The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: SF local, Gary Swart of oDesk — May 14, 2013

Interview: SF local, Gary Swart of oDesk

 This week we interview Gary Swart, the CEO of oDesk – a global job marketplace.

Gary Swart
Gary Swart

You started at oDesk in 2005 as CEO, what changes have you seen in the company since then?

Well we have definitely grown quite a bit! If you think about the evolution of a startup in terms of three phases—the jungle, the dirt road and the highway—we’ve gone from overtaking the competition in 2009 while in our ‘jungle’ phase, to now approaching the ‘highway’ and being larger than all of our next six competitors combined. A large part of that growth was the decision in 2006 to refine our pricing strategy, a decision which top Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital called “aggressive strategic thinking” that launched us to market leadership.

We’ve experienced eight times growth in ‘hours worked’ on the oDesk platform since only 2009, so our company has expanded significantly to keep up with that demand. We are now at approximately 130 full-time employees in our Silicon Valley headquarters, plus another 250 full-time-equivalent freelancers from the oDesk network who come to work for us every day from around the world. And as we fully reach the ‘highway’ and continue to grow, I expect our ranks to continue expanding so we can keep up.

You came in to help the founders, Odysseas Tsatalos and Stratis Karamanlakis, scale and build the company. Are they still involved to date?

Absolutely; Odysseas is currently our Chief Technology Officer and Stratis is our Vice President of Development. They truly embody the oDesk vision, as the company was born out of their desire to work together. In 2003, Odysseas’ Silicon Valley startup was in need of a world-class engineer with a specific skill set. He thought his friend Stratis in Greece would be a great fit, but Odysseas’ team was hesitant to hire someone halfway around the world. To bridge the distance, the two developed technology to manage their work together online. They realized the potential of their technology, and oDesk was born. They continue to not only work together—with Odysseas in California and Stratis still in Athens—but also to help shape the vision for oDesk.

 How does oDesk differ from other marketplaces?

oDesk differs from other kinds of marketplaces—such as online shopping or even online dating—primarily because it’s about more than just finding the right product or service (or date); we also care about what happens after the match. So whereas other marketplaces are essentially cut out of the picture after the product is sold or the relationship has sparked, oDesk stays in the picture throughout the lifecycle of the working relationship.

Our value, therefore, lies in creating long-term relationships, and then giving users the tools to make those relationships successful.

This has required building a much more robust platform that supports these continued relationships, from making the match and managing the professional, to submitting the final deliverable and facilitating payment. Trust and transparency have been especially critical to building a vibrant community that fosters these long-term relationships, as the people working together typically never meet in person and often are hundreds or thousands of miles away. To create this trust and transparency, our freelancer profiles offer rich information such as each professional’s work history, ratings and reviews, education and portfolio. We also offer a guarantee to businesses that an hour paid is an hour worked, as well as a guarantee to freelancers that an hour worked is an hour paid.


How do you think the workforce is changing and how can businesses keep up?

I think both businesses and workers are realizing that the traditional work model—the 9-to-5 in the same office, staffed with full-time employees who work there for a year or more—is not only outdated, but unnecessary. Thanks to advancements in technology, especially in collaboration and communication technologies, it’s no longer necessary to have everyone in the same office, working the same hours. Businesses are now embracing the fact that they can hire the best people for each role, regardless of where they are located, and that they can build flexible teams of experts that scale up and down in response to demand. Workers, meanwhile, are enjoying the freedom and flexibility to live and work wherever they like, to choose their own schedule, and to pick projects based on what they’re passionate about, not what they’re assigned.

As flexible work models become more and more mainstream, businesses that do not consider them will be left struggling to compete. So I really encourage businesses to have an open mind about what their workforce looks like.

Can people hire specialised talent via oDesk? What about roles that need to be in the know about company happenings (like social media managers)?

