oDesk Is Offering Start-Ups Free Casual Labour

Matt Cooper, oDesk

Online freelance jobs board oDesk has partnered with incubators Pollenizer, AngelCube and Startmate to offer Australian start-ups about $500 worth of help in recruiting virtual talent.

oDesk today launched its so-called Upstarts program in Australia after a year of trials in the US and Britain.

Australia is oDesk’s second-largest market by revenue and largest in revenue per capita. Matt Cooper, oDesk’s head of international, said the trials were well-received but the firm has yet to reveal when it will formalise Upstarts overseas.

Under the Upstarts program, Pollenizer, AngelCube and Startmate companies will receive $100-$200 of credits to pay for freelance labour on the site, and $300-400 worth of recruitment support, including advice and an application vetting service.

Cooper told Business Insider that start-ups were oDesk’s primary target market. The company has about 600,000 start-up clients; the largest spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on oDesk freelancers a month, of which 10% goes to oDesk.

A majority of oDesk’s start-up clients operate under a hybrid model, with a handful of permanent, full-time roles like chief technology officer and architect driving business priorities and culture and twice or more that number of freelance designers, customer service staff and others.

Upstarts was a marketing-led initiative designed to entice entrepreneurs to the freelance model early in the game. oDesk approached Australian incubators with the idea in February.

“Getting the exposure into the startup community is the main benefit for oDesk,” he said. “We don’t need hard-dollar returns from these organisations to make this worthwhile for us.

“You plant lots of seeds and you see what grows; that’s the hope for this program.”

Pollenizer CEO Phil Morle described the partnership as one that aligned with its experiences in balancing cost, flexibility and culture.

The incubator initially outsourced application development to its offshore business in India, but decided to shut down the Indian business in 2011 on the belief that start-ups should have “a single technical co-founder, close to the rest of the team in proximity and belief”.

Pollenizer later learned that the technical co-founders could not single-handedly get through the sheer amount of work they needed to manage.

“This moment is clear when the task management systems start to build up with incomplete work tickets faster than they can be actioned,” he said, welcoming the oDesk program as “great for our start-ups and start-ups in general”.

“Cost management is still critical and re-introducing offshore resources is a powerful way to get a known set of features delivered quickly and to run down the competition,” he said.

Employment restrictions don’t apply

oDesk’s Upstart launch follows news that its major Australian-owned competitor Freelancer.com received a $400 million buy-out offer from Japanese firm Recruit Co last week.

Cooper said the online freelance recruitment market generated $1 billion a year, but that was still a fraction of the overall, trillion-dollar market that could be addressed.

He said online freelance workers would particularly benefit small start-ups which might not have the scale to compete with larger firms for talent and needed the flexibility to hire and fire staff as they evolved.

Earlier this month, a WEF report found Australian labour regulations among the most restrictive in the world. Cooper said recruitment was a struggle for start-ups even in the most liberal nations.

“We think of hiring a full-time employee as pouring cement – once you’ve made a hire, you’ve made a commitment – whereas hiring a freelancer is much more flexible and in many cases much more affordable,” Cooper said.

“Nobody has really addressed how traditional employment law applies; the laws just don’t apply to online work.

“There are certainly [regulatory] discussions ongoing, but ultimately, everybody we talk to agrees that the model has a lot of advantages for businesses and freelancers.”

Now read: This Is Why I Fracking Hate Outsourcing

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