Agent Inc., a new modeling app, looks to disrupt the status quo. The app, which launched last month after two years in beta testing, looks to empower models, efficiently connect them with clients for jobs, and protect their safety — a topic of growing concern.
“We vet the clients the same way we vet the models,” said Mark Willingham, cofounder and chief executive officer of Agent Inc., based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He said his team does a criminal background check, sex offender checks and validation of identity and verifies their businesses. At present, there are 13,000 models registered on the platform (they must be over 18) and more than 2,000 clients. They are adding between 50 and 100 models and clients a day. The web site is joinagent.com. The app, Agent Inc., is available at the App Store for iOS devices.
“We want massive diversity,” said Willingham, on a visit to New York. In order for a model to be able to be featured on the site, “we have to believe someone will hire you.”
Among the companies that have booked models through Agent are Social Revolution, a Los Angeles-based clothing brand; FaceTory, Inc., an L.A. skincare brand; Blue District, an online clothing company based in L.A.; Omnia Vintage Clothing, an online clothing company based in Brooklyn, and Plus Red Elixir, an L.A.-based energy drink.
Naomi Bergknoff, owner of Omnia Vintage Clothing, said she’s used the app three times since its official launch last month. “It’s great. We’ve used it for e-commerce modeling,” said Bergknoff, who does the photography herself. “It’s so user-friendly. The app felt very modern.” Further, she said, the fees are very low, although there’s a range. Her budget was $25 an hour, with a minimum of six hours. She said she was happy with it and has used the girls again.
“It’s a really cool concept. It needs to exist in today’s age. So many people are doing independent businesses,” she said. She said one model she hired was an artist and another was a singer. “But they were beautiful girls and a nice range of sizing and ethnicities,” said Bergknoff. What she also liked was that the payment was all done within the app so it avoided any uncomfortable situations.
According to Willingham, the range for jobs booked so far on Agent is $100 to $2,000 per job. The current average booking pays about $310.
At present, cities of focus are New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas. The company plans to expand to other major cities this year, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago, he said.
Willingham said many jobs are local or regional such as trade shows, boutiques, online stores and corporations looking for models for shoots or events. Ninety percent of the models on the site are women, and 10 percent are men. Models can be hired through several filters, such as location, high fashion, runway, curvy, bridal and nude. “We’re not looking to be a governing body, we’re trying to create transparency,” said Willingham.
Certain shoots might require nude, semi-nude, or lingerie and that will be spelled out in the job description. Models indicate the type of work they want to do in their bios. At the end of a job, the models rate the clients, and the clients rate the models. The app has scheduling, booking and job tracking features, and uses artificial intelligence to match models with brands and jobs. The client pays the model and it’s all guaranteed up front. They capture the money on a credit card prior to the job, said Willingham. Models are paid the same day.
He said some models are represented by modeling agencies, and others come directly to the site. Those with agents generally work out a deal with their agencies. “A lot of models are with agencies. They want to control their own careers,” he said. The models decide what their hourly and day rates are, and clients can propose rates as well. Once a model gets paid, Agent takes 5 percent from the client, and 10 percent from the model — much less than a professional modeling agency arrangement. There is no cost to the model to be listed.
Willingham said the key industries he’s dealing with include advertising and marketing agencies; wine and spirits; trade shows and events, and photographers.
Willingham pointed out that annual modeling industry revenues in the U.S. are in excess of $1.4 billion, with the top four agencies accounting for less than 20 percent of these bookings. The remaining bookings are shared across 6,500 small agencies that average only two employees each. That’s the part his company is targeting. He said Agent is initially focused on the “long-tail” of the U.S. modeling industry, which represents about $1.2 billion in annual bookings — and that includes photo shoots for local and regional brands, trade shows, corporate events, promotions, fashion shows and other commercial-related jobs.
With so much going on about sexual misconduct in the photography/modeling industry, keeping the models safe is a priority of the business. “If people don’t behave, they’re banned from the platform,” he said.
The site has an “Agent Assist” 24/7 so if a model finds herself in an uncomfortable position, she can engage the app, and it will ping an emergency contact, providing GPS coordinates and walking through the steps to send help. He said they are also using awareness and education tools so models know what to do if they’re made to feel uncomfortable. Willingham said throughout the industry, over 90 percent of all models have suffered some form of sexual harassment or coercion “and that’s not acceptable.”
Prior to joining Agent, Willingham was the Northern Hemisphere president of Brazilian high-fashion brand Carmen Steffens. Before that he spent six years as vice president of marketing at HeyAnita, a voice recognition and mobile messaging software company. His partners, Dustin Diaz worked for such companies as Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Medium, Change.org, and lastly Mix.com where he co-founded the company with Uber cofounder Garrett Camp, and Ashley St. Claire, who studied at General Assembly and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
To date, Agent has received several million dollars in seed round funding from strategic and traditional investors. The company will soon be raising a Series A round.