Reflections on 2017

 

Once again, albeit perhaps more than any other, serendipity was the champion of my year, and its ultimate driving force. A chance visit from someone I’d never met before – Andy – to our Athens office for a day’s consultation ended up him joining us later in the year as Chief Operating Officer and driving so much positive change in the company and hopefully much more to come (note: I was not looking for a COO); a chance meeting with the hilarious and formidable Rob Lynch  @Ko_Lynch aka the ‘Robbinator’ back in May made me get back into boxing & Muay Thai training which I’m now totally addicted to, doing daily and even twice daily lately, feeling so much better for it (aside of losing 13kg and getting back into shape); a chance meeting with a random guy in a brasserie in Paris one weekend yielded a new friendship with a fellow entrepreneur who later invited me to his fabulous Christmas party in Brussels which I duly attended; and a very last minute invite to a group trip to Cuba back in February with a bunch of people I’d never met before, from all different walks of life and age groups,  which I impulsively attended, has been the bedrock for numerous new friendships, with truly amazing people with whom I now share cherished memories both during that trip and after.

 

All a derivate of chance.

With the Cuba gang @ Habanos national festival, Havana, Cuba. Feb 2017

 

These are just some of the serendipitous stories that stand out in 2017. Every year that goes by, I learn again and again, in an increasingly refreshing and enlightening fashion, the importance of just being ‘tuned in’, to have your ‘receivers’ on when seemingly random events happen, because catching – or missing – any one of these chance occurrences can, and will, change your life.

 

Everything happens for a reason – I truly believe this, and more so every year that passes. But we only live to realise it if we are tuned in enough to grasp that chance moment. People whose lives are not influenced by chance are simply those who let it pass by them unnoticed. Who don’t grasp the moment.

 

Following our instincts when life just rolls the dice at us makes all the difference. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than following a ‘grand plan’. As one of my favourite quotes goes: “life is what happens to you when others are busy planning it.” Especially in my personal life, I never was a big fan of grand planning. I just go with it.

 

2017 began on the beautiful mountains of Courchevel, France and ended in Tokyo, Japan, from where I then went for a few days of amazing fresh powders skiing in Hokkaido. My trip to Japan truly changed my outlook on the world. The extreme order, the discipline, the addictive hospitality, the cleanliness, the sincerity of the people, and of course the insanely delicious food. On top of all that, skiing in Hokkaido set a new standard altogether. Despite skiing as a kid in numerous places in Europe and America, I’ve never experience this kind of alpine skiing in light powder snow, which gives you the sensation of simply floating in nature amongst white picturesque landscape and spectacularly winding terrain. The whole thing was just another level to anything I’d experienced to date.

 

Below are some of my fav pics from that trip.

Beautiful snowy landscape, Alpine skiing in Hokkaido, Japan.

So much fresh light powder.. never experienced anything like this!

 

Tokyo in the morning, view from my hotel room.

Outside one of the 80 Buddhist temples in Tokyo

Prayers road, Fukagawa Temple, Tokyo

 

In between those far flung places my year was characterised by unusually little travel compared to past years. Particularly in the autumn months I deliberately wanted to stay put in one place, regroup with myself, get into a regular routine and focus on the things that matter to me the moat: my work, friends, family, health, fitness and, much less than I’d have liked to, my Art.

 

Work-wise, in the year where the company I founded impulsively as a whimsical experiment  a decade ago- PeoplePerHour.com –  turned ten, we had our best year to date by a long way, both financially but also operationally. We surpassed the $100m mark in payouts to freelancers on our site which are now scattered pretty much in every country in the world, we built the team considerably across our two main hubs, London (where the commercial centre resides) and Athens (where the technical team is mostly bases), did some painful but much needed rejigging and consolidation of functions, launched our Enterprise product TalentDesk.io and signed on our first corporate clients, and more importantly, had some really fun moments on the way.