Definitely. In fact, specialized talent is often the best use case for oDesk. Online work has done to the job market what ecommerce did for retail—it enabled the long-tail of specialization to thrive. For example, a brick-and-mortar business probably wouldn’t be able to survive selling only pickles, but a homemade pickle business with an online presence can do extremely well because its customer base is global. In the same way, professionals who work online can be much more highly specialized—in a certain niche programming language, for example, or in branding for eBooks—because they have a much wider client base to serve. As oDesk has grown, we’ve seen specialized skills grow extremely quickly; we’ve even seen bioinformatics and theoretical physicists hired recently!

For roles that need to be highly informed on company happenings, we recommend a well thought-out onboarding process that gets the freelancer up to speed on how the company works, who and what they can use as a resource, how their performance will be measured, etc. We find that often freelancers become long-term team members, so it helps to train and include them in a similar way as you would with an in-person hire. Even on-site employees can feel like outsiders when communication isn’t effective, so it’s every manager’s responsibility to keep all their team members informed and involved—regardless of level, location, etc. For example, we have a policy at oDesk that when remote team members join meetings (which happens in almost every meeting), they have priority speaking privileges.


How could a non-technical person go about building a prototype for an idea using oDesk?

I would advise them to hire a project manager.

These professionals specialize in recruiting and managing online freelancers, and there are many who specialize further in serving as a liaison between technical talent and non-technical clients. Thanks in part to use cases like this one, the ‘project management’ category of work has exploded on oDesk—it’s currently our second fastest-growing skill on oDesk, with a two-year compound annual growth rate of 149% in dollars billed.

Do you get many companies developing good relationships with freelancers and then hire them directly?

While it’s definitely very common for clients to develop strong, long-term relationships with freelancers on oDesk, we actually find that both clients and freelancers usually prefer to keep the relationship on oDesk. That’s because we provide tools to manage and pay freelancers easily—which means businesses don’t have to worry about the paperwork or regulations of hiring remote workers, and freelancers don’t have to worry about submitting invoices or justifying their hours.

In fact, we frequently see businesses build entire distributed teams on oDesk, sometimes of more than 100 people. These teams function much more effectively by remaining on oDesk because the site helps them manage and pay these global teams, which would be extremely difficult without oDesk’s management technology or global payment platform. For example, with payment specifically, businesses would have a very challenging time paying workers all over the world in different currencies, with different regulations for international money transfer, etc.—whereas on oDesk, they have one simple credit card payment each week to pay their entire team. 

Without visibility, how can companies ensure freelancers are making good use of their time?

That’s exactly why oDesk has seen such rapid growth, because it addresses that pain point. oDesk is all about online visibility—providing the ability to “manage by walking around” and have an ongoing dialogue to collaborate and course-correct as work progresses. The main feature supporting this visibility is the Work Diary, which provides screenshots of work.

You’re officially launching in Australia in 2013 – what activities are on the cards?

 We are still in the information-gathering phase, but we are really looking forward to sharing details as soon as possible. One of the things we’ve already learned is that Australians are savvier than most in their use of online workers, so we see enormous potential for Australia. The market is already the second-largest on oDesk for the amount of work being hired for, and when we adjusted on a per-capita basis, we realized Australia is actually the largest market on oDesk. Australian businesses hired $32M of work on oDesk last year, which was twice as large as what the U.S. billed on a per-capita basis.

Have you visited before? What do you love about the place? Have you noticed many differences between the US and there?

I hadn’t visited before and now that I’ve been, I can’t believe it took me so long! What don’t I love? The first thing I did when I got off the plane was walk up and down the hills of Sydney, through all the vibrant neighborhoods.

It was a great way to get a sense of the place, and in many aspects there are a lot of similarities to the San Francisco Bay Area that I call home. I have to say though that the food in Australia might be better (at risk of offending Bay Area foodies), and that the tech scene is certainly equally vibrant. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the culture though was the laughter!

You just announced results of a survey on the future of work, focusing on independent and entrepreneurial professionals. What results did you find most enlightening?

