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Owning the Work Marketplace: World of DaaS interview with Upwork CEO Hayden Brown

August 26, 2021
Auren Hoffman

New podcast with Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork (NASDAQ: UPWK). Our conversation is available everywhere (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, etc.). Please subscribe, follow, and review.

I am a massive fan of Upwork. One of SafeGraph’s values is to respect our own time — to get leverage — and Upwork helps us achieve this goal. SafeGraph has hired hundreds of freelancers on Upwork. So I was particularly excited to chat with Hayden about the freelance market.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Hayden Brown.

Friction is a feature at Upwork  

Hiring freelancers has less friction than hiring a full time employee, but it’s not frictionless. Upwork includes higher friction experiences when they want to collect more information. When they onboard a new freelancer, they want to really understand them and their skill sets so they can effectively match them with opportunities. If they create a blank profile that won’t do anyone any good. 

Upwork doesn’t run any advertising for their supply side 

Hayden strongly believes that maintaining an equilibrium between the demand and supply side is essential to their marketplace’s success. But she also believes that one side will be more constrained than the other. For Upwork, that’s the demand side. Upwork is so well established as the dominant freelance marketplace, they do not have to run any paid marketing for their supply.

That’s really interesting because most well-known marketplaces are more constrained by their supply than by their demand.  

Strong brands have the great benefit of significantly reducing the need for paid marketing as we’ve seen with the CEOs of Verisk and FICO on past World of DaaS episodes.

Full time employees should spend majority of their time on highest order thinking

In order to let your employees focus on your hardest problems, you need to automate repeatable work. When building a leverage stack, a company will start with low code tools (for instance, I’m a huge fan of Airtable). Then move onto APIs, then middleware solutions like Zapier, then freelancers, and lastly other employees. 

Smart companies do everything they can before hiring employees. Some make sure to exhaust work marketplaces, like Upwork. It’s completely agile and flexible. You can turn on and off the resources as your business needs change throughout the year, quarter, etc. 

You don’t need someone with specific expertise to be your FTE

I don’t have a full time doctor nor a full time plumber. There's no reason to have someone full time, who has this very, very specific knowledge. You can rent expertise … even deep expertise.   Start-ups can REALLY benefit from renting experts and focusing their hiring on general athletes rather than position players.

Upwork has a lot of deep macroeconomic data. 

Upwork is basically running a $2.5 billion economy with all of this risk insight around labor pricing. Their Chief Economist ... interestingly a FTE ... publishes reports and is prolific on social media about their insights and connecting that to other studies. They publish through research studies, annual freelance report. They can do what redfin does for real estate. 

Note: if you enjoy this episode of World of DaaS, be sure to follow Hayden Brown on Twitter.

Hope you enjoy this episode of World of DaaS — would really appreciate it if you subscribe and review Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, etc.).

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