Has anyone used TopTal.com?

I’ve used oDesk/elance/UpWork a few times in the past and the first stage is always the frustrating process of weeding out all the totally unsuitable applicants, most of whom haven’t even scanned over your carefully crafted job spec and apply to jobs with the blunderbuss approach.

I stumbled across TolTal.com and like the idea of their USP which is they pre-screen members to ‘the top 3%(obviously a bit of a marketing phrase - but lets not get hung up on that the key is that they do some pre-screening it will down on the Muppet factor).

(They also seem to do some filtering on the Clients which is a good thing too as I’ve seen some outrageously vague jobs posted on the more traditional sites).

  • Has anyone used them (either as a Client or a Freelancer)?
  • How do they make their money? (I can’t seem to find out, guessing its a % of what you pay freelancer but no obvious fixed %).

Crew seems to be very similar.

I haven’t heard of TopTal.com, but I’m also keen to hear of upwork alternatives. I lost respect for Upwork recently, when they dramatically increased fees a year after buying out their biggest competitor.

Yup. And cut rates for contractors (at least those coming from elance).


I tentatively call BS.

If you remove all the marketing fluff, TT is just a recruiting agency. There are thousands of them around, and each claims they have the best of the best.

(I myself get work via agencies so I approximately know the market)

To retain really best of the best, they’d have to pay their developers at least 10% above the going rate, which would price them too high comparing to other competitors and kept their contractors off work.

But if they do not pay 10% more, then the contractors do not have an incentive to work only for them, and you can get the same contractors in any other recruiting agency. Literally same people – because contractors are not legally bound to work for TT or any other agency until they land them a contract with a client.

All TT did is advertise themselves to smaller businesses that usually do not consider to work with agencies. Mixergy, for instance, is full of their message.

And of course TT would be in a very different price range comparing to Upwork. At Upwork I can get a very good guy at 20-30-40 dollars/hr. An agency will give you the same-quality guy from 80 to 150. (And if it’s below that, those are not Top Talent ™).

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Typically agency doesn’t disclose their margin even to the contractors (especially to contractors), but it goes from up to 30% in initial term (3-6mo) to as low as 5% after a considerable time (~2 years), i.e. the contractor rate grows over time. Those 5% is usually the price that the client company pays to protect itself from IRS/CRA considering the contractor an employee, and for payroll services.

Shouldn’t it increase your respect for them?

That’s the most common mantra around here and everywhere – “increase your prices!”.

How could they do that? Contractor on Upwork set their rate themselves.

Do you mean they increased the fees? Well, that’s the same thing as @SteveMcLeod unhappy about. There is only one fee, as far as I remember.

Crew actually looks much better. It is a kind of elite community.

As long as they have a high original quality and a high barrier to enter, it can be a very good source for finding a designer.

Yeah, sorry, that’s what I meant.

I agree. Out of curiosity, I signed up and passed the test but the test was retarded. It was some hackerrank thing.

I chose not to continue with the process.

I haven’t used TopTal but i’ve heard good things about them. I do know a couple of developers who have found work through it and also speak well about them. It’s kind of a “quality developers on demand” agency, and used mostly in big companies and such. This means, they’re expensive, like any other agency really. See their FAQ.

All agencies are work for big companies only exclusively. This is because the cost of finding a developer is high.

TT maybe is trying to create an image of exclusivity in the minds of the developers, so they do not have to constantly look for developers – developers would flock to them themselves, take their ridiculous tests and feel themselves special when they are admitted into the temple. Great cost savings for TT!

Actually, the model is not new. Google used the same tactics when they spread the stories how hard their interviews are and how only the best of the best of the best get hired - despite their tests were in fact pretty stupid.


@SteveMcLeod I assume you are in Spain. There are many good developers available locally for a reasonable rate. Try monster.com, searching for candidates (be clear on contracting). Most of them are not on upwork.

I looked at a few blog posts by Toptal to get an idea of what they want.

The same crap trick questions, useless trivia and stuff you’d normally Google. Basically, what everyone else is doing. I dont see how they can claim to hire the top 3%, when they are reading the same textbook as everyone.