We’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “an entrepreneur”. It used to be that an entrepreneur started a company, period. Today, being an entrepreneur is more than that. It’s a mindset that people aspire to, and that many see as critical to career success. Technical innovation (especially the Internet) is making more business resources broadly available, essentially democratizing entrepreneurship. People are using shared or on-demand resources now that they wouldn’t have the purchasing power to access otherwise. We went into this study with the hypothesis that the definiton of what it means to be an entrepreneur has itself changed, but we were shocked to see how resoundingly the professionals we surveyed agreed — 90% classified “being an entrepreneur” as a mindset (versus someone who starts a company).


To find out what local professional-geared events are on in your city, subscribe to The Fetch weekly email digests.

About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.

Event Review: What’s next for the World Wide Web? — February 10, 2013

Event Review: What’s next for the World Wide Web?

What: The unique inventor of the world wide web giving a rare speech at Sydney CityTalk
Overheard: “What we do with a computer is only limited by our imagination.”

intro tim berners lee

When I discovered that Sir Tim Berners-Lee was about to give a talk in Sydney, I felt immediately happier and excited. He was coming to Australia for the first time in over a decade. You see, I am not a geek nor an IT programmer. I don’t even know how to code (but this may change soon if I follow the recommendations of Sir Tim). But I am really passionate about the Internet, and how it changed everything, from the way we live to the way we travel or consume. And I knew enough to be aware of the role Sir Tim played in the world as we know it today. For those of you who are not good at remembering names, Sir Tim Berners-Lee happens to be the most important creator alive today. He’s the guy who invented the world wide web, the thing that allows us to surf the web, consult Wikipedia, like a status on Facebook, share a picture of our last meal on Instagram and tweet like crazy while he spoke at a Sydney City Talk on Tuesday 5 February 2013.

crowded house TBL

The atmosphere was electric while the crowd was waiting for Sir Tim Berners-Lee to make his appearance. But first several introductions were made by, among others, Sean Aylmer,the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The former recognised how the new media landscape was all but recognizable from the 1990s; the latter detailed how the technology revolutionised the way we experience our city, from libraries to public transport.

tim berners lee

When Sir Tim finally appeared, there was almost a standing ovation from the audience of self-confessed nerds, programmers and entrepreneurs. From then, the magic flowed through the room, borne by the energy, wittiness and passion of Sir Tim.

In 1969, when the Internet was invented (not by Berners-Lee, he was only 14 years old at that time), a lot more people were excited about Led Zeppelin and the moon landing than the Internet. 20 years later, in 1989, while working at the CERN, Berners-Lee was frustrated at the crude and cumbersome way the Internet worked. He wrote a memo to his boss about a hint he had that it was possible to create a common language for all computers. His boss wrote in the  margin of the paper: “Vague… but exciting idea”. Berners-Lee received the authorisation to play with his idea and in September 1990, he took an Apple computer out of the box and two months later, the http protocol was born!

This is the first great lesson Sir Tim shared: innovation comes from giving people time to play.

Sir Tim also asked relevant questions: Who controls the Internet? Monitors it? How much power do we give our governments to block sites? As he said himself “Providing the Government with the trust of blocking websites is something I wouldn’t recommend”. As the question of trust is not a simple one, Sir Tim chooses transparency and open access to data. He asks for government and scholars to give full access to data. Data is the source and the more the data, the more you can develop and create new things. The Internet should be a blank piece of paper that anyone can write upon it. The web revolutionized the way we have access to knowledge. But with knowledge come duties. One of them is that every individual has to understand its impact on the web. This means being able to understand the technology, the language its uses. But most people experiment computer as a commodity, an appliance like a fridge and only few will actually experiment with it. That’s why we need more people teaching code in schools.

Coding is not gender-specific. We need more people who code, especially girls, especially in schools.

