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.
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.
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.
I started PeoplePerHour.com in a basement in London back in 2007. I had no idea – even in our wildest dreams – that a few years later we would be serving 1.5 million people across 150 countries and be the source of inspiration, financial freedom and independence for so many people the world over. To date we’ve matched close to a million freelance projects with Small & Medium sized companies all over the world, across disciplines such as design, software development, web building, but also translations, data entry and administrative services. Freelancers on our platform, or ‘GiGsters’ as some call them today, have earned over 100 Million Euros to date from us, and growing
It’s been a journey blessed by good fortune, a roller-coaster of emotion, a tonne of mistakes from which we learnt from, a lot of laughter, some tears, intense pain at times and great fun at others; all mixed in with a good pinch of faith and luck. Somehow, nine years on, we are still here!
Least of all we never expected to have – by 2016 – the vast majority of our team based out of Athens, Greece. Without that admittedly the company could not have survived. So how did we end up in that situation?
It all started in 2010. Just after we raised our Series A funding round and the first amount from Venture Capitalists (Index Venture) to a tune of c.a. 8m Euros, we needed to expand rapidly. Which in our line of business means hiring more engineers to develop and improve the PeoplePerHour platform. UK at the time was deep in recession, as was Europe, and the startup culture hadn’t yet caught up to the levels it is today. We simply struggled to convince risk-averse people to leave secure jobs to come work for a startup of 4-5 people in a basement.
One cold yet sunny Saturday morning in early December, just after we closed the funding round, I was having my usual Sumatran roast coffee pot walking around my flat pondering how to buck this trend when I got on the phone to a good old friend of mine, Spyros in Athens. Spyros at the time was running a small web shop in Athens and coincidentally was also my first outside investor in my previous company (which pivoted into PPH in 2007). Within minutes he told me he could find me 10 -15 engineers by March. Incredulous as I may have been back then, he delivered on the promise.
I caught up with a good friend of mine for brunch this weekend who is also building a tech company. We’ve both been at it for roughly the same amount of time and our businesses are roughly at similar stages.
We discussed the craziness that’s happening in today’s startup landscape with valuation off the roof and companies allegedly achieving hundreds of millions in run-rate revenues within 12 months. We’re both in it for the longer term, building long lasting, value adding businesses in growing markets, that deliver products and services people find useful (or useful enough to pay for!). Which in todays world makes us sound archaic!
Sure if you build a unicorn aka a disruptive rocketship that gets a billion dollar valuation within 12 months, that is ALSO delivering sustainable value, with scalable unit economics then it’s a great achievement. However entrepreneurs today mistakenly make that the goal neglecting two very important things in my view
You want to build a billion dollar business overnight? It’s easy. Go on the street and sell a dollar for 99cents. You will find there’s a lot of demand for that! In fact it’s guaranteed to go viral. You will have a big and growing hole in your pocket but all you need to do is convince a few nitwits that its temporary and very shortly you will build a ‘brand’ and become a destination. The ‘go to’ place to buy a dollar. Build some hype so that your stock gives return to batch1 of nitwits through a secondary sale to batch #2 nitwits and you’re now hot and trending!
It’s called the greater fool syndrome: who cares that you’re only making 99c to the dollar, so long as there’s a greater fool to the last one to buy your stock?! And in todays’ world one thing that seems to be in abundance is greater fools.
In more tech talk: its unit economics stupid! If you cant make a profit on your customer acquisition with a reasonable payback that you can fund (the deeper pockets you have the more you can push that out) then all you are doing is building a ponzie scheme. At best.
With the latest news on even the best, the most disruptive unicorns around us, such as Uber, allegedly losing over half a billion per annum, there’s many other seemingly amazing & disruptive (aka unicorns) that have questionable unit economics. Right now the ponzie scheme is funded by virtually zero interest rates. Capital is free and needs to be deployed. Even a 99c dollar business seems sexier, especially if gift-wrapped with some wishful thinking around it, than money sitting in the bank!
Rates will soon rise though, how soon we don’t know but they will. They cant go lower. The froth will start coming off the cappuccino. Capital dries up or shrinks, there’s now less greater fools in supply ready to scoop up the stock and alas we have a crunch.
Next thing you know is your investors turns up at the next board meeting and goes “say, can you send me a slide on your unit economics? I think we should turn the business profitable” Bam. You’re toast.