 

In October, almost a month after our actual birthday, we had a great 10th celebration with a very vibrant and passionate community present, sharing stories which inspired us all and will carry on doing so for years to come. I gave a short talk at our celebration to reflect on some of the highlights of that decade-long journey which you can watch here.

 

Later in the year we had two amazing Christmas lunches, one for each of our offices, involving copious amounts of food and drinks.  The pictures speak for themselves

 

London core team lunch at the Smoking Goat in Soho

Athens team lunch + dinner in one 🙂 .. death by meat! @ Steki tou Hlia (translation: Hlias’s hangout.. not Google hangout, the other type ! )

 

I find these team outings very important, not just enjoyable and fun, even if they do sometimes get out of hand 🙂 They preserve our family spirit and ensure we don’t become a corporate machine as we grow. I do hope we keep doing them and never turn into that corporate gorilla.  My 10 years at PeoplePerHour have seen me go through a lot of  scarring lows – and highs of course  but it’s the lows that truly test  you and end up making you thick skinned, tough and immune to most things.  They numb your senses to a point of healthy indifference and give you a great filter to what truly matters and what doesn’t. You develop a bullet-proof shield almost that gives you the armour and stamina to keep carrying on,  undeterred, untethered. After a decade in the trenches (plus 4 years prior to that dabbling at various other entrepreneurial ventures) I think there’s little I can’t take on the chin and plough through; apart from maybe corporate bureaucracy. The day that happens may be my last. I hope it never comes.

 

Investment wise, I wasn’t as active e as I’d like to have been in the year, investing only in a few  start-ups: VillageLuxe,  Stagedoor and my sisters fashion startup Snazzy. All three consumer internet / mobile businesses appealing to niche verticals that have the potential to be a big niche. More importantly I am a big believer in all three founders,  Julia, Michael and Stefani respectively, whose passion and dedication will help charge through the inevitable road-bumps in their journey.

 

Equally for Art. Despite getting a studio at the end of 2016 I didn’t manage to spend enough time in it in 2017 as I’d like to. I intend to do more so in 2018. Still, I managed to complete a dozen or so new paintings, my favourites being the ones below. I’m particularly happy I rediscovered Oils towards the end of the year, and rekindled my love for them. I intend to do more Oil paintings  – or a mix between Acrylic and Oils – in 2018.

 

Acrylic on primed linen

Acrylic and Oil on unprimed linen

3-piece, acrylic on unprimed linen.

Acrylic and Oil collage on canvas

Acrylic on primed linen

Acrylic on primed lined

Another key lesson of 2017 for me, as obvious as it may sound, is that you cannot, you cannot, overinvest in yourself. Whether it’s your fitness, health, knowledge, attaining new skills, developing your hobbies or passions, or travelling which in itself is an education, every dime and hour spent will come back to you tenfold. I intend to do more of that in 2018. More educational / adventure travel,  more training and broader in nature, more reading and working on myself in general, more cooking which I’m passionate for, and Art. My next two adventure trips (still unplanned) will likely be staying in a training camp in Thailand to train with Muay Thai professional boxers, and later on do another safari which I dearly miss, this time to see Gorillas in the wild, probably in Uganda. I can’t wait!

 

My other goals for 2018 are to spend more time forging real connections with special people, and conversely spending less time with a lot of the ’empty’ people  that inevitably, and quite sadly, surround us. Doing some solo travelling at the end of the year (very therapeutic!) I’ve realised how many of those people exist in our surrounding (or at least mine), people who simply suck your energy, people who like to take but don’t offer anything back; who see the glass half-empty, constantly whinge, constantly complain, constantly point fingers at everyone else instead of looking at themselves, people who are never at fault, have no inkling of selflessness  or grandeur in them; they’re self-absorbed, often jealous  of others in malicious ways, and who have this unjustified sense of entitlement that’s almost God-given to them.  They’re unhappy, confuse sarcasm for humour, typically small-minded and expend their and your energy on optimising things that in the grander scheme of things just don’t matter.