If you don’t know how to code, it’s your duty to write/blog about how you’d like computers to work or find a programmer who can do it. Sir Tim encourages more people to learn to program and take control of the machines at their fingertips to solve problems. The future is not about predictions, it’s about realising what we want. As expressed by Sir Tim, “Saying what you want is far more productive than guessing. I don’t do predictions”.

global tim berners lee

The second great lesson that Sir Tim taught us is that yes, the web has revolutionized the way we live: it took IT from the fringe to the centre and it also put the power in consumer hands and made technology a lot easier to use… as long as we learn how to use it. Collaboration, transparency, individual responsibility, all are key words to the future of the web: learning to code allows us to make the world a better place. It’s not too late.

What you do with a computer is only limited by your imagination. You don’t need permission to innovate on the web.

The growth in data is exponential. It continues to rise not only because of new applications  but because other devices are coming online. Take videos for example: video is planned to grow significantly over the next five years and this not only due to cat videos. Even though Sir Tim acknowledged: “Cat videos were a very important part of the plan for adopting the web”. The whole web is becoming more and more mobile, which makes the whole web social. It’s constantly reshaping our lives and the way we consume, exchange, communicate. Collaborative consumption models build trails of reputational data that doesn’t exist anywhere else. And the question remains: Who owns that data? Is the Government? Companies? How will the commodification of data affect the growth of the Internet? Recently, the Australian government said it wanted to collect and store data on its citizens for at least two years, for security reason… but, argued Sir Tim, who’s to say that stored data wouldn’t fall in the wrong hands? What about data mining? Or data hoarding? Or even identity fraud? Again, according to Sir Tim, transparency and open data are our best tactics to prevent this from happening. Like the media considered as the fourth estate, the Internet should be free and be like a “fifth estate”.

The third lesson Sir Tim shared is that we have the answers to our own questions. We are the ones who can shape the future, by living today and learning and sharing, we are shaping the world of tomorrow according to our expectations and hopes.

Regarding the future of the media and the dying newspapers, Sir Tim reminds us that the average person, most of us, is overwhelmed by junk information. We want professional guidance. That’s why the news industry should concentrate on the value of the information they’re giving rather than the medium. Good quality content will always be king on the web. People need the profession of journalists, they just don’t want it on dead trees! So the news industry needs to experiment with new business models for providing information online. Content providers are already directly addressing to their public. The new role of journalists and editors will be to make sense of the mass of information of the net. Journalists need to be in the digital space and format people want it…

Impressive panel discussion with Hael Kobayashi, executive director, Creative Intelligence, University of Technology, Sydney, Glen Boreham, chairman, Screen Australia, former managing director of IBM Australia and New Zealand, and chair of the Australian Government’s Convergence Review, Alan Noble, director of engineering, Google Australia & New Zealand, Paul McCarthy, director of strategy and innovation, SIRCA Ltd, Wendy Simpson, chairman, Springboard Enterprises, Rachel Botsman, author and social innovator
Impressive panel discussion with Hael Kobayashi, executive director, Creative Intelligence, University of Technology, Sydney, Glen Boreham, chairman, Screen Australia, former managing director of IBM Australia and New Zealand, and chair of the Australian Government’s Convergence Review, Alan Noble, director of engineering, Google Australia & New Zealand, Paul McCarthy, director of strategy and innovation, SIRCA Ltd, Wendy Simpson, chairman, Springboard Enterprises, Rachel Botsman, author and social innovator

To conclude, if Sir Tim could change one thing in the past, he would take out the two slaches; if he could do something in the present, it would be to ensure complete access to open data. For the question of the future, “What is after the web?” His answer is crystal clear:  Whatever you can imagine it’s up to you, go build it!

About our ambassador // Delphine Vuagnoux is a community ambassador for Sydney. She is passionate about innovation and social change. She is a communications professional at All Together Now and Medianet. You can find her on Twitter: @delphinevuagnou.

Opinion: Who is at the bleeding edge of social in Australia? — January 3, 2013

Opinion: Who is at the bleeding edge of social in Australia?

Jacqueline Shields recently interviewed Pete Williams in a local profile for The Fetch. During question time, she also discovered his thoughts on who is leading social’s edge within Australia.


