Diversity Fintech & e-commerce

Q&A: Gig Wage Founder Craig Lewis Aims To ‘Drive Economic Empowerment’

The gig economy has a champion in Craig J. Lewis.

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The Gig Wage founder started the fintech payroll company focused on gig workers and contractors in 2014. Seven years later, the Dallas-based company has raised $13 million in funding and found success in helping 1099 workers navigate their working world, Lewis told Crunchbase News.

The “gig economy” is a free market system in which organizations and independent workers engage in short-term work arrangements. It is estimated that more than 60 million people in the U.S. are gig workers, and that a majority of workers will be by 2027. Meanwhile, the MBO State of Independence study points out that full-time independent workers in the U.S. contributed $1.21 trillion of revenue to the economy.

Based on the current economic environment, Lewis expects this number to only increase.

Lewis spoke to Crunchbase News about the economy, its future and his push for more diversity in fintech. The following was lightly edited for clarity and length.

Craig J. Lewis, founder and CEO of Gig Wage. Photo courtesy of Jae Oates.

What was the driver behind starting Gig Wage?

Lewis: When we started in 2014, it was a different company, and then we pivoted. I read about the gig economy in a study that McKinsey did. Back then we had a different payroll technology, but it dawned on me in 2016 that we could solve the payroll problem for gig workers in a unique way. Our purpose, our North Star, is to drive economic empowerment. It’s not just about gig or freelance work, but to drive economic growth for companies, employees and shareholders. We are perfectly positioned to drive this in true value all the way up and down the gig stack by helping drive the efficiencies of how money moves — increased activity, more spending, saving and earning — the gig economy can be the catalyst. We are building the bank of the gig economy so they can bank the entire economy.

You wrote a guest commentary for us in January about using your Techstars Demo Day pitch time to advocate for investing in Black founders. What kind of response did you receive?

Lewis: The vast majority was positive. People were motivated by it. I think that type of dialogue and stand is needed more from people in the actual doing of the actual work. I don’t have to wait until I exit or pre-IPO, I am in it now, I have a good perspective and can take these bold stances. We can talk about this stuff now; so what if people get uncomfortable? There are more conversations to be had this year.

What was the driver for you to do that?

Lewis: It was a knee-jerk reaction to the death of George Floyd and people talking about waiting on the investment community to figure it out. It is going to take time and it might not happen. Black entrepreneurs and investors will enter and make it happen for ourselves. Our excellence and brilliance will be funded. We are an undeniably great investment opportunity, but it has to be driven by entrepreneurs. Venture capital is phenomenal for wealth creation, but the foundation is already built and set. I get a lot of decks asking for money from emerging funds, Black investors raising funds and helping them get access to limited partners, so there is a lot of activity there. The driving factor is entrepreneurs. If anything is going to happen, it is going to be on entrepreneurs. I call out to Black entrepreneurs to continue to be bold and audacious. Our job is to go out, tell our narrative, get them funded and get customers serviced. If you depend on investors, it is never going to happen. If it doesn’t happen, I am going to be beating a lot of pots and pans to make it happen.

Having been around for seven years, how have you seen the fintech sector change during this time?

Lewis: Fintech is phenomenal and an intersection of finance and technology, and it is in the early innings. I have been in payroll and payments for 10 years, diving in as an entrepreneur since 2014. The peaks that are going on, like crypto, ICOs [Initial Coin Offering], headless banking, but I’d love to watch when chatter dies down because that is when innovation happens. It’s exciting to see Black entrepreneurs get into this space. With more Black, brown and woman entrepreneurs at the table, the better it is for the overall consumer. If you think of who is underbanked and who has experienced the problem, the more diversity there is in fintech will help the narrative.

The global pandemic forced many people into unemployment. What does the future hold for gig and 1099 workers?

Lewis: I’m excited about this opportunity. It is not perfect by any means, but meets you where you are. There is opportunity for improvement. Technology is driving behaviour, and legislation is going to catch up. At least, I hope it will — it is not perfect, but it is absolute, so let’s improve and not make it what work used to be. We need a hybrid between a social safety net and what is traditionally tied to employment, such as access to new benefits. People are already getting paid in new ways. This is an exciting time to be in on it.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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