American Family to Launch Moonrise, a Platform for Moonlighting

[Updated 12/6/17 11:43 a.m. See below.] Retailers across the U.S. often hire additional workers this time of year to help get them through the busy holiday shopping season. Allowing employers to bring in extra help during busy times is likewise the idea behind Moonrise, a Chicago-based startup that recently exited stealth mode. According to its website, Moonrise is wholly owned by Madison, WI-based American Family Insurance.

Moonrise says its mission is to connect employers with workers who want to make extra money, and allow participating organizations to hire people on a shift-by-shift basis. The concept fits in the broader trend of on-demand jobs in the “gig” economy, where companies like Uber give workers the opportunity to make money on the side and the flexibility to set their own hours.

Workers can sign up for Moonrise on the startup’s website, and create a profile with information on their job skills and availability. Once a new user has completed interviews and undergone a background check, he can start receiving text messages with information on shifts offered by employers that work with Moonrise. A worker can then review information about the shift—its date, time, and location, as well as how much it pays—and decide whether to accept or decline it. Moonrise says most shifts pay between $11 and $16 an hour. (The minimum wage in Wisconsin is currently $7.25 an hour; in Illinois, it’s $8.25 an hour.)

Given that the startup repeatedly mentions text messages in its marketing materials, it seems like a good bet that Moonrise will launch mobile apps that make it easy for on-the-go users to pick up shifts. However, there do not appear to be any apps available for download yet; Moonrise does not appear in the App Store’s or Google Play’s lists of apps developed by American Family.

In the section of its website with information for employers, Moonrise describes itself as having many of the same aspects as a traditional temporary (or “temp”) staffing agency. For example, businesses tell Moonrise what their personnel needs are, and how much they’re willing to pay for different types of work. Also, it is Moonrise—rather than the employer—that handles most of the paperwork, and pays workers. Moonrise earns a commission on the hourly wages of workers that employers find using the service. The startup says it also receives a finder’s fee if an organization later brings on a “Moonriser” as a full-fledged employee.

However, one thing that sets Moonrise apart from other temp agencies is that it will only match employers with workers who already have full-time jobs or other full-time commitments (school or a family, for instance). In a video posted on its website, Moonrise says that people in this category “have higher reliability and credibility versus an average temp worker.”

Moonrise says it recently conducted a pilot of its technology in Madison. Over five days, the startup’s platform matched 11 workers with 28 paid shifts at several employers, including Second Harvest Foodbank and Cintas (NASDAQ: CTAS), a Cincinnati-based business that sells company uniforms and other products.

Kara Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of Moonrise, says her startup plans to do a larger pilot of the service in Chicago before potentially rolling it out to other cities. The Chicago pilot will begin sometime next month, she says. [This paragraph has been updated with information from Kara Kaplan.]

Moonrise lists eight employees on its website, including Kaplan and two other co-founders. One is chief technology officer Eric Harrison. The other is chief operating officer Heather Johnston. She’s the former founder and CEO of Find My Spot, a Milwaukee-based apartment-hunting service that is no longer operating.

Moonrise’s access to leaders, technology, and other resources at American Family could help the startup get significant numbers of users and employers to sign up early on. Moonrise says its parent company gives it “direct access to millions of potential workers that don’t typically use temporary staffing agencies.” In addition to its individual and family customers, American Family provides insurance coverage to businesses in a variety of industries.

Moonrise is the latest example of American Family investing in, collaborating with, or incubating a technology startup. The insurer launched American Family Ventures in 2010, and has reportedly authorized it to make up to $200 million in investments. One of the venture fund’s best known portfolio companies is Santa Monica, CA-based Ring, which makes Internet-connected doorbells sold by Costco (NASDAQ: COST) and other retailers. American Family also partnered with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) in 2014 on a startup accelerator program focused on home automation.

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