LinkedIn Releases ProFinder Pilot, Quietly Enters Freelance/Independent Workforce Market

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We learned that earlier this week, LinkedIn, the online professional network and recruiting platform, quietly launched a pilot of an new offering that connects businesses and local freelancers. The new offering, called ProFinder, represents LinkedIn’s first foray into the contingent workforce space — something many in the staffing industry have discussed, for some time, as a possibility. Now it has become a reality, or at least potentially. Services procurement practitioners should see this development as further validation that sourcing contingent workers through online platforms is becoming more mainstream.

How About Some Context?

Up to this point, online marketplace and matching platforms (what Spend Matters covers as work intermediation platforms or WIPs) have been spawned by companies that have started from scratch (with the exception of Amazon’s experimental crowdsourcing microtask platform Mechanical Turk). Now we have a large, established company sticking its toe into the space, occupied by platform companies like UpWork, freelancer.com, HourlyNerd, Gigwalk and hundreds more around the world. If LinkedIn’s pilot eventually evolves into a product roll-out, it’s hard to predict its influence on the space.

At this point, LinkedIn is well-rooted in the workforce space. The company’s largest revenue segment is its online offering for recruiters. In addition, its online social network of 380 million professionals is not only the target of recruitment searches and job postings, it also functions to allow professionals to network — a major way in which people find new jobs. LinkedIn’s platform has largely been focused to professionals and full-time positions and career development. It’s not surprising therefore that LinkedIn is now zeroing in on the professional freelance/independent workforce — a very large and reputedly fast-growing segment of the labor force.

What We Think We Know About ProFinder

What we’ve learned so far this week — as we have not been able to connect with LinkedIn directly (a bit of an irony) — comes from a short San Francisco Chronicle article and the ProFinder website, which is live, as shown here:

ProFinder LinkedIn

That said, here is a list of what we think we know about ProFinder currently:

  • The pilot is now restricted to the greater Bay Area (the website lists 40 Bay Area municipalities as far south as Aptos and as far north as Fort Bragg).
  • According to The Chronicle, the pilot will start with three work categories: accounting, graphic design and writing and editing. However, the website — perhaps in anticipation of expansion — lists a total of 15, with subcategories. Among the 15 are business-oriented professional categories and a few that could bleed over into consumer-oriented (e.g. home improvement/interior design, real estate).
  • ProFinder, nonetheless, appears to be focused on white-collar professionals who choose the freelancing path (full-time or part-time). This makes sense given the nature of the LinkedIn membership.
  • Unlike many online work platforms that are geared to freelancers who will generally be working remotely, it appears that ProFinder will be geared to matching local freelancers with local hirers. We should note, however, that some platforms like Work Market, Gigwalk, Wonola, et. al., are locational, and Freelancer.com has launched a kind of Australian Task Rabbit.
  • While a large proportion of the other platforms are fully integrated with payments systems, it does not appear that ProFinder has such integration (but one wonders what the future might bring).
  • In some ways, ProFinder functions like an online marketplace, but not in the way other online freelance marketplaces allow hirers and workers to directly find one another and consummate an engagement using only the online platform mechanisms. ProFinder seems to be based on another model that not only leverages LinkedIn’s powerful search capabilities, but also has an integral part of the process in which real people vet the short list of candidates who are presented back to the hirer.
  • The ProFinder workflow appears to be as follows: 1) a hirer posts a description of the gig/freelancer needed; 2) through combined algorithmic search and human vetting, a short list of candidates if determined (with 24 hours); 3) the candidates then make proposals to the hirers; finally the hirer selects a candidate, and they both go off happily into the sunset (most likely to return to ProFinder on another day).
  • It appears that, if successful, the pilot will be expanded, Uber-like, to more and more cities.
  • At this time, Profinder is free, for both hirers and freelancers. You read it right. For the time being, LinkedIn is not monetizing this offering.

What Do We Think?

We think that if LinkedIn continues to roll in this direction, this is a development that could make big waves in the online freelancer platform space and could significantly alter the growing freelancer/independent workforce market.

LinkedIn has both an online network of over 300 million profiles members worldwide; and through its recruitment and network offerings, it is already wired into and a known quantity across an enormous number of large enterprises (something which the from-scratch online platform businesses do not).

Other features to round out the platform could be added (and probably are already on the road map); this could include integrated payments, which could be done in partnership with companies like Stripe. When you think about it (our wild speculation only), a partnership with another giant like Intuit would be awesome (in the literal sense of the word) — Intuit released its QuickBooks Self-Employed solution earlier this year.

Freemium pricing, at least early on, could be a killer, scorched-earth go-to-market strategy, which only a giant like LinkedIn could afford. And let us not forget that LinkedIn started with its professional network being a freemium offering; and it still is, but with layers of monetized offerings built on top of it.

One issue could be scaling the human part of the platform offering, but I can think of two possible ways of getting around this: 1) kind of brute force, by engaging increasingly less-employed recruiters to perform the function, perhaps with some kind of online crowdsourcing approach; 2) kind of Kurzweil-singularity-like, increasingly through machine learning where gradually humans are replaced with algorithms and artificial intelligence (and IBM Watson may be waiting in the wings...).

I can think of some online platforms that do human vetting of workers today (Toptal is a good example). But I can think of only one platform — besides some of the field services and a few others mentioned above — that seems to be to be taking a similar human vetting and locational approach with professional freelancers. That would be LocalSolo, a Vancouver-based startup founded in 2014, which has since rolled out to over 50 cities in several countries, including US, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa. 

So in the locational, multi-category online intermediation platforms for the professional freelancer space, with only one truly competitive peer that has gotten, the door still seems quite open for a strong company like LinkedIn to at least capture its slice of this market. 

In summary, a new entrant like LinkedIn in the freelancer online WIP space must be watched carefully. It has both financial resources and extraordinary intangible assets (its professional network, its relationships with enterprises, its connections into the human capital and recruiting area) that would make it a formidable player. For services procurement professionals, if nothing else, this development should be viewed as a validation that WIPs are increasingly becoming mainstream, and they should increasingly become a part of their contingent workforce sourcing strategies.

Want to learn more about the opportunities present in engaging freelance and independent workers without the compliance risk? Read our recent complimentary research brief: Businesses Can Engage Independent and Freelance Workers and Mitigate Compliance Risk – Here’s How

Please follow Andrew Karpie on Twitter @andrewkarpie

 

*An earlier version of this article stated LocalSolo was piloting in San Francisco. The article has been changed to correctly state that LocalSolo's services are officially rolled out in more than 50 cities in several countries.

Voices (3)

  1. Donna:

    I was literally just thinking the other day – there needs to be a version of linkedin for freelancing. Linkedin is so much more clean cut and polished then fivver and those sorts of sites. Sadly, Profinder is not available in Canada yet- don’t understand why that is since freelancing is often remote work.

  2. Andrew Karpie:

    Thank for your comment, Glenn. That’s a good analogy to Thumbtack. Just lead generation… don’t really agree with that. But is definitely not a transactional marketplace. We’ll have see where this goes–certainly a big shift toward contingent workforce–but what will it eventually amount tp. We’ll see in a couple of years.

  3. glenn laumeister:

    They just adapted the Thumbtack model, it’s lead generation not a true transactional marketplace. They saw how fast Thumbtack is growing and wanted to focus on white collar pros, where Thumbtack is weak, makes total sense.

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