Why you should care

Because she’s making flexible work a reality for everyone. 

A few years ago, Stacey Ferreira kept hearing the same complaints from her friends who worked in retail: scheduling their hours was a nightmare. Managers would give them shifts when they weren’t available, and the problem was far worse if they had more than one job. With one tech startup already under her belt, Ferreira saw a solvable problem. That was the genesis for Forge, an app that lets hourly workers pick their own shifts and set their schedules. After rapid growth, she’s on to a far more difficult trick: fixing health care.

The topic has bedeviled policymakers for generations, but this 26-year-old CEO isn’t easily intimidated, and she has entrepreneurial giants like Richard Branson and Peter Thiel behind her.

In the summer of 2011, Ferreira saw a tweet from Branson telling followers that for a $2,000 charity donation they could meet him in Miami for cocktails. After asking their dad for a hefty loan to cover the cost, which included a three-month repayment contract, Ferreira and her older brother, Scott, were off to meet the Virgin Group founder. They eventually pitched him on their password management app, MySocialCloud. Branson, along with Jerry Murdock, formerly of Insight Venture Partners and Photobucket co-founder Alex Welch, invested $1.2 million in seed capital. Ferreira was just 18 years old.

I can only sit and read without ‘doing’ for so long.

Stacey Ferreira

More than seven years later, Ferreira has co-founded two companies and written a book titled 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World. She also spent a year on the board of directors of Watermark, an organization aimed at increasing the representation of women in leadership roles. With Forge, she is betting big on the gig economy — the recent surge in contract, short-term or hourly work, compared to full-time salaried positions. As of 2017, hourly wage earners older than 16 make up 58.3 percent of all workers in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ferreira wants to capitalize on that majority while tackling their constant struggle of accessing affordable health insurance.

Growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, Ferreira was a good student but was far more interested in video games and socializing than schoolwork. One night, she and Scott were commiserating over adolescent woes when Scott’s computer crashed, and he lost all of his passwords and logins. There should be an app that securely stores all that information for you, the siblings thought, and MySocialCloud was born.

The Ferreiras eventually sold the company to online identity and privacy startup Reputation.com in 2013. After the sale, Ferreira re-enrolled at NYU (she had dropped out to work on the app) but again found student life a bit monotonous. “I can only sit and read without ‘doing’ for so long,” she says. In 2015, Ferreira was accepted to the Thiel Fellowship program — which included $100,000 to launch Forge, mentorship and access to a network of Silicon Valley VCs. She left school behind again to build her second company.

In addition to the scheduling nightmares she heard about from friends in retail, Ferreira was inspired to start Forge after going on her book tour. Young people in every U.S. city she visited said the same thing: They want to be judged on results, not how long they keep their butt in a seat. She wants to give hourly workers the ability to create and manage their own schedules within traditional companies. “Flexible work is the future,” Ferreira says.

Three years after launching Forge, the idea has grown into much more. Many U.S. companies only allow hourly employees to work a maximum of 30 hours per week — hitting 40 would require them to provide benefits — meaning workers take multiple jobs. Forge helps workers manage schedules for multiple employers and keep track of when they’re available and when they’re not. The app benefits employers too, as they can create schedules and swap talent with neighboring businesses, ensuring they’re never short-staffed. Forge works primarily with hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott, retail brands like Target and H&M, and fast-food chains like Popeyes and Taco Bell — though Ferreira declined to reveal how many total companies are on the platform.

Now she’s thinking bigger. “The overall vision of Forge is to become a network for people who don’t qualify for health care,” Ferreira says. She wants to buy down insurance rates through a Forge network she hopes to build, though she concedes this won’t happen soon. “We have a lot more to accomplish before we’re at a point where economically we have purchasing power,” she says.

As anyone following politics for the past decade well knows, the road to affordable health care is paved with resistance. Buying down rates from U.S. insurance providers could prove extremely costly. A 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that half of Americans with employer-provided health insurance have at least a $1,000 deductible. A study from Avalere Health found that the average deductible for the silver plan on former President Barack Obama’s health care law was almost $4,000. What’s more, insurance laws vary from state to state, making Forge’s plan complicated. “These types of models exist but you do need a license within the state to act as an insurer or an aggregator,” says Joe Welfeld, former regional VP for RelayHealth. “It’s a state regulatory issue because they’re ultimately responsible for providing the insurance to individuals if the company goes bankrupt,” he says. “Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.”

Despite the challenges, friend and mentee Mehak Vohra is confident Ferreira will make Forge into a dominant platform. “She exudes confidence, and she’s unapologetically herself,” says Vohra, a founder herself, “which makes her a role model in the tech space.”

If Forge takes off the way Ferreira hopes, Target’s workers will know her just as well as the techies.

Read more: Will people flock to the Alexa for employee benefits?

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