 

I was never fond of this breed of people, but may have over-tolerated them in my life, either due to procrastination,  empathy, sympathy even, or just laziness in doing anything about it.

 

As the year turned  I confess that a  switch flicked in my head. I cant, and don’t want to, tolerate this negativity in my life any longer. Life is too short. It sounds bad given that we are, after all, talking about people, but once every so often we do need a ‘clean up’ in our lives. Unfortunately.

 

Conversely, time and time again I’ve found that building deeper connection with people who amplify, instead of drain,  your energy, people who see the big picture, don’t micro-optimise, are generous, giving, open-minded, true optimists with a big heart,  who are happy for you when you do well instead of jealous and malicious; people who never whinge, who don’t criticise you behind your back, who always see the positive in every situation, who give credit to others and put themselves last; who listen and don’t just talk, who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are not too highly strung and brittle,  who have a sense of humour, who don’t feel the need to always have the last word, make the wittiest remark and be the seemingly smartest person in the room… those people may be few and far between but they  are like gold-dust in our lives.

 

Find them, stay close to them, cherish them. F*ck the rest.

 

I’m particularly happy that in 2017 I’ve been asked to be Godfather for the second time (the first being my beautiful niece Athena) to my dear friend’s Alastair and Masha’s gorgeous son Bertrand, and later in the year to be best man (also for the second tome) to a dear friend of mine’s  Artemi and Ana’s (hopefully) upcoming wedding. Both are great honours and deepen those deep bonds I have with each of those four dear people in my life. Thanks folks, you’ve made my year!

Betrand (Godson) the day after he was born!

Work-wise, I hope the team will stay as bonded and gelled as it is today, or even more. Never in my 10 years have I felt that bond stronger and it’s something I’m most proud of. Only when really talented people come together with unselfish agendas and collectively outperform their individual talents and capacities, can great things happen.

 

That’s the magic of bonded teamwork.  I believe we are in that position now and I can’t wait for the years ahead to see what we, working as a team, cook up and achieve together.

 

Last but certainly not least, I’m glad and grateful that I managed to spend more time with my family in 2017. Even though my parents travel less these days, I have done 3 trips to Dubai where’s they’re based as well as Cyprus for Christmas. I look forward to doing more of that in 2018.

 

Me and my niece in Dubai

The Reservoir Dogs 🙂 La Familia.. apart from my sister Stef (who was in Cy at the time) and sister-in-law Anna (the photographer)

Me and my niece & Goddaugher Athy in Dubai 🙂

The more good fortune life brings my way the more I realise that without close friends, family and people you’re passionate for, be it at work or outside, to share it with, it truly is meaningless.

 

Wishing you all a great 2018, love, prosperity, peace and happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oil on Acrylic on linen…in love with colour and texture :)

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My interview on CNBC

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10 years and counting!

Yesterday my little baby – PeoplePerHour.com – turned 10. I almost can’t believe that this little experiment that I started a decade ago as a scapegoat from my previous business, knowing nothing about the online or tech world, is now 10 years old, and a growing, profitable and thriving business serving over 2 million users all over the world. It’s just surreal to me.

 

This has been a journey of a lifetime, and one which would not have been possible without the great people that I’ve been so lucky to encounter along the way who showed faith in us. My amazing team, our awesome and passionate community, our investors, my parents first and foremost who trusted in me and were my first investors, our partners and stakeholders. Thank you all for making this journey possible

 

Any milestone we hit, no less a grand one such as this makes me reflect back on all that’s happened. There are way too many stories to cite here, but some that stand out are: fighting bailiffs out of our offices twice when we couldn’t make rent, an intern literally just disappearing one day after lunch (as soon as he got his pay-check coincidentally) without saying a word or answering calls which forced us to call the police, someone starting to break-dance in an interview (yes this  happened!), a new hire turning up completely off-her-face drunk on her first day after lunch break, paying people a fiver to sit in the office pretending they work for us so that we look bigger when a major broadcast station (no names just google it J) turned up for a TV interview which got broadcast on the 6 o’clock news (as they say you ‘gotta fake it till you make it’ :)…to the moment when we turned our first month’s profit  in November 2013   – one month ahead of our target – and I just felt like the  whole world’s  weight just dropped off my shoulders. That was a moment of bliss, as were many more to follow.