Besides, the whole premise of sites like this is wrong. They check for Computer Science knowledge. In one of the discussions threads on this forum, @rachelandrew (who hires a lot of freelancers) said the problem isn’t finding bright programmers who know how useless trivia, but finding who are reliable, communicate well, and show up to do the work.

Not a technical problem at all.

I’ve never used TopTal (or any other agency for that matter, since I’m a freelancer myself that finds my own clients), so obviously don’t have any insider information, but here’s my impression. If you listen to Mixergy, TopTal is a big sponsor, and also their founder has done an interview on there. They claim that they have a really great interview process (their secret sauce) to find talented developers. From what I’ve read in blog posts from people who have gone through it, it sounds rigorous, but in a very annoying, time-wasting way. However, that’s typical of a lot of big tech companies these days (so if they’re similar to, say, Google, in recruiting, is that a bad thing? Maybe not from your perspective). My personal opinion is that those methods will weed out both good and bad developers. I would probably fail those interviews, but my clients can’t get enough of my time at an above market rate - I’m a good communicator and deliver quality, on time, but I haven’t studied a CS textbook in over a decade and don’t do well at riddles. I also could not be bothered to do a multi-day, multi-phase, multi-project/homework recruitment process unless I’m being paid significantly for it. I’m no unicorn - there are lots of developers like that out there.

One thing that I think TopTal has going for it, is you pay a lot more than those other sites. The few freelancers that I’ve read that work through them claim they are making more than their market rate when on their own (which may say more about those freelancers than the market). However, generally, the saying that you “get what you pay for” is true. There will be exceptions, but if you’re paying $100-150+/hr for a developer, they will either deliver or you will cut them loose quickly, because of the high bar set by the rate. With a $40/hr developer, it’s much easier to let them drag on because of the low expectations set by the rate. So I’m not really recommending TopTal, but I do think that in general finding a freelancer with a higher rate will tend to be some insurance that they’ll deliver. I am, of course, highly biased in this respect, but I’m not soliciting my services (I’m actually trying to reduce my freelancing workload to dedicate more time to bootstapping!).

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My friend from Eastern Europe worked there as a freelancer and his rate was $25/h despite TopTal was taking about $60 from his clients.

Their recruiting process is mostly solving algorithm-based problems on Codility and then some watching of your screen while you code a simple task. I’d say there’s nothing great about it.

Most of the developers outside of the US work for this or lower rates. I have lots of friends who work for $20-35/h on Upwork and they’re very good developers. The average rate for developers from ex-USSR countries is $22/h (Payoneer stats from 2014 or so).

I started on Upwork for $14/h for the first months despite having 6+ years of experience because it was too hard to get a higher rate offer without reviews. Now my rate there is $50/h and I don’t “drag”, it’s just my location that makes me not a good option for $100/h when you can hire a local.

I read a blog post from a Canadian developer (where I also hail from), he claimed he was being paid above what he could do as a salaried developer, which given his city I presume would be in the $100 CAD range. So I expect TopTal is savvy about how much to pay depending on region.

Note that I never said that a freelancer with a low rate is necessarily a bad developer. Rate is but one of many signals, but generally speaking, the higher the rate, the higher the quality and also the higher the bar of expectation.

I’ve worked with many overseas developers and (surprise, surprise) just like everywhere else there are good and bad. Where I see it come back and bite people is they don’t factor in the communication portion, which is huge, especially for a customer that doesn’t really know what they want/need. Again, there are offshore, low-rate developers with good communications skills, but that’s basically searching for a diamond in the rough, and when you find one you hope they don’t discover how valuable they really are…

That’s great progress you’ve made. And yeah, I totally realize the privilege some of us have (myself included) based on our location. I don’t have to resort to sites like upwork (and to be honest, it would not be feasible for me to compete in that race to the bottom) and find my clients directly. Those kind of clients, with more trust and less anonymity, are much likelier to pay higher rates. However, I understand that in certain locations, those kind of clients do not exist or are very rare indeed.

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I’m from Canada too, and my rate is also above $100, and my agency takes extra $5. Why would I need TopTal?

Oh right… I must be not from the top 3% developers… that explains! :smiley:

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