The Future of Work: the evolution of labor marketplaces

Operating in the labor / outsourcing space for almost 10 years now (first with an offline business and then online) this is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and in many ways have been part of its evolution. What does the Future of Work look like? In this post my aim is to highlight the trends that I think will shape it versus the applications and solutions it will manifest itself in.

  1. The West-East playing field will level out

The outsourcing industry has its origin in the labor rate arbitrage between developed and developing economies. The first labor marketplaces like Elance & Odesk were in essence online versions of the Wipros & Infosys’ of this world, connecting businesses in the more developed Western economies with cheaper labor where it was abundant in the East, mainly in IT services. They emerged to piggy back on the newly minted IT industries in India in the 90s.

That rate arbitrage is narrowing today as the economies of India & China and other emerging markets are growing faster than the West inflating prices (including that of labor) and hence closing the gap.

Secondly, as these economies mature they start developing a middle class and an SMB (Small & Medium Sized Businesses) sector – the backbone in any economy that’s the essential channel for distribution of wealth downward from the gorillas at the top of the food chain – the big corporations and national institutions.

Much like those gorillas, these SMBs turn to the west to adopt some of the best practices that have matured over decades. The ‘freelance consultant’ is to those SMBs what the McKinseys of this world and the Harvard MBA franchise has been to the gorrilas at the top. They hire them to help with the things they are weakest in, from basics  like writing sales and marketing collateral, design & UI, to business management advice social media marketing and so on.

PeoplePerHour.com was founded largely on this premise. From the start we focused on nurturing a freelance workforce in the West which is still over 70% of our total. Most of hiring happens ‘semi-locally’ (i.e. not onsite , the work sill gets done remotely, but in same geographic region) or from companies in the emerging economies  hiring talent in Europe or the US.

As I argued in a previous post I also believe that this may well be the rebirth or the once might export economy of Western nations.  With manufacturing on the decline and unable to compete with lower cost economies in the East, the next wave of exports may well be skills and services that are more in abundance in the West and scarcer in emerging markets, the gap being bridged by the emergence and growth of online labor marketplaces.

  1. Marketplaces 3.0: the rise of End-to-End (e2e) solutions

We are entering what I believe is the third generation of marketplaces. The ‘1.0’ era was all about liquidity (Craiglist). ‘2.0’ was about building trust via reputation systems, social validation (eBay, Airbnb, Etsy) to help in the discovery process as inventory exploded making discovery more challenging. Now, ‘3.0’ is making discovery redundant or unnecessary altogether (you don’t interview your taxi driver on Uber or Lyft and equally you don’t select your tasker on SuperTasker). These are what have been termed e2e solutions, going deeper at both ends – supply & demand – to remove friction in the experience.

continue reading »

An example of the worst possible service you can get – complements of Best Buy Inc.

I rarely slag of companies in public but this experience has been so appalling I feel the need to share it with the world

I recently move apartments so on September 4rd I duly commissioned GeekSquad (a subsidiary of BestBuy) for the second time (repeat customer no less!) to come and install my projector in my new place. I should mention this is a pretty heavy piece of kit, quite a high end spec that cost me over $4000

The GeekSquad team arrives. With ATTITUDE I should add. From the start one guy was constantly winging about how X or Y or Z was not mentioned in the work order. IT WAS. And I know that because I had the same issue last time so this time I itemized everything in granular detail. I even sent them the full spec, the amazon receipt and the whole shebang. They even mentioned that I had to move my own furniture around as they are prohibited to move other people’s stuff. Question: how the hell do you get a projector on the ceiling without moving something? Including the projector! Idiots. That’s already my equipment.

I left them to it and was unpacking other things to filter out their winging. A few minutes later I hear a loud BANG! One of the two idiots (they share a brain cell between them at best and that’s on a good day!) dropped the thing on the floor and smashed it.

Fair enough. Mistakes happen. I tried to keep upbeat as they reassured me I would soon get a call from their insurance to ‘sort it out’. Mean time their manager – another incompetent idiot called Miguel – called me to tell me the next steps. The only issue was – he didn’t know what they were! He told me he would find out and call me back

In the end they left me with an Insurance claim number and went their way.