 

As I told my team yesterday in a short talk before we did cake and champagne, mainly two things still get me out of bed every morning 10 years in.

 

First, knowing that what we do actually makes a difference. We deeply share this belief that the freelance economy mattes. As our mission statement says, it empowers people to live their dream of being financially independent, working freely, when they want, for whom they want, from wherever they want,   for as long as they want, earning as much as they can without being capped by corporate beaurocracy and politics, doing what they love, and not being tied down by the 9-5 corporate machine.

 

Years ago when I sat down to think about a mission statement – normally no small feat – I actually didn’t have to think at all. I just recited that very testimonial that we heard so many times again and again, in writing and in person, almost word for word, from both our Buyers and Sellers as if they all conspired together to come up with one: because of PPH I was able to build my entire business from the ground up, be my own boss and financially independent. Thank You!

 

Doing something that matters means a lot to all of us at PPH. We are not in business JUST to make money – although that is a goal too, no denial – but in doing so we make the world a better place. We have a mission and a purpose that’s grander than our own. That matters to me a lot because I want the organisation we are building with so much toil to outlive us all. I’m a true believer that selfish organisations have a limited lifespan, no matter how much money they make in that lifespan. Eventually the world catches up on then. Purpose-driven organisations on the other hand outlive their people and their leaders.  It’s as If that purpose takes on a life of its own, it becomes this unstoppable force that transcends above all else, it makes them independent, fool-proof and unstoppable.

 

I’ve always been of the philosophy that given a choice I’d rather have a smaller business today that lives forever than a large one that dies tomorrow. We are in business for the long term.

 

Purpose has another benefit. It gives you tail wind that allows for a lot more screw ups and mistakes – something that people just starting off in business like I did will inevitably make  lots of, as I did. An organasation without a purpose needs to execute with surgical precision, it cannot afford any mistakes.  Having a strong purpose on the other hand buys you empathy from all around you and gives you momentum to march through your screw ups. People WANT you to succeed because you make the world a little bit better.

 

Secondly – to why I get out of bed every morning – I believe that we are still on Day 1 of this new phenomenon. The freelance economy is still at its infancy in terms of adoption at the business end in particular. Whilst statistics show that 1 in 3 people do some sort of side ‘gig’, only ca 3% of it is done digitally and only a small percentage of businesses (most of which are at the at the smaller nimbler end of the spectrum) do it systematically. In other words, whilst the supply and desire to work more flexibly exists, and whilst the benefits of cost, flexibility, reach of talent, diversity, are unquestionable, it still hasn’t gone mainstream.

 

We see our job at PPH to build products and services that will make that happen. And that’s what we are doing.

 

Yesterday’s tenth birthday coincided with the soft launch of our newest baby, a product that will allow the adoption of freelance working and Flexible Talent Management (which we acronymed FTM) at scale for larger Enterprises. TalentDesk.io takes all the learning we have amassed over the last decade from serving hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized business (which in many ways are much harder to please than larger organisations), all the honed IP and know-how, and gift-wraps it for the Enterprise. We spoke to businesses that employ thousands of people versus tens of people (which is the PPH end of the market), and tailored the on-boarding, procurement, discovery, project management and payment workflow end-to-end to work seamlessly for them. At scale.

 

We have no doubt that TalentDesk.io will be a success, but more importantly, even if it weren’t, it’s another step towards our long term strategy. Another hill-top toward the mountain-peak. Which is to be the innovator in the space, investing in creating an innovation engine that churns out new products that serve different segments of this burgeoning yet still infant ecosystem that has the power to be a game-changer for businesses large and small.

