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.
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.
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.
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 »
One revolution that’s in the making today is that of the crowd. There’s lot of literature around it but it hasn’t yet transformed business in the way i think it inevitably will.
The staffing industry today is a whopping $450 Bn market. Of that only a mere $1Bn has been captured online. That’s 0.2% penetration.
If we compare that with commerce which leads services, there’s somewhere between 10-15% of the total value of commerce transacted online today and that’s projected to increase to over 50% in the next decade.
In relative terms the market of eServices is where eCommerce was in 1996!continue reading »