How Upwork’s To start with Feminine CEO Is Pivoting The Freelancing Business enterprise For A Distant World

Just 66 days into her tenure as the CEO of Upwork, Hayden Brown was forced to shutter and determine regardless of whether to sublease the freelancing platform’s bodily places of work and convenience many of her 600 newly distant employees—all even though fulfilling her promise to comprehensive a business-huge listening tour and a report on the condition of the organization within her very first 100 times.

“This is a calendar year wherever you won’t be able to BS your way by means of nearly anything as a chief,” says Brown, who was named Upwork’s first female CEO in January. “I often was fully commited to transparency and regular conversation, and that was component of my management mantra and design starting up in January.”

Amid millions of layoffs and turbulent markets, the 22-yr-previous company has not often viewed as a great deal achievement as it has in the aftermath of the pandemic. With a marketplace cap of $3 billion, Upwork (which went public in 2018) is now the world’s biggest, public on the net freelance marketplace, mainly furnishing remote work listings. Its stock has surged, up approximately 70% 12 months-to-date. In the past six months, the platform’s quantity of freelancer and company registrants has greater by 50%. 

In September, Upwork produced a research of the U.S. unbiased workforce, displaying that 36% of the U.S. workforce freelanced for the duration of the pandemic—a 22% enhance considering that 2019. Twelve % of the country’s workforce started off freelancing amid the pandemic. Covid also accelerated companies’ adoption of freelancers. The study discovered that practically three quarters of employing administrators are continuing or escalating their utilization of impartial experts.

Currently, much more than five million corporations use Upwork to write-up freelancer position listings for a every month fee setting up at 3% of freelancer billing to clientele, even though freelancers can record their companies for free and utilize for distant jobs. They are charged a company price of amongst 5% and 20%, depending on the full quantity they’ve billed customers. In 2019, Upwork observed $300.6 million in income, up 83% about the last a few many years. And the company is on monitor to see additional expansion this year. On Wednesday, the firm claimed a yr-around-12 months sales boost of 24%, and said they are on track to see roughly $365 million in income in 2020.

Brown attributes this accomplishment to pandemic-linked tendencies. “People have shifted not just their notions about remote perform in this moment of crisis, but also their lengthy term sights of how distant do the job will in good shape into their companies,” she claims.

And she intends to capitalize on it. In the past yr, Brown has increased the company’s financial investment in a sales pressure focused on doing work with much larger prospects, like Microsoft, Airbnb and GE. Final yr, extra than 85% of Upwork’s $2.1 billion in gross solutions volume—or the overall dollar benefit transacted via Upwork’s platform—was derived from substantial engagements and intricate assignments, not small-phrase gig perform.

“The devote is truly going to projects that are long-term in character. It truly is massive, complicated do the job,” she suggests. “That’s exactly where our shoppers are discovering achievement. It truly is not about these like small transactions or fly-by-night engagements.”

“We’ve doubled down on our values and our beliefs. And frankly, a lot of individuals have been aligned with some of the secular trends, this kind of as remote do the job.”

Hayden Brown, Upwork CEO

Brown is no stranger to pivots. At age 12, her loved ones moved from the small town of Amesbury, Massachusetts, to Kathmandu, Nepal. Even though her mother ran a Nepalese women’s empowerment system and her father labored in local community advancement, Brown studied at a little American faculty.

“Seeing the get the job done my moms and dads did was a substantial inspiration for me in phrases of dedicating your daily life to carrying out something that really has an effect on the planet,” she suggests. “That led me to, by means of my adolescence and early career, find out encounters where by I could dwell and perform in sites very unique, to be amongst other folks and learn and problem myself to have new perspectives.”

Following graduating from Princeton in 2004 with a politics degree—and a limited stint as an analyst at management consulting company McKinsey & Company—Brown landed at Microsoft in 2007. Her target was mergers and acquisitions tactic, and she minimize her teeth doing work on large profile promotions like Microsoft’s $45 billion Yahoo bid and $240 million Facebook expense

But Brown yearned for more mission-pushed function. Right after interviewing with additional than 60 companies in the San Francisco Bay Location, in 2011 Brown took a position as a solution director at 70-man or woman startup Upwork (then referred to as Elance-oDesk). Virtually a ten years afterwards, she’s working the place—at a single of the most turbulent times in the company’s historical past.

“From the pandemic to Black Life Make any difference to wildfires, it has been a 12 months that has analyzed us in new ways,” she suggests. “We’ve doubled down on our values and our beliefs. And frankly, a large amount of people have been aligned with some of the secular trends, this kind of as distant do the job . . . We’ve been carrying out it for 20 years.”

Just one of Upwork’s major issues has been convincing firms to count on its distant freelance employees, Brown claims. Now, that barrier has been broken.

“Whether you go back to work on a hybrid design or complete-time, self-confidence in the efficiency of remote function is unquestioned now,” says Ron Josey, a senior analyst at JMP Securities. “This pandemic has demonstrated that you completely can perform from residence, and you can do so rather effectively.” 

Nonetheless, Upwork isn’t the only enterprise capitalizing on this trend. Gig work-targeted system Fiverr, whose inventory has jumped an spectacular 84% this calendar year, is amongst the quickest-increasing providers in the freelance place, Josey says. And freelancing system Toptal, which has no headquarters and deems by itself the “world’s largest fully distant corporation,” is on observe to see more than 40% income growth this year, says its CEO, Taso Du Val.

But with its new focus on pairing very long-expression freelancers with large firms, Upwork is differentiating itself from rivals, Josey claims. Upwork has also invested in user working experience, teaming up with program business Citrix in June to build a workspace so clientele can far more quickly onboard the freelancers they locate on its website.

What’s a lot more, providers are also turning to Upwork to fix their intrinsic variety issues. “I won’t be able to tell you the variety of CEOs I talked to who are wondering, ‘I have to solve the diversity problem in my organization, and remote get the job done is one particular of the essential instruments,’” Brown suggests. “We have to let go of this really workplace-centric society and include individuals who are in a great deal of geographies.”

Brown has implemented this practice herself, announcing on Might 22 that Upwork employees will be supplied the alternative to perform from household even soon after the pandemic is about. 

“For culture and for company, that’s only a great matter,” she claims, “because it does open up the doors for people today to participate in the labor marketplace in distinctive techniques.”