By Rishon Blumberg, 10x Management Co-Founder
As the founder of two successful companies, I’ve had the privilege of being connected to entrepreneurs and thought leaders on the economy throughout my working life. I recently interviewed a variety of business leaders to get their thoughts on the emergence of tech freelancers as a reputable source of labor. Opinions varied, and it was enlightening to hear their perspectives.
Why focus on tech freelancers?
With the online experience growing increasingly relevant and traditional brick-and-mortar outlets losing appeal, it is likely that we’ve all encountered a tech freelancer in one form or another – whether hiring them to build a website or design a logo, or simply shopping around and exploring options. Given this prevalence and my background, I’ve chosen to focus on tech freelancers.
Q: What types of companies are using freelance tech talent?
Jianming Zhou (Co-Founder & CEO of SherpaShare):
I recommend that startups hire freelancers to build minimum viable products (MVPs). With today’s competition, speed to market has never been more important for startups. Get to market and then figure out the rest later; freelancers can be invaluable to this process.
In building SherpaShare’s initial MVP, we hired tech freelancers through Upwork, with mixed results. The quality of work was occasionally subpar. With a mass-market strategy like Upwork’s, it’s easy to connect with less than stellar talent. If I could do it again, I would work more exclusively with talent in my own network or with talent that was referred to me through personal connections.
Justin Magruder (Managing Director at Noetic Partners):
The financial services sector tends to be risk-averse. Bankers hesitate to use freelancers because of the risk associated with the gig economy. Without the support of a company and without the approval of high-pedigree references, the financial services industry is skeptical about freelancers.
Maneesh Sagar (Founder of Thynk.io Ventures):
I would say ecommerce companies and software companies hire independent tech consultants on a regular basis when there is urgency. Companies like Pitney Bowes use MBO Partners to manage freelancers. There’s no doubt that it is becoming more mainstream. Having a blend of full-time employees and freelancers can be very cost-efficient and healthy for a company. Hire high quality freelancers when demand surges, and have a smaller dedicated full-time staff when demand is low.
Kunal Gupta (Founder of Better Network):
Purpose-driven non-profits tend to use tech freelancers in large proportions, while startups tend to use development shops. Outsourcing a project to a development shop comes with its own risks – mainly having multiple people work on a project without truly understanding the end goal and losing control of the final product.
Q: What are some of the best and worst experiences you’ve had with independent tech talent? Tell me some stories!
Guy Blachman (Founder & CEO of Carson Living Inc.):
I once found a really great developer through a happenstance online ad in Israel. He was so good that I moved him to the United States and hired him as an employee for seven years! I also once hired a developer off Craigslist who was completely unprofessional and damaged my reputation.
Kunal Gupta (Better Network):
I’ve had a number of fantastic experiences with tech freelancers where they were everything I hoped, and one particularly bad one: I hired a freelancer for a hip hop event who turned out to be a white supremacist. That’s why I always stress the importance of a background check!
Justin Magruder (Noetic Partners):
I hired a freelancer that had worked on a similar project in the past, and had the experience and the code ready to solve the problem immediately. The worst: I hired a freelancer that talked a lot, ran up a lot of hours, and never delivered. He just flat out was not capable of performing the task, but danced around the issue for a long time.
Where Do You Find Tech Talent?
I asked these questions because I was curious about the perception of freelance tech talent in the marketplace, and if companies have reservations about freelancers.
What I took away: exceptional freelance talent is out there and the marketplace is starting to get smart both about where to look for it. All five of these entrepreneurs have built amazing products, often with freelance talent. The negative experiences happen when companies hire a developer that is unproven and unvetted. Banks avoid freelancers partially for this very reason – risk. Once in a while, you might get lucky through an ad or through a platform like Upwork. But to break through the noise, and ensure high quality talent without risk, then going to a trusted source, or using personal connections is the way to go. It’s an evolution that makes complete sense, and it’s reassuring to know that companies are catching up to this idea.
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