Sense raised $13.5 million for its messaging platform that, to date, has been focused on connecting staffing firms to contractors/contingent workers. With this funding announcement, their messaging seems to be shifting to include employers directly. VentureBeat quoted investor Tyson Clark, a partner at Google Ventures (GV), as saying, “Sense offers a powerful solution that allows recruiters, contractors, and HR departments to gain unique value from putting the right person in the right job.” The Sense website lists the staffing ATS/CRM players you would expect to see as partners: Bullhorn, JobDiva, erecruit, etc. However, there are no employer-side ATSes listed.

To be fair, Sense cofounder Anil Dharni stays on point in his messaging on the Sense blog and in VentureBeat article to the focus on staffing firms. However, we can’t help but think that landing $13.5 million from GV and Accel (which increases the total to $24.5 M raised)  came along with a nudge to expand its total addressable market (TAM) to include employers along with staffing firms. Given recent moves in the market, they may find some willing ATS partners that cater strictly to employers. With TextRecruit being acquired by iCIMS and Canvas rolled up with jobvite, we would imagine most recruiting platforms would rather partner with a messaging platform that doesn’t line the pockets of their competitors.

The bigger challenge may be that employers will look for messaging and engagement platforms to tie into a “total workforce” strategy. As we work with employers that already have a substantial percentage of their workforce as contract/contingent workers, they are looking forward to integrating them into the employee experience, not bifurcating them into a separate “pool.” This includes staffing and ongoing management/engagement. The hiring decisions to bring in a contractor vs. full time employee are becoming increasingly “game-day” type decisions based on the available talent, and once on the team the questions of leadership, engagement, incentives, and in rare cases even benefits are emerging as part of the employer/contractor relationship. If nearly half of your team is made up of contractors you need ways to become more inclusive, not less.

Of course, Sense will also have to navigate the shift from a customer base where talent engagement represents care and handling of the product and revenue, to one where talent engagement is in correlation to the product and revenue. For example, Sense spends a lot of time talking about NPS, which resonates more directly with staffing firms – less so with employer talent acquisition teams.

Whichever direction Sense goes, it’s an interesting deal, given the source of the capital and the current state of the candidate engagement apps category.

From the Sense blog:

Today is a great day at Sense—we’re announcing our $13.5 million Series B investment led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) with participation from Accel. This funding injection from two of our existing investors brings our total funding to $23.5 million. To service our rapidly growing customer base, we will use this new funding to ramp up our R&D and sales operations around the world.

Source: Sense’s Mission to Transform Staffing is Underway, and We’re Just Getting Started