 

Studies conducted by McKinsey, PwC and other consistently cite forecasts that in the next decade or two over half of the talent in organisations will work flexibly.  Studies that we conducted internally working with research bodies such as the University of Westminster show that over half of the working population (from 30% today) will be freelancers in one capacity or another by 2020.

 

If we succeed in our longer term goal, those people will be using products designed and launched by us. That’s what I obsess about all day, every day, for a decade already, and I don’t plan to stop until it becomes reality.

 

Lastly, 10 years in, I feel as proud as ever to be surrounded by such an amazing team. From people like Tom my first Engineering hire and Spyros my CTO who’ve been with us almost from the very start – 9 and 7 years year’s respectively! WOW (thanks for putting up with me folks)-  to people who even joined the last year alone yet elevated the business to a different level, making it so much more of a pleasure to get to work every morning and march on towards making that mission a reality. Super intelligent and highly qualified people who literally could get a job anywhere, choose to work with us fostering a culture of collaboration, passion, creativity, openness, ideation, but equally discipline, precision on execution, focus and accountability.

 

Folks, thanks for trusting in our purpose and being part of it. Salute to many more years to come.

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Colour is liberation! Creations of a rainy August Saturday morning

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This is what that gets me out of bed every morning!

I’ve always said that doing a job that has no sense of real purpose would have me disinterested in a day (or less!). No matter the sum of money it would earn me, doing work that’s ultimately a zero-sum game, that doesn’t create value, that doesn’t create something more from something less, to me,. that kind of work is totally uninspiring.

Yet never in my wildest dreams did I expect that the company i started almost 10 years ago would have such a profound impact on peoples’ lives. This  below is just one email from one of the millions of users on PeoplePerHour.com that happened to come my way, addressed to Yannick our CMO. It just put a big smile on my face and reminded me that, all the success aside, what we do actually MATTERS.

 

Hey Yannick

Thank you a lot for your prompt response. I know everyone has a unique story to share and I’m nothing more, but another human on his journey on this planet (existential stuff, I know), but I do firmly believe that my take on freelancing is quite different. 

I’ve started out freelancing since I was 16 and I’ve build my whole entire career online (even dropped out of college) … my skillset and everything I’ve learned is from experience .. Today, I even help businesses at times as a consultant .. not to mention that I’m a content creator and writer. 

That being said, I’m also planning to write up a few tips/tricks/guides/thought pieces/etc. to contribute to your blog and to help both clients and freelancers on the platform, but currently I can’t allocate the time to do so. I will definitely contact you/Kelly in the future with such ideas and ready-to-go articles. 

What’s more, here in Bulgaria people aren’t aware of the amazing opportunities that freelancing presents both individuals and companies. Part of my vision for the next few years is helping Bulgarians be more aware of what online freelancing truly is. 

I’m sorry for the over-sharing long message, I just wanted to state that I’m a freelancer at heart and I push towards the dream that the gig-economy is the future. 

I also want to express my deepest gratitude towards you and the whole team at PPH, as joining the platform was a completely transformative experience for me. I stopped being the random low-paid worker I was on other platforms and instead became the professional I always striven to be. 

I love the fact that PPH takes care not only of the clients, but of the freelancers as well. On other platforms, I’ve had the experience of being a worker bee among thousand worker bees. Here I feel like a professional, who offers their services to clients that also have a respect towards the work you provide them with. Here I feel surrounded by professionals, whether established or up-and-coming. I love the community and I love the positive-ness of the blog as well. Constantly featuring stories to motivate us and having this platform that helps you become your better professional self, while presenting you with new career opportunities is truly an amazing thing. 

Again, sorry for the long message and thank you for the prompt answer. 

I wish you the best in your future as well and know that by being part of PPH you are not only helping thousand of individuals around the world in different ways, but also helping shape the future of what a ‘career’ means. 

Thank you and have a great week ahead, 
Ivan D. Ivanov

 

Thanks to my wonderful team for making this a reality – this is because of our collective effort and hard work. Be proud! Together we’ve put a small dent on the universe. And it will only keep getting bigger.

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