and will become even larger as more and more freelance tech workers choose to work remotely.
The best advice for companies looking to hire talent is to not just look for the best Toptal alternatives, but to look towards companies and platforms that specialize in the type of talent that they are specifically looking for, instead of using a platform that offers freelancers from dozens of different verticals. Having this focus while picking the platform you’re going to use will help you narrow down your search much faster and be more confident in your hire once the process is complete.