Despite the challenges of a difficult global economy, freelance offerings continue to grow in both number and variety. One of the more interesting trends is the shift from “mass” to “class” in startups. Not so long ago, the intention was to build a large and thriving community of independent professionals in a wide range of functional specialties and industries. Network effects were the emphasis.
More recently, we have seen a shift in focus. The expression, “There are riches in niches, ” is often touted. The new platforms featured here are planting their flag on interesting niche markets and drawing applause for their creativity. In this and future articles, it’s a pleasure to introduce readers to some of the interesting new talent marketplaces that are showing up around the world.
- First, meet Laceless Design, a freelance platform that provides top talent for the lifestyle and performance segment of the footwear industry from Scotland. Readers might wonder whether the sneaker industry is large enough to support a unique marketplace. But, the industry is surprisingly robust, large and growing. In fact, the global sneaker industry is forecasted to reach over 100 billion by 2026. Laceless Design’s founder and CEO, Dan Cocking estimates that there are 100,000 designers worldwide. Of this number, an astounding 50,000 design professionals have been members of the professional community created six years ago by Cocking and his wife, Ruth. Having kicked off the marketplace a year ago, it now provides both full-time recruiting and contingent work. The marketplace now has 600 members, of whom a third are located in NA, Europe, and ROW. Laceless Design is bootstrapping but sees growing opportunities with clients like Puma, Adidas, and On Running. Platform members are working with over a dozen companies creating samples and prototypes for clients.
- Another relatively new and interesting company is Stellar, a marketplace for high-end creatives. US-based co-founders Nick Pattison and Aaron Rolston built Stellar to offer top creatives – in branding, web design, photography, and illustrations – a highly curated marketplace and a more engaged and active community. Pattison, who cut his teeth in design with the celebrated Milton Glaser, created Stellar as an alternative to “oversaturated creative platforms lacking talented and vetted creatives and providing too few interesting works.” Stellar focuses on three client categories: design agencies, funded startups and scale-ups, and is starting to break into enterprise work. Now, after a year in the business, Stellar boasts an elite community of just over 150 experts, and a waitlist of over 5000. Pattison describes his goal as ensuring deep relationships with each of the freelancers on the platform and emphasizing an active community through Slack and other tools.
- Two recent freelance marketplaces in the data science space are zoulloo and Big Robin. The first, zoulloo, is the creation of Guillaume Weill, a French entrepreneur and freelancer, and his co-founders, Fabien Chung and Nicolas Nesa. As Weill describes it, the idea came from an earlier entrepreneurial experience. He was unable to find the research expertise he needed: he was looking for a combination of market research and analytics skills (now powered by AI). zoulloo launched less than a year ago, and is focused on the French market, but has already begun to put together an impressive platform of 400 data specialists and market research professionals. Weill is bullish about the future of freelancing, in general, in France. As he put it, “In our research, this caliber of talent is difficult to attract to a fulltime job. More and more are looking at switching to freelancing, particularly at senior levels. Better quality of life, work independently, good pay.”
- Grace Fenix, founder and CEO of BigRobin.com, which is US- based, would agree with Weill’s comments. Fenix created Big Robin as a marketplace for data, AI and research expertise: Businesses book global freelance experts directly on the Big Robin platform instead of with traditional agencies. Robin “Researchers”, while independent, join Big Robin for the benefits of an engaged and active community, supporting research and AI tools, as well as opportunities for collaboration and professional development. And companies that can’t afford or find experts can now hire a fully vetted team member on-demand to dig into both external databases and a company’s own internal data to derive unique competitive insights. Big Robin is earlier stage than zoulloo and is quickly growing larger than the initial community of 30 experts. But, with a number of significant client commitments, and early but strong buzz around them, Big Robin is making waves.
- Finally, Trees-Engineering is a relatively recent marketplace and contractor founded recently in Malaysia. Trees is focused on offering engineering services for the Energy (oil, gas, renewables, and power) industry. Trees-Engineering CEO Quentin Cloarec explains: “Trees Engineering is an independent freelancer marketplace dedicated to engineering projects in the Energy industry. The industry is just beginning to get comfortable with freelancers.” But, energy client companies like TotalEnergies, GE, and Worley are increasingly seeing the value of contingent engineering experts represented by Trees – “Tree-lancers” – and typically brought on for longer-term contract roles. Trees has a large platform of engineering and related experts, including several thousand energy engineers, experienced engineering managers, inspectors, and other technical and operational roles. Before welcoming new talent onto the platform, Trees takes potential talent through a rigorous assessment process. Given the slower pace of freelance adoption in the energy field, it's impressive that Trees-Engineering includes a roster of more than 20 enterprise clients.
The new startups that are featured in this article aren’t alone in finding success in “thin markets”. Over time this series will share a variety of other examples of how entrepreneurs are finding big opportunities in small places – like Designhill in wine label design. Look out for more stories about the global freelance revolution.
Viva la Revolution!
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