The sequence of events that ensued is just a comedy. And this is just the summary:

continue reading »

What to watch out for when raising funding

I was recently interviewed by Jonathan Mules at the FT on  what our key lessons have been in fundraising for PeoplePerHour. They are shared in this piece attached below which was published earlier this week. Entrepreneurs often embark on fundraising not realizing that there is a serious downside to raising too much capital or being too hyped. In fact there is an inverse correlation between the amount of money raised and the level of success  – refreshingly honest advice coming from one of the most prominent VC’s in New York, Fred Wilson. He also once said “if you want to be a hyped business you gotta live with the consequences” which I couldn’t agree more, yet most entrepreneurs in the heat of the moment will consistently ignore that advice. This can make or break a business depending on what the terms of the deal are, and how much grit and tenacity the entrepreneurs posses.  It’s a true test of a business and ones personality.  I share my lessons here.

The trouble with too much seed capital – FT

3 Defining qualities of great entrepreneurial leaders

http://upstart.bizjournals.com/resources/advice/2014/09/18/3-defining-qualities-of-great-entrepreneurial.html

Great leaders may possess a myriad of attributes, not the least of which are intelligence, charisma and natural charm. All of these things matter. However, you can be a great leader and not be naturally charming or very intelligent. In my time at PeoplePerHour I’ve learned a lot about leadership. I have come to the conclusion that there are three key attributes a great leader must have.

Vision

The ability to amass a great team, motivate and inspire them is plain useless if you don’t have a clear vision of where you need to go. Leadership is first about seeing the future and then about being able to figure out a feasiblepath to get there. It’s seeing the iceberg before the Titanic hits it and taking fast and decisive action.

It’s doing the one right thing rather than doing many things right. It’s being different, not following the herd, being controversial, and seeing what others don’t see. It’s having a nose for what’s coming and the eyes and ears to react before others do. Without vision, you can empower people all you like but you won’t get anywhere. You’ll have a following but no direction. You may make a great motivational coach, but not a leader. Every difficult situation needs a visionary leader to point the way and make a tough decision.

Influence

Once you have a clear vision (but only then), you need a sting following. That requires the power of influence. Whether you are in an existing leadership situation or the creator of a group, this is very hard thing to do. In either case, you are new to the situation and the odds are against you. Why should people trust someone new? The vast majority of people are resistant to change, no matter the odds. In order to fulfill any grand vision, you need to drive change. Otherwise you are just a puppet master holding the strings waiting for the show to end.

Influence people across the board — explain to employees the benefit of leaving secure jobs and come join you; convince investors to give you money at the very beginning, get customers and fans to support you, your bank manager to give you an overdraft, your landlord to give you a lease and rent-free period; and your wife to put up with sleepless nights, cold sweats and no pay. Carry that burden of influence with you. If you go down, you take more people with you than yesterday.

Courage

The third element is the most challenging. You’ve clarified a vision and built a following by charming, coercing, schmoozing…ultimately influencing enough people. After all this work, you realize that it’s only day one. Now you have your boat (more like a raft) and your compass. But you still need to cross the ocean. This is the final and true test of great leadership. It ultimately comes down to courage. Intelligence and knowledge are advantages of course, but without courage they are wasted.

Courage alone could and would get you there, albeit slower and with more pain. So the key question is: Do you have the courage to keep going when everyone tells you to turn back; to know you’re right when everyone says you’re wrong; to stick to your instincts when people call you crazy; to carry other people’s weight when they fall; to set the tempo and beat the drum despite how tired you may be? It’s your job to keep people together when they are drifting apart and losing faith, to give them courage but not false hope, to let go of some to save many, and to weather the storm but not bask in the sunlight when it ends — because it never does.

Vision and influence will make you a well equipped captain. But courage is what gets you there. On the other hand, courage alone makes you a fighter without a cause. You may be good at creating lots of noise, but to paraphrase Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”: that’s just “the noise before defeat.”

 

facebook_photo-4
facebook_photo (3)-3
facebook_photo (2)-2
facebook_photo (1)-1

The future of marketplaces

Marketplaces are some of the hardest businesses to build (as our own testimony at PeoplePerHour shows). They are complex beasts with lots of moving parts, the parts need constant tweaking and polishing, and the sum of the parts – when they are put together properly – is greater than the whole (the ‘network effect’). It takes a lot of hard work, analysis, creativity and most of all persistence to get to what’s commonly called ‘critical mass’. But once you do marketplaces are some of the most defensible and beautiful businesses.continue reading »