Elance-oDesk Becomes UpWork – Unveils New Online Freelance Talent Platform

Elance-oDesk, the largest online freelancer marketplace company in the world, announced today its new name, Upwork, and revealed its plans to advance a new online platform to support its vision of becoming the world’s 21st century online workplace. These developments fit squarely in the center of Spend Matters’ new coverage of work intermediation platforms (or WIPs), a wide range of different kinds of online platforms that enable the establishment work arrangements with digitally-connected contract, freelance, gig, crowd and other non-employee workers (across a broad spectrum innovative, novel modes of engagement, such as “online,” “on-demand,” “as-a-service,” et al). This population of different types of WIPs (today numbering about 200 and growing) appears to be emerging with other digital services providers as an entirely new “digital human capital ecosystem” through which non-employee workforce/talent will be increasingly engaged in ways that go beyond today’s staffing supply chain models.

UpWork, with approximately $1 billion in online labor spend transacted across the platform annually and more than 12 million users globally, is by far the largest WIP today. Its predecessor companies, Elance and oDesk, both got off the ground as “online freelance marketplaces” around 2005-06 and grew rapidly with models that were similar and competitive. With tens of millions of dollars of investor funds already under their belts, the 2 companies merged in early 2014 and proceeded to raise another $30 million in November 2014. In late April, the reins of the company were passed from the (more than decade-long) Elance CEO and online labor platform space icon Fabio Rosati to Stephane Kasriel, former SVP of product and engineering from oDesk.

In a recent conversation, Kasriel explained that the announcement of the new name, Upwork, reflected the online talent platform business’ passage from the “post-merger” transition to the next longer-term period of evolution in support of new 21st century, networked, knowledge economy ways of getting work done. According to Kasriel, the next era of online platform-based work goes beyond getting buyers and sellers together and supporting the work transaction end-to-end. This next era is one where the conduct of the work itself is also supported by the capabilities of the platform and of a digital ecosystem of complementary service partners. Kasriel expects that annual spend transacted across the global-spanning Upwork online talent platform will increase from about $1B today to about $10B in 6 years.

It has been anticipated by most observers that the recently merged companies would eventually announce a new name and, more importantly, a path forward on a single platform (for many obvious reasons). It appears the new platform is a “descendant” of the oDesk platform, though the new platform will combine the strengths of both platforms as well as enable the ongoing development of entirely new functional capabilities and models. Elance users will be gradually induced to relocate themselves to the new platform.

In addition, to providing an entirely new user experience, the Upwork platform is introducing 2 significant sets of work-supporting capabilities:

  • One is a first-of-its-kind model, Real-time Hiring, for engaging freelancers in work arrangements on a truly “on-demand” basis (meaning in a matter of minutes, not days or even hours). Freelancers will have the ability to make themselves active or available online for engagements by those who are immediately in need of their services. The process of engagement is more an “agile” one, taking place in “real time” between hirer and worker, as opposed to the sequential (waterfall) approach typical of a traditional SOW.
  • The other one, Real-time Collaboration, provides a range of collaboration support capabilities and tools – similar in nature to Slack, Upwork claims – that will continue be expanded in 2015, including integrations with other specialized work-support/collaborations platforms such as GitHub. Interestingly, Real-time Collaboration is free and available for anyone to use (not just Upwork users). In this sense, it appears to be more of platform extension (muscle flexing) that is also intended to broaden the reach of the platform, perhaps disrupting adjacent work-support services provider segments.

The massive scale of the platforms and ongoing development and transformation of Elance-oDesk into Upwork are clear indications that online work intermediation platforms (WIPS) are not some flash-in-the-pan, passing phenomenon and do not seem to be an evolutionary dead-end in the ongoing formation of new digitally-intermediated channels and modalities for engaging non-employee talent on a flexible, dynamic basis.

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First Voice

  1. anhg@yahoo.com:

    elance was older. odesk was younger but more profitable. Despite having started later, odesk quickly caught up with elance. In 2014, odesk’s profits exceeded those of elance’s. So, instead of having to compete with odesk, elance BOUGHT odesk.

    odesk’s success was attributed by analysts to

    – Better web design
    – Much better customer service
    – Freelancer’s ability to bid on a much larger number of projects

    Since taking over odesk, and departure of the odesk’s CEO, elance’s CEO has pretty much abandoned all of odesk’s successful strategies. He now charges freelancers upfront $2 to bid on each project, but has kept the odesk’s web design. I can’t blame him since he has had to spend tons of money to buy odesk, out of his own pocket and the pockets of his investors.

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