The above argument aside, some unicorns may have the right unit economics. However building one is not a strategy. It’s like playing roulette. To paraphrase Warren Buffet “its easier to ride the wave than trying to create it”. So, much like in surfing, preparing for and positioning yourself at the right place and the right time ready to ride the wave when it comes IS a strategy. Trying to create it is wishful thinking.
What we don’t see at the outset is that, aside of the fact that a lot of these seemingly super sexy disruptive businesses are essentially a 99c to dollar businesses, even the ones that aren’t were seldom if ever a concerted plan. They just happened. Uber was started as an app for Travis and his friends. Facebook and so many others were just apps that were hacked together by kids in a dorm room and caught fire. Whatsapp, Snapchat and Instagram arguably still aren’t businesses. They’re apps with a very loose idea of how to make money at best.
There’s nothing wrong with that if you have the time and capacity to play around enough till something catches fire, and so long as you can convince Zuck to buy it. But you have better chances if you just go to Vegas! Its not a strategy to building a business.
The only sensible strategy is to sit at that interjection between delivering customer value via products and services that are building for the future and keep innovating. Pick the right macro, build a great team and hang in there, surviving one day at a time. If you do you can’t lose. You may not get rich overnight but you will build a lasting business, and as Buffet showed will eventually make more money than those nitwits put together. By investing in long term value creation.
Fads come and go. Value stays.
The reason I’m so excited about our latest product SuperTasker is not just because it’s a cool product (and looks pretty according to my unbiased opinion of course !;) that solves a real need in a novel way. More importantly its driving a new macro trend which is way overdue : the introduction of SKUs for services.
SKUs (Supplier Keeping Units) are now second nature in the world of physical products. They are the classification of all things made and sold. The worlds all encompassing ‘product catalogue’. Each SKU is tied in with specific product specs. So buying the same SKU anywhere in the world, through any site or retail store means the same thing pops out of the box. In other words: standardisation.
We take this for granted now but SKUs have marked a fundamental shift from a nation of blacksmiths to mass production and standardisation. Before the industrial revolution buying a table, or a bottle of ketchup meant going to a craftsman, blacksmith or the local farmers market. What you got that day would differ to what you’d get the next. In a nice ironic turn of events that serendipitous discovery in the purchasing process is now finding its way back spurring new hot businesses like Birchbox and Plated amongst many others. Too much standardisation can get boring. But we wouldn’t have come this far if we weren’t able to standardise production to feed a nation en masse. No doubt our standard of living has massively improved since then. You can buy mass produced items for a fraction of what a craftsman could afford to charge you however hard you bartered. In economic terms: we reaped ‘economies of scale’.
Yet in intangibles we are STILL a nation of blacksmiths. Try getting a simple logo done on 5 different platforms. The cost will vary drastically as will the quality, and other service elements bundled in the purchase such as number of revisions or the ‘return’ policy. It’s a hit and miss experience, much like buying goods was before mass production.
Some argue that one of the reasons is that you can’t commoditise creative work. Well. I’m sure that’s exactly what the blacksmith or craftsman in the case above would have said before Henry Ford put them out of business. There is creativity in virtually EVERY production process. Whether you’re making a table, a pair of shoe laces, a home made ketchup recipe or a logo. There is no reason for them to differ.
That’s what we are fundamentally doing at SuperTasker. We are the world’s first catalogue of SKUs in digital services. And we aim to eventually expand to more. But for now we ‘stick to the knitting’ as they say. A design edit, a WordPress fix, an Infographic or creative banner production, to name just a few, are all SKUed. In other words we define what the cost should be, the delivery time, the penalty on lateness, the quality standard (all the ‘producers’ are curated and trained to that standard), and those other service elements like number of revisions per purchase and refund policy. We leave no guesswork to the ‘craftsman’ or the customer. It’s SKUed.
PeoplePerHour in the Financial Times today on the rise of second jobs.
Read the full articles here:
The UK is becoming a nation of grafters. With living standards at their lowest in a decade and real-term wages falling 8 per cent since the financial crisis, more people are cramming extra work into evenings, weekends and even their lunch hours to supplement their main incomes.
Officially, the average number of hours Britons work each week has increased from 31.4 to 32.2 since 2011 after years of decline. There are now about 1.2m with two jobs, up from about 1.05m in 2007. The number of workers combining their main job with a second self-employed role has increased 40 per cent since 2006 to 450,000.