Pete Williams, Chief Edge Officer at Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge Australia, helps senior executives understand emerging opportunities on the edge of business and technology for corporate growth. Here, he shares with us his thoughts on companies and industry sectors succeeding at social – those that are adopting different business models in rapidly-changing landscapes.

To offer great customer service there are a few options open to companies. One is to employ more customer service people at a high cost. Another is to off-shore it at a lower cost even though you know that your customers aren’t going to be satisfied. The smartest way is to get the people who know most about your products, the people who use it every day, to help each other. Both Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank do this well.


  • Telstra’s CrowdSupport Help & Support Community Forum

Rather than Telstra manage all their customer service activities, they have their customers support customers. This model incorporates cloud, social, mobile, crowdsourcing and gamification and it’s been a spectacular success. There are around 60,000 enquires a week dealt through that channel alone and this has resulted in them being very successful in customer support.

  • Commonwealth Bank Pi

The Commonwealth Bank has just launched a platform called Pi. It’s a next generation tablet payments system like a next generation EFTPOST machine. What they have done is opened that up for developers to get involved and create apps. Again instead of the organisation saying, “We will come up with every idea and build it and launch it”, they are acknowledging that there is a smarter model.

This model taps into an explosion of innovation, leveraging clouds and seeing themselves as a platform provider as opposed to needing to be responsible for everything they do. We’ve been seeing that for many years with the web titans – the Amazons, the eBays, the YouTubes and it being popularised through Apple’s and Google’s App Stores.


Both these examples show how business can look at what is going on at the edges and explore how they could use a crowd or how the gaming world applies to them. It’s not so much building games but using aspects of gaming such as levelling up, reward and recognition, badges, achievements, leader boards, and kudos, and bringing them into the process to encourage your customers to do what you want to do with them.

It’s a bit like an open-source community where you have support forums and that’s an edge that we have been seeing for many years of how these communities share knowledge and knowledge flows at a user-to-user level. Two such communities are the high end World of Warcraft guild and the top end Angry Birds community where you need to be monitoring what new ideas and new strategies you have got. Also what are you learning from your personal dashboards, because the community keeps learning and learning so you have to be able to analyse all that information, then quickly synthesise it in the terms of the way you operate.

These online learning communities with elite people all have one thing in common – a propensity to share, using leaderboards, dashboards and social features. This means that the community drives other users to a new level. So adopting gaming techniques can be very effective for organisations. Although as a Telstra user, I do at times question why I am doing customer support for them! But by the same token if I have a problem it tends to be something exotic so the community has also helped me when I have needed assistance.

What about the politicians?

If we look at who has embraced Facebook as an effective communication tool, it tends to be celebrities, sports people and sports clubs. Interestingly enough, politicians have taken the bull by the horns too. No matter what people say about politicians are smart enough to realise when they can connect and reach a large audience. So they are a very interesting crowd who have adopted it while I don’t see the government agencies that they are theoretically running have adopted it any were near as much.

Malcolm Turnbull is particularly good with social media. So is Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Kevin did a tweet recently of a pic of a leak of an orange pen on his shirt. He tweeted that he’d put it in his pocket with predictable results. He tweets what he doing and what he is seeing but he also tweets personal stuff.

Obama set the tone with the 2008 election and it continued on. That was when politicians realised how much of an effect it could have. There is a group that is seen as potentially conservative but who are smart enough to work out what to do with it.


Retailers have enormous numbers of people on Facebook. Coles have a massive following. Supre has always been a standout. And were one of the early starters. They got in early. They tried stuff. They experimented. They got a core audience and now it’s just massive. They do A/B testing i.e. Which skirt do you like? This one or this one? They engage people with simple, easy non-dinky bullshit campaign stuff not just because someone wants a prize. They incorporate it into part of their long-term business strategy.

The luxury brands are massive like Tiffanys, BMW, Mercedes. Those luxury brands that people aspire to tend to have mass followings.

If we look at who is doing Facebook well in the banking sector, the Commonwealth Bank sort of does okay. Ubank does pretty well. But what we see in a lot of those traditional business to consumer relationships is that some organisations think they are above it. But as I say, if you are above it then you are above your customers and employees so probably not a great place to be.

Hall & Wilcox the mid-size legal firm across the road use it well. But we haven’t seen the legal profession really understand how to adopt social media.


We are starting to see mining companies use social media for recruitment.

In terms of the business to business side we tend to see organisations using LinkedIn. Someone who does that really well is Deloite Globally. We’ve done fantastically. We’ve also done really well with Facebook largely in the area of recruitment. The first thing we did with Facebook was not to build a Facebook page but to build a Facebook app for our employees in 2008 called ‘Join me at Deloitte’. ‘Your future at Deloitte’ is the Facebook page. But before we had the Facebook page we had the Facebook app where employees could put it on their Facebook page and people could say they were interested in a job at Deloitte. So again leveraging the networks of our people at a time when we didn’t have a Facebook network ourselves. We use Twitter particularly well for pushing information out there.

The use of enterprise social networking is growing in people to people knowledge type organisations Deloitte won the 2011Forrester Groundswell Award award for Best Collaboration System (Management) through our use of Yammer. Capgemini is a big Yammer user and they use it very well as do NAB and Suncorp Group. So we are seeing organisations who have large bodies of people that want to get better innovation, better collaboration and better learning using enterprise social networking technologies.

But there is a long way to go for most organisations and the key thing to understand is that it isn’t going away even if you want to ignore it.

About our Ambassador // Jacqueline Shields. Luckily Jacqueline is not a cat. She’d be on her ninth life. Her inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a  Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. And each and everything she tries, she takes great joy in writing about. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter @hillrepeats.

Event Review: The Sharing Economy : Commercial Reality Throw Down — October 16, 2012

Event Review: The Sharing Economy : Commercial Reality Throw Down

During Social Media Week in London, I was lucky enough to attend a brilliant panel called “The Sharing Economy: Commercial Reality Throw Down”. It was hosted by The People Who Share at Google Campus.

Google Campus was a brilliant place to host such a panel, as there were several Campus-based startup founders in       the audience who were building sharing platforms themselves.

The event focused on “the sharing economy” and how access to physical things, not ownership, was slowly becoming more important to all generations (not just millennials). The panel also discussed how to make access of these items easier through the use of technology and social networking.
So why is the sharing economy so important, you may ask?

Firstly, population growth and a slow economy means that we actually need more sharing. Sharing means we can all be less wasteful and resource efficient, all while saving money. Need a car? Borrow one or share one by using sites like Zipcar or GoCarShare. Need a place to stay when you’re travelling? Borrow someone else’s apartment or share one with sites like AirBnB and 9flats.

The panel then moved into an important debate. If access is becoming more important than ownership, how do we improve access and access platforms over the next decade and what needs to be done to improve the sharing economy overall?

First, we need to work even more on changing minds and normalising the idea of bartering, sharing, and exchanging. We need to embed the principles of sharing across every sector. The idea of “saving up” for things is already fading amongst millennials, purely due to the poor economic conditions worldwide, which means the mindset of the prime consumer is also changing. The panel believes (and so do I), that in entrepreneurial societies, sharing is going to be first thing you do when you need something, not the last thing you do when you’re desperate, not just due to ideology, but due to money.

They discussed that our government needs to remove bureaucracies which make it harder to share. Sharing needs to become even easier it’s going to become dominant.

But the most important aspect of improving sharing? Creating a network of trust to make the idea of sharing even more appealing to people.

The trust economy.

The panel came full circle.

Social Media is currently giving us access, but it’s going to become absolutely crucial to normalising these sharing principles and platforms into the mainstream. People are going to rely on a trustworthy online profile to help them choose whether or not to take a leap of faith. Social media isn’t just about connecting with strangers, it’s about getting to know the people around you and creating a stronger community by sharing.
Here here!

Amanda Foley is a Community Ambassador for London. She is a Freelance Social Media and Community Manager for Tech Startups and you can find her on twitter here: @_AmandaFoley

Photo credit: KlaxonMarketing

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